Droning on…

The exercise yard is nestled in the armpit of the radiating wings of the prison. In the centre sits the gym equipment: pull up bars, dipping bars. Basic metal that can’t be damaged and requires or gets little maintenance.

I start exercising: walking lunges down one side of the triangular yard, 20 paces.

Turn and repeat.

This is every prison yard in every film except with more litter. High wire fences, crenellated loops of barbed wire. A black knotted netting stretches over. An aviary for those who cannot fly.

The holes in the netting are small. Drugs, stuffed in the slit of a slashed tennis ball, thrown over the wall will not get through here but new balls please are delivered this way in many places. So, drugs are taped to 20p coins, heavy enough to throw, small enough to fall through the net squares. The penny has dropped when it comes to efficient delivery of drugs into jails.

Turn and repeat.

Drones are putting the security of prisons into a real spin. Mini helicopters are cheap. Fly to any window. Whatever you want: tobacco, booze, a knife, a new phone or just a pizza. Everything has an inflated price and the best pound for pound is the new drug Spice. Amazon will get there but today HMP are soaring above the others when it comes to a drone home delivery service.

Big, rough hewn, limestone blocks, (that last saw sunlight on their tops in 1827 when all this belonged to the King), frame small barred windows most with no glass. The netting stops at King George’s floor: the 4th, that leaves just one floor, ten windows, to receive the late night hum of a drone and the clatter when it hits the stonework and falls onto the netting below.

Turn and repeat.

These 30 minutes are my only fresh air in 24 hours. Most do not want to waste this time working out and so sit on a concrete step smoking. A smaller group of ten or so pace the yard chatting, walking the perimeter in a circuit. That YouTube mad Russian bear from the circus would be right at home here.

Two Screws are outside the fencing watching the yard. Cameras watch us all.

Turn and repeat.

Under the windows is the detritus from last night. Seemingly, everyone in the prison has collected a month’s supply of rubbish to throw out of the window.  This happens every night. Every step I look down on the shite swathe rain of: tea bags, crisp packets, empty tubes of toothpaste, ciggy dimps, milk cartons, ripped Bible pages, torn clothes, cereal packets, newspapers, one lone shoe, toilet rolls used and unused. I have not seen any condoms and worry whether thsi is a good or bad thing. Several cons are sifting through all this for a cig stump, a tea bag or for something to do.

I decide to see if I can keep lunging the entire time. I’m doing fine but now I have to stop and admire the view, for, from a 3rd floor window, a green knotted sheet is being lowered. I try not to stare, no one else is, but I fail. A green knotted sheet stretches 3 stories. The Screws are parallel to the sheets so conceivably can’t see it. They have seen it all before.

Maybe, this is a Rapunzel style rescue escape attempt.

Turn and repeat.

I end up below the sheet. It’s stuck on a first-floor window ledge and a loop is descending. I can’t help look up. Two tattoo tear faced chaps shout instructions for a waggle of the bed linen rope. The Screws must have heard but their ‘Give-a-shit-o-meter’ remains unmoved and they continue chatting. 3 sheets to the wind?

The guilty looking pair tie an empty milk carton to the end of the sheets. In it, they have put a small parcel from their sock top. The carton is being pulled back up.

Turn and repeat.

“That’s it gents”

We are called back in. All have received the exercise or stimulation they need for the day.

When people ask what is prison life like?

Easy  “Turn and repeat.”


Soup of the day

Servery: noun. Canteen station where food is dispensed (factory, school etc)

Serve: verb 2. attend to customers in a shop etc. To aid help or assist.

Despite the above definitions, servery is not the appropriate term for our lunch and evening meal locations. It fails because:

1, Our station cannot be said to be related to food.

2, The inmates only help aid or assist by accident.

The evening meal is a luxury term too. Prisoners are treated like children, not only because they behave like them at times, but it’s easier for staffing rotas if we have our final meal of the day at 4.45pm.

When I say the staff there are two Screws to take a roll call and to check we are issued rations. This is actually dispensed by fellow inmates whose raison d’être is to pilfer extra chicken legs, bin bags full of crisps and take doughnuts all back to their room. They take plenty but take no shit from anyone for their trouble.

The silver service has been downgraded to a stainless steel service.  The tray contains congealed grease and other debris best not to inspect too closely. Crawling bugs are not uncommon. Prior to prison, I had only seen cockroaches in Australia now I can identify American, German, Brown Banded and Oriental species.   I am on first name terms with many. The cockroaches normally join us all in the food queue and are more punctual and intelligent than some inmates.

Marigold gloves grab chips and drop them:

a, On your plate and arm,

b, near your plate but mainly on your arm,

c, back onto the greasy tray used to display the food.

Most times the food is dropped on a, b, and c.

A confetti of chips from minds that are deep fried.

A brief aside is needed here on the quality of incarceration crockery. Stoneware, earthenware, or porcelain does not exist in prison. The bone idle can’t be trusted with bone china. A request for Delft, Denby, Clarence Cliff or Wedgwood would be met with a glazed stare. Crystal meth is easier to obtain than Waterford crystal.  HMP service have taken the sizes of side plates, saucers, bread plates, dinner plates, platters, gravy boats, egg cups, milk jugs, mugs, cups, goblets, flutes, tumblers, shots and pint glasses and provided a standard one plate, one bowl, one cup issue.

All in a bright blue plastic.

Most plates have a permanent patina of turmeric on a frayed, scored surface.

