Tag Archives: Ben Summers

Kweku Adoboli / UBS/ The week review

23 Nov

UBS weak link Kweku Adoboli, saw himself star down the barrel of a 7 stretch this week in a dock once graced by I, at Southwark Crown Court.

Having already served over  a year of his sentence, he must now while away another 2 and a half years, although come the summer he will be allowed to begin home and town leaves. Quite how devious or truly criminal he is, is a topic that has been left in the calm, hysteria free hands of the  The Sun, The Mirror and the Daily Mail.

For many outside of the City of London, this was one of a number of obvious calamities still being committed by the arrogant swaggering bowler hat types.

Is Kweku really a criminal in the true caricature style we associate them with? His swag bag seemed a little empty for a man who is accused of a £1.4 billion fraud; for this isn’t a fraud with the intention to steal £1.4 billion, merely corporate financial manslaughter, where a sledgehammer was being used to crack nuts. What does 7 years buy you in other walks of life?

7 years is the average total sentence of Rapists in the UK.

7 years allows you to kill a man driving dangerously with intent.

7 years allows you to stab a man in the neck with a bottle for GBH.

Kweku will serve 7 years for doing his job badly in an environment where blind eyes were turned when the money came in.

Perhaps those blind eyes should too be punished, for creating the conditions and culture where deceit, and smokes and mirrors are employed.

As is likely, UBS will see no more criminal imprisonments amongst their staff. They will pay large fines and duck down below the parapet again for a number of years, before the next cataclysmic economic asteroid rocks the financial capitals of the World; where they hope their mistakes are the least and they can join the queue without making regulatory eye contact.

In the meantime Kweku will don the green trousers of a prison orderly, tamed –  for now.

I walk the streets of London once again, but these days my attire is a little more blue collar. My hands have paint and the callouses upon my palms are no more a Cityboy’s than they are a writer’s. Time moves every bit as fast once more, I wish I had some time to stop and reflect upon my life. A one year sabbatical seems a nice idea again 🙂

 

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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.

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.

 

 

Saturday Night: Quiz Night

1 Apr

6.30 approaches, I head over to the Chapel for an event of biblical proportions.

It’s quiz night. I’ve been invited to come along by J – Boiler Room Fraud; as I approach the building I sense an element of nervousness. Did he mean me to join him and his team, or was he being generalistic.

“Sure… come along to the quiz.”

Paranoia that I haven’t experienced since school, dissipates quickly as he and his motley crew beckon me over to join them. We pull out some chairs from those stacked up around the hall and a couple extra to make writing surfaces. J and I have a mutual friend, whom he saw today, it was nice having a non-prison topic of conversation with someone.

The team is made up of Al, a maths graduate by the time I write this, imprisoned for fraud;

Tony, a loveable chap in his late 40s that reminds me of Bungle, imprisoned for fraud;

Paul a man with a roll-up never far away who reminds me very much of Private Walker the wheeler-dealer of Dad’s Army, imprisoned for fraud,

J, imprisoned for running a Boiler Room Operation;

and myself. Not having been sentenced for fraud myself, I am practically the shrinking violet amongst the team, criminality speaking.

It’s little wonder some say they should rename this place HMP Fraud.

The team named ‘News International’ is a competitive operator and we finish a solid 3rd. I am able to offer a couple of corkers for answers that would have otherwise missed the team and collect my share of the prize – a packet of Custard Cremes – with a sense of pride. In between answering questions, we chat about our offences and other idle chit-chat.

“Where’ve you been… how long did you get….When do you get home leaves etc?”

It’s a nice evening, it is a sense of normality again that I harp on about. It’s enjoyable and I wouldn’t begrudge such an event on the outside. Circumstances considering, the quiz night isn’t a bad old affair.

Evening roll check’s at 8.45, the quiz comes to a halt pretty close to the cut off point. I’m unwound and relaxed, perfect preparation for an irritating evening trapped in a small space with a man never likely to get any easier to live with. I do my farewells to my intellectual peers and head for something a little less high brow.

