Pretend Christmas

4 Jun

Digital Radio – lifesaver in prison. When you are limited in floorspace to a grand total of 8 foot by 4 foot, wiggling an aerial in the middle of England’s countryside to pick up a radio station isn’t a barrel of laughs. Get some DAB action on the go.

With a little over a month to go till I am eligible for release on electronic tag, I have scheduled a home leave in the week before christmas. You must have 28 days in between each home leave and taking one any later in the month, to include the 25th would mean I miss out on a final one in January. Extra days in prison is best avoided where possible. Christmas tension has seen punch-ups a plenty here, behind the backs of the screws and lingering in a soured atmosphere isn’t pleasurable.  Just this month gone, prison guards left hundreds of inmates to hang around in a dark corridor waiting an eternity unmonitored, to be let in to the dining hall. A punch up ensued at the head of the queue. Despite banging on the door, those screws already in the canteen refused to open the main entrance as it is usually the duty of the final screw in their complement. 3 are generally on duty at meal times and they are obviously sourced from different departments. Those inmates stuck in the congestion enter via a door to be opened by a guard who obviously hadn’t arrived for the shift yet. A rematch was called for the following day, exactly the same circumstances. Understaffed, unobservant and unlawful. The second fight ended as the first did: a solid boot to a floored combatant’s temple. A sickening noise as the bass created by the skull echoes out a deep sound.

This is a Cat D and these chaps are due for release anytime soon.

A 5 day break in writing comes along and I get to enjoy my own bed, the love of my family on my terms, all the food I’ve dreamed of, a trip to my local boxing club and my pals chuck me a surprise party.  Overwhelmed is how I felt, to top it off a letter sits on the kitchen worktop on my final day – it’s a tax rebate from the Inland Revenue.

I feel like I’ve chucked a bit of weight on in these 5 days away from Ford; I can’t wait for the opportunity to add a bit more 🙂

On a home leave you are expected to abide by a number of conditions, these include:

No visiting Licensed Premises

Residing at a pre approved address

No use of social networking sites…

The list goes on and I wonder how many inmates on home leaves observe these. As for me, I’m not one to discuss my private life…

A day after delight

3 Jun

I spend awhile this morning in the drop in centre, my office since I transferred to the Diversity team helping ex servicemen utilise the charitable provisions in place for them. I talk to the senior officer Sheridan about my life thus far. He is a sound guy and a man I won’t call a screw. I have more in common with him that 50% plus of the prisoners here. He is respectful and takes the time to listen. Possibly for him hearing a frank tale of an inmate’s journey helps him understand those his job involves managing. An informed Prison Officer is undoubtedly better equipped to do his job.

In the Billet, days away from his Christmas home leave, in fact days away from his first trip outside in 3 years, a young lad Jamie we’ve befriended has been contacted by outside probation and told that due to the emotional nature of Christmastime and the fact that his probation office will be closed – it’s not wise for him to be allowed home. This is spite of him being given the green light weeks ago, raising his hopes and making plans at home. Mum was happy, the brothers too, their boy Jamie was coming home for Turkey.

Now, he’s devastated. But… his attitude in response to it all speaks volumes about his character and how he has matured. Having friends who won’t see outside for a decade  makes him philosophical about his situation. To an outside observer however, it’s obvious, moments like this can have a hugely negative impact on the long term rehabilitation process. You wouldn’t be wrong to suggest this creates a contempt toward the ‘Superiors’ negligence. This arbitrary approach, a top down attitude really has no place in the Prison and Probation Service. It ignores the individuality of every situation – one size does not fit all.

Back to Jamie, he will not know be rewarded for his hard work. I buy some extra mince pies instead to put a smile on his face come the 25th of December.

I count down the days until the 18th, my pretend Chrimbo, 4 days away until I can sleep in my own bed and be fawned over by the women in my life.

 

ROTL – Town Leave – 12th December

2 Jun

ROTL Day. Release on Temporary License Day.

6 months of prison sees me finally allowed a day release.

6 months of minimal sensory stimulation creates a ‘to-do’ list of an awful lot of sugary related tasks.

