Every day feels like a week in prison, but today was the first where seven days actually came off my sentence. It nearly didn’t happen.
I was woken at 6 by a screw informing me that I had a surprise court appearance. A surprise for me, I mean – the prison must have known for at least a couple of days, but decided to keep it to themselves, presumably because they know how much I ruddy love surprises.
I made myself a rolly and a bowl of coco pops and plonked myself down in front of the Hoobs. The Hoobs, for the uninitiated, are a gang of brightly coloured extra-terrestrial fuckwits whose pre-invasion intelligence gathering operation consists of asking children what a farm is or how to make a kite. I ruminated darkly on how futile my appeal seemed in the face of this inevitable alien onslaught.
I also wondered if it might not be futile in the face of a legal system that seemed determined to fuck me in any available orifice. The past few weeks showed an unmistakable pattern – every time I made a concession, it seemed to make things worse. I was sick of the ragged nuggets of hope held out to me by the state only to be cruelly snatched back at the last second. I wouldn’t take the bait this time, I decided. Why waste a day of my sentence languishing in a custody cell (worse, by far, than prison) just so an old man in a wig could restate how bad I’d been, when I could stay in Wandsworth and write, smoke and listen to Splinter’s stories to my heart’s content?
Then I thought of MiniMarbles and the summer I was missing with him. Despite my noble, pigheaded instincts, if there was just a 1% chance of me going home that day I had to take it. I let the screw stroll me to the van.
No more compromises, though, I thought. I’d not spend the day throwing myself on the court’s mercy. The prison offered to let me change into my own clothes. I declined. That’ll show ‘em, I thought, my sleep-deprived brain quickly rationalising my spiteful nose-chopping. I would not dignify a process that did not dignify me. Or something. So they took me to court in my prison sweats.
As I was handed over to SERCO, my reign of half-arsed defiance continued.
“Take your shoes off.” Barked the guard in a needlessly confrontational manner. After all, we’d only just met.
“Take your shoes off… please.” I suggested. The guard looked understandably confused.
“I don’t have to say please to you.” He stated accurately.
“But you can.” I replied, matching his accuracy. “There’s no reason we can’t be civil.”
“Take your shoes off.” He growled again, getting all up, as they say, in my grill.
“No.” I replied, because I am four years old.
A torturous and surprisingly lengthy exchange then followed wherein we argued the comparative merits of my captors either asking me politely to take off my shoes, or doing the job themselves. They eventually plumped for the latter option.
“Chuck him in solitary.” Spat my former debating partner as he dropped the shoes back at my feet. I secretly beamed. Solitary meant I’d actually get a chance to write and think and maybe even grab a little sleep. Sleep, I dimly realised, was something I probably needed, as I appeared to be starting pointless arguments with petty dictators over the square root of fuck all.
I sat in solitary and thought about my predicament. I realised that, along with my appeal would come a lawyer, with whom would come news of the outside and through whom I could talk to the people I loved. I spent the next hour hastily scribbling messages to my family, my friends and my girlfriend, trying to cram four days of homesickness into a few paragraphs of prose. By the time my barrister arrived I’d almost forgotten there was going to be an appeal.
As usual when interacting with lawyers I tried to give as much thought and gravitas as possible to decisions which, most of the time, might as well be fucking guesswork. As wonderful as my particular briefs are, they are legally bound not to tell me what to do. At times it’s rather like having a surgeon ask you where to make the incision, and can lead to me saying some fucking stupid things. Like “guilty”.
In this case the rub of the matter was that the presiding judge could allow our appeal, refuse it, or, in fact, lengthen my sentence. This obviously raised the stakes somewhat, but I was told such an outcome was “very unlikely”. I recalled the same two words being used about prison, but I took the gamble anyway.
