On awakening I attempt to think about the 24 hours ahead. The noise between my ears is deafening, violent, incessant. So loud. So consuming. The noise holds me hostage to my bed. My hips are sore from the metal protruding through the thin mattress. My pillow is damp with sweat. The sounds of banging, shouting, keys, screaming from the landing penetrates my entire cell. My reality forces my eyes wide open. It feels like walking through sand to swing my legs on to the cell floor. I struggle to find a space on my floor for my feet amongst the mini mountains of legal paperwork, letters to and from my family, complaints, OASys [Offender Assessment System – eds.] reports and court of appeal paperwork.
The prospect of tackling a new day makes my shoulders sink, feels like a mountain to climb. The previous night dragged on, was sleepless, draining. I summon up the strength to take on the voices, still ever incessant, repetitive and loud. I cup my hands, close my tired eyes and bow my head. I ask him to direct my thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. I consider my day ahead. I pray for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision. I notice my tired eyelids, my aching hips, my poor posture. I try to relax asking that my thinking be more on the plane of inspiration. I make no request for myself, only instead asking that others may be helped. Prayer is difficult amongst the deafening voices. I struggle. I clasp my hands tighter, saying out loud ‘my creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength as I go out from here, to do your bidding, Amen’.
I shower, dress, shave, clean teeth. Must be presentable, dignified and graceful. I feel tearful, lost, hopeless, emotionally drained, physically weak. My pain is dark, bleak, unbearable. I manoeuvre along the busy, noisy, dull prison landing. Prisoners gather and dart in every direction. My mind continues to torture me. To walk is like swimming through sand. I greet other prisoners, exchange pleasantries. This alien environment chokes my airways. IPP [imprisonment for public protection, eds.] recall [being returned to prison after having breached parole conditions] after five wonderful years of freedom continues to break my heart. I pause, asking for an intuitive thought, ‘how can I best serve thee’? I breathe, relax, I take it easy, embracing the sounds and the colours of ‘NOW’. Magnificent. I ask other prisoners if they need help, if they need their clothes washed.
I start work, I enjoy work, keeps me busy. I wash prisoners’ laundry, tumble dry them, fold them up neatly and deliver them with a smile. My workplace is quiet offering an opportunity to read. I read for twenty minutes. I lay down on the table closing my eyes. I meditate. An explosion of noise erupts between my ears, loud, violent, incessant, the chatter of a thousand monkeys. I breathe in breathe out, attempt to concentrate, the voices in my mind overwhelm me. I focus my mind, focus on mantra, the planet earth as seen from space. I breathe again repeating once, twice, three times in my mind ‘Be still and know I am God’. I battle, fight, duel with the mantra, the image of the planet fights off the voices. Duality ceases. Fifth dimensional existence captures, excites, and takes ownership of my body, my flesh, my heart, my soul and mind. There is no time, no limits, no space and no fear. I am victorious as equanimity pierces my mind and being. The dueling begins to penetrate my equanimity and takes precedence. My despair and helplessness return. I feel tender, weak and vulnerable, yet men of faith have courage, or so the verdict of the ages says. I rise up off the table, saying many times to myself. ‘Thy will not mine be done’. I finish my morning’s work. I queue for lunch, prisoners swarm around prison officers bombarding them with demands and requests. I taste the stench of heroin and spice in my throat. The Angel and the Devil begin a fierce duel in my mind. ‘Six months clean, you’re doing well!, ‘you can have one, no-one will know’. In the space of thirty seconds I’m offered heroin, needles, cannabis, crack cocaine and black mamba spice. The Angel fights the Devil and Devil fights back, resilient, determined. The dealers circle like sharks. I yearn to enter the world of the spirit. Love and tolerance of others is my code. I pause, I cease fighting. I resolutely turn my attention to someone I can help. I make coffee with the pleasant Romanian man. I listen to him and when I respond, I talk about him. I sit at his table, relax, breathe easy then enthusiastically attack his mini mountain of immigration paperwork. The recoil like that from a hot flame at the offer of drugs is now a distant memory.
