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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.



Duvet Drama continues

16 Apr

A suggestion by the screw is for my compadrie to send on the duvet on a day out. With a £9 weekly salary and little time as he transfers prisons, it is not realistic for him to find the time to package a large duvet stick it in the post with my name on and have it received into my property that way. Surely it doesn’t have to circumnavigate Crawley Sorting Office before it can be given to me.

As he leaves tomorrow, the only solution now is that my parents meet him at 7 in the morning. With a postal order heading his way, I’ve unwittingly put my mother under pressure and the inmate too. The last thing he needs before a prison transfer is, sorting out my bedding.

I walk away from the property office a little disheartened, this is such a trivial matter to an outside observer; but with so little to focus on inside, such small events become a disproportionately large stress creator.

This turns out to be a whole lot of hassle. I find out some weeks later, that it is perfectly acceptable within Prison Service Instructions, to allow one inmate to transfer property to another, providing they are both present. I end up £15 short, minus the duvet I paid for and irritated by obstacles put in my way by a man paid to do his job poorly. This is now the second attempt I’ve made at getting a duvet. Prison bedding comes with hair trimmings, stains and pubic hair; the lice are unlikely to be far away either. Personal bedding is sometimes less a luxury but more a necessity.

Having spoken to my mother she has said she will make a point to have the postal order blocked by speaking to the Governor. I panic, this isn’t high school, a note from home carries no weight here. You can’t just call the Governor and explain these matters, not without both of us having soiled disciplinary record. Sending money in to another ‘Private trading’ is a punishable offence, or so I’m led to believe. With limited phone credit I’m urging my old dear to not chase this up, something so slight is panicking me, I’m anxious and all I ever wanted was a little warmth in bed at night.

With my last 29p phone credit, I call home again. My mind is put at ease, she will drop the matter. I’m furious at myself or putting this extra stress upon my parents. I’ve hated myself for many a year since that first knock on my door by the ‘Old Bill’ – the stress i’ve put them under is to me the sin I regret.

Stress in prison is exacerbated, because there is bugger all you can do about so many issues. Trapped and insulated from so many controls we take for granted in life; the inability to have complete autonomy, makes difficult situations that much harder.

For the men who fear an adulterous partner – they stay awake at night with nothing to appease them but a fractious mind.

For those with family at death’s door – there is no inbound telephone to keep them abreast of any news.

For those with a partner isolated and alone, serving their own sentence of separation – they feel nothing but the impotence of a former provider who is unable to fulfill that role any more.

Yeah, stress is proper rubbish when you’re in prison.


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.


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:


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


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


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?”

Day 28 – The Lunar Month

2 Apr

Boom, 28 days done, the hallowed lunar month. The moon waxes and wanes its way back to where it was the day I got sent to prison. It seems so long ago now,  the unknown, the letting go, the uncontrolled detachment from my family and life’s little luxuries. Landed in the lap of the lost and I am a little more comfortable in my skin again. As Jeffrey Archer put it:

“I’ve been to hell… this place is practically Heaven”

I get up at 8 and head to the dining hall to sample a cooked breakfast, courtesy of the Queen. It’s not Claridges but it’s better than prison oats (Superfast – as they are branded). A choice of 3 items from Halal sausage and eggs; boiled or scrambled, toast, chopped tomatoes in sauce and baked beans. Thankful for the boost in protein, a nutrient that is lacking from the diet inside, I wolf down my selection sat alone on a table nearest the exit. With an hour to kill before the second gym session, I have nothing to do but stand outside and listen to the conversations between other inmates. From the banal to the downright fabricated, these individuals represent an amusing diversion to listen to. I ascertain the following:

– Many apparently have a multitude of women on the outside – Described as:

“I got some next-girl on the regs”

– A concern over money worries in this credit crunch is not isolated to the outside world, on the contrary, I hear from one chap:

“I got bare tings coming up for making P’s, you get me…” (Sounds like a question, it’s actually a statement, fyi)

– Not forgetting, the summer weather reminds us all to be conscious of our own body image:

“I’m on some MAD workout and diet, to get hench man. It’s some secret workout from an A Cat up north.”

These are just a fraction of the conversations I overhear, stood amongst the bone-headed and the bone-idle. I’m sure there are others who struggle to hide a smirk or two at the pleasingly pathetic subject matter that echoes from such environments. It is endearing really to know that even those the newspaper’s condemn as thugs and villains, are equally as insecure as the rest of us.

Sat on the concrete floor playing chicken with Hemorrhoids, I figure out what I shall do in the gym. In the background my thoughts are jarred with the frenetic chiming of the sailor’s bell attached to the chapel. It’s a call to prayer, Christian style. It may be a sunday but my body is my temple.

