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Monday, 20 August 2012

Day 8 - Tossers, Tolerance & Tactical Cowardice

Please read this disclaimer before embarking. You can also read the original prison blogs here.

As the sun sets on my eighth day of incarceration my cell has become a bunker, both guarding from and storing me for an expected retribution. Every time a screw walks by I find the small of my back seizing up and my fist clenching tightly round my pen. Today wasn't supposed to be like this. I had a whole missive prepared for you lot about how hard it is to get a phone call round here. I can feel your anguish at missing that one. Events, however, have pre-empted my hard hitting expose and left me instead with the possibility of just getting hit, hard.

With Splinter gone and the TV resultingly off I am no longer constantly awoken by the dread incantions of Hubba-Hubba, merciless overlord of the Hoob people and coming curator of mankind's demise. I miss him, though expect I shall feel differently when I'm toiling in the kryptonite mines with all the other tiddlypeeps. Today began instead with an induction aimed at preparing me for prison life which, ironically, came a day after my resettlement that was aimed at getting me ready for life back out in the big wide world. The induction consisted primarily of a basic literacy and numeracy test (which contained a mistake) and a chance to wander round outside my cell for a bit, during which time I discovered I really should be doing much, much more of this sort of thing.

Officially, the Wandsworth E Wing schedule, which I found pinned to a noticeboard, looks like this:

7:45-8:15 Exercise

8:30-9:00 “Free Flow” movement for morning workers and those doing training (so prisoners can get from one wing to another)

9:00-11:45 Association time (prisoners out of their cells, mingling, fondu)

11:45-12:00 Workers etc return

12-13:00 PM Lunch

15:00-16:30 Association time

16:45-18:00 Dinner

18:00-19:30 Association

Maths fans in the audience will have worked out that prisoners should get 6 hours and 15 minutes out of their cells a day, not including meals (which, whether by incompetence or design, are collected at the canteen and eaten in our cells). The most time I've gotten out of my cell in a day so far is an hour, assuming the exercise yard isn't rained off and association isn't cancelled due to a lockdown. Like it was today.

Today's lockdown wasn't the product of prisoner misbehaviour, at least not misbheaviour by any prisoners who are actually here. Rather it's you lot outside, with your halfbricks, molotovs and utter contempt for Dixons who condemned me to missing my 30 minute afternoon wander. That and the fact this place already seizes to a claustrophobic halt if anything as unpredictable as Sunday happens, let alone the biggest riots in a generation.

Perhaps it was my ubercarceration that caused me to act more than a little unstably at dinner time today as I strolled down to the hot plate and found one of the guards mincing limpwristedly at the head of the dinner queue. Or perhaps I'm just going crazy. Either way my remaining few days in here now threaten to be rather more interesting than I'd hoped. 

A little background: prison is the most racist and homophobic place I've been since university, where I accidentally sat down at a Conservative Future social. Whilst I was more than happy to argue the respective merits of Martin Luther King and Hitler with the rahs of Royal Holloway, I've thus far decided that Wandsworth might be a good place to employ a policy of tactical cowardice in a calculated bid to keep all my teeth. In other words, and with a few exceptions, I've turned a shamefully blind eye to all manner of depressingly casual bigotry from otherwise nice people. Nicer than I'd have expected, anyway.

A major target of prisoners' prejudice during my stay here has been a guy who we'll call Snarf. To my untrained eye, Snarf seems to be suffering from some mental health issues. I say this partly because he's constantly talking to himself, and partly because his preferred method of ambulation around the prison is a pronounced mince, something my own staying-alive-strategy would counsel against. It's this, and the associated inference of ZOMGGAYNESS, which is causing consternation amongst the prison's close-knit community of likeminded bigots.

I've so far responded to my fellow inmates' intolerance with vacant smiles, non-committal grunts and silent wails of inner despair but, this evening, with the stalwart courage of a moth confronting a bang out of order flame, I finally said something.

Perhaps it helped that tonight's perpetrator of prejudice was one of the screws instead of a prisoner. I certainly felt more comfortable arguing the toss with a confirmed tosser than I would have with someone who dwells on my side of metal doors, though whether it was actually any safer is debatable. In fact, looking back, I'm not sure I considered safety at all. Either way, before I knew it, I'd squared up to the mock-flouncing fucker (who we'll call officer W133, HMP Wandsworth, E Wing) and demanded to know, in my most earnestly annoying inquisitive voice, whether he was being homophobic. He replied to my question with one of his own, like we were playing some kind of GCSE drama game. To wit: “do you have a fucking problem with that, mate?”. It's my custom, when I get out of my depth, to keep on swimming in the hope of eventually reaching the other side, so I replied that, yes, actually, I did have a problem with it, particularly as homophobic behaviour was contrary to the “standard compact” between prisoners and staff, so could realistically be expected to get the cock in question fired. It was at this point that officer W133 got right up in my grill, took out a notebook, told me I was “bang out of order” and demanded to know my cell number. I'm surprised he didn't put a note in my homework diary while he was at it.

As the adrenaline faded I began to get the creeping feeling that fucking off officer W133 might not have been the best idea I'd ever had, particularly considering that the conversation had ended with the Wandsworth equivalent of “I know where you live!”. My growing sense of worry was helped on its way by a lag who accosted me a few moments later, shaking his head and warning me that I'd picked the wrong screw to mess with.

Once this state of affairs was quickly confirmed by the uh-ohs and you-fucking-whats of other inmates, my adrenaline was back up and I was soon in full on panic mode. I went back to my cell and spent the next several hours making a list of all the bad things W133 could possibly do to me, a list which ranges from stealing my canteen ration to kicking my fucking head in. It's surprising how many ways there are for someone who runs your house to hurt you, and how few ways there are to reliably respond. For now I've opted for starting a paper trail so that, if something does happen, I'll at least have some evidence I can use to implicate the evil fuck. Sadly my paper trail largely resides in the “confidential”complaint form, which goes in a envelope on the front of which I had to write my name and cell number, thereby somewhat defeating confidentiality's purpose.

I don't know if anything will happen. I might be incredibly paranoid or not nearly paranoid enough. The worst thing W133 could do, besides beating me up (or getting someone else to do it), would be confiscating these notes before I can get them to the outside world. That's what really tightens my grip every time I hear footsteps by the door.

So, if you're reading this, ends day 8.

You can read day 7 of the prison blogs here or day 9 here

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