After lunch, I’m frustrated at not being able to use the phone which has been broken for a month since the storm. I feel isolated, cut off from my family. Cut off from the world. 2pm, my name is called over the crackling tannoy. I’m informed my Grandfather has lost his battle with cancer. I don’t feel anything. Upon hearing my mother’s voice, her sobs, and her tears over the office phone I’m struck with grief, helplessness, anger. I boil and rage at my IPP predicament. My blood bubbles as I consider the delays, the lost post-tariff years, the missing documents in my dossier, the prejudicial inaccuracies in my OASys. I feel a violent resentment at my environment which has crushed my soul and brought me to my knees with a noose around my neck, a razor to my throat. The pain of the post-tariff years resurfaces. I rage at my IPP recall for a technical breach. I rise from the office chair, dignified, graceful and thankful. I sit on my bed battling for acceptance that I cannot be there to comfort my beautiful mother. I glance over at my things to do list: call solicitor, send written update to solicitor, send forms to the court of appeal, highlight factual errors in OASys, phone mentor, write to mentor, write to rehab, send application for funding to Open University, write to another prisoner, complete relapse assignment, complete parenting course homework, revise goals given by counsellor, write to my wonderful daughter, fill in application for chaplaincy, chase up two months delay with dentist and mental health nurse, write to prison reform trust, prison reform trust writing competition, obtain reference for Koestler Awards Mentor Application, find out the name of my MP, chase up two months delay in adding my auntie’s number to my phone, chase up unpaid wages, chase up refund for not receiving my newspaper for sixteen weeks, complete appeal to prison ombudsman. I feel overwhelmed, despondent. I ponder where to begin. I ask for inspiration, an initiative thought or decision. I tackle the things to do list. I write letters, complete relapse assignment. I am left with a feeling of curious confusion and frustration at why my continuous self-examination continues to be dismissed by those with the power to influence release. I reflect on my Grandfather, you can take nothing from me, only ‘add’ to me.
I collect dinner. I rest, eat, practice self-love, drink coffee and eat fruit. I feel exhausted, drained. My spirit is weak. I reflect on my journey post IPP release, pre-recall, working my fingers to the bone at work. I reflect on the hours, months, years, sweat and tears, studying psychology at university, training in counselling, shadowing practitioners, studying management. I momentarily grieve my lost life and lay back on my bed feeling dejected, helpless and demoralised. I long to nurture my daughter through her vulnerable years, to be with her in her moments of suffering and joy. My helplessness feels like torture. I feel the frustration and torment from my toes to my teeth at how imprisonment somehow re-traumatises me for past abuse during lost years in segregation units. Stripped naked, nursing broken wrists in boiling airless summer prison cells. No running water. Sleeping with countless cockroaches. Abuse inflicted by those responsible for my care. My mind spins over and over. The chatter of a thousand monkeys. I long for victory over the voices in my mind.
IPP is hijacking my mind. I momentarily relate to the man who ends his life by discharging a gun pointed at his temple. I notice the colours around me. I notice the sounds. I notice the whirr of the helicopter ambulance, rising from the prison airlifting a prisoner to hospital who is fighting for his life after being attacked. The latest victim of non-stop violence, riots, fires and mayhem in the prison as overworked, understaffed, heroic unsung hardworking prison officers battle to maintain control. I pray for the prisoner. I pray for the hands of the nurses and doctors who will nurse him. I notice my breath. I breathe deeply. I notice the saliva in my mind, the wetness of my tongue. I capture the present, enjoying awareness, embracing my enmeshed state of being in the knowing that whatever begins, ends. Awareness ceases. Whatever begins, ends.
My eyes are dreary, sunken in their sockets. It’s late 3 am, I feel frightened, alone and trapped. Tears roll down my pale face. I contemplate how I will survive further years of this torture, this mental slaughter. IPP feels like a poison. Administered again and again each time I dare to hope. I fear I might not even survive months. Have faith, men of faith have courage the verdict of the ages says. I mumble a quiet prayer, praying for just one night of good sleep. My prayer is unanswered. Insomnia dominates my blurry wide eyes. I lose my battle with the spiritual plane. I lose my way in the spirit of the universe. Uncertainty penetrates my pores. Breaks my will. After one hour of sleep I awaken, and think about the 24 hours ahead. ……….. Another 24 hours of hell………