The Showers….

12 Feb

Wandsworth is a local prison. This means, it feeds newly sentenced prisoners to the wider prison system from courts. For some this could mean a matter of days holed up in its squalor, for others, it ends up being months, sometimes years. There is little rhyme or reason to the inconsistency of how prisons operate in the UK. Where one will let you receive books, another laughs at the suggestion.

‘Wanno’ as its colloquially known, is a B Category prison, this is the second highest security classification in the system, don’t be fooled into thinking that prisons put individuals of different offending backgrounds together. If they can put a Ugandan multiple murder suspect, previously convicted of rape awaiting extradition hearings in a cell with an articulate and considerate family man convicted of corporate account embezzlement; they will. It’s a terror weapon that I will come to hear levied against prisoners with less experience of the jail regime.

Since I’ve moved cells during association time, I’ve not had a chance to use the showers since yesterday morning, now upstairs in my new pad; I ask when we can get out for a wash.

“Maybe tomorrow” Is my reply.

Remembering it’s a scorcher today, the thick walls of the prison absorb heat and with such little ventilation, the heat sky-rockets. If its 25 degrees outside, then it’s nearing a stale, humid 30 in here.

Alex, tells me to take a risk whenever the cell doors are unlocked and run into the showers. I don’t know if I have the bravado to do that just yet, its easy for him to say, he’s been inside for a year already. The showers occupy a large room on the middle of the landing, out the cell door to me and to my right. There are large windows from it out onto the wing, so prison officers can observe if there is or isn’t any violence, drug dealing or sexual intimidation going on.

From what I piece together before I go in and in discussion with others, sexual intimidation is fairly non-existent in the general population wings of prison in the UK. You do hear stories but those I pick up on, take place in the sex offender wings. One lag wrote a book about an experience of being raped by his 2 cell mates; the publication ended up in the prison library. Word travelled fast and that prison never put 3 men in a cell again. You can only imagine the horror of being confined for 23 hours a day in such a scenario. It’s one of many incidents I learn of negligence bordering on the criminality.

I spend a little time chatting to Alex about writing, philosophy, he is surprisingly learned, in fact, there is no surprise at all, why should a man from another country, another walk of life be any less intellectual. It makes for a nice distraction and above all I am, so soon into my incarceration challenging my perceptions of others. I like this moment of escapism. Actual escapism is however a practical impossibility, the window in my new boudoir, is just as small, just as well reinforced and looks out onto a rabbit warren of razor fences and open ground. There will be no new Andy DuFreyne here, no rock hammer will get me out of this place.

Dinner

Dinner it seems can happen anytime from half four onwards, while you’re collecting your scoff, you pick up your breakfast pack too. Breakfast packs are made in the prison system and the process of placing the items in the small clear bag is operated on a production line basis. It’s a job requiring little skill or mental aptitude and provides no obvious preparation for release. But it reduces the need to put on an additional meal time in the morning and saves on manpower and resource costs.

I pick up Rice crispies and a teacake; before you think it’s all luxury, the cereal is unbranded and the teacake doesn’t come with clotted cream. Unbelievable…

It isn’t the worst thing in life, although being locked in all day with no exercise is pretty weak. A friend of mine recommended I put my name down for anything that comes my way inside, it makes the days livable and offers more time out of the cells. I decide to put my name down for a job in the wing tomorrow, how and where I do that I am yet to know.  If I pick a valuable job or certain courses, there is the risk I could be kept here for far longer than is necessary. I had planned to be brought here before I was sentenced and I have a tolerance level of how long I wish to be kept in this abode of social toxicity. The sooner I can move along the system the better.

Thoughts of what’s to come

Every waking hour before sentence I devoted to thinking about prison. My laptop plonked open by the side of my bed, favourites omnipresence on the screen, searches of sentences, prisons, convicts, forums, categorisation, suicide rates, overpopulation and scare stories of cell mates.  Researching the complete unknown, I’d learnt a lot I didn’t need to know and still hungered to satiate the never quenching thirst of ‘What happens in jail?’ From what I could ascertain, I should be a low risk Category D prisoner; so sooner rather than later I hoped to be shipped out to some midway point between prison and freedom. The likelihood will probably be much different, but a world away from south-west London’s bad-house.

I think about things I can do while inside, to make my time productive, I put together a list:

–          Practise my French

–          Learn Spanish

–          Stretch more

–          Read

–          Write to a friend each day

–          Learn the Haka

–          Write left-handed

Content with my fairly eclectic list, I switch the tv on and channel hop ignorant of the listings, I settle on a standard Channel 4 documentary which is essentially a mockumentary on some topic relating to:

‘My wife and her six arms’.

The rattle of a prison officer’s keys jangle in the far distance, a whistle blows, heavy footsteps, some commotion but on another planet to me, behind my big steel door. Safe inside the cell from other’s crisis.

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