I wake up at 6am with a sense of nervous anticipation, that I can only compare somewhat bizarrely to the reciprocal day 6 months before. Back then, my day of sentencing left me feeling very similar. Creeping around in the dark of the cell and billet, my triple bag of coco pops for breakfast sets my stall for the days nutritional regime. One that goes on to include:

Giant Buttons

Banoffee Flapjack

Fruit Pastilles

Quorn Scotch Eggs

Gallons of Diet Coke

10oz Burger and Fries

Dorito Chilli Heat Wave

2 Pieces of Garlic Cheese Bread

1 slice of Fruit Cake

Rocky Road Cake

Carrot Cake

And a very large Banoffee Sundae from Harvester to share. Very large may not be the words to do it full justice. Grandiose would be more apt.

As the sugar rush subsides in the evening, I feel very ill indeed.

As the morning bell teases to toll, I am already creeping from hut to hut, avoiding being spotted by roaming guards. The bell rips through the silent morning air, and I’m covering the last few yards at double time. The knowledge of waiting family outside and my princess, who by now has visited me every week and continues to write daily – stands there too; is all I have mused over for such a long time. As I am allowed through reception, a screw tells me a little lady is waiting across the road for me. My R.

I step out into the morning, it’s different from a normal stroll across the road to our working regime; this time I’m going out of sight and the time’s my own. One whole day of everything I want to do and with the people I love most.

……………………………………………..

I use the day to catch up with some PERSONAL admin, call my probation officer, saunter around the shops in Seaford before getting caught in a squall and simply enjoying being close to loved ones. I try to bring back a couple of magazines and a pair of binoculars for star-gazing on my return, but am halted and instead have to hand them back out to my waiting family. The excitement of relaying my day’s adventures to my billet mates causes me to forget to sign back into the prison via one of the excessive return procedures. A few screw’s noses are put out of joint as they imagine another first time day tripper has done a runner. I am threatened with an Incentive’s Warning for ‘my behaviour’. I take the telling off on the chin, I’ve done far worse today.

Back at the ranch, I’m shattered and an early night is called for.

Part 2 – His and Her’s Tale. His Tale

1 Jun

His Tale:

51/2 months down, more than 6 since I’ve seen her last. I wake up nervous, my stomach filled with butterflies, today is the day I’ve dreamed of.

I keep myself occupied with a visit to the gym, setting  a new 30 minute distance row PB, 7631m. I see myself making improvements in personal fitness, it means my time here is not entirely a waste.

I have little appetite as my mind is focused on a date with destiny. I wonder where she will be sat, will she find it okay? What will she be wearing? What will we talk about? Will she cry? Will I cry?

So many thoughts drift, well, race across my mind as the minutes tick by.

I kill the hour before the visit deciding what to wear, showering and making sure I look as good as a man can whilst being in prison. I fear she will see something less than she has in me, in visiting me today. For the first time, a sense of shame crosses me as I think about my whereabouts. She is this travelled, articulate, intelligent and unique creature. Special in so many ways. I am a prisoner, stripped of liberty and often times dignity.

She tasted foods until recently from the magical east and the Orient; I queue up for mine with a plastic bowl. I know my worries are likely ill-founded, R would love me still even if I wore orange overalls today. It’s her best quality of all. She makes Mase feel young and wanted; she get’s my humour and inspires creativity within me, when other’s have only stifled it. My feet are shuffling and my knees are bouncing. I can;t take my mind off my anxieties: “Why am I so nervous?” I tell a friend who knows about my visit.

“MASON” is called out by a screw on duty, I scamper off to the visit’s hall so I am as near to the front as possible. I don’t want to lose a minute with this girl who waits for me.

As I walk through the door to the side of the hall, I am patted down by a guard and then look ahead of me.

Slightly to my side, my eyes lock on to the most beautiful sight, I can’t believe what I can see. It has been so long and yet I see nothing but the very best of that person I said goodbye to at the airport all those months ago. More beautiful than ever, tanned, lithe and running toward me at a concerning pace. She flies into my arms and wraps herself around me. It is all I can do to keep myself on my feet. In that moment of power blessed with her affection, she crashed into me and holds me close; as I hold her the same.

