Monday, November 21, 2011

The Block

It struck me that what is, to my jaded eyes, mundane and familiar is unknown territory for most people outside. How do you imagine a punishment Block in your mind’s eye? Possibly something dark and damp, populated by unwashed, starving and hirsute desperados?

Whilst not denying the existence of such places -?- -most Blocks are housed at base­ment level - the one whose floor I sweep (in between breaks from writing...) is a more humble yet modern edifice. In a previous incarnation a resettlement unit, the 10 cells line a single short corridor. The 8 punishment cells on one side, the 2 orderlies, shower and storeroom on the other. Around the corner, occupied by the main office, are the 2 holding cells,  a "special cell", the servery,  adjudication room and managers office. The whole comprises a very small building.

On paper, the daily regime is sparse and structured around the mandatory events for all Blocks. During the day a governor, medic and chaplain will visit each cell and conduct a ritualistic exchange with each Prisoner. "Any problems...?"

The captive residents are unlocked, one at a time, to collect breakfast and make appl­ications just after 8am. Cereal, toast, flask of water, tea bags. This is the main exchange with staff during each day, the moment to chase up problems or raise issues. It is also the point at which each man can subscribe to "the regime" - to elect to have exercise, a shower or use the payphone. Often, these exchanges set the tone, the level of tension, for the rest of the day.

Once all have been fed, bang-up reigns. Those who have so chosen will, always singly, take their exercise etc. The statutory visitors - governor, medic, chaplain, will make their rounds. Except for these momentary interruptions, each man is left alone behind his door. By lunchtime this activity has petered out and from lunchtime through to the next breakfast prisoners are rarely disturbed from their lock-up save to collect their tea time meal. It can be appreciated that the Block is not a place of great activity. The locked cell door and absence of visible prisoners is the hallmark of all Blocks.

Any thought that this suggests a quiet, monastic existence should be held very tentatively...


  1. 'Any thought that this suggests a quiet, monastic existence should be held very tentatively...'

    I agree Ben. The Block might - on the one hand, seem to offer the ideal environment for solitude and self-examination. But on the other, it can be a place of physical pain, mental anguish, and even death.

  2. Things like meditation and introspection can be extremely difficult, especially if the person is very distressed, or traumatised.

    Solitude can be a great chance for things like that, but it can also destroy someone if they have a disturbed mind. It really isn't that easy to realise peace in you, many try, few actually do though. That's the impression I get.


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