Things I thought

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Day 5 - Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Wandsworth

I’m worried I’m going to end up writing 14 stories where nothing happens. It’s sobering to think that The Shawshank Redemption chronicled 20 years in sing-sing and still only found a few hours of narrative - and Stephen King was allowed to make stuff up.

I’ve rather lost the Shawshank spirit myself over the last 24 hours. Fighting with heart and mind against an unjust system feels a bit silly when you’ve only got 8 days of oppression left. My initial attempt at a blog for today – a withering polemic on the purpose of prison itself – was brusquely abandoned mid-flow when Deal or No Deal came on. It was, in any case, an effort to use the abstract of my situation to conceal the embarrassingly mundane reality of life in here. We’ve spent most of the day waiting for Harry Potter.

Movies are a big deal in prison. With next-to-nothing to look forward to, most of the chatter on the wings naturally gravitates to TV, particularly films, and for the last few days all of the talk has been of Harry Potter. This is particularly weird when you realise that Watchmen is on tonight, and the other night we were treated to Blade, which has a vampire in it and lots of massive guns.

Harry Potter is a kids' film. About a wizard.

I woke at 6 again this morning to another imperial pronouncement from Hubba-Hubba, God-emperor of the Hoobs and future overlord of all mankind. Something about the Hoobs' incessant cheerfulness and utter contempt for humanity seems to unfailingly penetrate my slumber. The TV is always on; Splinter can’t sleep without it, so every day I wake up to its sickly glow. My first few nights inside I didn’t mind, I was exhausted anyway, but there is so little to do in here my body has now caught up on its sleep debt and considers the most minor stimulation to be a clarion call to get up and DO SOMETHING, no matter that, of course, there is fuck all to do. As a result I have developed my first bit of jailtech, using rolled up Rizla as rudimentary earplugs.

Jailtech is amazing. Jailtech (I’m the only one who calls it that) is simply the art of being creative with what you’ve got. Prison toothpaste becomes wall glue for photos from home, old magazines become lampshades, orange peel becomes air freshener, forks and bowls and towels, somehow, become a curtain to shield you from the afternoon sun. One inmate, left without a working kettle, pulls the broken apparatus apart and carefully lowers the exposed wires into a bucket to boil water. Human beings are capable of incredible things, if only you try to stop them.

I spent the morning glazing at the telly, writing up yesterday’s court adventure, and waiting for the exercise yard. At around the time I should have gotten to stretch my legs, a guard came round and informed me I had a surprise visit. It was a surprise because I’d been told I wouldn’t get visitors until I’d filled in the right forms, which I couldn’t fill in until I got my visitors’ addresses, which I couldn’t get until I made a phone call, which I couldn’t make because this prison is run by incompetent twats. So, a very nice surprise indeed.

The visit was glorious, an hour with three of the people I love most on this earth. In truth it’s a little overwhelming. I’m not allowed to take notes – or, indeed, anything – with me, so a list of questions lies unasked on the desk in my cell as I make my first contact with the outside world. With so little time it feels like we should spend all of it talking incessantly at high speed, like coked up chipmunks, but instead odd silences gape awkwardly between bursts of news. It’s all over far too quickly and I’m taken back to my cell, a bittersweet taste in my mouth, wondering if a little of something can be worse than nothing at all.

I spend much of the day considering this, how the poverty of our condition here seems to help us cope, makes us take an almost spiteful pleasure at times in the little we do have. Every ad break my giant gangster of a cell mate and I sing along to the snatches of music in the adverts. We particularly look forward to one trailing the forthcoming “Street” season of programs on channel 4, which has some nice grime beats we can’t get our hands on anywhere else. I have a feeling we wouldn’t appreciate these as much if we, you know, had something good to listen to.
The same goes for friendship. Splinter and I would be unlikely to mix in the same social circles outside of prison, but in here necessity means that we get along (though, if I’m honest, I think Splinter’s embarrassed to be locked up with such a shit criminal).

 Likewise, Wandsworth’s walls can even make friends of potential enemies. Take gadget, who I met today in the exercise yard. He’s just started a 5 month stretch for GBH and, as we lapped the little square of dirt which is our outside, we traded life stories. His world is as different from mine as Splinter’s is, though all three of us have kids. His 9 to 5, a concept I find alien, is spent at the MoD. We joke that, if we met on the outside it would probably be across a police line. Still, gadget and I get on, and even discuss politics. He points out one of the nice things about this place is that, under the glare of the guards, we’re all equals. While I think the gang that I hear runs A wing might disagree on that point, I can see what he’s getting at – there’s a certain camaraderie to being a lag, a sense that we’re all in this together as David Cameron would put it if sweet, sweet justice ever landed him behind bars.

Later, as I sit in my cell, I consider the horrible irony of this. As an anarchist I dream loftily of a world where people are all equals, none above another. Now I discover that the best way to achieve that might be to lock everyone up. Who knows; maybe prison really does work.

At time of signing off, E wing has gone eerily quiet. It's time for Harry Potter.

So ends day 5.

The next prison blog is here.


  1. 14 stories like these would be fine Jonnie. Excellent stuff. I am inclined to think that you getting locked up was worth it just so you could get in there and bring this stuff out!

    Top marks.

    Must catch up soon. Funnily enough the wife and I were saying how it was about time we saw you and then we saw you on the telly getting arrested. Must do beer soon. Ashley x

  2. Marbles,

    How come you didn't connect with that pie? Jesus wept, your legacy could have been secure, and now you're wringing a few lifeless posts out of a cushy period of incarceration? Why did you hesitate at the salient moment?

  3. And while I'm about it, Marbles, The Shawshank Redemption incredibly chronicles (just under) twenty years in SHAWSHANK prison, Maine. Not New York's Sing Sing. Where the hell did you get that from?

  4. Love you stories bro. Didn't know the "System" was like that in jolly 'Ol England

  5. Just a quick message to let you know that I'm enjoying your posts from the big bad inside. Although I don't know if "enjoying" is exactly the right word. In any case, your experiences and musings are appreciated and more than a little educational.

    How strange that as I type this comment I look up to see the Blues Brothers being released from jail.

  6. On the one hand your sentence was a joke, against everything our legal system is supposed to stand for, but on the other I really love your posts. Maybe if we locked up Michael McIntyre he might even write something funny?

    If only wishes could make it true...

  7. Andy Dufresne managed to talk his way out of being pushed off the roof and into being the guard's accountant, but it was a close call. I was struck with the contrast - you were able to call the people who run the prison in which you were incarcerated "incompetent twats" without for a moment imagining they might... you know... take advantage of the unusual power they were able to exercise over you...