Law and Order USA is on, apparently its a favourite of his. I stick my headphones in, face away from my cellperson and try to write home. Tomorrow it’s a lunar month, 28 days. It’s ticked by fairly quickly I guess; but time is beginning to drag in this environment. Delroy continues to have a one-sided conversation with me and/or no-one regarding the events on the telly, its difficult to ignore, I do have manners but my patience is  as limited as anyones’.

I’m unhappy in spite of my evening’s diversion. I have 12 hours every day for the forseeable ensconced within a limited space with this intolerable human being. Worst of all, he’s irritating with no idea at all.

 

Day 23 – HMP Wandsworth…

19 Mar

I’ve been shifted into Daz’s cell. Nice, much better than I’d hoped. With Shah going we were both cast alone. I still hadn’t heard anything about George and I didn’t fancy shacking up with a nutter.

Daz follows a regular prayer schedule, he observes Islam as does his family. His religious observance is no issue to me and the man has a well-kept and well stocked living quarter. I’ve arrived in relative comfort as the wing’s cells go. Being on remand and with a good little business on the outside, he has access to more available funds than his convicted counterparts. It means he is able to purchase a few more of the minor luxuries on the canteen sheet.

Being on remand allows inmates to spend more money each week, by a sizeable proportion.

It’s his kid’s birthday so he’s had some cards sent in from the outside, for him to fill in and send back out. A much more sensible idea, than buying in the lucky dip of depressing cards from Prison Supplies. I hadn’t even considered that as a plan, simple yet effective. It’s these small little detours in the prison life norm, that keep many inmates sane and even content. Finding a way to fulfill normal life functions in spite of the systems here, is a small victory and to be savoured.

Daz is respected here, what he asks for is generally granted and he’s pulled another turn in getting me from being stuck in with a first nighter. We talk about our lives outside, he knows a fair deal about me already from our time training each day; but we haven’t spoken about the reasons why we are here. Well – he has, mine’s just a little complicated to explain off the cuff in a few words. I tell him about my life in the City. Why I ended up there, what my real ambition had been, how I came to be on the wrong end of a Regulatory Enforcement Conviction and what my plans were now. There’s enough for a little book, for the mad little life this boy had in the last half decade. Pouring Champagne off girls in 5 star hotel rooms, punch-ups outside City pubs with jackets and ties in neat little piles. Gangsters and the plastic ones too, liars, thieves and addicts; I’ve met the lot.

And when I’m done talking, he walks me into his world, stories of the like just don’t enter the average person’s life – EVER.

He’s had, seen and done a lot, but humble and I make this conclusion myself. Theres no prompting from the fella, he’s a man’s man and adds a good helping of black comedy to his verbal autobiography. When he’s done talking, ever the selfless he pulls out from under the bed a large box, 3 foot by 2 foot, filled to the brim with edible artifacts.

A treasure trove of food is opened. We make a fruit salad and destroy a bag of tea cakes I’d rescued from the kitchen, lathered in the marmalade for effect ‘Fruit Spread’ we get in our breakfast packs.

Fruit Spread is presented in a ketchup-like sachet. Coming in a range of colours and flavours, I make these sound a lot like condoms, some of them of them taste little different either. There is however one stand-out ‘Model’, this being the blue denoted blackberry spread.

Just the previous day, George and I had begun to sort each spread into a corresponding colour box and dumped the unloved choices on the landing, to see if they would get picked up by a sugar starved inmate. We weren’t in luck, we needed a coin and glue really. Still armed with the blue fruit spread, I add something to the party in D’s cell.

Who brings condiments to a party? I’d be a rubbish dinner guest.

“I’ve got the table salt guys!”

As we let the stodge sit on our stomachs, laying horizontal entranced by the tv, D says to me:

“You’re not going to be here long, trust me I’ve got a good feeling for you.”

