Tag Archives: prison canteen

New Year’s Eve Party in Prison

9 Jun

Today HMP Ford becomes a Bang-Up again. I and other’s here experience closed conditions for what I hope is only 24 hours. The bosses at Ford have had a perimeter fence laid out inside the main boundary fence. Like a camp within a camp. Side gates have been locked and the Front Entry Gates drawn to a close. Ford Prison has been locked down – a repeat of last year’s Booze fueled arson rampage is feared.

I spot all of the Governor’s at some stage today. Any disturbances and the Senior Governor will be starting 2012 with P45 in hand. In fact, it surprised many that she survived the last episode here.

I spend my day bring the New Year in blowing my nose – my cold I picked up at Christmas has not yet gone, although my stock of tissues is close to being so.

If I’m honest, I’ve never really enjoyed New Year’s Eve, too much of an anti-climax for me. Still at least I can be sure prison will not be on my mind in 12 months hence. Missing the parties associated with today doesn’t make me feel low, I’ll probably grab an early night. This is NOT a sign of things to come 🙂 Tomorrow, I can say the words:

“I’m home this month”

Channel 4 has slapped on a cheery portion of:

Porridge – The Movie

The Deputy Governor, sticks his nose around the door, part of their visible presence strategy (In most other places, that’s called turning up for work), his sidekick pops in shortly after. We share a joke about the Porridge Movie, he says he’s glad it’s not on; he is the spitting image of Mr Mckay. Better still, his name is Roger Moore; it’s possibly why I like him. A press journalist from the Sun, sneaked into the prison last year – not a hard feat when you never see Screws; Mr McKay notes that this active Governor strategy may be just in case one has popped in to visit again.

Nothing else happens, except for the distant sounds of fireworks and parties in the local area. The prison carries on as normal.

 

NEW YEAR 2012

The home straight, I’m going home this month!

I start the new year in the gym, taking part in a circuit session run by an inmate who works in the PE Dept. A boxing fan like I, his circuits are a tough challenge and later in the day, takes me for a Pads session, with some focus mitts that have been snuck in by a now departed resident. With the prison on lockdown, the visit sessions are used for extra gym time. A decent compromise, when there is little else to do but lay in my bed. I look on at the calendar for quite  a time. A long time actually. A bit more than 4 weeks to go, I hope these days fly by.

Then life can start again.

Back to Prison & Christmas Eve

5 Jun

My time away was a pleasure and I feel exhausted after it all. It might sound a little bizarre but I was ready to return when I did. I don’t want to be in prison but you learn to accept it. It’s not the hell its characterised on television and I know I don’t have a huge amount of time left, most of all its a comfort zone I’ve grown accustomed too. With friends around you and zero of life’s pressures I could handle a little more of Ford.

On my return I hear the Prison Block has been active, with a number of inmates being shipped out. The worse news was hearing that Paddy a young Irish Traveller was caught with booze and stuck on the first bus out of here. It’s tragic news as he works on the Servery and ensures all inmates get proper portions of food. 4 pieces of stuffing, two helpings of cake, double pie, extra meat, you name it he’ll serve it. When he’s working, bring Tupperware.

In other news a young lad Ali is sent packing after he’s snuck in an internet dongle and plugged it into one of the PC’s in the Chapel. He has subsequently used it to access the web and it’s world-wide hub of infinitely more fun things than there are here. Pictures are found on it of kids. HIS KIDS, rumours spread fast that he has in fact been accessing Child Porn. It’s amazing how warped chinese whispers can get. He is now in harm’s way if he remains here. He is moved possibly now for his own safety too.

My cellmate has had some bother in our absence after a set-to with a prisoner about mail issue times. My cellmate being the mail orderly, sees him pestered constantly about the prison about whether someone has received a letter. Complete strangers who have never met him, greet him with the uncomprehendingly stupid query:

“Have I had any mail today?”

Maybe, or maybe you’re one of the other 400 who haven’t. Who are you?

Jamie and I find out the identity of the protagonist and knowing him personally we have a chat to him.

As I walk around the prison today, a few guys know I’m back from my first home leave and stop to see how I am doing. One, Simon (7 years – Drugs) notices my face is a little more tanned than it should be in a December. I give him: “No Comment”. I see him mouth “Fake Tan” as I wheel away.

