Tag Archives: halewood international futures

Capers in the control room – HMP Ford

16 May

The morning bell this saturday sounds at 6.55am – then nothing for an hour. The first morning bell usually chimes at 7.45, so a manually sounded roll check alarm run from the control room, is down it can be assumed to a handful of screws thinking it would be funny to wake everyone up that bit earlier. Given that nearby homeowners can hear the morning bells, it’s somewhat inconsiderate and anti-social to those perfectly law abiding local residents who were woken up that bit early on their saturday morning off. It’s a snidy little action that just makes prisoners dislike screws, where they may have previously been ambivalent.

On some occasions the roll-call bell sounds for a brief moment, at other times it rings off like an overweight screw has dropped his paunch on the push buzzer. Suffice to say, in a quiet wooden hut at 7.30am, we hear the bells no matter how brief they are.

The prisoners wake up with a gripe on their day off, I get some small pleasure from seeing the screw taking our billet’s roll check stack it over the bin I leave outside the door. Living in such a small space, it isn’t a favoured option of mine to sleep with a bin by my face. As no one else chooses to leave their bins outside the door, the guard obviously didn’t have to engage his mind beyond ‘Stage 1 Screw Functionality’.

Stage 1 :

Breath in; breath out, burp, feed hamster in skull, repeat…

………………………………………………………..

With no gym this morning and none tomorrow, I wouldn’t be surprised if some irritation is shown on the prison site. This is evidenced later when a Russian lag here has a plate of food chucked in his face after slighting an ex boxer from London. The Russian has a reputation for bullying the small, a man his own size standing up to him is well received by the onlooking audience. True to form of a bully, he scurries away when challenged. George and I take a walk after breakfast to kill the time that would otherwise have been filled by the gym session and me being encouraged to thrash my self on a rowing machine.

I grab a coffee after we walk for 4km and then catch up with Spence who is on the grass outside the billet being beasted into submission by an old boy who is able to produce an exceptional volume of push-ups. Spurred on by this show of physical excellence by a man in his 50s, I spend the next hour doing shuttle runs and then knocking out 12 rounds of skipping. In doing the latter I generally attract a small audience; today this includes a drug importer, two fraudsters, including one Carousel VAT scamster; and a man sent to prison for using his fists in a public place. All are perfectly normal to talk to and it is only when I am writing on my daily experiences that I consider them as social misfits, offenders the black sheep of society. I do find it harder to skip well with a little team of supporters but it certainly helps kill the time better. I certainly never pictured such a scene in the weeks before I was sentenced. All of those irrational fears and nothing has come of them. The truth is, prison life is what you make of it. So I’m making friends and getting productive.

Match of the Day and X Factor is on, plus the defence of my quiz title. Saturday’s tasty.

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Why Prison Doesn’t Work

8 Apr

It becomes very apparent to those who wish to observe, prison fails for a number of reasons, but it must not be ignored the fact that fitting square pegs in round holes is not an appropriate way to manage personnel.

I mean, there is a problem with the calibre of people working in certain departments of the prison service.

There’s good, really good and there’s bad; there’s very bad indeed. This is a service with very little margin for error but insists on not enforcing change on it’s stakeholders in a way that can be seen in other industries.

Here are some examples to ponder in determining if there is something wrong with the current crop of Prison Staff.

a.

Ford has a limited education and training budget and therefore has a limited range of City and Guild courses to offer as the costs mount up. It’s taken a prisoner today to advise management to focus on Government sponsored NVQ schemes instead. This means the costs of exam and training registration could be saved and with NVQ being the commercially required standard for many skilled professions; it would be both positive financially and positive too in terms of re-training unskilled inmates with real skills. This would mean more learning opportunities and more real reasons to change one’s life from petty crime.

Level 1 courses in any profession is not going to make a prisoner more appealing to an employer. I speak as someone who while enjoying his Level 1 City and Guilds woodwork course, is not under any illusions that it could land me a job on the outside.

Why does it require prisoners to tell Governor’s things they should be only too aware of? To many who have spent long years within the HMP system, this is no surprise. To me a civvy, who took an ethics-free sabbatical to come here; I’m nonplussed.

Here’s another:

b.

Ford Prison’s paper contract sees them pay £9 per Ream of A4 paper. (This is 500 sheets) The service agreement with a private business, means Ford can only expect 50% of their paper in white. Pop down to Tesco’s and see how much it is there. Who has agreed this contract? This is bad business and is only one small item, likely littered amongst many tens of thousands of terribly negotiated poorly researched Procurement (Buying) decisions the prisons make. If your job is to land the best possible deal, then this contract screams out: ‘My Friend Sells Paper’.

