A new place, A new area, A new start? Part1

I land at Gatwick airport in Sussex on a cold and sunless morning. 24 hours ago I had been in Spain, staying in a beautiful apartment on the Costa del Sol. I had a job that could, potentially, earn thousands per week. I ate out every lunch time and either ate out again, in one of the many restaurants and cafes lining the coast, or got take aways in. Things were looking up at last. I was single, had nothing to hold me back. Well apart from, maybe, my morals.

So, how have I come to be stood in the arrivals hall in a flimsy thin coat, a tee shirt, wearing a pair of £500 D&G jeans, a pair of £15 boots, €5 (fake obviously) Ray Bans and with a small rucksack of wet clothes? Well the beginning is generally the best place to start.

As I posted at the end of last year my (almost) four year relationship had just come to a rather abrupt end. Due to the house that we were renting belonging to A’s parents it was determined that I would move out. Due to not having any available cash floating about and no immediate way of getting any soon I suggested that either I would continue to live there until the new year started. This would enable me to finish the contract on the job I was doing at the time and also to be able to save some cash for deposit and rent in advance.

After about two weeks of this arrangement it was decided that this wasn’t going to work. A week later I found myself and Le Stress (My dog for those who haven’t read earlier posts) living in the back of said Transit on the outskirts of Exeter. This in December! Apart from the coldness (and it was bastard cold) the timing for me was awful. One week before my birthday (which always brings out at least a week of depression) 13 days before Christmas and 20 days before what would have been our fourth year anniversary. 2014 had already been a traumatic year with episodes of psychosis, infidelity and alcoholism (not all me I’d like to point out, though 2 out of 3 were) and Le stress, after 12 years together, diagnosed with a terminal tuma. No, 2015 was not looking like it was going to start well either.

Shortly after this my job ended early. This wasn’t much of a surprise as its pretty hard to keep from looking like one is sleeping rough when one is essentially living in a fridge with no natural light. I was in real danger of losing the plot completely if something didn’t change but I was also not in any state to enable the change. Luckily there are some wonderful people in the world.

Things did change however, though it is debatable whether for the better or not.




I am lost, I can’t make a decision.

Left or right, East or West, North or South??

If it wasn’t bad enough getting sacked by my, now ex, partner of almost four years (why couldn’t she have waited four more week?? Round numbers and all that.) But then to keep making plans just to see them go awry, It is wrecking me.

After getting sacked by first The Lady and then by the job I left Exeter in the Transit. Make no mistake it is not as romantic as it sounds. Although it did have sporadic bits of insulation and a bed in it, we are talking about December here (4 days before my birthday no less) and without a burner in it. Well its bastard cold.

But, I had a plan… I was going to work abroad in the sun. Drinking Sangrea and forgetting about what a mess everything had become.

Whilst waiting for this to happen I went to stay with a (very new) friend in Kernow. Well when I say stay with it was more house and animal (2 cats, never my favorite animal, and a dog) sitting. Which in itself was an amazing act of kindness. Someone who had never met me and only FB msgd and called me a few times leaving me in charge of her animals and house. And an act that just a few days on I was eternally grateful for when the temperature dropped beneath -5 for 3 days!!

I digress, So whilst in Kernow I am calling the friend who is going to employ me and there is nothing. No answer on phone, text, FB msger or main FB.

So I panic… Its all fucked up.. It must be, something has happened. Hospital?? What??

My mind is in free-fall…

Need a new plan. I have spent everything i have I had borrowed the money to fuel the van to get to the airport and now because its fallen through it slowly gets spent on food…

Right, ok.. I cant go anywhere so i’ll stay here… or should I go east?? Days of changing minds. pros and cons changing like the Cornish winds.


OK Decision made. I’ll stay here…

Two days later, guess what? Plan 1 is back again.. FFS, I’d just made a decision and now i am back to square one screwing my head up…

But this time its slightly different as due to having no money to either pay back people or the staggering charges in my bank account I have to stay for at least a month.

Or, Should i just….

I have really had it with decisions.

I think I might try the dice instead.


What a difference a month makes….

Today is Sunday the 21st of October 2012. This time two years ago I had a raging smack habit, an immovable caravan and a “career” selling the Big Issue. Oh and of course Le Stress.

This time last year I was on 80mls of methadone, still selling Big issue and with a movable caravan (still had  Le Stress.)

