We have Grandma in tow at visiting this week. She has become so frail that I have taken to linking arms with her wherever we go just to keep her upright. Sitting isn’t any easier. In stark contrast to my derriere which never leaves home without its convenient inbuilt padding, hers has rather lost its stuffing over the years so that an un-cushioned chair has become little short of torture for her.
Prison isn’t big on soft furnishings, so I decide to smuggle something in. It’s a bold move. The last time I brought an unauthorised item with me into prison (my phone), things didn’t go well, but I consider Grandma worth the risk.
We start off strong, secreting the vital bolster successfully through the entry gates, sandwiched unobtrusively between Grandma and me, but that is as far as we get. Bootleg butt protection is a flagrant breach of protocol and no one on the “body search” team is in the mood for any funny business.
Once inside the visiting hall however I spot a familiar face amongst the staff and when I explain about Grandma’s bottom she disappears at once, returning minutes later with the contraband and a massive smile. For all any of us knew Grandma could have stuffed that thing full of drugs, but our angel of mercy took a chance on us. She gave us the benefit of the doubt and along with it our humanity.
S (the subject of last week’s funereal travails) is working in the visiting hall on rubbish and tray collection. With inimitable charm he has persuaded every member of unit 12 to entreat their visitors to buy him something from the cafe. As unit 12 are legion today, (a dozen or so of them at least), his pockets are bulging alarmingly with a growing collection of fizzy drink cans and assorted confectionery.
By the time we hand over our Fruit Pastilles he is looking as green as a Jamaican can reasonably look without the production of actual vomit. Anything not consumed in the hall is potentially subject to confiscation and so S is chowing down resignedly, puke or no puke. Reckless consumption of everything and anything is the result of this infantilising system and a hallmark of the prison experience: you get what you can when you can.
I watch a young boy take a chocolate bar over to The Man with No Hands (whose visitors are late) and offer to open it for him. It is common practice for other visitors to look after even unknown men who are still waiting. They do enough of that, and we are proud to take care of our own. We know that there are many reasons a family can find themselves in that room. More than 1/4 of UK adults have committed an imprisonable offence, it’s just that most of us don’t get caught.
The man with no hands is beautiful. It’s the first time I have seen him. Hands were the price he paid for finishing on the losing side of an African armed conflict where mercy is for the weak. When his wife and daughters arrive he wraps them in his stumped arms, folding them into himself easily, conveying with shoulders and biceps and neck everything hands could. His girls look so proud. You couldn’t not be. I have never seen a more radiant man.
I really think that Liz (HM, not Truss – she has already been deposed – someone tell Katie Hopkins) ought to pop in and see for oneself what is occurring in one’s dungeons these days. Ignorance is not bliss. I’d give HRH 20 minutes in that visiting hall before she started granting pardons, although Rob, looking as he does these days like a cross between Guy Fawkes and Osama Bin Laden is unlikely to be first in line for her mercy.
I’m tired. This week I have driven over 500 miles collecting and returning Grandma to the Midlands via Cambridgeshire. There is also water coming through my bedroom ceiling again (the work of a rogue rodent gnawing though plumbing in the loft) and scary confiscation issues to contend with.
By Sunday night a potent cocktail of exhaustion and unwanted responsibility catches up with me. I miss touch. I miss it so much I have taken to having multiple baths just to let the water hold me. When an oven ready lasagne fails to induce pleasure, (orally, not topically people… I do have limits), I admit defeat and settle in on the sofa to face this beast of loneliness down. “Bring it on… Do your worst!” I scream silently. Big mistake.
During the ensuing hours I run the full gamut of hopelessness and wretched self-pity, landing finally in downright depression. Not an evening I’d repeat in a hurry, but the letter I write to Rob at the end of it is such a roller coaster of unbridled hyperbolic emotion that it at least gives us something to laugh about when he receives it two days later and long after I have come back to the light.
The thing that pains me most amongst all the stresses and strains of the single mum/prison wife gig is the remorseless draining away of my fecundity. Not that I actually want to do anything with it (two kids is at least 1/2 a kid too much for me), I’d just like to carry on looking as if I could.
My friend B reassures me that I am still looking pretty fecund, which is generous, but there is no denying that there is little point to looking even slightly fecund without someone at least slightly attempting fertilisation, and my fertiliser is on library duty for the foreseeable…
The library is something of a sanctuary in prison: somewhere to escape the tensions of the cell. In his wisdom the prison governor has vetoed the men’s request to be allowed to cell share with people they get on with and who share similar routines where both parties are agreeable, stating that if you can’t get on with your cell mate that is your problem.
Prison is a very diverse community. Having experienced the joys of cell sharing with an incurable snorer during a lengthy nocturnal celebration of Ramadan, Rob is dispirited by this response. It belies a lack of empathy that ill fits the head of an institution that purports an interest in rehabilitation. Lord (of Highpoint) have mercy. There is only so much adversity any man can take. Less is more, unless we are talking bootie of course, when more is always more comfortable.