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Comedy Club

9 Jun

Boxing Day

I was never so aware as today, quite how many animation movies run on our tv over the Christmas period. The prison breakfast is gradually running shorter each day of available items, such that I expect a right hook on the final day from the kitchen staff, instead of a warm dish.

Today’s insomniacal boredom is punctuated by a ‘Strongman’ competition, contested by only 4 inmates. Given the braggadocio within these barbed wire fences, it surprises me so few are willing to prove their physical prowess. Perhaps talking about it is less strenuous, or maybe they are taking a winter break from being ‘Gangsta’. In other avenues of occupation, George obliterates the rowing record on the 2000m by 20 seconds. I was sure at one point I could literally see him developing a body wide hernia.

Team ‘Going for Gold’ also made a long awaited return to the prison quiz after many weeks of sitting it out due to what is best termed as: A decline in standards. A change in atmosphere at what was once an enjoyable, sedate and high brow evening; saw the introduction of easier questions to equal the standards so the quiz was more inclusive. Not wishing to seat myself on any intellectual pedestal, (Mine would be only half elevated I assure you) but isn’t the whole concept of a quiz, to determine who has a better spread of knowledge or grasp of a particular area? To dumb down the standard of questions kind of panders to the stupid. A stupid idea for stupid people. I like to think that a halfway functional human being can come away from a quiz after a poor performance and think:

“Hey, you know what? Maybe I should read more – I’m not as smart as those other chaps.”

Instead the mindset here must be:

“Hey, those questions were beyond my limited knowledge range, this is a fundamentally unfair system, that rewards those who make the effort to learn. I’m demanding the questions are made easier.”

For those people, perhaps a raffle may suit their insecure sense of self-worth. Like a quiz, but with no questions. You simply need to turn up and hold a ticket. Or steal one, if that suits those here more.

Back to the quiz, I don’t want to dwell on a result that I had initially thought saw us taking away free phone credit. Instead we placed in that position made famous by British sportsmen and women throughout the years. 4th.

Yes, a BRAVE 4th.

Andy Murray, Paula Radcliffe, Bobby Robson’s Heroes, Terry Venable’s Heroes, a bit more Radcliffe and probably a lot of white British 1500m runners.

The billet has turned into a bombsite over Christmas, a cleaner with an altogether different take on personal hygiene is ‘running’ things nows. The screws don’t do spot checks, so we have to live in squalor. Making matters worse, we have a phantom sh*tt*r  operating also right now. I believe it ‘s just the one, I don’t think these people work in teams. Parcels of human excrement keep turning up on the floor of the bathroom. Maybe it’s a statement to the cleaner, to start doing his job.

NYE

On it’s way is the first anniversary of the Great Fire of Ford Prison. The Riots, as they have been dubbed. The governor and screws are panicking that this year will see a repeat of last year’s events, despite the prison being made up of entirely different people…

I look forward to seeing how this day pans out.

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The Economist

21 May

I sit on the bike in the gym burning off some chub and talk to a chap called Paul. The gent in his mid 40s shared the same billet as I when I was living in my mini Hell with Delroy.

The man is an economist on the outside and in recent years has worked as a management consultant. He offers this information after spying the book ‘Freakonomics’ I had been reading recently. Take him out of this environment and Paul is every bit the image of a positive Black male role model. Educated, well spoken, considerate, shame about his criminal record check results 🙂

Paul has a lovely dry sense of humour and we spend a while discussing the ‘Broken Window Theory’. This theory dictates that if you clamp down on small minor anti-social behavioural issues and fix visual disturbances (Broken windows, graffiti etc) immediately, it affirms a sense of civic prestige and pride. People become more conscious of mis-treating their community when the small things aren’t left unchecked.

The easiest way to explain this is through the analogy of a ‘fly-tipping’ site. Where someone dumps a load of refuse in a site that was previously clear, a future rubbish disposer is more likely to add to this untidy mess than create their own new dumping site. This is part mob mentality and part distorted rationale. The belief that the latter tipper is less at fault as the site had already been distressed by an earlier dumper.

More simplistically, if kids smash a window in one property and it goes unrepaired, pretty soon next door will suffer a similar fate. Damage left unchecked sees a steady decline in community values.

We apply the ‘Broken Window Theory’ to prison and the idea of reform and rehabilitation, it is an interesting way to kill 50 minutes. Every day I share a conversation with someone that surprises me in the standard of intellect and thought provocation.

I hit the library in the afternoon and am amused to see in the reference section is Criminal No. 1 Charles Bronson’s A-Z of British Prisons. It’s nice to see what forms the backbone of general interest this side of the fence. Having been to nearly every prison in the UK system since his 2 year sentence in the 1970s became a life sentence over the last few decades; Mr Bronson gives his insight onto life in the 100+ barbed wire friendly institutions that dot the landscape.

