Y​ou got a visit

A 1980’s community center, or a parish jubilee hall, but with cheap carpets no blinds. Three chairs facing a single chair over a low coffee table. This could be a bar in a sports club that never wins. Certainly, all who sit in the single seats have lost.

The roller shutter rises on the corner cafe. The black liquid cannot be coffee but it is sold as such, perhaps it’s free and the 50p charge is for the polystyrene cup.

Plastic boxes, clear boxes with passable cakes, flapjacks, scones and yellow polysteryene folding boxes of fried food, better to just pass on, but surprisingly popular.

One inmate on a court visit last week was taken by the Screw to McDonald’s and the con concluded that it was the best food he had had in 4 years. A sad indictment on our canteen culture.

A Screw collects names and happy children appear at the double swing doors and run to hug daddy dearly. The difficulty is the coming and the going in emotional waters. Always dangerous getting in or out of a bath one can slip, hugging the kids, kissing girlfriends or wives. The upset is too much for too many.

Many guys can not face a visit.

Some visit halls are more brutal. The shakedown of guest more severe. Some have vowed never to attend again due to the power of a pat down and another blow to separate community and family.

The children are happy with a chocolate bar and a cake. Maybe they are visiting a daddy who is working away. Maybe they will be told today by other older, wiser but foolish that “your daddy and my daddy are in prison together.

Information that will linger as an act of betrayal for many years.

The leaving starts. Teenage tears,  daughters crying loudly, cons sobbing surreptitiously. No lingering, no looking back from the doors. Don’t go slowly, come back quickly. One two hour visit, every two weeks, is over.

The running and laughter of the departed children fill the silence. This is the saddest prison scene.  As each adjusts back into prison life: pack away feelings and put back on prison head.

Solitary, low men sat on a single chairs.

Carol Vorderman and I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in…..

I have decided to attend church each week as an act of faith but a faith not connected to a God. A different church group comes in each week. This morning it is Pastor Bobby and 3 middle aged women with odd straightened hair and or wigs. James Brown and his backing singers are reborn in front of us, though any sex machine has long since left this building.

17 chaps out of 387 have made it to the 10 am Sunday service. Which is a good turn out. Many parish churches would love that percentage to attend. Prior to prison, I would have said they would not have wanted 17 criminals to attend, now I realise the nonjudgemental approach of Christians. Forgiveness is the heart of their faith or desperation giving the rise of Richard Dawkins.

One of the Pastorettes has a Mr. T fetish going on, wearing a lot of gold bangles. I get the chance to study these in some details as they are waved above her head and in my face of the next hour or so. I can see one of the bracelets is a golden handcuff. This is a dedication to one’s audience.

They launch into a reggae version of “O come all ye faithful.” The weight of the Lord must be pressing hard on the congregation as no one is standing. The lady at the front with Darth Vader boots and matching hair asks:

“Can you not feel me today? Stand up and praise the Lord.”

Many sink lower. Pastor Bobby dances and sings for all of us. The prison chaplain would normally stand but today he is on drums so he can only cajole confined behind a plastic screen.

The happy, happy, happy singing does not catch on which is a shame as this is the best Carribean riff of “Away in a manger” that I, or anyone, has ever heard.

Pastor Bobby is standing at the front pointing to the roof, maybe he has spotted a leak, which is miraculous as his eyes are closed, he then starts repeating “I believe, I believe, I believe” who is he trying to convince? He raises both hands measuring out that Biblical fish God will catch for him or be hailing a taxi, one can’t be sure.

The lack of spontaneity is making the relaxed hair girl become tightly wound. She asks in desperation

“What Christmas songs would you like?”

Various requests from ABBA to the poignant “Wish I was at home for Christmas” fly at the singer

“NO, no, no…….. carols”

“Carol Carpenter” is offered in all sincerity but the boys catch on and add quickly

“Carol Decker”…

“Carol King”

they are stretching it with”Lewis Carrol” but from the back, a clear shout of “I want Carol Vorderman’s number.”

The heckling leads to a kerfuffle, a flutter of hymn sheets before they settle on the religious tome “We wish you a merry Christmas” which she belts out very well, ending with “May God have a blessing for your head in the new year.” I resign myself to have to wait 4 weeks for my blessing but suspect I will have to wait an eternity.

Pastor Bobby has been lying face down in front of the altar for most of the last song. It is a contact lens thing I’m sure. He rises to give a sermon, describing that we should not be labeled by our crimes. Good point. He pictures for us the sign outside the prison ‘HMP Tabley Heath.’ A sign I have not seen, as my sweat box seat was on the other side of the prison van. He assures us it stands for Her Majesty’s Pleasure.  We are detained in Her Majesty’s Prison. Some long term sentences can be determined at Her Majesty’s pleasure. These sentences have transferred the belief that the Queen enjoys to lock everyone up, the feelings of the Queen on the matter are private.