Christmas Eve

Short of nearly 200 inmates, the kitchen have taken the opportunity to cut down on its kitchen prep for meals. Consequentially leaving a large number of prisoners more dissatisfied than usual. A cooked breakfast of 3 battered chicken burgers and 2 hash browns struggles to form part of a healthy diet, even with a sensibly placed hard-boiled egg rolling around the plastic plate. I wonder what the heart disease NHS bill is for patients from HM Prisons.

I catch a cold on my home leave and am feeling a little groggy; finding time for 40 winks to kill the odd hour of your sentence here though is never a drama. I use some of the morning to put together a letter in spanish to my South American cousin. Based in Peru and Bolivia, formerly of Venezuela, Spain, France and Britain, his command of languages is formidable. The son of my mother’s late sister, I often think about him at important times of the year. I want to reach out to him more and see him closer to the family. Time will tell.

I glance across at a TV Guide, these are often like gold dust in prison, but we have happened upon a couple of them. As usual, there isn’t a good deal of choice. Tonight, around the world, billions of people are snuggling up with loved ones or sitting down with family preparing for Christmas Day. For those of us ‘Behind the Door’, tomorrow is another day.

 

A day after delight

3 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 2 – His and Her’s Tale. His Tale

1 Jun

His Tale:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel like I’ve been set free.

I could be acquitted.

I could have been found not guilty.

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

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

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

His and Her’s tale

1 Jun

Her Tale:

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

One second closer, two, five….

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

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

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

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

I’m agitated.

I’m hot and my pulse is racing.

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

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

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

I wait a little longer

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

Or it crushes them.

THERE HE IS!

I see him, I run.

I run

I jump.

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

 

Life in Prison

28 May

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

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

**BAD NEWS**

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

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

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

 

Paperchase – Coventry City FC – Labour MPs

24 May

On your last day here, you do what’s called  a paperchase. It’s all the sign off formalities to clear you for release. Only the guys leaving on tag take it real serious, being released early is deemed a privilege and not a right. Kick up a fuss over this and you could wind up staying for a little longer. For those who are leaving at their halfway point, they can use the paper as bog roll and still walk out the next morning. I imagine a fair number of people enjoy doing the paperchase as it’s that sense of last day excitement you have seen so many others go through.

I’d walk around with a bit of paper if it meant I was going home tomorrow.

The summertime seems to have ended, it’s proper damp here.

It’s making it that bit harder to clean our clothes. The heating isn’t on and the rain prevents drying clothes outside. Struggling to improvise here, in order to simply wear clean underwear – just like a holiday camp eh? The prison has now run out of ‘clean’ towels. So this 5 star resort is now a little shabby, unhygienic charade of a prison. The screws and management can’t sort out the simple matter of laundry; what good are they doing to the minds of young criminals?

At lunch one inmate is put on report after refusing to attend his afternoon work shift. He demands fresh clothes or access to cleaning and drying facilities. His work place is the gardens, so his only pair of prison greens (We are only allowed one pair of work/cargo trousers) are sodden. I don’t think asking for access to clean clothes warrants being put on report and being threatened with extraction to a closed prison.

While the public would wish us to break rocks for the rest of our days, with no opportunity for reform that sees us with the potential to live better lives* – being able to wear clean underwear and workwear is surely no mean stretch of requests; particularly given we are the (relative speaking) well-behaved bunch at Category D establishments.

*I mention this little barb after listening to a Radio 5 Report on an ex footballer being allowed on day release to train with Swindon Town FC. Ex Coventry City footballer Lee McCormick.

The inmate in question has served the good part of a 7 and half year sentence for death by dangerous driving. The tragedy took away two young lives after a professional footballer had been drinking before getting behind the wheel. It is awful and a man with no previous criminal history will be haunted for the rest of his days by this. Some call him a murderer, not a fair tag and not truly realistic but it is an additional punishment our society puts upon such people. I have met a handful of men inside for similar sometimes less culpable offences and often wonder to myself what is an appropriate sentence?

Coppers, Bus Drivers all sorts of perfectly sane, tax paying individuals you would happily have a conversation with and invite into your home. How would you sentence them?

