Beards are for ugly blokes. That is the conclusion D has come to and he cannot understand why Rob, with his chiseled features and unassailable good looks, persists with the chin wig. “If I nailed you to a cross” (not a reassuring opener in any setting and little short of menacing in the slammer), “you’d look like Jesus”, says D with affectionate, slightly crazed, exasperation.
Say no more. Who’d style themselves on the Son of God when God has given us whole body depilation that we might look like Love Island contestants: hairless from the eyeballs down. This is the Essex borders when all is said and done but Rob’s disposable razors were confiscated at Birmingham Crown Court on June the 24th 2016 and they have never been replaced.
His shaving brush hangs forlornly on its stand in a dusty corner of the bathroom quietly place holding for its erstwhile owner and occasionally jolting me, mid pee, into sentimental reminiscence.
Us girls appropriated his razor years ago whilst he was still in residence. Most men surviving outnumbered in excessively female households quickly come to understand that it is part of their role to upkeep a communal razor and rinse it unquestioningly prior to use, but the brush was always his alone.
Now it is one of the last relics from our old life. With the passing of time a tipping point has been reached whereby items conferred as keepsakes – scarves, T shirts and the like, have lost all totemic power. Possession is nine tenths of the law (unless your husband has been convicted of fraud) and whether we like it or not, these artefacts have now passed to us and serve as reminders no more.
Sometimes his absence hangs so heavy that I can barely speak. I can be very sniffy about suffering, particularly my own, or anything involving the loss of status or cleaners. There is so much hardship amongst the families of prisoners and such genuine fortitude that I feel ashamed submitting to despair in the midst of my relative privilege. As if this is a test and I am failing.
I watch the bright full harvest moon rise above a veil of clouds and remember back a decade or so when Rob, transfixed by a similarly spectacular lunar orb, drove confidently into the stationary boot of the car in front, whose owner questioned his sanity and relieved us of our no claims bonus.
In the past we sent our lunatics to the asylum. Now we send them to prison. The governor of an infamous London nick practically shivers describing the sound of prison nights to me before the gradual introduction of in cell TVs in the late 90’s.
For him this initiative, so maligned by a public opposed to “lags living it up in luxury” is the best thing to have happened in prison for decades (a damning admission in itself), because “It gives the crazies something to stare at through the night and keeps them quiet”. When I ask him what the mentally ill are doing in prison, or how he can safely accommodate them he just shrugs. He’s a civil servant. His is not to wonder why…
Researching the history of British asylums the penny starts to drop. Asylum closure was begun by Enoch Powell in the 1960’s after details of overcrowding, poor hygiene, wrongful admittance and brutal, ineffective treatment began to emerge shamefully into the public domain. Sound familiar?
A light bulb switches on in my brain (ECT anyone?). Today’s prisons are actually yesterdays asylums plus a lot more drugs and minus the staff. Prison in conjunction with “couldn’t Care less in the Community”, is government’s answer to the current mental health crisis and its prerogative remains the same: keep it hidden.
The idea of mad people chained to poles in the centre of rooms disturbed us as a nation, so we have replaced the poles with purpose built cages and banished the afflicted to Titan prisons in the middle of nowhere so that the madness can continue (cheaply) behind closed doors.
Better still, just like Victorian city prisons, our old asylum buildings repurpose marvellously as unaffordable luxury flats complete with witty backstories about their previous occupants. Kerching!
One in four young women are suffering from depression or anxiety or both. Our young people are cutting themselves to shreds on the values and the future we have handed them and the Prozac sweeties aren’t working for anyone except Big Pharma.
And prison makes everything worse. God help anyone entering prison with mental illness. Children of prisoners are twice as likely to experience mental health issues as their peers and I can personally vouch for the deranged mindset of at least one prison wife.
Knighthoods all round for the governors I say. Armed with little more than a fleet of pre-millennial tellies they are housing the hundreds of thousands with barely a loaf or fish in sight. Rehabilitation is moon pie in the sky: an unreasonable and frankly unachievable expectation without more money or less prisoners.
Patrick Cockburn, journalist and author of “Henry’s Demons” the harrowing story of his son’s descent into schizophrenia writes “The treatment of the mentally ill measures the health of any society because they are the most vulnerable and the least able to defend themselves against cruelty and neglect”, which is reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s assertion that “The degree of civilisation in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.”
I doubt big D would be impressed by the British bang up. UK prison is a one stop shop for the elements of our society that we can’t face. It is the underbelly of capitalism. It is yesteryear’s poorhouse. It is the arse end of prohibition and ill informed drug policy. It is the asylum in disguise.
It is also the only place where I feel truly at home. It is where my grizzly werewolf love lives and thus the location of every brief respite to our separation. A slither of moonlight in the dark.