In an observation cell on the hospital wing of Wandsworth prison I lay on my bed staring out into the corridor. It was my first morning in prison and it didn’t strike me as odd that I was contained by a set of bars rather than a solid steel door. My light had been flicked on briefly every 15 minutes during the night and on the occasions that my eyes opened a voice would ask ‘Are you okay?’.
I’d not long finished my breakfast – porridge in those days with a sausage and two slices of toast – when a man wearing a short white coat and white trousers appeared at the bars. ‘Razor’, he said in a flat tone, holding out a red and black disposable to me. I took it, too slowly mumbling ‘Thank you’ after he’d moved on.
I stared at the plastic in my hand before flicking back the cover and contemplating the single sharp looking edge.
Running my hand over my chin I stepped to the back of the cell, reached out to the lime covered tap and pushed down to fill the filthy sink with tepid water.
He looked disappointed with me, standing there with my top off, face half covered in soap. ‘Two more minutes’, he said.
By the end of the week I was up to speed and always ready to hand the razor back to him, fully clothed and with the blood staunched by toilet paper. Her Majesty’s Prison Service does not invest heavily in toiletries and the blade struggled against my stubble as the days past. Nobody ever commented on my facial cuts at the quarter hourly checks. Accidental self-harm was of no concern.
It took me ten days to ask him. ‘Do I have to shave?’ He looked at me, eyebrows furrowed and shook his head as he walked away.
Three Thousand Two Hundred and Forty
There was sign telling me I was in the right place – EDUCATION DEPARTMENT – but the door was shut. I’d been unlocked from my cell and told to report immediately for an assessment. The timetable in my induction folder told me I was only a few minutes late and I could hear lads’ voices coming from inside. But how to get in?
I looked around for a screw, there were none. On the walk across here all the gates had been locked open, freeflow they called it, but there were no staff manning the route like they would do in dispersal. It was weird.
I wasn’t going back to the wing and risking a nicking but then hanging around in corridors isn’t exactly a smart thing to do either. You’ve got to be where you’re meant to be.
I fidgeted. Now I was ten minutes late. I started to sweat. Now fifteen. Fuck it.
‘Oi,’ I shouted, trying to somehow gauge the volume – loud enough to get the lads’ attention, not loud enough to alert a screw – ‘get someone to unlock this door.’
Seconds later it swung open to reveal a grinning figure in a grey sweatshirt identical to the one I wore, ‘Struggle with opening doors, do you?’ he laughed.
‘It’s been too long,’ I muttered, ‘far too fucking long.’
Five Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty Six
I’m sitting in my room. There are no bars, the door is made of wood and it’s locked but that’s okay cause the key is sitting on the beside cabinet next to my Mach 3 razor and shaving gel.
My probation officer saw me this morning, my first meeting since release. She was optimistic. ‘You’ve done so much good work on your sentence,’ she said, ‘I’ve got no worries about you. The qualifications you gained inside, all the offending behaviour work, the time you spent volunteering in the community from Cat D. There’s a lot of support available for lifers too. You’ll be fine.’
I smiled at this, finally relaxing and feeling as if a new start was possible.
She returned the smile, adding kindly, ‘All you have to do is use your initiative.’
By @SRefil, whose excellent tweets I recommend you follow.