Oscar Wilde commented, one old queen on another, that “If this is the way Queen Victoria treats her prisoners then she does not deserve to have any.” Little has changed since Oscars day. Homosexuality is still the last taboo in British jails. The soap is safe to pick up.

Another dent in the veracity of the word of Pastor Bobby comes when he asks us if we have seen his favorite film “The short sharp redemption” while this sounds an ideal reconciliatory pathway I’m not sure it’s the same movie Morgan Freeman movie Pastor Bobby has in mind.

Just when I feel my cliche count for the day has been passed the ladies start up with ‘When the saints go marching in.” They may be follically challenged but they are plainly in the number when it comes to singing. Their version is again the best ever.

I retire to the corner for my free coffee, my raison d’etre and reflect I have only 8 more of these to go. Pastor Bobby comes over and hands me a blank cellophane wrapped Christmas card to post to my family.

Hallelujah. I wonder if my faith will remain strong.

Mean Wing the Merciless

Convinced that the criminal masterminds in the jail are the ducks, spot over 10 film references to our secret and you are doing well

Ducks, but only more Mafio-so.

Top to tail, yin-yang pair: cosa nostrils.

Two eyes sleeping with the fishes,

Two amber jewels in jade scarf face and an eye for an eye life.

Protecting godmother goose,  the pot bellied bully as Consigliere cats counsel, goodfella ducks hoard, feathering their nest,

Living on a wing and a prayer, quack offers cannot be refused.

A soprano machine gun

whack whack” an enemy falls wings clipped.

Swagger seedy existence: concrete boots, horse head beds, cracking eggs, reprisals, wads of waddle, wicked web feats.

Bills mount, ringmaster reigns fall as Agent Orange strikes.

Au revoir.

Bonjour fois gras

The apologetic apothecary​

You are only as happy as you think you are.

Some are born happy, some have happiness bought upon them.

The most fortunate exude happiness like our 21st century Dr. Robert, juvenile, gentle angelic, Jesus of the Rave. Tuned in, dark web dealer, dropping out in deep waters of the mind.

Unwary of his wonderland wares partakes with pleasure,

No toe dipping. Trips headfirst into illusory oceans.

A nose narcotic knows, ecstasy elixirs, opiate apparitions, DMT potions, LSD labyrinths, spice of life. Selling serotonin, drug dreams, brain bombs, real unreal realities, fun and funny fags. Highs in posting psychonauts payloads; blasting them into diamond skies.

But clarity through the clouds a chemical conscience troubled over dispensing deliriums of death.

We all comedown, fallacies finish, smoke and coke off mirrors crack with a bar to the face, out of joint, a £30K hole. Visions cease in seizures.

“I’d not slept for a month before coming away. I wanted to get the partying out of my system” and well-being

Sober, springy survivor beatific beanpole retains Cheshire cat cool calm.

Ducking Jogging

Raining.

Running.

Perfect weather for ducks.

Rounding the bend, the webmaster charges at me a white slice on his bill.

Chased by a phalanx of feathers, a puddled pack, quack attack.

“Give us our daily window bread”

Using his loaf he waddles supreme but the brace barrage bites, the pecking order is toast: confetti crumbs fly down.

When winging it one gets in a flap, fluttered, crash lands.

I’m stopped.

Sweat still runs quickly off my back.

Fall and rise rumps process, progress to the next round.

Time still runs quickly off my back.

Got a light mate?

Tobacco is known simply and descriptively as “burn.” HMP Slade is a non-smoking prison. The corollary of this policy is it’s constantly full of smoke: an acrid plastic fume fug that induces nausea and gives a headache.

Tobacco products are banned. No: pouches of rolling tobacco, cigarettes, cigarillos, Cuban cigars, snuff or cheroots. Any incendiary devices are banned too: no lighters (Zippo, cheap plastic or Magnum mockup) and of course no matches.

So, any prisoner arriving from another jail or from the court will have all of his smoking paraphernalia taken off him and binned. The Screws give out the healthy option of a nicotine replacement patch and in return are given a healthy amount of abuse.

The presence of only a replacement therapy is not going to stop a resourceful lot like criminals from smoking. Contraband tobacco will make its way in. So, the ban is not exactly working. Dimps from all of the above are in the showers. Snuff is not to be sniffed at these days and pipe smokers are clearly Holmes’ types who leave no clues.

Any product that can be made into a roach or a cigarette paper will be used. Covers and pages from books torn off and out, notices pulled down.

The central tube from a toilet roll will be pulled out. The tissue binned so a taper can be lit in a long coil card,  that will smoke and burn all night but mainly smoke. This is usually hung out the window.  The result of this is:

1. The plastic windows are burnt.

2. A plume of smoke leaves the window beneth and enters mine.

Sometimes, it’s windy and I’m reprieved the whiff of the worse joss stick ever from below and get it from the window next to me instead. I would close my window but there is no glass in the frame.