Now I am clean of opiates, have just spent the last 3 days working and in four weeks time will be moving into a house (for the first time in years) with my partner Amy, her four year old and of course Le Stress.

If there is a moral to the last few months it is something like; you can piss about and talk about things for years but unless you force yourself to act talk is all you’ll do. By you I mean me.

Last month was horrible, I had meant to document it [the detox] but my computer chose that month to die. My only source of entertainment was radio four which, regular listeners will know, repeats its programs fairly regularly. It would be fair to say that had I not  been staying in a tiny village on Dartmoor the whole exercise would have been a failure.

I had originally expected to just do a straight rattle, no Valium, no sleepers. Just maybe strong alcohol. However after the first two nights awake; cramping, sweating, shivering and other things to minging to include here, I decided to register with a local doctor.

I spent ten minutes explaining the situation to him. I had decided that all I needed was to be able to sleep. The worst thing was being awake at 3-4am (especially with no internet) with nothing to do, or that could be done. You cant phone anyone at 4am, I know that some people say “call me anytime” but really I cant imagine phoning anyone at 4am to tell them that I cant sleep. So I asked for a week prescription of Zopicone (I am sure that is spelt wrongly). The doctor clearly thought differently as he gave me two weeks worth.

I spent the next two weeks pottering around Amy’s house doing non strenuous cleaning, cooking and washing and general recovering. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t slip up during those two weeks. I had to go into Exeter to sign on and ended up meeting some old mates and scoring. But one lapse does not make a relapse.

Ten days ago I signed up with an agency, three days ago they gave me work.

Without the support of Amy I wouldn’t have been able to do this. In fact, without Amy I wouldn’t have had the inclination to. Her patience though dark sweaty nights, moody days, emotional afternoons and my raging at the t.v after another disappointing Arsenal performance has been legendary. I just wouldn’t have got this far by myself (even with Le Stress). There is still some way to go. There is still, lurking in my head, the desire for heroin and I imagine that it wont take much for it to come out. But hopefully, as time moves on, it will recede.

The worry for me is that as it recedes so will the memory of how fucking hard it has been to get back to the world of the living. If shit starts to happen, will I again reach for the pain killer?

A new start but old worry.


Stress test: part 7 (The road to nowhere)

H.M.P Ford is, as some of you will know, a D cat prison. This means it has an open regime. This is a deceptive description. It is far from the holiday camp it is rumoured  to be. It will become, for me, the hardest part of my sentence. So in that respect I suppose it is like a family holiday at Butlins.

I have heard many rumours about Ford. Most will turn out to be “prison myth” some distortions of the truth and very few will be true. A few examples:

  • At Ford local women come in at night – I never witnessed this nor did I meet anyone who had. It was always a friend of a friends cellmates mate. Even if it was true I am certain that even after12 months abstinence I would not be interested in the type of “lady” who is so desperate for a man that she’ll climb a prison fence to meet 400 or so criminals.
  • Drugs and Alcohol are freely available. – Well, I can’t argue with this one. However, with the exception of the Verne, drugs are available in most establishments. The choice is larger at Ford, at most places Heroin and Crack are the only options.
  • You can go out on town visits And go home for weekends. – Though true, this is not quite as straight forward as it seemed. If one is an Enhanced prisoner on arrival there is a risk assessment which takes 4wks. If one passes this risk assessment and has completed 2/3s of ones sentence an application can be put in for a town visit. The town visit is from 8:30 – 19:30 and one can travel a radius of 15 miles (I may remember some of these details slightly wrong). Money can be taken from the personal funds in the prison account. Nothing that wasn’t taken out of the prison can come back in and there is a breathaliser on re-entry. To qualify for a home visit (it doesn’t have to be ones own home) one town visit has to have been successfully completed. The address will be checked by the prison probation team and on the first full day out of the prison one must report in to the local probation officer.
  • You can go out and work. You keep all wages for resettlement. You can also go to Uni. – Again, this is true but not simple. To qualify all the above steps have to be taken but most importantly the prisoner must be serving 4yrs+. Anyone who has been following this blog from the start  will see how this will cause me a problem.

Sometimes the perception from the outside is so far removed from the reality as to be unrecognisable.

When I first arrive at Ford I am slightly taken aback by the amount of space. Had I not come from the Verne and instead from a closed prison I think the shock would have been greater but even so… However, an even greater shock is the regime. I had envisaged a laid back enviroment. A kind of “wind down” for the final stretch of my custodial. How wrong I was.