He leans out the side of his bunk and winks to me…..

Cat News – Not Feline related

14 Mar

The smiling cellmate, raised his issue of categorisation with the team in the office earlier. When it was spotted he was still unclassified after 4 weeks, a wave of embarrassment took over, he gets an apology and a gee up with the guarantee that they would process his now. All being well he can look forward to a seat on an as yet unfilled coach to Ford Open Prison next week. A quick D-Cat could see us both be leaving for pastures new and improved; we shall see.

On his way back to the cell, the fella escorting him is a Mr Disdayne, This is ‘THE’ man behind categorisation here – the go to guy. Capo di tutti capi (Boss of Bosses). Maybe i’m getting a little carried away here, it’s just nice to speak to someone who can actually make a positive difference to your life here. For me too its nice, even to be once removed from the situation, I feel like control has been exercised onto my life. George gives across my prison number: A2292CE and my name. I’m told the matter will be remedied.

As he parts company with George, he asks him how one gets to see the categorisation office usually.

“Oh, just put in an app”

He is off before George can express in no uncertain terms, how fruitful that endeavour would be.

With nothing better to do here than write and dream, it makes for no bad subject matter.

Day 20

Nope, still not categorised.

I’ve finished a great book I brought in with me, I’m at a loose end. I decide to work out roughly how many inmates are as yet uncategorised, working on the basis that there has been no work done on this for at least 4 weeks, considering George’s situation. We come to a figure of more than 100.

It’s 200 prisoners here, that Wandsworth’s bosses and underlings have no idea how dangerous or otherwise these chaps are. This is a workplace to a good many civilians here beside Screws. Stats like that scream, ‘Pending Tragedy Headline’.

It’s kit change day again, so like obedient inmates we offer our services Kitman Mark; in the meantime we have closed our cell doors incase we are gifted with a visit from a thief in our absence. The rest of the landing is on social and domestic (‘S&D’s) and you’d be crazy to think someone won’t chance it. We come back to the locked cell after doing something useful for the wing in general, only to meet with flat refusal to open our door by a Mr Lee. This is an individual who doesn’t seem to notice the efforts his peers put in, with regard to smartness and turn-out. The pink bespectacled, pony-tail sporting cretin obtusely turns his back and walks off. He’s feet from our cell door and we have extended him a good deal more courtesy in one sentence than he gets most of the week. At least he’s consistent in his manner to all.

As he walks away, George follows behind him.

“Sorry, that was just a mumble. What exactly do you mean by walking away after a request has been made…?” George sternly remarks something of this order, he’s met with silence further and more sight of Mr Lee’s back. From this point on I wish to refer to Mr. Lee as ‘The Wise and Trusted’, I shall abbreviate this to T.W.A.T, or just twat. Twat finally relents to a barrage of verbal pressure and a man a foot higher and a foot wider following him around:

“Ask an officer on your own landing, this conversation is finished!”

Ignorant perhaps to how this sounds to man who followed you from the point when you were on his landing and in fact, outside his cell door; he marches into the landing office before slamming the door. In creating this barrier between he and George, he also shuts out the half-dozen or so various inmates, queuing outside on their own journeys of wisdom. It will be a fruitless wait for an answer.

Inside his island calm, his oasis in the desert, shelter in the storm, Twat removes his wallet from his pocket and having switched on the internet begins to transfer details from an item in the card holder, into an entry field in the computer. There are no prizes for guessing what he may be doing here, and whether internet shopping is business or pleasure. There’s a gang of lads, each with a head full of concerns and the man being paid to provide the guidance that’s missing,  is ignoring them to shop online. George takes matters into his own hands. Always happy to help the willing, he deals with all the queries and dispatches them on their way.

Having gone beyond the remit of the role of a wing cleaner; George feels he has earnt himself an audience with Twat.