I feel like I’ve been set free.

I could be acquitted.

I could have been found not guilty.

I feel every emotion that equates to happiness. Today is marked down as one of the happiest days of my life.

When you have nothing but emotion, no material obstructions and no insincerity, you can find  a piece of true beauty, true euphoria that even drugs cannot deliver. In losing my freedom, I have tasted what it is to truly feel liberty. You may never envy my location, my whereabouts, my happenings and my failings but I will never envy your lives if I could go a lifetime without an experience that I shared with her today.

I spend the next two hours, nervous, giggling and an inch from the prettiest nose on earth. Tomorrow she comes again, I’ll sleep like a child waiting for Santa.

His and Her’s tale

1 Jun

Her Tale:

My heart is beating so fast, I can feel every single note. Every beat draws time closer to that one moment.

One second closer, two, five….

I think of the last time I was this nervous. My driving test, opening my results letters or waiting to hear what happened to my Masey in my absence.

In those times, as it is for me now; my palms are sweaty, anxiety rips through my very being.

I’m agitated by the woman next to me, loudly telling her children they aren’t having sweets.

I’m agitated by the two men talking at length and at volume about their plans tomorrow.

I’m agitated.

I’m hot and my pulse is racing.

There is a fear within me. A fear I dare not profess to anyone but my own inner demon. I’m scared, I’m scared if it’s not the same.

Finally, the doors open and I’m allowed to walk through with the other visitors into a large square room, tables, chairs and a booth for food at the end. I take in nothing else but my thoughts.

I choose two seats that are together. I sit and I wait.

I wait a little longer

5 more minutes pass and men begin to shuffle through a door at the top of the hall. My attention is on nothing else but that door. Behind that door lies my hopes, my dreams and my future.

Or it crushes them.

THERE HE IS!

I see him, I run.

I run

I jump.

His arms are around me and I’m overcome with emotion AND love. I’m back in his arms.

 

Cage Fighter Caged in a different life could be in London 2012 Rowing Team

31 May

I stay up late the previous night watching Scorcese’s Departed. Quality movie, but it leaves me sleepy the following morning. I go to bed pretty early these days, its the best way to get the day done. In the gym the next morning is a Cage Fighter and convicted drug trafficked Ken. A mammoth of  a fella and despite his warrior like appearance is very down to earth, respectful and approachable too. A former professional fighter, we strike up conversation over last night’s boxing. He hasn’t been here long and as I sit down to knock out a sedate 10km on the rowing machine, he plonks himself down next to me and obliterates the prison 1 minute distance test. I can only compare his output as an angry speedboat disrupting a leisurely Sunday afternoon’s canal barging. He takes a look at the other times on the different time trial leaderboards and comments casually:

“I’ll get a little fitter and I’ll see if I can beat those.”

Time proved his statement. He ends up holding the 2000m record. Watching the split times he produces in his rowing, they are phenomenal. The man is built for power and perhaps if life had thrown him a different hand, or had he been brought up in a more Tory environment, he could have been competing at an elite level with an oar in his hand.

Instead his life is shaded by organised crime and being paid to punch and kick.

Tall, broad and thickset, it’s funny how many would-be gold medal winners pass life by, completely ignorant to the sporting prowess they possess. I say ignorant, perhaps ‘unknowing’ is a more accurate description. Ignorant would be unfair. Ken, as a I shall call him should be sat in a boat on the Thames come July 2012. He will watch from Prison instead – sliding doors.

George has acquired some washing lines and erected a spider web around our ceiling. It is now our primary means of laundry. I admire his handiwork and listen to my Spurs beat Liverpool. Clarence, spends the day with his earplugs in, so he can enjoy Match of the Day in blissful ignorance. I know the score, I know he owes me biscuits, I see him before the highlights show and hold a straight face. Bless him, he is still confident of winning.

…………………………..

Day 99 arrives and is notable for the fact that it is day 99. More books arrive from R, I’ve got enough now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through all I have even with more time whacked onto my sentence.

