The Simple Life

28 Mar

Not had a visit since landing myself in ‘Pen*’ as it’s now officially called; I’m off to book my first one now. I hear it’s easy here.


You book them yourself, unlike Wandsworth where you have to rely on the integrity of another human being processing it, or even bothering to. Maybe the screws are fastidious but time will tell which prison has less booking failures. The one with the prison guards processing them, or the other where we book them ourselves..hmm?

The prison is split into two wings. Imagine a Wing being all of the wooden huts and another wing being a brick-built building that once housed officers and other ranks during military usage. Lifers and the long-term imprisoned are housed in the brick blocks: A Wing. If your sentence is longer than 4 years, you join a list for a single cell. This list leads on to an indeterminably long wait, where lifers are prioritized single cells and just as you move up to position 38, you are likely to drop back 5 places as new prisoners show-up.

There are other methods of getting onto the single cell list if that’s what you require: bad health, age, being a complete irritation to live with. At the moment, the average wait time is 12 weeks. Many who go on that list, leave before they secure a single. Other’s such as myself who spend our entire sentence here, will see hundreds eligible for a single come and go while we plod on in our doubles.

I walk toward a portacabin named, ‘The Oast House’. It is not an Oast house. It is B Wing Office, my own point of reference and where I both collect and post mail. Here behind a little sliding window sits a screw behind a computer. I approach the hatch and ask to book a visit, I hand over a ‘V.O’ a visiting order. She scans my passport to the outside world, smiles and hands me an open folder to sign. I return her folder and pen and step back.

“That’s fine” She says.

“Is that it?” I ask

It is.

Simple as that.

No notes to send out to visitors to sign.

No waiting for the receipt of a formal visit order to mail to friends.

No, a highly normal, simple system. We select a day, hand over visitor’s names and walk back to our cell; smiling, thinking of this memorable date to come. I head back later and see if I can add some pals to the visits list for this Sunday. Next week my family are coming to see me and I relish the prospect.

At ten am I head over to the incongruously named ‘Labour Board’. Here they set my prison role for the next month and unsure of what exactly is on offer, I set my heart on pushing the full-time education lark.

I and 15 or so others queue up in the Chapel outside the ‘Labour Board’ room. I speculate in my mind what exactly goes on in front of this specialist skills panel. Captains of industry, taking time out from their busy entrepreneurial calendar to come to the prison to talent scout and ensure our time is used for maximum productivity. With limited slots of each role available, those with the longest to serve at Ford head the list. With over 6 months to serve here, I rank high.

Unaware of what goes on inside this secret chamber, men leave the room with chat of:

“Gardens”, “Kitchens”, “Travis Perkins”…

None of which interest me, my name is called and I rise from my seat, confident in my skill set and the ease in which I shall be allocated to education.

I walk through the door, the secret chamber becomes a gloomy back office, lit only by a single narrow window.

The captains of industry resign their roles and two unimpressive looking, part-time civil servants with flattering titles, take their place. “Gardens!”

“Don’t you want to hear about my previous employment or trade?” I offer.

“Sorry, what did you do on the outside” I’m asked.

I gesture a joke: “Money Laundering….” It falls flat, it wasn’t funny.

I discuss my writing, and financial background; I pretty much beg for education.

“There’s a carpentry course I wish to start, to improve my skills on the outside.” (It’s still education!)

The fella on the board agrees, on the premise of me finding a slot to start monday. If I don’t crack that nut, I’ll be in the gardens. Gardens here, means putting soil back into holes created by rabbits: Ford has long since ceased winning horticulture awards.

I exit the room, more relieved than any bit jubilant over my foresightedness to research education courses before meeting the ‘Board’.

Others, trail out after me in time, most resigned to a mind-numbingly dull ride. A few say I’m lucky. I’d say I was proactive, you make your own luck in life. No-one owes you a chance.

A Cell movement slip flies under the door. I am due to move to H1-06 after lunch. It’s the next billet down and after a brief nose around, I see it is occupied by a 64 year old man from Dominica. It’s an untidy cell, with the previous occupants kit still round my new bed. My new room-mate, is perched on the edge of his bed, hunched over, in the dark watching soaps and doing little else beyond ‘existing’. The room smells, the windows are shut and the floor hasn’t seen the wet side of a mop for a while.

I’m not shifting someone else’s gear, induction tell me to bin it. I think I’ll make sure the prisoner is definitely gone, before I risk my good behaviour over a punch-up later, for trashing someone’s personal effects.



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