I’ll say this for our legal system: it’s more entertaining than daytime TV. Watching the judge squirm through my appeal was enormous fun, and I even got to steal a glimpse or three of my gorgeous girlfriend through the Perspex of the perp box. To be fair to his honour, he was caught between a rock and a hard place: no honest reading of the sentencing guidelines could place me in prison, but he’d be persona non grata on the dinner party circuit if he just let me go. It was quite a bind the poor sod was in.
In justifying the injustice of my continued incarceration, the bewigged one made some rather eyebrow raising pronouncements. First of all, his honour suggested my crime had overtones of contempt of court. It wasn’t a court, he hastily added, but it, sort of was, as well, a bit. Though also, it wasn’t, obviously.
Of course, if it had been a court Murdoch and Son had been sat in, I wouldn’t have made such a tit of myself at all. Indeed, had the bastardly duo been addressing any body with real power, then I’d never have undertaken my slapstick crusade. For me, the fact a pie in the face could deliver more justice than the select committee was the biggest joke of all.
Finally, the judge said, I must remain in prison as “a deterrent”. Perhaps this was to prevent a wave of copycat pieings of octogenarian billionaires at parliamentary show-trials, or perhaps to teach the public that, no matter what the letter of the law says, if you humiliate powerful people then you will be punished. The words of my cell mate, Splinter, occurred to me again: “If someone comes at you, you gotta come back at them hard, to show you ain’t no dickhead.” Splinter would have made a fine judge.
Though the crown was, on this occasion, no dickhead, his honour did make a nod to the evident ludicrousness of my incarceration. While, naturally, he was unmoved by the arguments of the defence, the magistrate in my case should have taken into account my guilty plea (she claimed she had done) and so my robed benefactor would be taking a week off my sentence. Abracadabra – nobody did anything wrong but, somehow, mistakes were made. The legal system saves face whilst pulling a slightly less silly one and I’m left with just ten days of free room and board. I make no effort to hide my new grin and practically skip back to custody.
I’m led back into the van, a week lighter and feeling pretty great. I steal a newspaper from my custody cell and smuggle it into the van with me. Perhaps it’s sleep deprivation or conjugal withdrawal, or perhaps it’s just elation, but as we roll through London I start to feel feral, already free, untamable. My name comes over the Kiss FM news and the other isolated cons and I trade wolf howls from our tiny cells inside the van.
Back at Wandsworth the SERCO screws wander off, leaving us alone in the sweltering van for almost an hour. We can’t see each other but the shouts of growing anger are audible throughout the vehicle. Before long one of my fellow captives has had enough and begins hurling himself against the door of his cell. The van rocks gently. I begin to do it too, timing my jolts to coincide with his, bouncing back and forth off the walls of my cell as the momentum grew. One after another the whole pack joined in, unseen but united, the van tilting precariously, decentralised networking at its finest. After that, the screws let us out pretty quickly.
“Aren’t you that bloke who threw the pie?” asks a sharply dressed cockney as I make a pitiful attempt at a rolly. I nod.
“What’re you up on?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“Multi-kilo cocaine conspiracy.” He replies. “Got a spare snout?”
I’ve been warned against the cardinal sin of generosity inside, but I’m in an obnoxiously good mood so I oblige anyway.
“Don’t make a habbit of it, though.” I warn “Cos I’m the hardest cunt in here and I’ll fucking have you.” My new friend grins as he sparks up.
Strolling back to my cell I’m informed from various quarters that I’ve been on telly again. Some of the lags come up and pat me on the back or call me a variety of lucky expletives, but at my cell there is someone less keen to congratulate me.
“Allright Splinter? How are you?” I ask jovially through the door.
“How the fuck am I? You’re going home next week!” A traitor part of me wants to point out the fact that I didn’t rob a bank, but that’s hardly the point. This place isn’t good for anybody and Splinter has as much right to feel pissed off about staying here as I do to feel good about leaving seven days sooner.
So ends day 4.
What happened to Jonnie next? Find out in our next thrilling installment.