Unwisely perhaps, not having verified the images before hand, I suggest to Tala that we google Hewell online. We have just awoken on our first AD (After Daddy) day and are feeling somewhat bereft. An image of what appears to be a stately home or a hotel comes up and I think I must have mistyped, but surely enough an article appears underneath the picture entitled “Hewell, Britain’s’ poshest prison?”. We can’t believe it! Trust Rob to fall on his feet! Then I spot a second less optimistic article underneath this, unpromisingly headed with the tagline “Hewell prison the worst in Britain: murder, suicide, bungles and escapes”. As I scroll down I see that the tenor of this second piece is more typical. “Rise in violence and drugs at Hewell”, “Hewell prison staff frightened”. I click off the search engine.
Having managed to miss not one but two calls from Rob, I finally get with the program and carry my phone with me everywhere like normal people. I am infamous for being unreachable on the blower, and now it has come back to bite me on the arse. He has probably queued for hours each time to get to the phone so the least I can do is pick the damn thing up, besides which I am aching to hear from him. On Sunday morning the Redditch area code flashes on the screen and at last I have him on the line all the way from HMP Hewell.
I have only had one other communication on his first night when each new arrival is given one call. I spent most of it searching for a pen to take down the all important prisoner number and after exactly two minutes during which the only thing I have ascertained is that he is in a madhouse but is as yet unharmed, we are cut off.
Fearing that this call will be equally as brief, I rush through how much I miss him and the fact that we are all doing well and try to get as much information from him as quickly as possible. We ask him if he has been awarded any of the contents of Prisonbag yet or whether he is wearing an orange jumpsuit, which the girls, (listening on speaker phone), think is a hilarious concept as Rob is notoriously stylish in a raggedy kind of a way. “I’m not in Guantanamo” he replies and describes the grey and navy joggers and T shirt he was initially issued with. It seems that he has been given a substantial proportion of his limited possessions. They have withheld the yoga mat and the radio, but wonderfully for him, he has his books, writing materials, wash things and clothes. This is a coup, as often prisoners don’t get access to their affairs for days or weeks.
It is noisy. I can hear slamming doors down the line. Tala tells him he is that he is in a really posh place. He explains that whilst it might look good from the outside, the inside is a little different. It’s a classic slammer, with 3 floors, a central well and cells like cages, (which the initiated call pads) around the edge. You can’t go more than a few metres without a door needing to be unlocked. He says that it is “fucking crazy” in there, earning a swift reproach for swearing from Tala. He sounds like our Robbie, but more “street” already. I’m pleased to hear that he is sharing with Keith, but Charlie is on another wing. It seems that after induction into the prison, you are pretty much just thrown into your cell and left there, with no idea how things work, or where anything is. Everything from going to church ( a very good plan if you want to move through the system quickly), to visiting orders, to library access requires a form.
The guys stick out like sore thumbs. Rob has couple of (what uncle Tim would call executive – i.e. not full body) tattoos, but the convict look involves multiple tats, shorts and shower shoes worn with socks. “We are a long way from London are we not Mr Darcey?”. People keep commenting on how nice Rob’s teeth are. I am relieved that this is not a thinly veiled suggestion that they will soon be knocked out, but rather genuine admiration. Most of the inmates don’t have many teeth and those that have clung to the gums for dear life are in terrible condition. Halitosis must be a key component of the various odours contributing to the infamous prison smell. Rob is doing his bit though and has located the showers. He didn’t bend over and the visit concluded without incident.
The guys in the next door cell have been really good to them, helping them to navigate their new home. From what Rob can gather they are both permanently stoned. He is stunned by the ubiquitous availability and use of drugs. The whole place is totally chaotic, with many prisoners there on remand and not yet sentenced, so that contrary to what we were led to believe about there being no violent offenders in Cat B prisons, the place is teaming with people who may well have committed violent crimes. I’m not overly worried: Rob has been training in street fighting for years, he’s a big guy and people generally like him. Also he much older than most of the inmates which tends to help reduce antagonism and confrontations.
His biggest worry is as anticipated the food situation. He confesses to being starving after passing on most of breakfast. After 6 minutes his credit is almost gone and he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to call back, or get more credit or use the shop as he hasn’t yet eared these privileges. We all chorus our love and encouragement until he cuts off.