I smash out Daz’s circuit in the gym and have breakfast mk II in the billet: green tea and peanut butter on toast. I have a visit later today, it’s my first brush with loved ones since Southwark, I decide to save my hour of walking until after the visit. I’m expecting to eat a good deal of junk food, I may need the exercise. I spend a half hour writing in my diary and try calling R.

The British Grand Prix helps kill off a little more time, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see my friends. Freedom if only for two hours within a secure environment. G and Clive are heading down, ecstatic I am even able to tolerate Delroy, as we watch Button, Hamilton and the incongruously named British F1 driver, Paulo Di Resta. It soon strikes 2pm and I leave my shadow standing as I fly over to A-Wing to hear my name get called out for a visit….

Joining the massed ranks of the equally as chirpy ‘men of shame’, I jostle with others around the screw’s reception desk. I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m anxious…


Yes! I hear my name.

I run out the building over to the visits hall; the gym as it was earlier and get ready to see my mates.





30 Mar

I struggled to sleep last night. No nightmares just a shocking cellmate. The snoring is unlike any I’ve heard before, it’s intermittent, you can’t fall into a sleeping tolerance of it. Just as it peaks and troughs rhythmically, it scatters all sense of sequence and erupts into asphyxiation by mucus. There’s even a momentary struggle followed by silence, where my ears prick up in case it’s his final breath. It never is and just as this sound softens, constant gas adds to the orchestra. Eventually I drift off, until woken at 5 by a torch shone in my face by a night guard. Part of the 5am ‘Silent’ roll check. Silent it may be, very visible it is also.

As 7 am draws round, I rise early on a saturday, conscious that there is an alleged rush for the first gym session at 8.15. I choose to ignore the cooked breakfast as it seems like an easy distraction from exercise. I toast some bread I kept from yesterday’s dinner, have a cup of tea and stand outside the billet door, waiting for the release bell. Poised as an Olympic sprinter set for the start of the 100m, waits for the starter gun.

Shar, a lad in my billet seems disappointed as he moves about, noticing others too with the same fitness inclination as he. I look out across to other billets and finally believe the truth in the statement:

“The first gym slot fills up fast”

The rumours are very real, a sense of anticipation sits in the air. Leave your billet before the morning release bill and risk a nicking. No-ones tempting fate.

There’s a maximum 35 man capacity and if you get in last you run the risk of having barely enough equipment to use, to do starjumps.

A little later and i’ll be queuing for an hour until the next session.

My foot is pushed against the wall, prepped on the balls of my feet – this is my starter block.

Anticipation persists.


I launch past Shar, driving my arms; I zip past the billets and I’m out onto the wide expanse of the cricket pitch.

In front of my toes I see other inmates flooding from all directions like rats leaving a ship. One chap stops sharply in front of me – the look of resignation on his face as he realises he has forgotten his all important ‘Take Everywhere’ ID card. I care not, as I get closer


Nearly there

YES! I take up my place and feel a sense of pride coming in, in the top ten. I breathe out hard, my lungs pump aggressively; everything I was told about the amusing morning rush was true. I feel ready to go back to bed now.

As the gym burned to the ground, a number of inmates risked injury to rescue equipment through the night from the former fitness centre. Had they not done so, the prison would be lucky to have so much as a football. Such foolish yet fore-sighted action is never going to be acknowledged. But with the gym still a long way from completion, hundred of residents at Ford have been afforded some form of physical conditioning time thanks to a handful of good blokes. They’ve broken the law and are doing their punishment, don’t think for a second it detracts from this good deed.

The gym occupies the visits hall, with weights moved back out into a storage area at the end of the alloted times, to create visiting space. It works, surprisingly well. That said, the best run department is the sports department. Without them, Ford would have had more frequent disturbances. With limited gym time, sessions run for 45-60 minutes depending how lucky you get. I crack on with a workout written down for me by Daz, I remind myself to write to him today: which I duly do.

Not in the mood to return back to a dark acridly scented room, I do some power walking. I notice Delroy keeps the remote by his bed and has at no time asked me if there is anything I’d like to view. I consider submitting an application to halt the weekly 50p tv deduction on the grounds I am not interested in having a tv set. To polite to say anything, I fancy seeing how much confusion I can create by my alternative proposal. If I don’t want the service of a tv, can they still deduct me money for one? It’s a service I don’t require.

I have begun to take some pleasure in submitting applications that are redundant in desire moments after submission. I know it will cause paperwork and hassle for the screws. It’s the WW2 British Forces POW approach:

Colonel Luger the Great Escape says:

“It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.”

Replace officer with prisoner and subject content with pointless paperwork building application submissions.

I can’t walk forever, I resign myself to my fate and head back. Lets see how long I can stretch out a shower.