Day 100 arrives and I feast on a little banquet of treats I purchased knowing this moment was coming. Diet Coke, wine gums, dates and OLIVES. The latter item, I had repeatedly flirted with buying but was put off as it seems a little OTT, ostentatious. But readers, NOW is definitely the time for Olives. As prison milestones go, 100 days is pretty big for me. In two weeks, I am at my halfway point and two after that I can apply for my first home leave.

I settle down for the evening, armed to the teeth with artificial sweeteners.

…………………………..

My 94 year old nan visits me today, the screws even hold doors open for her. That is the first time I’ve seen civility from them here. They may not show a lot of courtesy here, but they did today when it mattered. That ticked the box for me. Touched.

With my Nan came my parents, always a pleasure and these days I feel infinitely closer to them than I have ever been. I am the first to admit that this bad hand I’ve been dealt with is a blessing in disguise.

A new fella in the billet Ben strikes up a conversation. Just arrived here from a closed nick in Kent, he is on a 7 stretch. First impressions are that he has OCD but a good humour too. His cellmate is old enough to be his Dad, they make for an odd couple but it’s nice to get chatting to some new faces.

An ex screw is protesting out the front of the prison today over unfair dismissal or some nonsense due to a stress related injury. The gates are locked up and the local media are alerted. Inmates watch on vaguely interested but with a distinct lack of sympathy.

The World’s Stock Markets are again facing certain doom, I however am tackling a tougher issue. How to eat a bowl of custard with only a fork. I’ve forgotten my spoon for dinner and can’t remove the warm custard from the canteen. A few years ago, the wider financial market news would have etched a pain look upon my face as I would stare at the data screens and eek out an opportunity in a turbulent day of trading. How my life has changed immeasurably, how such stresses have ebbed and how much more content I’ve become.

Two mammoth swans arrive here at Ford, the seagulls seem a bit put out. Prisoners come out in droves to feed them. Lot of nature lovers here.

 

29 May

A stressful day with a few laughs, well one laugh actually, so here goes:

A former inmate at Ford: Neil Kinnock (Not that Neil Kinnock) was released in 2009 with many creditors on his back and the prospect of a Proceeds of Crime Confiscation Hearing. Money demanded of him that he did not have or had not had. The criminal mastermind that is Neil Kinnock (Not that Neil Kinnock) came upon an elaborately simple and potentially match-winning ruse. Changing his name by deedpoll may be the answer to his problems – his cloaking device if you will. Sadly for Neil Kinnock (Not that Neil Kinnock) this is where his problems it seems began.

Neil Kinnock (Yes, not that Neil, the former Labour MP, MEP etc) did however appear to be somewhat attached to his name, so he changed Neil to Neal. See what he did there, smart move…

Now the devotion to his birth and ancestral name did not stop there, fond too was he of his surname. Who wouldn’t be fond of  a name that is shared with one of the biggest drips in recent UK Political history. Therefore Kinnock became Kynoch, of course; real nous. Thinking this was the answer to his problems, he ignored the obvious complexities of the Identity systems in a developed country, that include Electoral Rolls, Credit files, Passport Agency, National Insurance and NHS Records; he now again resides at HMP Ford.

He has been re-sentenced for failing to pay his Proceeds of Crime Order. He was returned as Neal Kynoch, it didn’t work. I hear him today reticient to admit defeat and even offering advice to others on how to do it… Insane. Maybe he should have pleaded madness instead.

An overworked education office sees one orderly leave and me being rebuked for using sarcastic language. Me, a troublemaker?

The day is saved by the arrival of a handwritten letter from my lady love, postmarked Goa.

I write some poetry in a flat moment:

I find out the next day that I am now an ENHANCED prisoner. This means a payrise to £9.50 per week and an extra visit  a month. Playboy.

I set a new PB on the rower over 5000metre, 18 mins 55.9 seconds, then place my time on the leaderboard in the gym. It is the quickest so far, though I expect it will get beaten by my cellmate in a day or two.