The alternative is equally as worrying:

“You can’t trust the staff to not get ripped off buying paper, how are they going to manage Criminals?!”

…and another example

c.

If the prison chooses to flout European Law, or International for that matter; it can pay a fine and be done with it. If a Doctor mistreats or abuses his position, he can face a prison sentence. The same is rarely said for the repeat offenders public sector bureaucracy working within the hierarchy of HMPS.

Ford pays a fine annually due to the high-barbed fences that surround its prison. An open prison, I might add. It is not open through prisoner pressure, it’s open because it needs to be, to serve the purpose it does for returning offenders to society.

…and another

d.

The boss of Wandsworth Prison was caught last year shifting out 5 of his most troublesome inmates to a Pentonville for the duration of an Inspection, in order that he earns himself a glowing report and a reason to push for his next promotion or pay-rise. He is met with a sharp rebuke for what is a deception: his jobs remains safe. While in prison I have met a man sentenced for a term, for lying on his CV and ‘defrauding’ his employers as to his true professional qualifications. I wonder what he would think to hear of his Captor while in Wandsworth? It doesn’t exactly make you wish to conform now does it?

 

For the young, troubled, angry young man who enters the system, quick to argue, sometimes irrationally – setting bad examples asks for bad results.

So let’s go back to the question:

“What can Ford Prison do to cut re-offending rates?”

Maybe the question should read:

“Does Ford Prison and it’s management, have the ability to cut re-offending rates?”

Country Tracks

23 Mar

A long tiresome journey, memorable for new vistas and a desire to vomit. Travel sickness has never been far away in my life.

As a kid my mother used to give us these travel sickness tablets, ‘Joy-Rides’ they were called. Sounds like ecstacy, the taste was anything but. In fact, I remember my anxiety forming on those mornings before travel, because of these tablets. The taste was awful, bitter, it set a pretty poor tone for the next few hours. God forbid you were in my way.

As we pull into my new home, it requires a sharp left turn into what looks like an old military base, being thrown into the cupboard door wakes others from their slumber. The reason why Ford struck me as a military base, is because it was. (Ex RAF and former Naval School)

That’s where the connection begins and ends. This place lacks order from the top down, riots only months before and the Governor has been named as a catalyst in a suicide inquest at a former nick. Inmates walk by, on what I assume is the start of their afternoon working day. They cross a public road to a second compound the other side. We are unloaded outside a reception hut and led into a back room before the drawn out reception process is put into (in)action once more.

6 1/2 Hours Later

Still sat in the waiting area trying to work out whether I’ll go for the Smoker’s Induction Pack or the Non-Smoker’s pack. You’re charged for the receipt of the item and in it contains a handful of items that you may want while you wait for Canteen delivery. With little but squash, polos and chewy bars, I’m not impressed by non-smoker’s pack. I request tobacco in the hope I’ll be able to use it as currency in the meantime.

Our bags in our possession we plonk them on trailer and wheel the items up to portakabin 200 yards away. Sheltered from the rain, we are given our ID cards and sign some paperwork. It’s here I have my first real conversation with a screw since coming to prison. One by one we head into an office and are asked a few questions by a man in a uniform different to mine. It dawned on me at this point, quite how little interaction there is between the Prison Service and inmates. Do they have a clue what really goes on in their workplaces?

New Pad

The cells are double rooms, or should I say; twin – in an old army style billet accomodation. Spartan, dirty and bunked with a smoker, I’ve no idea where the mail box, phone or showers are. I sit on my new bed and think about the guys I said goodbye to today. I wish I was back at Wandsworth. I know this feelings will subside but for now i’m not happy. I’ve heard this happens a lot to those moved to open conditions. There is a sense of protection one feels in a closed establishment. Taken down to dinner in the Dining Hall, I am very well aware how few prison guards are on duty and quite how many prisoners are walking about unhindered. Ford holds 510 on average, at the evening meal time, I see at least 300 of them.

I’m still in prison and anxiety builds. Suffocating with having to process this crowded new environment. The last time I was in such a busy environment inside, I had witnessed some severe gang violence. D Cats are not known for this type of event, but new in such a place, the heart rules the head.

Irrational, chips and a burger placate me.

 

 

Day 14 – Mundane but Calmer

4 Mar

End of Day 13…………

I’m in my cell trying to write with one eye on comedian Michael McIntyre, the other on my paper. Nev’s talking in his sleep, while I hear another inmate overtly trashing his room in the 4’s cell above us. It sounds like World War 3, however the screws are sat 2 floors below. His cell mate can push the panic button all he likes but he’s better off muting him himself. I’d use a tin of tuna or two in a sock. Could you imagine being trapped in a room 12ft by 8ft with a junkie going through the hardest stages of withdrawal – Cold Turkey? I count myself lucky to have Nev dreaming about protein shakes and exercise! Another day down.