In writing this, I do not seek to undermine the pain and suffering Phil and Amanda Peake have gone through, the parents. Nor would I wish to ignore the tremendous work they have done since the deaths of their two young children to highlight the dangers of drink driving.

Radio 5 gets me going – a separate story on the workings of prison wages, brings a lady on the phones with zero experience of the workings of the justice system yet heavily armed with critical information that has no foundation in truth.  This lady with no exposure or grounding in life this side of the parapet begins:

“Old people don’t get what they have…” Unsure of what that has to do with the prison debate…What do 80 year olds need with free weights or Methadone?

With many of us wearing dirty underwear, using filthy, pubic lice infested towels NOT WATCHING Sky, we are criticised for the lack of productive hours we put in – a prison management issue not ours. Then the very same people who spout this rhetoric demanding longer sentences are the farthest back in the list of people prepared to offer an olive branch at the end of it, to let us earn a second chance.

These holier than thou types seem to brand any person inside, a violent thug or dangerous predator. It is for this reason primarily that the Blue Collar inmates here LOVE seeing a ‘Well to do’ type fall from grace. Do I blame them?

Put it this way, hearing an ex Labour MP has today been charged with £60k worth of expenses fraud puts a smile on my face.

 

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.

 

Menu Choices at Ford Prison

13 May

Given the range of dietary requirements in UK Prisons, the kitchens need to offer a range of eating options.

The food options are ordered with a symbol system, where an icon (Image) is attributed to differing foodstuffs. Eg: Smiley face for healthy eating or a flower – it looks like a Pansy, for you guessed it: Vegetarian options.

I’ve noticed that a good deal of meals here are labelled healthy, this includes:

– Sausage and Pickle  white bread baguette

– A Veggie Pasty

– Samosa’s

– Kievs

– Cheese Pasties

On other weeks, I have seen entire sheets denoted healthy including mayonnaise laden sandwiches. In terms of healthy eating, I can’t see greasy samosas, Kievs dripping in cheese and breadcrumbs or a foot of stale white bread coated in pickle and a fatty cut of meat; as fitting that criteria. People come out of prison having put weight on in some cases and this is used as evidence by the misinformed as a sign of too good a diet. I assure you, putting fat into your arteries and increasing your risk of heart disease is not indicative of good eating habits or good content. It’s the very opposite.

As mentioned, I have included a copy of  a meal-card.

Hump Day

12 May

It’s mid week, it’s hump day. The week is halfway done and my duties today involve handing out 20 or so movement slips (Not bowel function related) to those required in the education department. The rest of the morning is spent observing Ricky (Ex-Gangmember now education assistant) in his daily tasks. This ultimately means shadowing the habits of a human sloth. Perhaps a slow-worm would be a more accurate description.

I’m advised again to try to grab a sneaky SPL while I’m waiting until I am officially allowed day leaves. My acting isn’t up to much and I don’t fancy fretting over a nicking. I can wait.

I have a visit today from my Aunt, Uncle and cousin. I welcome the chance for intellectual debate and I know my Uncle is keen on the rumblings from the Eurozone. I get the impression he enjoys finding out about life this side of the parapet and he has a number of questions it seems are pre-prepared. I hear later that my Aunt would have enjoyed to get a word in too. Bless them all for making the long trip to see me. I hope I can return the gesture sometime in the not too distant future.

Unlike my last visit, I manage to avoid being strip searched afterwards. There are few more effective ways to kill your mood after a lovely visit, than stripping down to your birthday suit and doing an unflattering pirouette.

I get my gym kit ready for my Wednesday session and notice a Gym Screw who gives us extended sessions is on duty. George and I use this time to row and chat about home.

DUVET NEWS: The property office have slipped into my trap. They reply to my App with an answer that makes no mention of a block on inbound bedding. Checkmate. If there had been a new ruling blocking bedding being sent in, this would have been a very reasonable opportunity to note it. It just reinforces my suspicion that the level of understanding on prison rules amongst staff is so patchy, indifferent and inconsistent – what is said wrong is likely right and what is said right is possibly not. Either way, I’m getting me a duvet 🙂

In other news, the Ford Prisoner Cricket Team loses to an external team of solicitors in a narrow run match. To an outside observer, it must look almost civilised here!

I pick up a spare menu card earlier in the day and send it home. I’ll publish it shortly. What would you eat on it?