He bangs on the office door and the screw rises from his seat……

 

Miss McAleavy, my fate is in your hands…

10 Mar

I get off the phone to my mum, it’s Dad’s birthday tomorrow and I save my credit when I can call up the big guy then. My confiscation order paperwork has come through also. Prison orders state that any still open confiscation orders can inhibit the move to open conditions, I make sure these are read through, signed and stuck back in the mail box.

George points out that an officer standing on the landing, a Miss McAleavy is responsible for categorisation… my shadow’s rooted as I join the tail snaking around the landing to pester her. Cue instant line of disillusioned and unclassified workers begging to the same tune.

Nah my story is different…. 🙂 is it hell

“When will we be categorised?”

“When can we get out of here?”

She takes our names, our numbers and while I know this will amount to little, I feel good for airing my grievance.

Tomorrow like always is a new day and a day when the news could land. I look forward to each new day that dawns, its one closer to the end of this nasty bit of purgatory and maybe the morning that my taxi for the seaside pulls up.

Day 18

Taxi stood me up.

The month’s drawing to a close today and I will wake after today knowing that I am less than 7 months from getting out on tag, 5 1/2 months till I can get a home visit for the week.

I remember sitting down at Christmas this year, I’d not long struck a plea and hoped I could look forward to this being all over by Christmas 2012. I thought:

“Mint, this time next year I’ll be free and clear to get on with Project Me. Never again have I got to hear from the Police, the courts etc.”

It dragged on till June as the FSA wasted more of its corporate levies to see how much I’d swallow.

Do one, you got enough back-patting headlines out of me; go fix some real problems in the City.

So as it stood, I hung around in limbo for another 6 months before I could get the sentence started. Never been so eager for a punishment before. It doesn’t seem right almost, the prosecutor delaying ‘Protecting the Public’ from this monster.

Incidentally Ex-RBS Chief Fred Goodwin or “Sir Fred” to his enemies, is alleged and perhaps can be shown to have made some VERY misleading statements to shareholders. The statements made shortly before RBS needed a Mega Billion Bail-out of his bank by the Government. That same bail-out that has caused havoc to our pensions, tax bills, benefits and overall standard of living.

As I write this here convicted of ‘MIsleading Statements’, he avoids prison and has a moderate cut to his final salary package.

Nice to have friends in high places, they make an example of the small fry instead. I get 2 years for £300,000, what do you get once you get past £20 billion?

You get demoted to Mr.

………………….

We clean the landings at night, so we can get to the gym in the morning with no duties to be done yet. The screws don’t always like all the workers going off to the gym as we should be working; but they don’t seem to have grasped the notion:

A Stitch in Time saves Nine.

Darren begins the usual physical dismantling and I leave the gym questioning whether this type of exercise is really any good for me, when I feel this terrible. I’m pleased to have gone, as National Strikes, as well as troublesome inmates on the wing, see us locked down for a long while. Add to that, it’s canteen day and there really isn’t much prospect of moving about today.

I was due to get into my property box today, but this scheduling was made by a screw clearly not aware (or maybe he was) that today would be a no go. With one day to go till the World Heavyweight Title clash between David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko, I’m panicking that I may miss out listening to it. I ask everyday, everyday I’m told: “Tomorrow”. (It’s like being in Spain! Manana Manana) Every tomorrow, I’m left waiting about, before it gets too late to head down to the property department.

It gets frustrating, but it irks most when you understand, they don’t care.

The radio is a far more intellectual tool than Jeremy Kyle. I’m sulking…. I’ll cope, but right right now this is massive part of my life – ridiculous 🙂

 

A New Day…

13 Feb

After a night of thinking and staring at a tv, I wake up late at a little after 8.15. There is a lot of time to sit and think here and just as much to watch the tube. I stopped being a tv man shortly after my problems with the regulator began. Life’s for living, I embrace that mantra, getting re-acquainted to society’s modern opium hasn’t taken long though. A bit of Jack Dee and Luthar fortify my cell from beyond the door.