I have my visits form processed which is good news. The last time I saw my sister and her husband was at the Great Hall on the morning after their wedding tucking into a lavish buffet breakfast. A flapjack and a diet coke in the visit hall is perhaps not so decadent, but is still something to look forward too. Burger and Chips for dinner, boxing on the telly and  a quiz night coming up. This weekend is at least as good as a day in Slough.

 

Life in Prison

28 May

So today is 3 months since I was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court and it feels like a good deal longer. Life is not tough, though a little boring at times, still, I can exercise each day, read the papers/books and have  a laugh. It’s just that I can think of more constructive things I could do with my time. I’ve seen a lot in my time inside and experienced such a spread of diverse peoples, a range perhaps I shall not see in my life had I not been “Behind the Door”.

I’m entering a writing competition with the literary class, I spend a bit of time today, completing my entry. I also am introduced for the first time to ‘Speed Solitaire’. A variation on conventional computer solitaire, using the one card draw method; by two inmates in the Education Department and who use my office, who are counting down the days until their release.

**BAD NEWS**

I’ve run out of visits and am likely to have sunday’s visit with my sister knocked back. How irritating that the most efficient system, in fact possibly the only efficient system is the visits booking schedule. I do still have an ‘Emergency Visit Order’, I am waiting to hear that it is still valid. The prison has cracked down on abuse of the system of late after complaints made by some inmates who missed out on visit slots. I’d sympathise with these grasses if I didn’t already know these same people were the type to be so badly organised that they have left something as important as arranging a visit with ‘loved ones’ to the last minute.

I speak to R finally and things seem okay, it’s a weight off my mind. She lets slip a surprise that she may be home earlier than expected. I’m thinking she probably had to do this just to appease me, like a spoilt child. Back in the kitchen, someone has stolen our worktop and our wheely bin. The residents of G2 are fuming at this inconsiderate action. Rather than ask prison estates to replace items, aggrieved inmates just nick someone else’s. To demonstrate the intelligence of those that dwell here, the billet stereo was left plugged in and put on the wet sink top. Perhaps this says more about the lack of training in practical skills than in the lack of common sense present. Who nicks a bin?

Tonight in the gym I train without my Ford Mr Fix It; the last time I saw him today he was off to pick up 10 bottles of Vodka. I think the worse when he doesn’t show up for training, With his release dates approaching its not like him to miss training. I needn’t have worried though, he falls into my cell stinking of booze to borrow some pegs for his washing after evening roll call. With only weeks to go until his release an ineligible for tag, any nickings of adjudications he picks up now will have little or no effect on his release date as he will be gone before they are sat before a judge. He therefore cares little about bending rules in his final days. He is a funny fella despite his criminal temerity and I enjoy hanging about with him. I like knowing how the real prison works and he can be assured I am very good at keeping mum; it’s why I’m here.

 

Lord Taylor of Warwick Part 2

27 May

A hurricane is a brewing – I use this as an ideal opportunity to dry some clothes outside. On the flipside it could also be a terrible time to do so but I’ll take my chances.

On the news, I hear Lord Taylor of Warwick the Tory Lord jailed for expenses fraud has been given his electronic tag to observe a Home Detention Curfew. To the lay person, this means being released on tag. He will have to observe strict curfews or face being recalled to prison. Today is the 3 month point of my own sentence. Had I only received a year I too would be out today. I didn’t, so I’m not.

Anyone with a sentence between 6 months and 4 years is eligible for early release on tag. This means in the best case scenario an inmate can spend up to four and  a half months doing the remainder of their bird at home. This is providing they have a home to go to, are wanted their and not deemed a danger to the community. Importantly, it clears up bedspaces in our crowded system and makes for  a cheap solution to containment.

Lord Taylor’s first priority was to do some work for penal reform charities on his release:

“If anyone listens to me” He says.

It’s a strange turn of events when a member of the ruling elite need to be disgraced to better understand the plight of the contemporary mass and become more in tune with society. Sadly it also becomes that bit harder to be listened to when you find yourself in such a situation. He aims to see inmates categorised while in the court cells after sentencing. The burden this will ultimately relieve on strained resources would be of untold value. After sentencing, the 5 hours plus sat on a wooden bench in an empty space could be more efficiently used by HM Courts and save having to send sane non violent offenders on a prison merry-go-round just to have them wind up at the correct nick weeks later than need be. George is a case in point. I get the impression that a good deal of problems in the UK Prison system could be eradicated if better use of the money alloted was made.

