It’s hanging here mate

Such is the pressure on spaces every broom cupboard and windowless rooms are being crammed with Cons. If they had nooks or crannies they too would be used. One of the cells has an interesting legacy. It’s the hanging cell. Not a description but a cell where people were hung. I have been building up my courage for some time to pop in. The chap in the room seemed nice and I  had exchanged pleasantries over the hot water tap, the source of our cups tea, so I walk up to the fourth floor and pass his door is open, feign surprise, catch his eye and aptly drop in.

I point at the elephant in the room. Well, the ceiling, a large wooden panel directly above his bed.

“I thought people were winding me up about the hanging cell.”

It is in the corner of the wing and slightly larger than mine.

This is closest I have come to have seen anyone hang. Indeed the last public hanging, in Britain was in 1868, when a real Fenian, Micheal Barrett, blew up 12 bystanders in Clerkenwell and was hung in front of a huge crowd outside Newgate prison. Who knew Irish bombers went so far back? Clearly, the Irish, as there is a plaque, that is still venerated today, where Micheal is buried, just outside the old prison wall.

The bed sits where the shit, piss and I’m guessing vomit would have fallen. I point this out.

“That’s not the bad thing mate, it’s the steady stream of sightseers, the Screws even wake me up ov an evening to show people the hatch. 1958 last time used. Guy who murdered a postmaster”

“Some crimes remain constant.”

“Not really they quashed his conviction in 1998”

Capital punishment continued until 1964. The most recent deaths being that year at HMP Walton and HMP Strangeways. In 1965, a private member’s bill by Labour MP Sydney Silverman succeeded in the abolition of the death penalty. Though the technical quirks of being put to death for a fire in a naval dockyard were extinguished in 1972 and implementation of the Human Rights Act in 1998 made piracy with violence, or mutiny or treason all became safer occupations.

More murderers tales are told and how there was an unwritten rule that poisoners should always hang. I wonder if the canteen staff know this.

“This holds the speed record too. From opening the condemned cell door above they ran down corridor, the lad wanted it done quick see ….7 seconds”

For a man who does not like tours, he is in the swing of things. We are now onto ghost stories of the hangman who committed suicide in 1931 and is seen walking the landings. A man in black with a small briefcase. This is said in good spirit but I take it as my cue to leave.

No hangers on.

Plenty of people still die in prison, on average each year 100 are murdered by fellow inmates or restraint procedures by staff, suicides are common. These numbers are rising last year, 2016, over 345 with 119 of these classed as suicide, with hanging the preferred method. A ONS study: 56% of men chose hanging then 18% went for poisoning  and the balance: “other”. Women preferred hanging too: 42%, twice as many poisoned themselves at 35%.  The problem with suicides is getting data for just in prisons.

I’m chatting to a Screw later we touch on this subject he tells me:

“I have found 7 in 9 years and one murder”

and I thought his job was all drinking tea, handing out loo rolls, locking and unlocking doors.

“The procedures to find and locate suicides does not work. No-one on suicide watch has killed themselves.  The pre-suiciders are happy. They have decided their route out and will be cordial before the cut.”

Looking in a wicket window is no view into the mindset of the sad.

There is a line from Oscar Wilde’s “ The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

“drop feet foremost through the floor into an empty space”

It is time to be locked up again, viewing this cell has cost me a shower, or a cup of tea or a phone call. It has cost 37 others a great deal more.

How could Oscar have known the empty space would be replaced by a bed, wardrobe and a reluctant then chatty tour guide?

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