Last night, there was a lot of door banging, those faces obscured by hoods your mother would cross the road to avoid; well they’re here and they miss their own. No-one is going to answer your door and over pressed panic alarm buttons inside your pad, are very possibly only there for visual effect. Red-lights flashing outside cell doors, are ignored for hour after hour. The concept of ‘duty of care’ is not widely embraced here at Wandsworth.

Chains rattle again, the jingle nearer every second, expectantly like a dog we look toward the door; it’s opened and morning light floods in:

“Medication!?” Is barked at us.

“What medication?” I ask.

The door slams back shut.

Each morning the cell doors are unlocked for ‘medication’. This is the large percentage of inmates who are following a program of Heroin withdrawal. Their medication is Methadone or Subutex. I’ve never heard of the latter but it is dispensed in a small white cup with a shot of green liquid. The ‘Methadonians’ as I hear one screw refer to them, trudge along to a dispensary at the end of each landing and are served through a barred door. They are made to consume their drugs there and then must return back to their cell.

The reason for the above is some will sell their own medication to others. This approach doesn’t stop those who preserve it in their mouth, only to spit it back out when they get back to the relative privacy of their cell. Those with tablets, do the very same. I don’t know the going rate, nor do I know why someone becomes a buyer for this junk; but I can hazard a guess.

Alex tells me that this stuff is exactly the same as that which it replaces. Posing the riposte to the argument of de-criminalising heroin etc; haven’t we already done it?

Association

I hear an escalation of sound as some activity is brewing, the ‘clunk-click’ of tens of steel locks tell me its Association time.

Alex, a veteran of jail by now, tells me to grab a shower before it gets filthy and before I can’t again. It’s already hot this morning, outside there’s a summer breeze I’ll not know but in here there’s an extra few degrees that no sooner do you wash the prison off your skin, a layer of grime is waiting to take its place. From sweat soaked clothes to sweat soaked clothes, it might be an idea to shower fully dressed.

I grab my towel and prison bar of soap ‘Buttermilk’, I wonder what I’ll do if I drop it? I didn’t get  a rope with this one….

I don’t have a bar of soap but I’m entitled to laugh.

On arrival I was loaded up with sachets of coconut smelling hair and body gel, so clutching 2 or 3 of these, my flip-flops and that front-on middle distant gaze, I slink into the shower room. It’s not busy, I’m surprised, you’d think others would be desperate to maintain a sense of sanitary dignity. Maybe they all believe the rumours of prison showers, maybe most of the guys here all have the same insecurities and same concerns as one another. Some others come into the room now, quick nervous glances dart around from all. There is a lot of Poles and Russians here, I detect a language not my own and can’t help noticing they shower with their underwear on. Suddenly I feel very conscious, am I doing the wrong thing? Am I now, one of those shower stalkers that they’ve only read about in books and seen in films? After a game of rugby if I or one of the lads showered in his boxers, you’d be laughed at – I’m not the odd one here, who showers in their pants!?

I notice I’ve spent a long time talking about a shower scene and probably shouldn’t refer to it as a: .

‘Shower Scene’

I finish up and walk the short distance back to my cell. Alex calls out:

“You might want to wait a minute”

A silhouette of a man sat down is etched upon our bedsheet/curtain divider. I ask him to open the window but I don’t hold out hope, not unless he has an angle grinder.

“Its okay, I’ll burn some incense.” Says Alex

Its not okay but it will do. 🙂

It seems stupid but I felt buoyant, I’d only had a shower but I’ve walked a prison landing and faced a fear. It wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, if I can use the phones now without having a tear-up, I’ve had a productive day inside.

Others on the landing, are hanging in gangs. The Russians, the Poles, Romanians, JaFake-ans (Kids from London but mimic Jamaican) and the Muslim Brothers. Each one is drawn to a crowd for the obvious protection it affords, I wonder if there’s a crew for me? Not seen many in Lewin shirts and Saville Row Whistles.