Immediately we get out of the van we are ordered into reception. It seems that the lower the cat the more arsey the screws. The Induction Screw takes us one by one into his office. He grills me about my offence and my motives. He sneers at my reasons and snorts disbelievingly at my claim of having no money. He truly is an arsehole. Over the next few weeks it becomes clear that any infringement of the rules, no matter how minor will be punished. Harshly.

After the usual reception routine (search etc) we are taken to our accommodation. We have to walk around a cricket square (really, in a prison… no wonder people think  its a country club!) to get to the B wing of the prison. Ford is separated into two wings, A and B. These are then separated into corridors in the case of A wing and “Chalets” or sheds as we called them in B. A wing is a large brick building housing people with four year+ sentences consisting of single cells. It also houses the dining room and the health centre. B wing is made up of twelve+ wooden chalets for prisoners with under four years. They are mostly double rooms.

One of the most irritating parts of Ford will be the amount of short term offenders that come through my room. It is like Scrubs all over again. Three of my cell mates will have spent 1week in Lewis on eight week sentences. What does that teach people? I don’t think short sentences should exist. There really is no point otherwise. Eight weeks which means four at the most and three of those in a D cat. It isn’t much of a Short Sharp Shock. And after twelve months in closed conditions with others who have done many months of time, and therefore know the crack, I simply do not have the patience. They learn nothing, they go back into society and give the impression that prison is easy when they haven’t really experienced it. Its like spending a week in India and coming back saying you know everything about Hinduism. If we must have short sentences then they should be in closed conditions, D cats should be reserved for those who need resettlement or have worked their way down. As an incentive for good behaviour maybe.

On what is called the induction fortnight we are taken around the prison. It is separated in two parts. The residential side, surrounded by an eight foot chain-link fence topped intermittently with old blunt razor wire. And the Industries side which houses all the workshops, surrounded by a four foot chain-linked fence topped with…. erm, nothing. We are told that, technically, when crossing the road we are on temporary licence. It has been a long time since I had to contemplate traffic.

One of the reasons Ford is harder than the other prisons is that everyday one can see people getting on with their normal lives. everyday I will cross the road and see real cars with real people getting on with their real lives. When there is a concrete wall blocking the view, although one knows that there is a world outside, it is easy (or easier) to concentrate on the environment one lives in. I am able to deal with what is in front of me. If I know that there is nothing I can do about a situation then I can switch it off. This does however lead to instituionalisation. For twelve months the outside world has been a dream, an idea of a place I once lived. Now, everyday, I have to confront the fact that although I could reach out and touch the real cars I still live in a different world so far removed from the real people. Time will stretch, everyday feels like three. Fords apparent freedom is an illusion and the prison changes from walls keeping me in to my mind keeping me in. I could walk out of the prison, jump on a train and abscond (you can’t escape from D cat). The only thing stopping me is me.

For the first two weeks we have to work five days a week, eight hours a day in a factory. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, I have done many factory jobs before. This, however, is the worst job I have ever done (to this day!!). Have you ever wondered how the little square of bubble wrap gets glued into the bottom of strawberry/raspberry punnets? I must admit that I had never given it any thought. 6p per 10000 punnets. Dab glue, place bubble wrap, stack punnet and repeat for eight hours. Soul destroying.

The food is worse than the Verne but better than Scrubs. Tempers flare often as the first few weeks treatment by the Screws seems to be designed to wind people up. In the first to weeks I think often about getting myself transferred back up a cat (by kicking off). Is it worth being here, just to be treated worse than I have been in the last 12months. Luckily in that first fortnight I meet someone who will be a very good friend for the rest of my time. That is probably the only reason I lasted at Ford.

Stress test, the other side: part 4 (HMP Ford or HMP Butlins)

This is good news and bad news chapter. HMP Ford is very local to where I’m currently living, it’s all of 3 miles away so at least I don’t have to look up the details on the HMP website. Formerly part of a WW2 Fleet Air Arm base it occupies a very large area with boundary fences separating it from open ground in the main. The open ground runs down to the River Arun and Littlehampton is but a stroll away. There are 2 sites on either side of the road and it’s not uncommon when driving past to see inmates in their prison work clothes ambling across the road from the main prison to the workshops on the other side.