Day 14

The alarm is set early to begin a working day, I miscalculated though, those sorts of things aren’t well promoted here. The cell door stays closed till 10. Cursing a missed lay-in, Nev raises from his impressive 12 hour slumber just as the doors begin to unlock. When we can, we crack on with cleaning the railings, from the dark smudges built upon each day by residents with a miserly approach to soap dispensing. George cracks on, on the opposite side of the landing and the three of us put the world to rights over a chin wag.

Days are beginning to tick along, albeit slowly and none of the nerves I had when I first arrived here are there any more. I’m more confident in these shoes, the human adapts to his surroundings fast and what was once beneath us, quickly becomes the norm. I can handle this, I’m just counting down time now like all the other lags.

Back in the cell, Nev’s winning charm has landed us a desk load of provisions. Crackers, cheese and coffee – top man. There’s some postcards from my parents too, deviating from the usual letter based approach, I think my mum likes the idea of sending in some kind of glossy inspirational landmark images. They’ll go on the wall, fastened with toothpaste. A letter from my sister and a new canteen sheet sits on the floor too.

Trading

I’ve decided to buy rizla on this week’s sheet, so I can exchange for coffee. It seems a rare commodity here, coffee that is, unlike the cheap prison tea bags from Euro Shopper. (Yes they do sell the famed 50p Euro Shopper Chocolate bar) I’m always being asked for roll-up papers and given the importance to smokers of feeding their habit, i imagine they would be only too glad to trade their issued coffee sachets with the ability to smoke.

Thoughts of trading in mind, I head to Anthony to see if he wants to swap some sachets of fruit spreads for the coffee he doesn’t use. More time in prison will tell me, this is a terrible deal for him; but it’s ideal for me. I swagger back to my base, content in putting my salesmanship to good use. Once again, I’m outdone by Nev’s work:

2 Large Slices of Steak and Kidney Pie

3 Slice of Lemon Meringue gateaux

The head of the Servery, a man of many past guises, Fran, comes by with a handful of extra coffee sachets. “Excellent”, i think, these will tide me over for an hour. Happy days.

Sundays mean we are banged up for most of the day and little eventful happens. My only other outing today is to use the toilets on the 3’s landing, leaving quickly, thanking my lucky stars that I don’t have the responsibility of keeping that place in good order. Like it when I found it – let’s not be thinking this is my handiwork!

Another week over, I’ve doubled my last milestone, the next stage for me is the month mark. Here’s hoping I won’t still be here by that time.

 

Day 10 PM – A 2 or 3 Star Hotel?

25 Feb

I pull away from looking out the window, reminding myself of the guilt I should feel for leaving a ‘chum’ outside, isolated and vulnerable. I’ve said it before, the yard is soul-less, sad and unforgiving; it’s somewhere to keep moving, not stand out and understandably sometimes avoided. In every corner, a gang of hardened criminals lurch, representing every major ethnic group in the UK. The smell of cannabis lingers in the air from every hidden recess, packages are passed between inmates either side of the yard’s mesh fence; this cold grey reality is the nearest many men here will see outside for a decade. Lacking inspiration and hope, self-preservation is key, rehabilitation is far from many’s thoughts.

Prison is a hugely bi-polar experience. It helps those that know how to be helped and are willing. For those lacking positive role models in life or the education to rationale their circumstance, prison IS little more than a conveyor belt.

I always heard before I came to prison, that these places were like a 2 or 3 star hotel. This is the rhetoric pushed by the tabloids and perhaps most forcibly, the Daily Mail. They never refer to prison as a 1 star hotel that isn’t in the least bit shocking, but it’s always a conservative boast, something believable to the uninformed observer. Yes, a 2 or 3 star hotel sounds like a reasonably decent place to be, far better than the conditions in many care homes and not so extravagant a pile of rubbish as a suggestion, of HMP being 5 star establishments. So while I’m here I felt I should take the time to conduct a facility inventory and determine the true rating of Wandsworth Prison.

I write home to get a copy of the star classification breakdown, I’ll keep you posted.

Banker-come-Barber

Sat in my cell watching ‘Wimbledon’, I get a knock on the door (That’s a first), it’s Tony the wing’s barber managing to get my cell unlocked to give me a trim. Nice one! A day earlier than expected, I’d finished my letter writing for the day, so it was nice to get some company given Anthony wasn’t back.

The biscuits aren’t mine just yet.