I get changed and scurry through my paperwork. I kept a list of numbers and addresses printed onto A4 in my holdall and now grab it so I can use the phone. Prisoners are issued with a pin code, mine’s: 37994495, (And its empty if anyone sends it in! 🙂 ) this stops the obvious trade in phone cards. Instead, weekly you enter how much you wish put onto your phone account from your ‘spends’ account. I’ve only got the £2 I received when I wound up here but it will do me fine for now.

The phones are located at the ends of a landing, mine has 2, but the stairs to the next level are ungated, so I head up to use those seeing as they’re free. A bit of common sense gets you far here, at least until you have to deal with screws. I pick the handset up, type in home and add the pin code. My mum answers, it’s a f***in relief.

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.

A new cell, means a new cell mate – Day 2 PM

11 Feb

Everything I’ve just laid out, flies back into my clear plastic bags but in less order than it began. Reminding me of the Street’s line:

“In just going out, I’ve lost out”

Clothes crumpled, precious photos carefully slid down the side of my mountains of jumble. It will keep them flat and nothing else matters. I’m lying, in the early days moving cells and sharing with new faces is russian roulette, its brown trouser time. Anyone who says they’re not phased by the shifting of cells in bang-up, especially when it’s two-man lock down, (Double Bang-Up) is too cold to be human. It’s not nice, it’s all of your pre-conceived ideas and fears, it’s all the movies, all the stories, everything you know that’s probably bollox*, could be as true moonlight after sunshine right now.

(*Please excuse my profanity, there really aren’t the right words sometimes)

I’m rushing but trying to look cool, I have a feeling I’ve packed these things just a second ago. I discover when you’re in a hurry to pack, two things happen:

1. Its like trying to put a ladder in a handbag; and

2. You CAN move pretty fast. I don’t know why then, my dad used to make us get up so early before a long drive on a family holiday. Just rush, its dead easy.

Ian’s milks open and so is mine, you can’t really pack open milk and in prison its a carton. Moving from one cell to the next in bang up (Closed conditions) you don’t really have the convenience of going back down to your old cell – its all locked gates and segregated landings. So I have to discard these but hey I’ve still got mountains of sachets of desecrated milk powder.

I’m told I’ll be moving to the 3’s, that’s the level above me, but it could also be Timbuktu. The short squat Nigerian screw is devoid of any social skills, there isn’t scope for pleasantries, he beckons me like a dog to hurry, so I whack a brave face on and I’m back onto the Wing.

The landings, staircases, tons of steel cages, solid metal doors and the contrast of the nicotine yellow walls set against the black uniforms of the screws, is exactly as you imagine. Britain’s most dangerous prisoner, Charles Bronson says of HMP Wandsworth:

“This is a real man’s prison”

Cell 3-08

The door swings open on the landing above, I’m at the door and if my eyes were on stalks I’d extend them inside before I step in; giving me a split second to analyse. I don’t have that luxury, so I spin the chamber. Every prisoner, in every movie i’ve ever seen is loaded within the world’s biggest revolver pointing straight at my temple. Nonce’s, gangsters, Morgan Freeman, perverts, MPs, street urchins, Nicholas Cage, Killers, the birdman of Alcatraz and the list continues. Every bad choice is buffered in the hope that like my first night, I meet with an island haven, set within these walls of sadness.

I squeeze the trigger and stick my hand out, I don’t get the shake I was aiming for – on closer inspection the geezers asleep. Well this is going to be merry when he wakes up. The cell is pitch black, mostly from what appears to be an improvised curtain arrangement. Again there’s a stained bed sheet hanging from the ceiling, fastened by a fork. The sweet aroma of incense is burning away at the base of the double bunks, transporting me if only for a second or two, to the Medina’s of Morocco, the bazaars and anywhere infinitely more choice than prison.

I repeat the unpacking performance of last night and this morning and in the dark try to create some space for myself.