A D Cat and Open Prison it, Ford, has an unenviable reputation locally for lax security. With stories, maybe true maybe apocryphal, of drugs and alcohol being freely available and even women smuggled in under the fence. My worries are obvious as I’ve spent the last 10 months supporting Chris who’s done brilliantly with his rehab drug and alcohol awareness courses. He’s not succumbed to any temptation or peer group pressure from his “colleagues” on the inside and here he is being sent to finish off the last 8 months or so of his sentence where both are  freely available. I have to trust him to be aware and carry on as before. The environment here though is also very different from The Verne as there’s a very mixed population from blokes who haven’t paid their Council Tax to murderers finishing off life sentences. In the main a lot of very unpleasant people.

The visiting procedure here is even easier. Chris simply makes an appointment  at the prison and he tells me. Weekends again as I’m still working. Two hours again in the afternoon. The lower category means that Chris can have some more personal possessions and he’s asked me to get him some trainers and a watch… also can he borrow my guitar. I don’t have a problem with any of these items and apparently I can carry this lot in on my first visit, compare and contrast with The Scrubs! Come that day of my first visit I wake up to snow falling. Is that a message and if so what??

I arrive at the prison armed with my guitar in a box and my other parcel. My initial taste of security does nothing but confirm the reputation, it’s all very informal. I check in with one warder, show him ID and another bloke stands casually behind a table looking bored witless just asks if I’ve anything I shouldn’t have… no search and no need to leave anything in a locker. I don’t believe it as there are women going in with kids and only a very cursory look at handbags. Again a far cry from what I’ve become used to. My worries are increased when I get into the big visiting area as there are tables and chairs scattered around everywhere, a shop run by volunteers , a play area for kids and even seats and tables outside (no, not that outside) for weather better than today’s.

Another warder takes charge of my “gifts”. I’ve got drinks and chocolate for us both, find a comfy chair and wait for Chris. One of the first things Chris tells me after our usual greetings is that here at Ford, provided certain conditions are fulfilled he’s allowed after a settling in period for what’s called a Town Day out of the prison. This is day out on licence and subject to conditions  until 6.30, and then later as long as the Town Day has been ok, he’s allowed 4 days home leave. All to prepare him for his return; to mix with Joe Public as a new, highly trained and respectable member of Society. I just have to get my head round these two new ideas. The other thing that I’m struggling to get to grips with is still the informality allowed here during visits. There are couples  rehearsing for a porn show and kids running all over the place. The oddest thing is that I think both of us felt happier (for different reasons) in the more secure environment. Chris is going to take time getting settled here so I’ll have to monitor closely how he’s getting on. Another contribution to the HMP Gold account I’ll send on once I’ve read the instruction issued on how to fill in a Postal Order!!!

We’ve got a maximum 8 months to get used to this before R Day. First visit over and lo and behold I’m home 10 minutes after leaving the prison. Our next step towards release is the first Town Day. It’s all arranged for Saturday in May which happens to be Cup Final Day. I’ve less interest in watching Portsmouth play Cardiff than I have setting fire to myself so no conflict there. Chris is allowed out on licence for the day from 8.30. I must be either late leaving or he’s out early as I almost run him over on a back road going towards the prison. This is the strangest feeling ever. I’m trying to be ever so jolly, it’s a shit day, overcast and threatening rain, so we start our day in nearby Arundel for breakfast for him and coffee for me. Where shall we go? Chris wants to have a look at Brighton, something to do with previous travel plans. The least I know about that the better frankly. I don’t go to Brighton very much and use the park and ride when I do and today is no exception. Christ mate, the excitement. Car then bus!!!!

Half way through the day I’m aware that Chris is feeling claustrophobic in the crowds as he hasn’t experienced anything like this for some time. After yet another coffee by the seaside, we agree to abort the visit here and go home. To mine not his!! Ann’s pleased to see him. She’s always got on well with him although understands his previous troubles even less than I do. We are in time to see the end of the football zzzzzzzzzz. We order some fish and chips for dinner before taking him back well in time for his curfew. All in all it’s been a good day although I do understand the difficulties that Chris has had today. Not sure how we’ll cope with the 4 days.

At the end of the proverbial day, it’s been a trial for us both. Chris and I have been strolling round Brighton stopping for more coffees than would be good for us. We’ve never had such a surreal day together. He’s still very neat and tidy although the hair’s growing again (his sadly not mine!). In the past we’ve met up and done much the same although today has just felt so different.

