Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Grand Day Out

Some of us enjoy a day out from the nick as a break in the routine. For others, it is a disruption. I've always been slightly ambivalent. Of course it is pleasant to have a change of scenery, but when you’re handcuffed to a screw and there's three of you squashed in the back seat of a car it tends to detract a touch from the experience.

These occasions are one of the very few times that we are stuck in close proximity to screws, and they with us. Whereas on the wing our encounters are distant and fleeting, each sticking firmly to our roles, when you’re stuck with someone in a confined space for a few hours then that distance tends to narrow.

Some screws sit in silence, never speaking. Others talk to each other, ignoring the prisoner who sits in between them. Those more comfortable with themselves are able to include the prisoner in the conversation, breaking away from prison gossip and the mutual disdain for management and ranging into current affairs, TV programmes and general waffle.

In fairness to my escorts of late, the staff have ranged from being pleasantly quiet to quite chatty. They have not made the experiences worse by being, well, screws!

Being the prison service, I was handcuffed. Obviously, you may think! But no. Each 'escort’ should be risk assessed. I have had a wander around the local town, been to hospital twice recently, and all the staff recommended I could be trusted to go to Open prison at the parole hearing. And yet, there I was, wedged between two screws and in cuffs. Honestly, what were the chances of my doing a runner, hoofing it down the road barefooted with my arse hanging out the back of a hospital gown? The mind of my keepers is too murky to discern at times. Actually, most of the time...

The experience reminded me of an aspect of life that I'm going to have to get used to on release - travelling. Life in prison is compact, everything is close by. Out there, travelling more than a few hundred metres to get to, say, work, is the norm. And I dislike travel. The idea of driving for an hour is not enticing, it's dead and unproductive time. Perhaps I'm a natural candidate for tele-working?

We lurked in the hospital waiting room for an age. Nothing changes! Others people there cast sly glances at the handcuffs and I can see the urge to ask a question form on at least one set of lips. But no one says anything out loud. As I stand to follow the Doctor, dragging a screw along, I have to resist the temptation to ask, "could you remove this ugly growth I have attached to my right arm...??"

Being given a diagnosis can be difficult enough. When it's cancer, and here's a lot of information to absorb, doubly so. But being wedged in the consulting room with two screws, still handcuffed to them, it becomes something more degrading.

On my return, I obviously wanted to let those close to me know the diagnosis. The Editor was sitting by her phone, sweating and stressed. With no money on my phone account, I had to ask for an 'official' phone call, that is the use of an office landline. Two minutes was all I wanted, just to pass the news along. The man in charge of the nick that evening, the Orderly Officer, refused.

Still, it was a day out.


  1. OK, how do I send some money to your phone account? Had a curry with a mate the other night who has prostrate cancer. He's rocking and fighting it like it was just a friggin' cold! My missus is doing the same with her breast cancer.

  2. @realstrings, the easyest method is via the donate, paypal, button. Many thanks. Editor.

  3. Sad to read of this inhumane treatment of you Ben, but I admire the way you are able to maintain your sense of humour. That will definitely help you through. Also thinking of those close to you, a very difficult time for them not being able to be there 'in the flesh' to reassure you.

    By the way, driving alone can be a VERY productive and therapeutic time - you can listen to music/audio books, sing, think, pray.....

    Wishing you all the very best, Jules

  4. We taxpayers are paying them a small fortune to keep this man locked up and yet they can't afford a short phone call. Bah! I've sent a modest sum to your account.

  5. Hi Ben, It is with complete disgust that I read your post today. Man's ability to inflict cruel and uneccessary punishment on their fellow Man almsot beggars belief. Then again, the ability to incarcerate you so far beyond your tariff is an injustice of monumental proportions. I intend to make as much noise about this blog as I possibly can, if those of us who have a voice use it, who knows, common sense, compassion and more importantly morality may yet win. You should be released to open prison as soon as possible,then at least you may be able to live with a modicum of dignity, After so many years you deserve it. Keep your blog going, not only for you to be heard, but just as importantly for us to hear. As for the person who refused to allow a simple phone call, meant to reassure (why does everyone connected to a prisoner also pay the price?) Shame on you. Prison rules and reg's will be trotted out to justify your actions, but morally? You have to live with it.

    Keep strong Ben, there are more of us every day....
    Wishing you love, ydsxx

  6. Here's hoping the man in charge at the time experiences a sim ilar situation one day - and then perhaps he/she can feel the pain too.

    Keep strong Ben, many of us are rooting for you and looking forward to reading your blog when you are moved to an open prison and adterwards.


  7. Ben, I have written some of my best poetry while sitting on the top deck of a bus whiling away the 50+ minutes it can easily take to get to and from my former place of work. Nothing else to do, the mind is free to wander and wonder.

  8. I have been reflecting recently on what role prison officers play in prison society. I haven't read anything to this effect, but something tells me they experience exclusion, not in the same way necessarily as prisoners, but are to some extent disagregated from the rest of the world. Something tells me that they are an oppressed and silenced group in many ways, at the bottom of the pecking order in an underfunded and overcrowded system.

    Don't get me wrong, I am not defending or rubbishing prison officers in my thoughts, I am just very interested to know what Ben thinks motivates prison officers to behave poorly towards prisoners, why it is endemic and why people turn a blind eye to it? It is easy to say, for power, money etc etc... but what is behind all that?

  9. @ Anon

    At a guess, I would say probably just temperament. Some people are just bullies, by nature or training, or most often, some of both. Some go a little beyond that. I don't know if you know anyone like this, but I do: people who just don't relate well to equals, and don't waste time feeling compassion for "inferiors"; The only way I've found to have a decent relationship with them is to get yourself pegged down as a superior before they can start dismissing you as on par with a leech.

    When you have people with a bullying streak and a hardcore authoritarian worldview, they would tend to self-select for jobs with plenty of room for petty abuse of power - of which prison officer is a prime example (so is the police service.)I seem to recall someone having studied this, but I'm too lazy to go look it up at the moment.