I’m settling down to watch “Dear Dumb Diary” for Valentine’s day with my date Tala (my preferred squeeze being otherwise engaged), when the doorbell rings. It is the bailiffs serving me with a tome of papers written in the now familiar legal double dutch that I (and Foucault) believe is specifically designed to baffle the lay person into submission. Fortunately I have a secret weapon: my lawyer Jim’s phone number. It seems I have been served with a restraint order. It sounds appropriate to my current mood, but means only that I now can’t sell my house or empty my bank accounts. Wasn’t planning on it anyway, so “woteva”.
Jim, frank as ever, warns me that if I thought the trial that resulted in Rob’s conviction was rough, I should wait ’til we get to asset confiscation. The difference now is that we have already been pronounced guilty, and therefore hold no cards. The only thing I want to retrieve from this mess is holed up at HMP Highpoint North and unless I sign whatever piece of paper they decide to put in front of me, I won’t get him back. The alleged hiding of assets is punishable by years. Lots of them.
I honestly don’t care about losing my home. I am deeply grateful that we didn’t have the third (or fourth) child that I wanted. Preventative damage limitation on Rob’s part. The splicing of a family is so brutal that losing all worldly goods can’t hold a candle to it. Don’t take this as a cue to decide that prison works as a deterrent – it doesn’t. It just wrecks lives and leaves all those who are touched by it feeling like murderous outlaws who want no part in society. I speak for myself.
The recent undercover documentary shot at HMP Northumberland is headline news and there is a spasm of interest nationwide whilst everyone feigns surprise. I suspect the film makers have deliberately shot this on a “drugs wing”, and they have certainly selected only the most salacious material. Although I welcome the focus of attention on a crisis that is otherwise occurring behind closed doors, my heart drops when I see this kind of footage.
There is certainly copious drug taking in prison and precious little help for addicts, or anyone else for that matter, but there are also lots of rather ordinary people not involved in the mayhem, people who are trying to build a community inside and make the best of where they’ve ended up.
Rob’s Tamil Tiger buddy has taken to cooking for him; insistent as a Jewish grandmother. I get excited, imagining fragrant Sri-lankan curries, but as everything has to be cooked in the microwave and ingredients are in short supply, the gastronomic result is disappointing. Now and again someone who works in the servery can rescue a bit of left over chicken from yesterdays dinner, rinse it off and reuse it somehow, but mostly it’s rice, potatoes and noodles with boiled onions, and copious, bottom burning amounts of curry powder.
Now I am screaming at the radio because Liz Truss is busy pretending to feed the (80) five thousand with fishes and loaves and suggesting that the answer to our prison crisis is to reduce reoffending. Yes dear, but how are you going to do that? And don’t you dare mention your paltry 2,500 untrained guards who won’t even replace the 6000 culled by Grayling. Reoffending is tricky. You won’t solve it with an 8 week “box ticking” course. It will take individualised solutions that actually address the root causes of recidivism: drug and alcohol rehabilitation, anger management, employment, housing etc and there is not a cat in hell’s chance you can afford to do that for the 85,000 plus people currently squashed into our heaving, ineffectual jails. What is more, you know that! You are just putting a giant rhetorical sticking plaster on the situation and hoping it will hold until Trump invades Sweden, or something, and everyone loses interest. Our penal system is the equivalent of a health service that only has an A and E department. Incarceration ought to be reserved for the dangerous and the deranged and we need someone in charge who can see past the end of her own career path and actually do something that works.
Just when the MOJ must be thinking that things can’t get any worse, an event with the potential to bring down the administration occurs. Prisoner A8003DT, aka Mr Bevan, is discovered missing. A full search of all units on the North side fails to unearth him and Liz is a whisker away from receiving the dreaded call that a murderous film maker is on the lose. It is panic stations at HMP Highpoint North, until finally Rob is discovered sitting quietly in the computer course he has been attending for the last month.
The officer in charge in new and clearly hasn’t received the briefing stating that all prisoners are wrong always, and so he breaks with protocol and admits to being at fault, concluding the incident peacefully. Safely back in captivity the epic scrabble battles have been ended with the transfer of a key American player back South. Rob is somewhat relieved to have concluded the series without any life threatening altercations. Now Boxer J is playing cards instead with the new guy, prison style – 20 push ups a pop for loosing.
There are always penalties when you lose, but I have cards. I have love. It’s all I need.