We’ve now settled into yet another visiting routine, our third and hopefully last, at least as far as HMP is concerned. I’m working so my visits are normally either Saturday or Sunday. The appointments are made and I just turn up as before always staggered by the lack of security and the informality in the visiting area. There are couples still trying to re-write the Kama Sutra and no-one turns a hair. I’m paradoxically more concerned about Chris here than I was in either of the previous two places, it’s all so different and the overriding feature remains the amount of booze and drugs that we all know get into the place. I just don’t want him taking steps backwards after having done so well. I have to say that for the first time in a very long time I’m proud of what Chris has achieved and learnt.

He’s working (although never ask him about bedding plants and strawberries!) and also passing courses to get licences for strimmers, ride on mowers and I think very important a Fork Lift licence. All of these give me hope that we’ll be able to find him some gainful employment come November, assuming he has to wait that long. There’s a possibility that Chris may be released earlier and he’s very hopeful about that. In the meantime, we’ve moved to another address slightly further away (all of 2 miles) in time for the second “Town Visit”. This time Chris stays in the house and logs into my oh so bloody slow PC to check the last 18 months Emails and anything on Facebook, whatever that is. The visit’s been a success and despite finding the PC very slow, Chris has managed to harness his frustration until he sees a message somehow from his ex-regarding herself and Chris’s daughter. He gets very angry and I can see the anger and frustration almost oozing out of him. I’m worried again this will send him “back”.

Phil has agreed that Chris can stay with him for the four day visit. It’s very good of him as they’ve not been especially close. Ann picks Chris up and then Phil comes to the house for bacon butties…why do we never have these when I’m at home? Initially all seems well. On the fourth day they pop into my office on the outskirts of Portsmouth for lunch before Chris has to be back. It’s very clear that all’s not gone well. Drink has caused a problem, well that and Phil inviting their Mother round. Chris has never had a good relationship with her ever since leaving hospital 10 days old. It’s been a backward step and on my next visit I broach the subject with Chris who’s immediately very defensive, although he knows he’s in the wrong. Sod the mother.

The early release is a non-starter for reasons not apparent although there have some “disciplinary” problems with roommates that Chris has taken the wrap for, so privileges are over and November 5th can’t come quickly enough. There are plans to be made and details to be discussed. Time and the HMP regime wait for no man!!

Stress test, the other side: part 3 (A day out in Isleworth)

A day out in Isleworth

The letters from Chris keep coming. Some are very amusing, some are not so. I’m frustrated at having to keep in touch at a very long arm’s length. It takes on average 3 or 4 days for my letters to get to him and vice versa, so often our news has crossed as it were. He’s keeping in touch with football news and views and also the courses seem to going as well as we can expect. Going over Chris’s early life is proving hard for him. It’s also bloody hard for me as I’m continually trying to sort out where I’ve gone wrong. I realise to my horror how much was going on in his mind that I knew nothing about. What’s worse is that his mother and I were still together then. The time since he left school has been terrible, seeing his life develop without really being able too much about it. There has at times been a “bury my head in the sand” attitude and this is something that we’ve got to address during this next difficult period so that when the time comes his future is more stable that his past has been. I’m not sure though that’s what Chris wants, although for the foreseeable future he’s don’t going to be able to make too many demands.

According to Chris’s brief, he’s now looking at the short end of 1-3 years. Phil’s coming to court with Ann and me so at least we’ll provide some support there if we haven’t provided much before. I’m not looking forward to driving to Isleworth early morning for a 10.00 start so am relieved after ringing the court listing office that day before to be told that Chris is “not before 12.00”. Leaving Salisbury after a hearty breakfast, we get to the Court without too many problems apart from driving 3 laps round a nearby supermarket car park, who’s nervous? In my previous life I’ve been in enough Crown Courts not to be intimidated by the surroundings and am well used to poesy barristers strutting around like the superior beings most of them believe that they are clutching their briefs wrapped in pink tape as if they’re state secrets. A quick look at the list and there is something I never ever thought I’d see…Reg v B******. Talk about bring it all home, how the hell have we got to this?