I’m on the top bunk and for some that’s less desirable, but in my history lessons, I learnt Kings defended their castles from height. I gladly take the top bunk from the clutches of my as yet un-named companion. A screw walks past the door, peers in through the bullet hole and then slams the viewing flap shut. There goes a little more light and with it an extra window into my new world. The tv flickers on silently, unwatched but I’m a little too mannered to change it for my own choices. What if he’s awake and he’s just ignoring me. Perhaps he is very much into… (Closer inspection) Loose women?

Some time passes and I hear the growing restlessness of a man waking from his sleep. Sliding from under his prison issue orange scratchy woolen blanket, the man stands up, and peers at me. I’m disarmed immediately:

“Hey, call me Alex, welcome to paradise”

A slightly built man in his late 30s, Alex from Dominica is much less than what my own paranoid mind had led me to believe. Brought back to Wandsworth from Ford Open Prison to deal with a Proceeds of Crime Order, (Confiscation as its more commonly known)  he is killing time until he can get on the next bus back to the low risk D Category establishment. In the mean time, he is sleeping his time off, reading the Bible and as I will discover, lecturing young men such as myself (I’m definitely still young :), very late early 20s…… ahem) on ‘true happiness’.

At least he is lecturing, far better that than Letching.

He’s a non smoker, which means he is unlikely to be a smack head or an abuser of any of the other unsociable drug habits; he’s in for Fraud, so I’m not going to find him trashing the cell up at 3am and better still he has already been classified low risk. Satisfied with this news, I can relax and I begin to do a little more writing. I write home to my pal Mel in french, Gen and Clive benefit from some trivial etchings and I consider how many days until I see R again.

I’ve not touched my Bourbons.

An hour passes

I’ve destroyed my Bourbons.

I look at my cheap casio watch, where once rest a symbol of an ego long since passed. I like a nice watch don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t recommend bowling around a nick with a Rolex. It’s 12.30, lunch is due.

Theres been a clattering of noise at the end of the wing for the last ten minutes and in order to keep prisoners apart where possible, we head up to the serving hatch in individual aisles of a landing: 10 to 15 cells at a time. They’re calling the cells opposite at the moment, then its us.

The doors open and like trapped dogs in a car we flood out onto the landing, I look to Alex for an idea of what to do and mirror him. I’ve got a blue plastic plate and bowl in my hands and I’m walking toward the ‘Hotplate’. I’m not making an eye contact but my chins up and I slap back on a sense of:

“Don’t F*** with me and I won’t F*** with you” But its essence and I’m not too proud to admit that.

A screw stops me, apparently I can’t wear flip-flops on the landing. Health and safety reasons. Even here! Ridiculous, it’s not my health and safety rules. I now have to walk back against an oncoming tide of people you may only ever read about for the rest of your days in tabloid articles that make you shudder, I just feel a bit lost really.

I get back to the cell to change and the doors locked, I’m now waiting to catch a key-man’s attention just to do as I’ve been asked. By the time I’m back at the servery, I’m left with the dregs. The food not the people, they’re all back in their cells-cum-toilet eating in a sea of bacteria, chain smoking and vegetating to daytime tv. A Lamb kebab burger that looks in all honesty like its been collected in the trough of a portaloo from a building site on Brick Lane, winds up on my plate. My pal Lee calls them ‘Thunderboxes’, I have a little smile as I walk back to the cell. I’m given some beans too, well I’m given tomato sauce with a couple of foreign objects in, a swarthy looking man walks confidently past, has a look at my meal and chuckles.

“You won’t get far on that mate” He calls out as he carries on with his march.

The door locks behind me, Alex prepares himself for sleep and I begin to read an Art History book I’ve brought to prison. I won’t let this time here go to waste, its my way of thumbing it to the system. I’ve learnt already that I love Canaletto.

Alex leans out from his bed and says:

“David, Lies are Truth in Disguise”