I spend a bit of time reading the ‘Inside Times’ too. The prison newspaper for prisoners, is ordered to be made available in every prison library; this allegedly didn’t stop our Governor Sharon Williams here trying to put a stop to it. I ask George why he felt she did this. He responded in his usual dry manner:

“Why did Hitler rip up the history books in schools?”

………………………………..

Drama clouds the quiz night this evening.

Our team now called:

“Going for Gold with Henry Kelly” places dead last.

Having a team member who keeps a score tally as the results come back made this news that much more shocking. The indignity! 🙂

Later on we hear a marking error deprived us of 15 points and 2nd place. We get an apology from the quiz master and his sidekick, we are assured we will be given a public apology before next weeks quiz. As the quizmaster leaves my cell, I ask him:

“Is George furious?”

He smiles, nods and tells me our prize will be sorted out in the week. I settle down to X Factor waiting for the big man to drop by, pleased with this re-affirmation of our team’s prowess.

Our rivals, the irritatingly named ‘First Place’ have now been pushed into 3rd place. You know your life is absent real adventure when you have a quiz team rival.

I watch Ricky Gervais’ movie ‘Ghost Town’ and not for the first time. Watching it on my 14inch tv in the cell, is in fact the largest screen I have ever seen it on. The last time was high above the States in a 747. Spence points out its possibly the most comfortable I’ve been watching it then too. Funny that: sprawled out in the nick watching a film I saw before on a jet above New York to do some business and this is my preferred way to view it. At least I get to stretch my legs out.

The Next Day….

Spence days away from leaving is thrown square into a dispute between two rival groups of Travellers. He can’t wait to get out of here now, at the very least it will spoil a prison darts tournament and out regular source of confectionery with his throwing skills, at the worst it will lead to claret being spilled, early release halted and prisoners being shipped out. He’s asked to take sides, something he doesn’t want to do. The matter resolves itself months later when one side is sent back to closed conditions after being caught blind drunk. The other’s resume their roles in the Prison’s Violence Reduction Team!!

 

Tales of Prison Life

17 May

Dinners tripe today – not tripe but resembling poor quality produce. A roast dinner which features an undercooked chicken drumstick, boiled potatoes and courgettes, is not a roast. Not exactly drama number one, but disappointing nonetheless.

I find food solace in a visit with the folks. Two beef pasties, a flapjack, bakewell tart, Lion Bar and 4 diet cokes form my real Sunday lunch. The visit flies by as they always do as I enjoy sitting around a table with my mum and dad. I enjoy that a lot more than cringing as my mother remarks on other inmates and their choice of partners, in a volume that is distinctly louder than a whisper but with that pretend whisper voice for effect. I am aware that all mother’s likely do this and my cringes are the same shared by many other inmates over the years. Mum’s will always find a way to embarrass you but I can forgive a bit of nosiness, it’s their legal right I believe.

It’s Ramadan this month and my lunchtime food excesses are compounded when a billet mate, Hussain brings round a selection of Samosas, Bhajis and Curries for us to munch away at. Ramadan here started with 40 inmates observing the principles of fasting during daylight hours, it is a week or so in and only 7 are still keeping to it. The ones that have fallen by the wayside highlight a common trend in the UK Prison system; Pr-Islam. Many young offenders who come into the system via inner city detention centres convert to the teachings of the Koran. Or more accurately, the firebrand extremist preaching and the immediate clanship that goes with joining the Islamic brotherhood behind bars. As these younger prisoners grow up or move out of the closed system and into an open prison, religion gradually ceases to be of the same importance as it once was; and a breed of fairweather followers emerges. Despite not keeping to the fasting of Ramadan, these others still collect their bulk daily meals after dark as well as queuing up to take the normal prison servings. Kind of really defeats the point that Ramadan aims to teach. Having spoken to one inmate, Chris who takes his beliefs seriously, I understand there is some disappointment that this liberty has been taken.

………………………………

George has created the spreadsheet countdown I discussed before. I have 112 days until I am eligible for home leaves. A blink of a lifetime but a lifetime away to think about.

………………………………

Sunday evening’s bells ring for the following durations:

Bell 1: 10 Seconds

Bell 2: 12 Seconds

Bell 3: 18 Seconds

Bell 4: 7 Seconds

I know this delightfully boring fact as I counted it using the ‘Hippopotamus’ count technique.

I begin to keep notes from now on, on the time that the bells toll, the pauses in between them and their duration. What I will do with this data is anybody’s guess, but it’s a ‘keep me busy’ occupation that I really don’t have anything better to do.

When the screw comes round, I ask him why the ‘Automated’ roll call alarm is so irregular. He explains it’s manual.

“Why then didn’t the guard in the control room think when he had headed north of ringing the bell for 20 seconds, that he should possibly stop?”