Coffee (awful) in a very depressing cellar cafeteria where bored looking staff just about raises enough “enthusiasm” to take my money and then we’re waiting again. The business of the normal court day is going on all around us but we’re just not taking anything in. It’s a busy Thursday in Isleworth. I know that we won’t be allowed to talk to Chris today either before or after the hearing so we’ll just have to rely on seeing him in Court in the dock, bloody hell again that empty feeling of my son in the dock. I’m not looking forward to that particular experience. His solicitor and barrister come and introduce themselves to us, they both look young and frankly the barrister’s looking more nervous than me and doesn’t fill me full of anything much other than a sense of pending doom. They’re going down to see Chris, who’s probably been here rather longer than us and won’t have bothered himself with having to read a map to get here but only today’s copy of The Independent courtesy of our friendly Du Can Road newsagent! They’re back with us now. Chris is ok and reasonably calm. She’s looking at 3 years if we’re lucky… Bloody brilliant! What happened to the lower end of 1-3 years?

“Those in the case of B****** to Court 2”. Without being too dramatic, those words are about to change our lives. The court room is small and we file into the public gallery. Chris looks smart and tidy but very red in the face and obviously worried. This is not the time or place for misplaced bravado. Ann waves discreetly to him but we all exchange glances, nervous this is the moment of truth and the old blood pressure must be sky-high. Prosecution outline the case and surprisingly play down Chris’s part, used as a pawn in a larger operation, a “mule” in the jargon. Strings pulled by people higher up the “chain” who remain nameless. Chris is stereotypically in debt and with a drug habit so “used” for this to pay off the debt and definitely not for his own gain/profit. Bloody hell that’s a turn up. Chris I know isn’t looking forward to the mitigation as it brings up more from his past. The girl (barrister) is none too fluent either, but after hearing that his family is there to support him as well, the Judge delivers a not too damning speech, takes into account his guilty plea and sentences him to 36 months. Chris has already served 3 months; the sentence is reduced by ½ as a norm so we reckon he’s 15 months to do. My first reaction leaving the courtroom is that we’ve or rather Chris has got a decent result there. Easy for us to think as it won’t be us spending the next 15 months inside. We manage just about to exchange glances with Chris before he returns “downstairs”. We’re left to thank his legal team who are going to see Chris again. They did say that they were happy with the sentence but then like us they’re also going home tonight, he’s not. Oh, they say, did we tell you he will be back in court for another hearing in about 6 weeks to determine his means… If it wasn’t so serious that would be funny. Chris’s means? A converted horse-box somewhere in Dorset and frankly very little else apart from what little’s in his HMP Gold Account. That’s it for the day so let’s get away from here, drop Phil off and get home; after all I’m in work tomorrow. God, that’s to look forward to.

Stress test, The other side: part 2 (West London, re-visited again).

The worst aspect after my visit was reporting to my ex, Chris’s mother. Frankly, I wouldn’t have bothered. But I was “persuaded”. I won’t dwell on the brief telephone conversation as it won’t happen again. I don’t know why she wanted to know as most of the World’s problems originate from Chris and/or me according to her. But she’s no doubt trying to prove the those who give a monkey’s that she’s a caring mother. Which is rather like Ghengis Khan being called a man of the people.
Chris’s trial is set for early September at Isleworth Crown Court. The last time I was in that area I was watching rugby at the old Twickenham.
I managed to speak to Chris’s lawyer who was arranging a video conference call to discuss the hearing. A custodial sentence is inevitable, so it’s just about how long. 2 years seems to be the current thinking and she manages to instil some confidence, as she’s clearly dealt with a number of similar cases. My every day thoughts are just how terrifying that place must be and I’m bloody sure that I couldn’t cope there.

I’m consoling myself that probably (almost certainly) for the first time, in a long time, Chris is looking clean and tidy. Ok, just, on the outside, if that’s not too stupid a phrase given his current accommodation. And his life has some order and self-discipline albeit enforced. Still we’ll see how things pan out until his sentencing. I try to send Chris at least 1 letter a week trying to keep a light touch and hopefully give him something to chuckle at. His letters have a black humour about them and also make me very aware how boring his life at present. He has nothing to do, he’s not working as he’s on alcohol and drug awareness courses. I find that an amusing title as he’s already “aware” of these bloody things, hence the trouble he’s in, but maybe I’m just being pedantic. The frustrations for us both are like  ever decreasing circles. He’s not working so not earning, no money is potentially dangerous and he can’t even ring his brief. My funds are limited but I’m able to send another PO for what we jokingly call his HMP Gold account.