I busy myself in the education office reminding inmates of the importance of manners when they demand I put their names down for the Education Gym session – many of whom are ineligible anyway. It falls on deaf ears, coincidentally I tend to forget to write their names down too, at just about the same time.

I can’t help but think of R, she sent me 5 emails today, I worry I’m being harsh. I have continued to write to her, I just haven’t sent the letters. I need my outlet, my writing keeps me occupied and it helps me vent the thoughts I don’t feel comfortable telling those around me here.

Today I am halfway to home leave.

 

 

The Prison of henpecked Husband

26 May

A friend comes to see me today. He has until recently had immeasurable success in his chosen field and has fought for this every step of the way. From a troubled upbringing, his efforts have been that much more than others to see him land in the spot he fills now.

He had an affair a year or more back and despite forgiveness he cannot expect it to be forgotten. The trust is gone in their marriage and now a recent business deal has gone sour due to some deceitful actions by an inlaw to an important business associate. His wife not siding with him has put the final nail in the coffin of their loveless marriage. Sat there, shoulders sloping, head down and million yard stare made my chirpy demeanour that bit brighter. I look around at the room we found ourselves in and then back to him. I might have been thinking along the same lines as him, but he speaks first and says the words I was possible thinking:

“I feel like I’m the one in prison, I just wish I was here sometimes free of this dark cloud'”

It’s true, I do feel good on good days and outside stresses rarely get to me (Partner matters aside). Maybe I’m different, I set my future up before I went in; I had made the choice to take a plea and not fight things – prison was inevitable from that point on. I just needed to get through this in the best way possible. So far, so good. Flick across to the juxtaposition I find myself in. A disgraced Cityboy, stripped of his worldly assets, bright eyed and bushy tailed, raring to go – sat next to a grey, aging, depressed shell of a man with troubles poorly managed around him. This sad beast is younger than me but you’d never know.

He has begun drinking too. How many more friends must I see begin to slip my grasp with the unspoken monster that is Alcohol.

Stripped of my shame, sat with a prison ID badge around my neck; I am the Freeman, his problems put my small fears into context.

………………………………

I am woken rudely as happens everyday courtesy of a prison guard’s torch at 5am. George is disturbed more than I and shows his anger clearly. His old cellmate is tolerating the delight of having a new lodger that experiences night-terrors. Lovely

The man in question was sentenced for selling falsely labelled items on Ebay. Notably, a plank of wood as an IPAD. Shockingly, he feels he has been harshly done by:

“If you are getting it for half price – what do you expect?” He exclaims.

“Well…” I consider

“Perhaps an IPAD…. for half price?”

The Rugby World Cup has begun, with the matches on at indecent hours I am planning on formulating a nocturnal sleeping timetable to accommodate the games. One of the more senior prisoners (But youthful in outlook – I know you read the blog) has provided me with a tournament timetable for my Cell to help me in this planning. I am primarily interested in the England games but I love watching the Welsh. Some say, the Kiwis of the North. I say that anyway. In fact I’d say New Zealand are the Welsh of the South.

I set up a biscuit bet between Clarence a billet buddy and myself over an upcoming Liverpool Spurs match. We bet the weekly breakfast pack biscuits that we are given. Here’s hoping I land some Custard Creams or Bourbons; not the biggest fan of ginger snaps.

**Perk Alert**

A fellow education orderly has found a fridge and freezer we can use on the sly. This is massive news in the world of prison. We set about discovering how ice cream can be made. In the mean time I use it to freeze a fruit drink carton for the very fact I can. Plus Ice Lollies are fun.

A cursory inspection under my bed today in a slack moment, tells me the bed is a damp rotting mattress. I apply to have this changed. If I’m lucky I’ll land a ‘bedwetting friendly’ blue plastic mattress.

Safety first