Forget everything I might have said about the dubious merits of eschewing tags, fines and community service orders and incarcerating white collar criminals in high security facilities at huge cost to the tax payer. I now understand the master plan. Basically prison wouldn’t work without a generous smattering of middle class guys on hand to do all the admin. I haven’t had a letter from Rob all week, (and he is usually a two letters a week kind of guy), because he is run off his feet checking coursework or filling out applications of various sorts for all and sundry on Unit 12 and beyond.
Tonight he is doing his cell mate J’s tax return. Oh, the irony! Clearly J doesn’t know that Rob is reportedly a top level fraudster who may be a teensy bit unpopular with HMRC. On the upside J may also soon be surprised to discover that he is miraculously entitled to a large rebate…. but possibly also an extension of his sentence…. it’s swings and roundabouts with cell mates.
I do an interview for RadioTalk Ireland not really understanding how many people listen to it and receive a flurry of delectably Gaelic sounding sign-ups to the blog. Amongst the ensuing correspondence is a humbling letter from a woman who has lost her son but who nonetheless finds space in her heart to empathise with a random prisoner’s wife with a daftly posh radio voice. It reminds me that despite all the madness, this is still a beautiful world, because love is irrepressible.
Rob looks good at visiting. His forearms are becoming peculiarly erotic to me. I know the men are only issued with those short sleeved prison shirts to make the concealment of contraband trickier, but one is none the less treated to an almost obscene amount of bare flesh into the bargain. I roll my sleeves up too and we let our arms touch, skin on skin. It is immeasurably sweet.
February is a time of reckoning. There is simply nothing to hold on to. Christmas is a distant memory with only inflated adipose tissue and deflated bank balances to show for it, spring still seems impossible and the cold sky’s are white with apathy. Perhaps this is why Tala and I seem to hit a brick wall suddenly and succumb to arguments and quasi-despair when I suggest an end to a protracted period of laissez-faire parenting vis-a-vis sweet consumption? I get it, the desire to self-medicate and ease the pain of separation is strong in me too.
I long for an alternate universe where my life hasn’t been snapped in half. I want to fall down a rabbit hole and relinquish control. I want sunlight and flowers and summer dresses. But instead I have February. We all do. And how much bleaker it must be in jail. My parents attempt to escape on a cruise: a once in a life time luxury, and my poor dad promptly contracts pneumonia and spends the entire trip in the ship’s sanatorium on intravenous meds and fluids. You can run from a British winter, but you can’t hide. All we mammals can do is huddle together for warmth, which is tricky with a depleted pack.
The “inappropriate touching” debacle continues. I answer a phone call from the familiar Haverhill number that ordinarily denotes a communication from my beloved and surprise the unsuspecting lady on the other end of the line by calling her “baby darling”. She likes it. Apparently it’s a long time since anyone has called her anything so saccharine. She should review her friendships. She is calling from Ormiston Families: the wonderful organisation who run family visits at the prison. She has just been to see Rob and had a surprising conversation with him.
I had contacted Ormiston to see if they could help me in my fight to clear Rob’s name of the spurious allegation against him, and after doing her due diligence my “baby darling” had discovered that the reason we had been denied security clearance for family visits was in fact Rob’s hooch “conviction”. This being prison, despite the fact that there never was any hooch, (just a Nigerian wellness remedy), no-one has bothered to take the black mark off his file, thus disbarring him from family visits for three months: the age old and frankly distasteful practice of using children as bargaining chips to illicit prisoner compliance.
The Ormiston lady was all set to beg Rob to come clean about his hooch misdemeanour and quit lying to his Mrs about the reason for our exclusion from family visiting, and was thus a little surprised to find a teetotal bearded sage whose story was immediately believable to her. This kind of thing happens all the time in prison, because no-one is accountable and prisoners are guilty and therefore deserve neither explanations nor apologies for wrongs done to them.
“Baby darling” is a wonderful lady and promises not only to ensure that the hooch disciplinary process is halted, but also to help me with the “inappropriate touching” allegation which still stands as far as I know. The trouble is I don’t know much, because, although the Head of Security at Highpoint has written back to a few individuals who appear from their letter heads to be in high places, he hasn’t replied to me: I’m only the child’s mother after all, and a prisoner’s wife, and what decent woman would be one of those?
We all know that Grayling’s prison budget cuts have resulted in the miserable situation where neither guards nor prisoners are safe within our institutions, so it would be churlish of me to suggest that admin should be a priority, or that prisoner’s exam results, or educational achievements, or misdemeanours should be recorded correctly… they are only prisoners obviously… so I’m proposing that the proper response to all of this would be to embolden HMRC further and give them greater resources to pursue middle management. That way we could alleviate the funding deficit by turning over the entire administration of the prisons to the white collar guys. They are already all over most of it if Rob’s working day is anything to go by… and he thought he’d have time inside to contemplate within… and he bloody hates admin.
But here is the thing. The man who entered prison sure that the way through it would be to hole himself up, focus on spiritual evolution and become wider read, has come to understand that nothing you can achieve materially or spiritually in this world means anything if you are looking down on all the other poor souls who are starving and hurting. No-one gets through the gates of heaven alone. Unless what you do helps the people around you it is valueless. Love is the only true currency, and love is a doing word, so it’s out with the navel gazing and in with the biro’s… There is work to be done.