I remember the blood rushing through my ears and the sick cramp in my stomach as the judge passed her sentence. My probation officer, my lawyer and the law of the land all agreed that I should not go to jail. Rupert Murdoch had dropped the charges. But this woman, alone and unaccountable, was having none of it. There were rules, she said, but she, like I, was willing to break them to make a political point. I got 6 weeks.
My girlfriend was in tears and I was in shock as I was led into custody. The man who took me down worked for SERCO, a private contractor, the same one currently bidding to run the probation service. My own probation officer was hard working and overworked, dedicated, caring, fastidious and fair. I dread to think of the plight of future defendants if his job is taken by the lazy gang of plastic pigs who clumsily processed me.
The one exception was Amy, SERCO's sole female guard. She came and asked if I was OK and I burst into tears. As she comforted me I told her about my son and the summer I would miss with him.
Minimarbles, if you are reading this, whenever that is, I am deeply sorry from the depths of my heart. I love you and miss you. Not seeing you is my real punishment here; the only one I care about, anyway.
My first contact with another prisoner, in the dungeon beneath Westminster Magistrates Court was a trifle unsettling. As the plastic SERCO pig opened the door to my new, temporary digs the man inside (we shall call him Dangermouse, because that is not his name) leapt to his feet. He wasn't supposed to be put in with anyone else, he protested. There had been problems. Violence. The look of fear in his eyes matched the one growing in my heart, but the SERCO screw locked the door on us anyway.
The mood soon changed once I introduced myself to Dangermouse and we got talking. I was relieved to hear that we would soon be furnished with dinner and tobacco. Dangermouse and I traded prison tips for protest anecdotes till the time came for my appeal.
To nobody's great surprise the same power-drunk petty dictator who had sentenced me also refused my bail application. She did not give her reasons. It must be excruciating to live a life where everything you do is so utterly predictable.
An hour later and we're rolling through the gates of Wandsworth Prison. Its 40 foot walls are iced with barbed wire and spikes, which I reckon is gilding the lilly, to be honest. Who has a 40 foot ladder?
I'd been advised by Dangermouse not to say what I'd done, just that I was in for assault. This plan went up like a lit fart the moment I stepped into E-Wing. “Oi, Pie man!” shouted one of my fellow lags. A few cons camme over to alternately shake my hand and take the piss. We had some of what I believe is known colloquially as “banter”, something I have not enjoyed since university. It is not like riding a bike.
I was introduced to an “insider”- a prisoner whose job it is to show n00bs like me the ropes. I'm told I'll be on E wing for a week before being moved. “Go to A wing if you want a quiet life” says a man who was not called Donatello “Go to B or C if you like socialising. If they try to take you to D wing, protest. That's where they put all the drug addicts”.
I've already been advised to keep my tobacco in my sock and never leave it in my cell. “It's the main currency in here” confides Donatello “That and coffee”. Suddenly I wish I was better at giving stuff up.
My tobacco comes, along with a bag of sundries: 1 plastic plate, 1 plastic bowl, 1 plastic knife, fork and spoon, 1 plastic cup which I immediately lose, 1 tube of toothpaste, 1 toothbrush, 2 sachets of shampoo which state that they have not been tested on animals, 1 bar of soap which does not, 1 envelope, 1 pen, 1 sheet of HM prisons paper. The spartan functionality of my welcome pack immediately focuses the mind. I decide straight away that the item in shortest supply is paper. Donatello quickly finds me some, through some quasi-contraband process which I do not understand, but for which I am eternally grateful.
That night I watch Celebrity Juice with Mr. Magoo, a sickly Romanian man recovering from an operation who is my new cell mate. Celebrity Juice is easily the worst thing that has happened to me in jail so far.
As I lie on my bunk drifting to sleep I notice a 2Pac quote inked on the wall above my head.
“Please father, I'm a sinner
I'm living in hell
Just let me live on the street
cos there ain't no peace in jail.”
I hope this place won't be like that. Maybe 2Pac was a wimp.
You can read about what happened on Day 2 here