Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pay Day

The busiest evening of the week is pay day. A maelstrom of people running about squaring debts and collecting dues. Some are sanguine, safe in the knowledge that what they owe is safely in their means. Others move about with greater purpose, flitting from cell to cell in a rushed attempt to raise loans to cover their debts. Their faces become more drawn as the evening progresses.
I tend to be on the borrower and of the spectrum, though I don't borrow routinely or more than I can afford. Some borrowing is inevitable, due to the way we are paid. We must fill in a form ordering what we want to buy, and the order is delivered a few days later.
This system relies on individuals being able to prophesy what they will need in that following week. If you fancy a biscuit, or run out of sugar, then short of waiting until the next pay day the only means of meeting this need is to borrow it.
There is also the regular wheeling and dealing, goods and services being exchanged. This is all illegal, as the Rules prohibit us from "borrowing, lending or giving" anything to anybody. And yet this black economy runs unabated, unofficially acknowledged as part of what keeps prison ticking over from day to day. The Governor would not appreciate his days been taken up dealing with applications from us to pass cups of sugar, the odd fag paper or tatty newspaper from cell to cell.
There is a man who gives me some newspapers and it is only fair I throw him a bar of chocolate in thanks. My barber gets packets of crisps, while I collect a little tobacco in exchange for some cartons of milk. As I ran out of tobacco, I ended up borrowing half an ounce, and the bloke wants Tetley T Bags and Flora in return. A fair deal all round.
All of us engage in these little exchanges, which range from hard business to mutual favours. This cements the social system, reinforces standards of mutuality and sociability. Exchange is only economics in its smallest sense, its significance lies more in what it means to be a social being.
This week is a good one. I have my tobacco and fag papers, and even managed to treat myself to some Polos. Hurrah!

1 comment:

  1. An interesting insight, thanks Ben.

    I have another question, is there a definite benefit in giving up smoking whilst in prison such that the need for tobacco etc. isn't another variable you have to factor into the already complex equation of existing in prison? Did you start smoking before or after you were incarcerated, and would you like to give up? Does it provide some form of contentment or salve? I never found it to do so.

    I'm reminded of Brian Haw, inspirational guy who has lived on the pavement in the middle of the traffic island of the three lane continuous madness of Parliament Square, for over 8 years now as a solid reminder to politicians that they sanctioned an illegal and utterly inhuman series of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He smokes like a chimney, and I have to wonder if it forms part of a coping strategy for his unusual living conditions. Perhaps there are parallels to life in prison.

    Nosey bugger aren't I.