Tony is the first multi-millionaire retired investment banker I’ve had trim my hair. He’s here like many others on remand awaiting trial. In his case, 15 months away – his assets have been frozen and his wife and kids kicked out of their homes overseas. The government there, taking a risk averse approach to alleged criminality, he is being punished before guilt has been proved. Due to the means at his disposal, boats etc, he is deemed a flight risk and is being held in custody despite a clean criminal history. His lad’s school fees are being stopped, adding to the weight of the world on his shoulder. He is  a man desperate to maintain the glue that holds the family together and the pressure upon him without conviction must be huge. He has already been inside for 12 months.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Proceeds of Crime Act, mean such draconian measures are not only allowable they are incredibly common place. I don’t expect readers to believe me or truly care if they do, but I know the control measures put in place on suspect’s life before plea and trial, make you consider pleading to guilt when innocent. If I had felt I got a good deal in my case I wouldn’t be harping on about this now.

Plea bargain deals are being struck more and more as defendants reject sitting for years in Category A or B prisons simply to clear a name already ruined or considered guilty by their peers. Fraud trials can take 3, 4 or 5 years from the day of arrest to the moment in court. In this time a defendant could plead guilty, take the early plea sentence reduction and return to some semblance of normality before a trial ever was.  Remember the phrase:

“There’s no smoke without fire”?

Forget about evidence, clichés are all that matter to defame the innocent’s character and a retraction in a newspaper is always smaller than the arrest headline. Chip wrapping by then.

Regardless of my barber’s future status, the legal situation stays the same.

Back to the haircut – I’m pleased with the outcome.

The cell door closes behind him and I stare at my bourbons for a while, I’ve got some time alone to myself….

 

First Post

20 Feb

David Haye is boxing Wladimir Klitschko in a weeks time and normally I’d be round a pal’s house watching it stuck in the middle of a evening’s debauchery, abusing my liver and my brain. Not this time, they’ll be just around the corner but I’ll make do with a radio.

The radio that I’m still without my plug to power.

I visit a prison officer on the landing during association and ask for permission to access my property. He tells me to fill in an ‘App’. I ask about going on the gym induction after missing mine recently, he tells me to fill in an app.

I fill them in and submit them, I can’t help but think I heard a shredder go off as the forms touched the prison officer’s hands.

I inwardly pray that I’ve put this request in, in sufficient time to be able to grab my radio adaptor and enjoy the big fight commentary.

I mentioned a lad I palmed off a day or two ago, one that reminded me of a scruffy Cityboy. I got a chance to speak to him today. His name’s Terry*, he’s clearly a little off the rails but a sweet enough kid. Wearing the same winklepickers he got nicked in

My intuition was bang on, I’ve trained a ton of lads like him. He worked for the same sorry business that began my ill-fated City career, working for a sharp suited fella by the name of John Gaskin, former floor boss of Halewood International Futures. It was here I got my first chance in financial sales. I was a coupon boy working on a busy floor of brokers, generating warm leads as they knocked out all sorts of yarns on the next big thing.

(*Name Changed)

Back then, I didn’t have a clue about stocks and shares beyond what I’d overheard from my father’s own dealings; but I didn’t need knowledge, just a good work ethic and a hunger. The bosses of these hard sell brokerages would do the rest. They take a hungry, tenacious kid, offer them the world and exploit that desire. I and others like me, never knew what we were truly letting ourselves in for as we battled daily to impress those who’d ‘Gone out on a limb’ for us. Terry and I had a bit in common, like old veterans, we exchanged stories.

Halewood would later rebrand itself to become Square Mile Securities, a ploy to win more punters but by this time I was long gone, to somewhere I thought far more reputable.

It, like many of it’s peer firms lost it’s license and was shut down by the Regulator. Tel had just finished flogging land for another delightful mob; an unregulated haven for banned or unqualified stockbrokers (I won’t be joining them) and was now in the process of setting up a Carbon trading firm. His aspirations obviously dented a little while he serves his time (14 Weeks) but not his desire to see through another ‘Get-rich quick’ scheme.

Meeting someone you share a common thread with is a nice deviation from prison monotony, even an outing to another wing, or a visit to an office to speak to a screw IS an event. Days can drag and a little of the unexpected helps them tick along.

I hear people call prison’s: ‘Holiday camps’, they must have had some horror show holidays: bunking up with rapists and killers, I definitely wouldn’t want to go to one like this.

I write another letter to R, I keep it up every day; I’m getting down at having heard nothing back as yet. I don’t doubt for a second she will write.

Dad’s told me Mum and her speak, but its all second hand information and it reminds me of how much of this we’ll have to soldier.

Dinner is Cornish pastie, chips and beans; its junk but knowing I don’t eat this stuff on the outside, I secretly enjoy feeding the little pig within. The water has been off all day, the toilet doesn’t flush, moan, moan… a sound distracts me.

Post! 🙂