What is prison like?

13 Feb

“Business should not be met with emotion.”

Another great quote from the Oracle Alex!

That was my problem, my attempt to do business with an  ex’s step-dad, was my downfall. Desperate to keep a cheating, lying girlfriend on board, nearly four years ago now, I leapt without looking into a partnership with her mother’s husband. It must have been like shooting fish in a barrel, when it came to pitching his business idea to me in Florida. His financial trading platform, part owned with FTSE, the MTIRS index; had it seemed all the makings of something great. At a crossroads in life and wishing to please, I invested my business’s money into a new company, broking this product. There was a reason why he was pitching a 25 year old and not someone more senior but I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

His product never took off. I found out later that it had failed before and in years to come he would exit a position from the board at Plus Markets Group for a similar reason. A post I can comfortably say I introduced him for. I have the emails, there will be no shouts of defamation here. Third time wasn’t a charm… Mate.


The morning’s association was buffered with lunch, a carbohydrate heavy offering, courtesy of the Nonce Wing. Many mixed population prisons have the sex offenders preparing the food, or so I’m told. Its to ensure vulnerable prisoners receive non contaminated food. The SO’s (Sex Offenders) are less concerned with spiking meals than perhaps other prisoners might be to them.

After lunch there is a usual lockdown of two hours to allow for staff rotation and other sundries. Alex is working through some legal papers I pick up my Art History Guide. I give myself an hour to study but I’m distracted by my thoughts. Mum said I’d made the papers, again. She keeps my cuttings, bless her, they really aren’t things I’ll cherish. It was lovely to call my folks. I could hear my father in the background, I didn’t chat for long, conscious that queues build up fast and they’re  regularly a place of conflict. I don’t want any negative background noise to seep home.

Wandsworth is a relic of a prison. Its capacity is 1440, yet it routinely stretches itself to 1700. Recessions see and likely fuel a growth in economic based crime, while between ’97 and ’08, the Government created 3605 new criminal offences. Overcrowding is not a smart move. It causes tension, which leads to violence and in the worst cases: riots and death. There is no evidence managing a prison system in this way leads to rehabilitation. (Crime rates were not lower in the Victorian times!) There is of course the school of thought that says prison is not about rehabilitation but more about punishment. In that case and if you believe in that ideal, don’t then:

1.) Expect Remorse.

2.) Expect Reformed Characters.

They’ve done their time, ‘take two’.

Back to Wandsworth and its neither Punishment nor Rehabilitation. It bimbles along in a sense of navigational apathy.

“The treatment of inmates at Wandsworth Prison in London was demeaning, unsafe and fell below what could be classed as decent” A quote from the BBC in August 2011.

Don’t believe all you read, I haven’t got Sky and I couldn’t give a toss about an old playstation.

The Exercise Yard

I’m in luck, I’m getting out of my cell again. Keen to see Ian, I wanted to find out the conclusion of his court drama, we are directed down to the base of the Wing where we catch up and head out a narrow corridor for a period of ‘Exercise’.

This isn’t enforced circuit training, although that mightn’t be such a bad idea, it’s a moderately sized concrete yard, an open square with a small recess toward the back behind the Chapel. Surrounded by razor wire fences 15 ft high, I heard a rumour once, that these violate the EU’s human rights laws; so they pay a fine instead. In defence of the prison, I can’t really imagine there is much else they can do. It is a prison after all and a 3 foot brick wall probably wouldn’t serve much use.

The yard fills quickly and as we follow the anti-clockwise circle (It’s ALWAYS anti-clockwise) I ask him if he wants to take up a little jogging pace. I’m unused to not being active and others in the yard use this time to do push ups, dips and all manner of workouts on the available metal. The dark-skinned lad from the other day at lunch, is keeping up a circuit alone. Running from the fence to a bench and then back into a variety of exercises. He nods as our route crosses with his.

Others use this time to sit alone, the demons in their head don’t like to socialise outside their circle.

The screws stood well away from the inmates, cluster around the door that we came through. Some smoking, they are swarmed by vagrant prisoners who collect their fag butts. What little tobacco is left after being smoked, is pooled together to make enough to cure the cravings of the desperate man. It’s pretty sad.

Two more screws head over to the opposite side of the yard to watch a blind spot ironically created by the chapel. In the recess, the smell of cannabis lingers in the long summer afternoon. I overhear a conversation between two english guys talking about their fighting prowess. One tells the other, he likes to use bottles and blades. What a sad life, when that’s your topic of conversation.

It’s nice to talk to Ian again. Speaking to someone away from my cell, gives me a sense of an extended family. I know someone almost through choice. We speak again about his sentence, 7 years. His Co-D, got 13. The term Co-D is one I hear relentlessly inside, it means Co-Defendant. It’s prison speak – utterly useless in the real world. 🙂

I offer him some encouragement and emphasise the importance of focusing on the future, planning, using his time inside well and communicating. I modify an old sales phrase but for the purpose of this lecture, ABC becomes:

Always Be Communicating.

7 years, means out in 3 and a half. After a quarter of the 7, he will be eligible for work in the community or with an approved employer. Even still, 2 years is a long time to wait around when you’re in your late 40s. I won’t defend people for the crimes they’ve done, it’s not the purpose of this blog but I won’t prejudge anyone here either. There’s evil holding the door open for you tonight and a body in the boot of the car that let you by: detection is the only difference.

I tell him to find an outlet and start getting on with life.

The whistle goes and after about half an hour, we wheel round back the way we came. Slightly perspiring, I’m pleased to have used my legs. Back in the cell, Alex is packing his stuff, he is being moved to B Wing – now.


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