I don’t think the screw really understood the wording of my question, I mutter “47 Seconds” under my breath.

Deaf ears.

Ironic.

…………………………..

The mail orderly headed down to the reception with the day’s parcels yesterday, as his job entails; he’s met with a:

“Too busy, bring them back tomorrow” (This is the prisoner’s post by the way. One extra day to wait at least now before it’s cleared)

Today the orderly returns to the reception with twice as much post as the day before and a holdall* to hear the same screw say:

“I can’t do all that mail! I’ve got new arrivals in an hour.”

The orderly advises him that it may be wise then to use that spare hour before they arrive and clear this mail. The backlog will be larger still tomorrow. *Along with the parcels is a holdall containing a note reading:

“Dear Sir/Madam,

this is property for my son’s release. Please take care as a phone, charger and other valuables are enclosed.”

With a sneer of contempt for a caring mother’s thoughtful gesture, Mr Smith throws the holdall into the concrete wall of the reception.

Ironic.

One lad’s about to finish doing his penitence, his debt repaid, this screw’s wanton act of vandalism to other’s property is both petty and sinister. How nasty can you be? Do you want people like this reforming Britain’s broken generation?

Spence has his tag confirmed for next week. I’ll be sad to see him go and will aim to see if George can move into the space coming available. Cellmate roulette is not a game I fancy playing.

 

Day 33/34

9 Apr

A new lad has joined us on the carpentry course. Tim, he’s come in from Highdown, a young lad, all the signs of the usual tearaway simply needing some structure and boundaries in his life. Nice kid, a bit needy.

I spend some time putting together my study folder and am buoyed by the news that come August the prison will have the follow on course for that which I’m currently on.

I’ll know my wood by the time I get out of prison.

Funny, that’s what my mates said would be the case before I got sent down.

Day 34 and it’s the end of my first ‘working’ week at Ford. Friday is a half day here, I don’t know if it’s because of some special event or it’s just the norm. There is always another item you’re yet to learn in prison. I’m hoping however, that it is the norm; I can get used to half day Fridays. It’s a sunny day so some sun worshipping can be accommodated this afternoon before I hit the gym at 6. Sounds like I’m in Spain, but I’m not.

I’m in prison and tonight I go to bed in my single cell bed, in a share celled with an intolerable man with a weak grasp of hygiene habits. My family aren’t here and my girlfriend is thousands of miles away.

You make the best of a bad situation if you’ve got the right marbles to do so; but prison’s still prison and the weather is good in Hell too.

The week’s meal card is on my bed waiting to be filled in when I arrive back to my cell. It’s a fun little diversion to occupy me for ten minutes, I’ll hand it back in before I can use the reverse side for doodling.

Airmail

A padded letter stamped from India, screams ‘A message from my baby’. I’m excited to take it in my hands from the screw in the mail room. I’d never expected to receive letters from my girl directly. I have got used to the proxy means of her sister, that we currently use.

I squeeze the letter, like a child at Christmas tests his presents for signs of a clue.

Inside is a hand written letter complete with doodles – it’s beautiful, they’re beautiful, she’s beautiful. I save it, there’s no way I will read it all now, it would be such a waste to spoil it in a dinner queue; besides ‘R’ doesn’t write in small measures. The letter even smells like her. It’s been 7 weeks since I said goodbye to her now, the scent of this woman, to me is the smell of forever happiness.

Before I left, she had put together a scrapbook of our time, it’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me and here stashed inside this envelope is a photocopied version of every page. I wonder where I’ll pin new pictures and her doodles, I’m desperately shy of available surface space around my bed now.

In contrast to these moments of fleeting happy thoughts, I put a complaint in about the delay in passing me back my radio (This is an ongoing issue in prison clearly) and fetch my Cajun Tuna Baguette from the lunch hall. It sounds better than it tastes.

As the afternoon roll check is done, we are passed our canteen sheets and I sit down to figure out how I can spend my £34.75 allowance.

 

 

Day 8 – Mad Frankie Fraser woz ‘ere

20 Feb

The door opens just before 9 as is Ian’s. We are guided down to the end of the landing with a dozen over faces. Journeying down a tight set of steel spiral staircase, we are led out onto the central spur of Wandsworth Prison.

You may have seen this in photos, it’s a tall, circular space, railings running along the walls and a large blue star marks the floor. This star is famous in old Wandsworth folklore. It was once hallowed ground, why? I’m not quite sure, but it was the spot a Governor would stand to issue orders and the griddled floor still in place looks down where the kitchens once were. To stand here, in the centre of the Prison spur, would result in a severe beating, time in the punishment block and your card’s marked for remainder of your stay. You just didn’t do it.