How to get a light? Simply pull the wires out of the kettle or T.V., to leave plug in the wall with cable and insert the two live wires into a cup of shower gel. The current combusts the gel and you have a flame, light your taper and you can smoke all night. You can’t watch T.V. or use the kettle as these are now scrap and will be removed the next day.

In the absence of smuggled in stuff, a ciggy is assembled from the contents of a tea bag tipped onto a piece of paper with the gluey gunk of a nicotine patch on top. In fairness, the tea bags probably make better cigs than cups of tea. There must be marketing possibilities for a prison brand cancer stick: PG TIPS? Yummy,  just makes you want to take up the habit.

My new copy of the bible is being looked at eagerly by next door neighbors. They are feeling the pages and saying it looks a “good book”.  There is nor irony is the use of that phrase. One holds my book and reads it under my nervous gaze. Or he would be if he was not holding it upside down. Bibles burn best but not mine. I recount the above to the Chaplin. She is unaware of the jails smoking ban she has only worked here for four years and the ban in place for 18 months. She is a plump lady as unfamiliar with cock as she is with the real world.  She misses the point, as she is delighted her only read is referred to as a good book. I inform her of the uses of the bible in this establishment and conclude with the simple statement:

“Clearly the light of the Lord burns brightly in HMP Slade”

She laughs loudly and for too long. As she is locking me back in my cell says,

“Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

I meditate on her message for most of the evening while reading chunks of a gospel and I have a clear vision: I have no idea what message her God is conveying here……. but nothing new in that.

I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to….

The day begins with a jingle. Dylan nailed it. It’s a “jingle jangle morning“. The creaking, whining groan of distant doors opening, always followed by a crunching, closing crash. I’m in a clink but it’s really a clunk.

A noisy, banging, bang up.

The squeak of the wicket flap opening as the Screw checks if I’m alive. I’m not sure.

“my senses have been stripped”.

This inspection happens regularly with Newbies. Ex-servicemen get checked more regularly. One of the legacies of military training is the retained ability to kill, including oneself.  HMP Slade is a Victorian hulk and the sounds resonate and reverb.

Voices. Keys. Crunch

The trusted are unlocked first. Cleaners and conversations can be heard first. Details of either are not clear. The only morning certainty is an alarm clock of noise. A car crash call to start the day.

Poo.

The toilet is at the end of the double bunk bed. No ensuite. No privacy curtain. No seat. Just a stainless steel bowl jutting from the wall. A button on the wall for a flush. Next to it is a button to press in emergencies. Don’t get them mixed up.

There is a small sink next to the toilet.

Clean teeth.

A salutation to the sun. I begin a half-remembered stretching circuit from that two weeks yoga retreat in Goa some years back. Happy times. I add more press-ups. Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear is a long way away, I can do 7, but by the end of the week, I’m in double figures and have lost a stone. Funny how the Prison diet has not caught on.

I wash my face and especially my hands. The plastic vinyl floor feels sticky.  I have mopped it several times but the texture just feels unclean. Everything feels unclean. The sheets are bright green and pitted with cigarette burns. A bright blue door. It’s is a primary palette.

Breakfast. This has been sitting in a poly bag since it was handed out yesterday at 5 pm, a carton of milk and cheap cereal: rice crispies or corn flakes but not Kellogs as this cereal is neither crispy or flakey. I rip the bag and tip the dust into a blue plastic bowl. I wonder whether eating the UHT milk carton would have better nutritional benefits. I finish.  Wash hands again and the bowl and spoon in the sink.

Breakfast tea? Coffee? The residents have abused electrical equipment rewired to gain a spark for a ciggy. The upshot of these DIY skills is that all kettles have been removed from cells. The desire to smoke never goes off the boil.

The milk carton sits in the limp big bag (no bin) under the sink.  The walls stained by the tea bag splatter of  someones previous attempts. There are other stains on the wall the usual mix of semen, blood (human and surely Vulcan) and a combination of industrial solvents, dyes and several strains of anthrax or an undiscovered Jackson Pollack.

Throw those curtains wide? No need the windows are only furnished by bars and bible dimps.  Some cells don’t have windows just bars. The glass has been smashed out and not replaced. Those that do have a glazing have a plastic alternative favored by bus shelters in the 1970s. A plastic that forms dense blister bubbles when a cigarette is vaguely near it. You will have seen what I mean if you ever sat on the top deck of a bus in the 1980s. A burnt charred melted scar pane. The remaining glazing has lots of these. So the day is always a hazy one. Small sky and lots “of fences facing.”

Let me forget about today until tomorrow”

Maybe tomorrow I will still want to forget about today.

Definition: Window warrior

The inane chat and shouting out of a prison window in the early hours of the morning.  Organising drug delivery and swapping news.  Will often involve repeatedly shouting one name

“Davo, Davo, Davo”

Many times.  Perhaps Davo was shipped out last week for he never answers. Davo may never have even entered the prison just the mind of the window warrior. Neither I nor the window warrior can be really sure. This adds to the noise and the unsettling feel.