Cutlery is white plastic. Strong enough to stab someone in the eye while retaining the strength to snap when chopping garlic.

One of the kitchen help, Big Dave, is a different dish. It’s difficult to discern which feature of his face one is drawn to first. Perhaps his right ear, mainly because this has been restitched backward onto his head- by himself.

If you feel this exaggerates I’m prepared to concede that his ear was reconnected by a medical professional but it has been reattached upside down. I’m reserving the option that the actual origin of the lobe may be nonhuman, possibly porcine, credibly crocodilian and at an outside avian.

We can agree on odd.

This is not his most surprising facial nuance. For running from that luminary lug is a slight blemish.  Actually a scar. The sort of scar one gets from head butting a machete. Twice. A raised lumpy tram track crosses both lips giving Big Dave a pout many would pay good money for and indeed many have paid good money to get away from. The slash wounds compete with bulging veins which give texture to the tattoos that adorn his neck and all disappear under a sports vest. Yes, really a vest. The like of which has not been seen since 1978 on Venice beach but Arnie had the arms for it and Big Dave is missing a large portion of his left bicep. This was ripped off either by a dog or a motorcycle. I have heard both versions direct from Big Dave and did not feel it was my place to question inconsistencies. Maybe, it really was a Doberman driving a Harley.

Either way, his left arm is fucked.

Big Dave performs an old trick. He does it well and it involves a special bowl which he pulls out every month for new select individuals.

The more observant may have little difficulty in picking Big Dave out in a Police line up, indeed many have, yet, it would be remiss of me not to mention another subtly of his complexion. His left eye socket appears to contain a miniature golf ball, a pitted clotted wax sphere which is actually a perfectly functioning eyeball in all faculties except those relating to sight. No iris or pupil darkens this orb.

Those who have dared to ask for an explanation are told a tale of the only battle he has ever lost, a fight with forceps at birth. I still have my concerns for the welfare of the obstetrician.

It is before this cyclops that Mad Steve enters, equally as big but infinitely crazier. Mad Steve is unaware he has been selected by Big Dave but Mad Steve is unaware of most things going on around him. This is a man who just last week was audibly arguing with a baked potato that was sat atop the corridor payphone. A conversation which while one-sided raged for an hour, for it was a large spud with evil eyes, and was only terminated when Mad Steve’s adversary, feeling uncomfortable in its skin fell to the floor.

Both were mashed that night.

Mad Steve greets all with a cheery but abusive grunt of, inter alia,


‘All’ being fellow convicts, male or female screws, deputy Governors or the Number 1 Governor. I have no doubt if the Pope or a child stepped in front of Mad Steve they would be a


One slurred throaty word said with extra spittle.

He softened last week when a lady governor passed and he wished her

“A pleasant good morning”

then paused just long enough for incredulity to spread across her face before adding

“knobknobknobknob” and normality resumed.

This same lady governor passed on the upper landing yesterday and Mad Steve stood behind three newbies advising confidentially,

“Don’t look up but that is the boss. She runs the place. Don’t get on the wrong side of her. Fucking dragon, mate.”

Meerkat newbies gaze north, get eye contact with her the exact second after Mad Steve has shouted

“Oi Scruffy tits”

Mad Steve has the classic physique of prisoners, bulky biceps, and boobs but small boy’s legs. A stab wound to his lower back has left him with one leg that feels no cold and another that feels no heat. He shared with me, unprompted, an extra detail that after his knife attack, which was thoroughly prompted, that

“Me knob never worked for two years after….”

I declined to press him on details in this area.

His sticky legs flick awkwardly, maybe due to his central nervous system remembering the blade or maybe due to carrying the weight of his over-developed torso. He shakes too, venting ire is not something one can do with a steady hand or heart.

So, Mad Steve enters stumbling through the door, kicking the frame for good measure,

“that’ll learn ya cuntknobcunt”

Big Dave’s bowl was special for it had the addition of a small hole neatly drilled in the base. We need not be further detained with how Big Dave had access to specialized drilling equipment but under this man’s bed was everything one could want. Even the back of his wardrobe held hidden delights: a stockpile of Turkish delight, a lamp-post,  a lion and a witch? This is no fairy tale. The reality was a simple alcohol still, which in its own way was far more capable of transporting one to distant kingdoms and don’t get me started on his supply of snowy sleigh rides with a wicked Queen. Suffice to say, Wednesday nights were fun.

Big Dave’s gritty and cracked finger easily plugs the hole. The motorbike oil  (yes really) under his nail is cleansed by the soup. A soup which is described on the board as cream AND tomato, except the recipe has not been troubled by either cream or tomato. This description does not change. Ever. So its soup of the year. The types of soup do change.  I try and discern what ingredients but the closest descriptions I can offer are red, yellow and green. We have a traffic light of soups, certainly, it can stop traffic.

Mad Steve accepts the soon to be leaky vessel with a nod and a


The first fall of soup soaks into Mad Steve’s grey Boss tracksuit bottoms. As he step stumbles the splatter continues to the floor. This red streak is easily spotted by the Screw at the end of the line.

“Steve, you’re spilling your soup”


The trail goes cold. Several hours later I see drips on the stairs, on walls. Footprints of soup walk both ways down the corridor. All remain untouched for several days.

Some time later I spot the holy bowl outside, under Mad Steve’s window. The ideal place to jettison tableware when one can’t be arsed to do the dishes or if the dishes have done you.

Simply, the wrong attitude in prison can be very draining.