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!!