A new cell, means a new cell mate – Day 2 PM

11 Feb

Everything I’ve just laid out, flies back into my clear plastic bags but in less order than it began. Reminding me of the Street’s line:

“In just going out, I’ve lost out”

Clothes crumpled, precious photos carefully slid down the side of my mountains of jumble. It will keep them flat and nothing else matters. I’m lying, in the early days moving cells and sharing with new faces is russian roulette, its brown trouser time. Anyone who says they’re not phased by the shifting of cells in bang-up, especially when it’s two-man lock down, (Double Bang-Up) is too cold to be human. It’s not nice, it’s all of your pre-conceived ideas and fears, it’s all the movies, all the stories, everything you know that’s probably bollox*, could be as true moonlight after sunshine right now.

(*Please excuse my profanity, there really aren’t the right words sometimes)

I’m rushing but trying to look cool, I have a feeling I’ve packed these things just a second ago. I discover when you’re in a hurry to pack, two things happen:

1. Its like trying to put a ladder in a handbag; and

2. You CAN move pretty fast. I don’t know why then, my dad used to make us get up so early before a long drive on a family holiday. Just rush, its dead easy.

Ian’s milks open and so is mine, you can’t really pack open milk and in prison its a carton. Moving from one cell to the next in bang up (Closed conditions) you don’t really have the convenience of going back down to your old cell – its all locked gates and segregated landings. So I have to discard these but hey I’ve still got mountains of sachets of desecrated milk powder.

I’m told I’ll be moving to the 3’s, that’s the level above me, but it could also be Timbuktu. The short squat Nigerian screw is devoid of any social skills, there isn’t scope for pleasantries, he beckons me like a dog to hurry, so I whack a brave face on and I’m back onto the Wing.

The landings, staircases, tons of steel cages, solid metal doors and the contrast of the nicotine yellow walls set against the black uniforms of the screws, is exactly as you imagine. Britain’s most dangerous prisoner, Charles Bronson says of HMP Wandsworth:

“This is a real man’s prison”

Cell 3-08

The door swings open on the landing above, I’m at the door and if my eyes were on stalks I’d extend them inside before I step in; giving me a split second to analyse. I don’t have that luxury, so I spin the chamber. Every prisoner, in every movie i’ve ever seen is loaded within the world’s biggest revolver pointing straight at my temple. Nonce’s, gangsters, Morgan Freeman, perverts, MPs, street urchins, Nicholas Cage, Killers, the birdman of Alcatraz and the list continues. Every bad choice is buffered in the hope that like my first night, I meet with an island haven, set within these walls of sadness.

I squeeze the trigger and stick my hand out, I don’t get the shake I was aiming for – on closer inspection the geezers asleep. Well this is going to be merry when he wakes up. The cell is pitch black, mostly from what appears to be an improvised curtain arrangement. Again there’s a stained bed sheet hanging from the ceiling, fastened by a fork. The sweet aroma of incense is burning away at the base of the double bunks, transporting me if only for a second or two, to the Medina’s of Morocco, the bazaars and anywhere infinitely more choice than prison.

I repeat the unpacking performance of last night and this morning and in the dark try to create some space for myself.

I’m on the top bunk and for some that’s less desirable, but in my history lessons, I learnt Kings defended their castles from height. I gladly take the top bunk from the clutches of my as yet un-named companion. A screw walks past the door, peers in through the bullet hole and then slams the viewing flap shut. There goes a little more light and with it an extra window into my new world. The tv flickers on silently, unwatched but I’m a little too mannered to change it for my own choices. What if he’s awake and he’s just ignoring me. Perhaps he is very much into… (Closer inspection) Loose women?

Some time passes and I hear the growing restlessness of a man waking from his sleep. Sliding from under his prison issue orange scratchy woolen blanket, the man stands up, and peers at me. I’m disarmed immediately:

“Hey, call me Alex, welcome to paradise”

A slightly built man in his late 30s, Alex from Dominica is much less than what my own paranoid mind had led me to believe. Brought back to Wandsworth from Ford Open Prison to deal with a Proceeds of Crime Order, (Confiscation as its more commonly known)  he is killing time until he can get on the next bus back to the low risk D Category establishment. In the mean time, he is sleeping his time off, reading the Bible and as I will discover, lecturing young men such as myself (I’m definitely still young :), very late early 20s…… ahem) on ‘true happiness’.

At least he is lecturing, far better that than Letching.

He’s a non smoker, which means he is unlikely to be a smack head or an abuser of any of the other unsociable drug habits; he’s in for Fraud, so I’m not going to find him trashing the cell up at 3am and better still he has already been classified low risk. Satisfied with this news, I can relax and I begin to do a little more writing. I write home to my pal Mel in french, Gen and Clive benefit from some trivial etchings and I consider how many days until I see R again.

I’ve not touched my Bourbons.

An hour passes

I’ve destroyed my Bourbons.

I look at my cheap casio watch, where once rest a symbol of an ego long since passed. I like a nice watch don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t recommend bowling around a nick with a Rolex. It’s 12.30, lunch is due.

Theres been a clattering of noise at the end of the wing for the last ten minutes and in order to keep prisoners apart where possible, we head up to the serving hatch in individual aisles of a landing: 10 to 15 cells at a time. They’re calling the cells opposite at the moment, then its us.

The doors open and like trapped dogs in a car we flood out onto the landing, I look to Alex for an idea of what to do and mirror him. I’ve got a blue plastic plate and bowl in my hands and I’m walking toward the ‘Hotplate’. I’m not making an eye contact but my chins up and I slap back on a sense of:

“Don’t F*** with me and I won’t F*** with you” But its essence and I’m not too proud to admit that.

A screw stops me, apparently I can’t wear flip-flops on the landing. Health and safety reasons. Even here! Ridiculous, it’s not my health and safety rules. I now have to walk back against an oncoming tide of people you may only ever read about for the rest of your days in tabloid articles that make you shudder, I just feel a bit lost really.

I get back to the cell to change and the doors locked, I’m now waiting to catch a key-man’s attention just to do as I’ve been asked. By the time I’m back at the servery, I’m left with the dregs. The food not the people, they’re all back in their cells-cum-toilet eating in a sea of bacteria, chain smoking and vegetating to daytime tv. A Lamb kebab burger that looks in all honesty like its been collected in the trough of a portaloo from a building site on Brick Lane, winds up on my plate. My pal Lee calls them ‘Thunderboxes’, I have a little smile as I walk back to the cell. I’m given some beans too, well I’m given tomato sauce with a couple of foreign objects in, a swarthy looking man walks confidently past, has a look at my meal and chuckles.

“You won’t get far on that mate” He calls out as he carries on with his march.

The door locks behind me, Alex prepares himself for sleep and I begin to read an Art History book I’ve brought to prison. I won’t let this time here go to waste, its my way of thumbing it to the system. I’ve learnt already that I love Canaletto.

Alex leans out from his bed and says:

“David, Lies are Truth in Disguise”


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