Friday afternoon and I miss a call again – the result of the incompatibility between iPhones and wet fingers. It is a distressed, bordering on depressed message. Rob is to be moved to Highpoint North – only five minutes down the road, but a whole different ball game. He has been offered this supposed upgrade several times now and turned it down, but today when he refuses to move he is told that if he doesn’t go he will be put on report and “basic” – no money and potentially no visits. He packs his scant possessions together and is gone within half an hour.
There are no goodbyes. Friendships are hard won in prison: people are perhaps understandably wary, but these relationships are simultaneously the only thing that make the inside bearable. Rob will be starting again…again. Anyone who knows prison knows that every time you get comfortable, they move you. The rug is constantly being pulled from under your feet and you either live with the ill effects of this ever present stress or find a way to relax into the perpetual free fall.
Keith is also moved, but not to the same spur. Charlie will supposedly follow next week. Rob is in the dreaded induction wing again, sharing the tiny, bunked cell with a Somalian who seems to be using the entire pad as a bin. Dirty plates, general rubbish and clothes of dubious cleanliness litter the floor. He is a slob, but is otherwise inoffensive. It could be so much worse. Rob spends the entire night awake listening to the rattling snores of this stranger, enforced intimacy reiterating the loneliness with each shuddering respiration. He comforts himself by imagining my arms around him; Nothing to hold on to except memories and dreams and projections.
We are due to visit the following Monday with Grandma. It has been a complicated operation to procure her from Worcester now that she doesn’t drive and is too frail to travel alone. She is a tiny bird like figure, always immaculate, increasingly forgetful and disheartened by her diminishing usefulness. She is a delight; A beautiful selfless presence. It is incomprehensible to her that her son should be incarcerated. She has told no-one except her sister.
It’s Sunday morning and I check the Monday visiting hours for North. There is no Monday visit. This is a disaster. Rob’s mum has invested in a new salmon pink jumper and has had her hair done. Her longing for him is palpable and I feel desperate for her. I ring the visiting line but it’s a weekday service. I ring the prison itself and am surprised to eventually get through to an actual person.
I explain. He also tries unsuccessfully to contact the visiting office. I explain again and beg for help. He calls the assistant governor and is reliably informed that the monday visit will be honoured. Phew – panic over. But something niggles at me. I know this system now and it seems increasingly unlikely to me that we would get access on a non visit day – there is just too much red tape. I call back and speak to a woman who incredulously assures me that I will certainly not be able to visit on Monday. I would have made a 3-4 hour round trip for nothing! The previous phone operator was at best a fantasist, at worst a sadist, but probably in reality is just a bit thick.
I ask if there is a way to put me on the list for today – impossible apparently. I dig deep and channel my powerhouse of a mother again – she never fails me. “Do you mean to tell me that my mother in law has travelled hundreds of miles at great expense and in poor health to see her eldest son, for a visit that has been confirmed by the prison, and we now won’t be able to see him? Can’t you make a phone call and make an exception?” She puts me on hold and then, miraculously, informs me that I can come today. I don’t really believe that it will happen, but I’ll take the chance. I thank her profusely and begin to reorganise the day.
Tala has to choose between visiting and a ballet rehearsal for a West End performance for which she is contracted not to miss rehearsals. She chooses to honour her word and forgo the visit. Watching the development of this maturity makes my heart swell and then ache, as if it is being held too tightly by a fist.
We arrive to find that we are not on any list, but we luck out with a super competent receptionist who promises to work some magic. Within half an hour she has sorted it, (this is exceptionally speedy in prison terms), and we join the entry queue along with several new born babies whose father’s surely missed their births. Until I see Rob there in the hall I will not believe that we have pulled this off.
At last we are in and lo and behold so is he. He wasn’t on the visit list either apparently, but somehow managed to persuade one of the screws to process him anyway. He looks happy to see us, ruffles Oki’s sea green hair and hugs his mum as she sinks into him, but I can tell something is wrong.
On the way in one of the officers has told him that he has been seated next to the surveillance point as there is a note on his file to say that he has been observed stroking his daughter’s back. There is a suggestion that social services should be involved and visits with Tala are now in question. Okha looks as if she is going to be sick. Fortunately his mum can’t hear anything at all over the din in the hall and is content just to hold his hand and smile devotedly and ask him if he is sleeping any better at various intervals whilst we try to work out where to go with this. When it is time to leave she is shaking with the unsuccessful effort of holding back the tears. We are all aware that she may not see him again.
Where the link between film fraud and paedophilia lies it is hard to tell, but this is not a joke. A dismal sense of powerlessness bears down on us all. We are at the mercy of a system that is an ass and it is hard to keep faith. When I finally get home I am left trying to explain to Tala why she won’t be able to sit on her dad’s lap again.
(All emails and letters (which are so very gratefully recieved), need to be sent to the same address but to Highpoint North now. If you want to reply please enclose an SAE as stamps and stationary make a massive dent in his earnings!)