Another letter, another VO. This time Ann’s going to come and again I have a repeat performance trying to get through to the prison to arrange my 1 hours’ worth of visit. Chris’s letters tell me about his physical state. His back hurts due to the ancient mattresses and he’s having the odd nose bleed. Although he knows where he is and why, I’m still annoyed that he’s blaming all and sundry for his dilemma. This attitude could grate a bit as time goes by. I don’t think he can complain about where he is and he ultimately has to take responsibility for his own actions. God knows I’ve asked myself enough questions. Another major matter for concern to me once again is the amount of time he (and the other 1000’s there) spends in their cells. There’s the possibility of a warders strike or go slow and then they’ll all be locked up 24 hours a day* and I can only imagine the tension inside that that will create and Chris has to “live with it”.

Mercifully before our visit the strike is called off. Another happy sunny Saturday and it’s off in the car. My neighbour asks where we’re going… “Oh only a day in London.” ” Have a good time” he says in all good faith… Bloody hell… If only.  Uneventful journey and parking in Du Cane Road presents no problems. But then I suppose H.M.P Wormwood Scrubs isn’t on the “must see sites” for your average tourist! This time it’s a little less stressful as having been before I know the procedure with the lockers and then trip across the entrance road to join the queue. I’ve stressed to Ann the un-written rules about eye contact and never ask why someone is inside and for how long. It’s bad enough being here, without her breaking one of those. While we in the queue an unpleasant situation arises. The black girl in front of us has 2 young girls and 1 of them steps off the path just into the road as a female warder drives past in her open sports car…no harm done, no one was ever in danger but the warder seems to want to impress us all how important she is. We can all do without that and it just creates even more tension. After about 20 minutes the door opens and in we go again clutching more ID and the VO. I’m still unsure how Ann will react to the searches and the cold way that we’re all treated. As far as the warders are concerned, we’re all tarred by the same brush and a nuisance to their natural order. Whatever we are and wherever we all come from, we all have one thing in common and that’s we have a loved one inside so there’s no room for airs and graces. The tension is the same as before although I’ve had some letters from Chris and he’s been getting some dosh and his papers, I know that he’s as ok as he’s ever going to be in here. It’s a horrible B Category place and there are some pretty horrendous people in the place. That overwhelming feeling frankly of fear, intimidation and obviously that you’re every action is watched on CCTV never leaves us. It’s only my second visit and it’s a place that you can never feel relaxed in or get used to.

Ann’s been fine. This time we really “splash out” on the “picnic” with drinks, chocolate and a real “homemade pasty”! Waiting in the reception area alongside the actual visiting room, Ann almost commits the cardinal of asking questions but I manage to stop her just as our name is called. Table 23, no window seat this time. Chris is looking quite healthy given his recent history and tidy, haircut and beard gone, although to be hyper critical; the coloured tabard doesn’t go with the rest of the prison uniform!!!! He’s pleased to see us both and Ann greets him like her own son. Chris and Ann have always got on well. We try to make more sense of what’s has happened and also what the short/long term future holds in store. Chris thinks that he’s likely to be moved to a C Cat prison soon after his hearing to serve the rest of his sentence. I’m not sorry that this might be the last time I have to come to this oppressive place. Picnic’s good. The chocolate is devoured and drinks with sugar quaffed as both needless to say are in short supply. The pasty, however, is awful…no, not even that good…pity the warders didn’t confiscate that as well.

The hour’s gone, the warders circle us like vultures ordering conversations to be ended so that they can get us lot out and normal order can be restored in their domain…. You’ve no bloody worries as none of us would want to stay. We have more hugs with Chris and off he goes back to his restricted environment and off we go back through more searches, thumbs being checked along with our photos. I can understand the need for searches etc on the way and don’t have a problem with that, but on the way out? Am I likely to have smuggled some contraband out? It’s a life that I have to get used to. I’ll never agree with what you did Chris but I’ll always support you despite my current visits to the most unlikely places! Don’t forget it’s not wholly my fault that you’re in there and the likelihood of this or any Government making drugs legal before your day in court is, well, non-existent. It may only have been “herbal” but that amount is still classed as smuggling, importation or call it whatever you will. If’s there’s a saving grace, then it’s at least not Class A, you weren’t picked up in South Africa and as you’ve remained silent about the details, I’m not likely to have some hairy arsed dealer banging on my door for his shipment!! Oh and the programmes that Chris is on do seem to be having some beneficial effect as a visit from the well as local priest!!



*the strike did eventually happen. we were banged up for 48 hours. we were climbing up the walls. and I believe 1 inmate topped him self and many mattresses were burnt. chris*