That was until one day in the 1960s when a London villain by the name of Francis Fraser was sentenced to a term of imprisonment here. You might know him as Mad Frankie Fraser, the screws were petrified of him. An enforcer of the feared Richardson Crime Family from South of the River, he came to Wandsworth with a reputation to uphold. He was given the half chance he needed, so grabbing it with both hands, walked out to the middle of the ‘Star’, dropped his trousers and took a crap square in the middle.

We head down a handful of soulless corridors until we reach F Block – the resettlement wing. Here we are spoken to by civilian and uniformed members of staff. The purpose of the venture besides getting the blood moving round our extremities is to talk to us about ‘opportunities here and beyond’. My civilian interview was conducted with a  chino clad man of a highly nervous disposition.

“LOVE the trousers fella” I offer him

It’s a surprise the man hasn’t considered a career change, though his nerves  ease when he sees what I’m in for. He breathes a sigh of relief knowing that he isn’t boxed in the corner of a small side office with a homicidal maniac. Douglas is his name, the man who looked like he held a sense of dread with every prisoner meeting, the meeting was not in the least bit productive but it’s nice having a natter.

The second meeting is held with a rotund woman who really doesn’t understand my conviction or had ever heard of such Financial Regulation laws; she has my down as a ‘Forger’, which sounds very ‘Great Escape – Donald Pleasance’ something I’m fine with; regardless, she sees no reason why I wouldn’t be a Category D prisoner. This means low risk, more importantly this means: Open Prison.

From here the next stage of my prison career is likely to be Ford Prison near Chichester. It made the news last year when inmates set fire to a number of buildings at New Year; for me it spells the start of some semblance of normality again. At least I think it will.

There’s a waiting list though, a huge backlog at Wandsworth means rather than be moved in days, I could be here for a number of weeks more.

Ian comes out of his own meeting, he’s got 7 years, so he will be heading to a C category prison first. He’s leaving in days, to HMP Highpoint. Pang of jealousy to know that his situation will be resolved sooner than my own. But I can’t envy a 7 stretch and he will be nearer his family.

Back on the wing, Lord Taylor’s having his own issues with categorisation and is being sent to a prison even further from his family. His transfer to a D Cat, kept being cancelled, now he’s off to Stamford Hill in Kent. He’s being messed around inside and unlike how the papers will portray it, the powers that be are making efforts to be seen to treating him harshly. The prison service makes a song and dance of stressing the importance of ‘Supporting, promoting and maintaining family ties’. Sending someone from Warwick (Lord Taylor of Warwick) to Kent via Wandsworth, really doesn’t fit that strategy. He wishes me luck as I head off to see the Doctor over a touch of man-flu I’ve acquired.

 

 

 

 

Induction Begins – Day 4

15 Feb

Induction Begins – Day 4.

Read on in the real-life prison diary of Disgraced Banker

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Prison lingers overhead, from hard sell to prison cell

8 Feb

Court Hearing : Southwark Crown Court

Todays my final offer of plea, its 24th February 2011, I was first arrested in 2009 – it feel like there is no end to this drama.

The FSA want me to plead to more than I’m comfortable with, but a trial won’t be until late 2012. If I bite the bullet I can be out around Christmas way before it ever winds up before Judge and Jury. Am I cutting my nose off to spite my face?

The FSA are attempting to box me in, I’m between a rock and a hard place when all I want is to get this behind me. I’m happy to take responsibility for my offences, but do I need to wait 2 years if not more for my punishment?

In those two years I’ve had my assets frozen, my passport taken and been forced to observe a residential curfew. These are all methods of punishment, but the public don’t understand that. Do you think prison will actually help me rehabilitate?

The FSA have moved their position: they want me to accept more than simply deceitfully breaking regulations, they want me to plead to being involved in Boiler Room Fraud. No Dice, I won’t accept that. I either accept a modified fraud charge or it goes to trial. 3 years on bail, to clear my name. I’m losing the energy to operate as it stands. How much is my name worth? Whats my pride worth? Whats a 1/3 off a sentence worth? Whats the chances of defeat?

Its funny, growing up, you’d never dream of taking the fall for something you didn’t do. “Its not me mum, I swear”.

In real life, when faced with a 6 week trial, 3 years on bail, having all your assets frozen, prohibited to work, taking a plea is sometimes the best option. Prison can’t be any worse than all this palaver….

FSA offences are what are called ‘Strict Liability’. It means, you have a strict liability – ignorance is no defence. So even with a defence of naivety, you can still end up in clink. Fraud is not strict liability obviously. However, going to trial to clear my name on that charge may likely see me still end up behind bars for the FSA breaches. Is pride worth it.

On the train to court I still have no clue what decision I’ll make, I’m sick to my stomach.; no one can guide my choice, but everything does.

I sit down with my folks, we agree, this one I’ll take on the chin.

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