The Ladies

“Excuse me” says worried voice as I waltz confidently into the loos at my home from home, Highpoint Visitor Centre, “I think you might have sat on something”. The look of horror on the girl’s face does not bode well.

Gingerly I present my bottom to the wash basin mirrors. Sat on something? My butt looks like roadkill. Do you even know how much juice a stray raspberry can produce during an hour and a half’s dedicated squashing against a leather car seat? No? Well… it’s a lot… and those seedy bits don’t enhance the effect.

“What am I going to do?” I breathe in horror. She looks at me aghast, shaking her head sadly, “I honestly don’t know”, she admits. Help is at hand however. This is “The Ladies”. A small emergency summit meeting is called by the sink area and a growing contingent of women abandon elaborate make up routines and pitch in. There is strength in numbers.

My bottom is examined with grim practicality. Someone suggests pulling my jumper right down at the back. We try it. It rides up rebelliously and strangles me to boot. You’ll have to take them off and wash them concludes the first girl. “But she’ll look like she’s wet herself” counters her mate “and that hand dryer is crap.” There is nothing even vaguely absorbant in a prison loo: it is 2 ply roll if you’re lucky for whatever task is at hand.

“Do they have spare clothes here?” asks another girl “You know… the one’s they make you put on if your top’s too low or tight or something?” They don’t, which I am glad about despite my predicament: there are enough indignities in prison wifery without the aggravation of unsolicited wardrobe judgement at the gate.

Suddenly I know what I must do. I dispense with my jumper and whip off my long sleeved thermal, draping it artfully around my waist and tying the arms like a belt. “Ta da!” I cry triumphantly in my bra. The onlookers are unconvinced. Covering what is a fairly reasonable derriere (when encased in jeans at least) during a prison visit is basically a no no. Our men are in prison when all is said and done and the sighting of your Mrs’ unmasked behind isn’t much to ask, but beggars can’t be choosers, besides which I think I am styling it out! The girls remain dubious. “Just sit down as quick as you can and don’t go to the cafe” is their parting advice… ”and next time eat crisps!”

I love my husband (I think that much is probably clear), and other specific men: my dad, my brothers and a handful of randoms who have earned their stripes over time, but women are, in my view, more or less universally fabulous, (unless they are pre-menstrual/menopausal, trying to emulate men or just having an off day). This is particularly true in a crisis.

As early as 400 BC Aristophanes wrote a play about the women of ancient Greece ending the Peloponnesian war with a sex strike. You want to see an end to violence in prison? I suggest the reverse strategy: conjugal visits. It’s not rocket science – sex sells everything these days: ironically, it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. Let’s give peace a chance. I guarantee an overnight reduction in bad behaviour if prisoners have to answer to their wives as to why a conjugal visit has been cancelled. We’ve got this by the nuts. Might I suggest a preliminary trial at say… Highpoint North? No minister has anything half as impressive as the British woman up his sleeve, though it does seem that unfortunately one or two ministers have had their sleeves up unimpressed British woman…

Under current protocols the first opportunity for the resumption of marital relations with a prisoner is The Town Visit, though admittedly this may not be the stated objective of the “privilege”. D category prisoners who are in theory being prepared for release and reintegration (i.e. abandonment and homelessness) begin to meet their other halves for the first time in the outside world during sanctioned exeats into the local vicinity at which point the search is on for a suitable location for the resumption of “intimacy”.

The Ladies loos have long been a seat of privacy and tolerance; a bastion of acceptance and open-mindedness: a bolt hole away from home if you will. It is where we go to cry, excrete, vomit, regroup and redraw ourselves ready to face the world again. What happens in The Ladies stays in The Ladies and so it is to this insalubrious institution that we head in times of need.

It’s not “The Dream” but after years of prison we are used to that. It is in this cramped and lowly stall that we will defy the expectation of the system that we will break, illustrate our ingenuity, tenacity and flexibly and begin the long road back to rebuilding our relationships.

I’ll admit that The Ladies is an unlikely setting for the resumption of a love story. As a budding screen writer I was cautioned by the great Bob Mckee never to try to write a modern day love story as there is little to stop the path of love in the modern day world and thus no story, as story is born in the battlefield between desire and obstacle. Well Bob… try prison! All the obstacles you need and oceans of battered and bruised, but also victorious, love.

Rob was always a ladies man, in general far preferring the company of women to that of men. Miraculously, raising two daughters has only deepened his belief in the fairer sex. This has changed somewhat in prison where absence of choice has taught him a deep appreciation of his kind. You see what men are made of when you live in deprivation and confinement with them and there are so many good guys inside: a veritable brotherhood of man. Inexorably however The Ladies will always win out.