All emails and post have been withheld from prisoner A8003DT, AKA Rob for almost a week.  Days with nothing despite the fact that I write and email two or three times a day.  I am slightly worried that this is the result of the fact that Tala communicates almost entirely in ancient Norse these days.  She has leant this skill at school and has sent Rob the alphabet, minus a few letters that she couldn’t remember just to keep him on his toes.  It is her way to keep the uniqueness of their bond, the written equivalent of a private whisper. It is quite possible that this is considered to be a seditious code by whoever has the unenviable task of checking all communications for potential subversiveness, but I’m not sure how to rectify the situation other than emailing over a Norse translation guide.

When I go on the “email a prisoner” website to see what I can do about the non delivery of mail (Rob can’t do anything from his side, and neither it seems can I from mine, despite paying 35p per mail), I come across text stating that prisoners who receive regular communication from friends and family are six times less likely to offend.  It’s a shocking statistic and further proof if any were needed, that offending runs parallel with dislocation from society.  Our boys just want to put their heads down and find the fastest way back to their lives, whereas for so many inside, as ugly and harsh as it is, prison is their life and they have very little to go back to.

When I answer the brief, regular call that Rob is able to make more often now that he has some phone credit, I can hear that he isn’t good today.  He has survived another Black Eye Friday without personal incident, but the lack of communication, the system, the powerlessness and the sheer craziness of what is happening all shows in his voice for the first time.  Being locked up and shut down, and not being able to do a thing about it must be torture for a man who has always initiated, innovated and resolved.  Not even the antics of those who have treated themselves on Friday night and are now so off their faces that they are attempting to jump off the landing from the 3’s (second floor) down on to the 1’s (ground floor) or remove their trousers in the hallways can bring him out of his funk.

I fire off three emails in a row and head them with a capitalised plea for them to be delivered.  I wonder if anyone really cares.  No one has managed to deliver the slippers and robe yet either. There is zero accountability for the staff and moral is on the floor with grim working conditions, poor pay and nothing to hope for.  There is one kind lady screw (screwette) who has promised that she will try to find the missing correspondence, but as a resident in a jail you have no rights to a good service.  You can hardly take your business elsewhere, and so standards are allowed to remain pitifully low in terms of both reoffending and living conditions.

The result is a bunch of disenfranchised, demeaned men, who collectively despise the system they are in and the people who put them there -hardly the right climate in which to foster the fundamental change of attitude needed for reintegration into society.  If we want our prison population to do more than learn to make pretty much everything necessary for transporting illegal substances into and around prison using little more than loo roll, bed sheets and biros, then we’d better get some proper, full time, serious rehabilitation going.  It is hard to loose sleep over the sacking of Michael Gove, but I do hope his prison reforms aren’t axed along with him.

On a more positive note and despite a recent attempt to prevent books being sent to prisoners, Hewell actually connects up with all the local libraries so that with a little effort it is possible to get hold of almost any title. What I need are some suggestions! If anyone has read anything fantastic or even just moderately good recently, please let me know, or write Rob a postcard with your recommendations to the address under the “letter bomb” blog post.  At present most of his time seems to be taken up by learning some extraordinary jailbird practices such as how to fashion an enema kit (useful for those who might have ingested large amounts of narcotics they would like to eject promptly from the body) from a biro and a plastic bottle, so please don’t be shy, the bar of entertainment value has not been set very high.

I’m also interested in the recipe for “Orange Juice and Jacob’s Cream Cracker Champagne”. Apparently the yeast in the Jacob’s ferments the OJ, and, if started early enough, will produce a drinkable vintage by Christmas.  Rob is obviously famously T total, but there is a vicious rumour circulating that Keith may not be, and it is so tricky to find a fitting gift for your nearest, if not (I hope) dearest, on that special day.