This is going to be a challenge but as it is the end of a positive week for First Time Inside I thought I’d share some of the more positive elements of an experience inside one of Her Majesty’s quaint little guest houses, perhaps in a slightly irreverent manner. Anyway here goes nothing.
Friday has always been, for the majority of regular working folk, a day for invoking a little de-mob fever and although the topic normally shared on this blog can be excruciatingly dry and baked in Kleenex inducing sadness there is still a need for the ability to look on the bright side of life (anyone else started humming and whistling?) More for the whistlers amongst us later.
Every day in Prison was for me a form of abject torture but….Good things did happen. No really they did, for example I (there is no truth in the rumour that three days passed between typing example and I) learned that it is possible to build yourself a community in an alien environment. And alien it was because there were days I felt like an extra in the Star Wars Café simply because I was drug free. A community which allows you to get through the days a step at a time and I’ll come back to the building of personal communities in a future blog as it really does deserve a spotlight of its own. Bonds were formed with other inmates but they are reminiscent of a summer romance where having left the dream destination to head for home the reasons for those intense relationships built over a short period of time don’t stand to scrutiny back in the real world although you’ll always look back on them as meaningful or even memorable.
There were people who made my prison journey just a little less traumatic than it otherwise could have been and in the main they were prison staff both civilian and otherwise. It really is too easy to label every “screw” an “asshole” or every civilian member of staff a raft of expletives but in truth they are just people like you and I. In my experience staff only became less well thought of when they said “No” as long as they were saying “Yes” they were “Brand New”. In reality, in the main, people respond to how you treat them and in prison that maxim still exists with a sufficient number of staff although not all by a long way. My over-riding feeling is that staff morale really couldn’t be any lower and the job has long since lost it’s get up and go factor.
I recall signing up for an art class an act which in itself caused my family no end of amusement, during a sad time, as I have never graduated beyond matchstick men in my life. Doodles whilst on the telephone were the extent of my artistic creativity and even they looked indecipherable. The art teacher, god bless her soul, asked at the outset how I would describe my level of ability artistically speaking to which I replied in a single word “Hopeless”, to which she responded “Nonsense” and went on to suggest she’d have me drawing beyond my expectations in weeks. I obviously thought she was ever so slightly deluded but little did I know that I would for, fours a week, fall through the rabbit hole into a world previously unexplored. That was the only period of time in a week when I actually almost forgot where I was.
For those little islands in the desert I shall always be grateful and after an eight week period I produced the picture you see here now. That image, of a building in my favourite Roman Piazza, represented a memory for me that I longed to experience again, maybe that’s where the concentration or creative inspiration came from to complete what I think is a half decent little doodle. I really don’t need critical feedback
In prison the food and menu is, I suspect, designed to assist weight gain for those who come in with external issues and in need of a good tightener as my dear old Gran used to say as she served up coaximilorum on a Sunday afternoon. I decided to set myself the challenge of losing weight and in making that decision met the other people who made my stay in prison a little less traumatic during my time with them. Those were the P.T. guys and they were a decent bunch of people although they were ultra competitive in a weekly game of volleyball, I still have the scar to prove it when a net collision ended up with the bunch of keys attached to one of their waists managed to gouge a little dent in my leg. All’s fair in love and sport.
Now you’re thinking art classes and volleyball, weight loss this is starting to sound like a Spa break not a prison sentence. It’s Friday and I’m tempted not to spoil your illusion but if you like your Spa breaks to be in the style of the Bates Motel maybe it’s time to get on booking.com now and make your reservation that said I did lose a couple of stone in weight which re-energised me for the tasks that would ensue after leaving the hotel.
There are also some good ordinary people in prison who life has just dealt a raw deal and their potential is wasted because they can’t see another way forward. I met guys who made me laugh, guys who made me sad and some who I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as ever again. Could be any pub in Scotland on a Friday night really which leads me to Friday night tipples and the outrageously creative making of prison drinks or in this case Hooch. Yes, it really does exist and I’m – ahem assured- it tastes ok. Although how you hide a ten litre bag smelling of fruit juice in a cell as small as a box room for the weeks it takes to ferment really is a mystery. Especially when random searches take place daily. Makes you wonder really.
I went on a creative writing course to pass some time and met a lovely lady who has suggested I write a book. That’s for another time, although I do have a working title – The Tree House (perhaps I’ll invite you there some day) – but in that week long course our group of inmates produced a comedy play which was funny in the extreme. It was great to see guys with nothing to laugh about really let go. The talent in the room and in the prison itself inspired some poor poetry on my part, as the couple of verses from a longer poem below show;
Huge potential stunted by choices
Lost to those with convincing voices
Easy to follow the herd into strife
Tougher o break free and create a life
Surrounded by talent shorn of belief
Self respect in the wind like an Autumn leaf
Confidence in spades in negative direction
Fear of improvement a sad contradiction
For those of a certain vintage you’ll remember the red phone boxes where you’d be whispering sweet nothings to your nearest and dearest and then the pips would sound and you’d have a few seconds to end your call. Aah the days before the instantly invasive mobile phone, the halcyon days when people actually had real conversations but I digress. Prison has those pips although they’ve been replaced by a rather matronly voice declaring that your credit is running out. At 7p a minute to landlines and 19p a minute to mobiles it’s no wonder, all about funding rehabilitation hmmm.
What I didn’t know, at the outset, was that making an outgoing call was fine but that every call was preceded at the other end by a message telling the receiver that they were receiving a call from HMP Hotel and Spa. That kind of ruined my attempt to break the news gently to a friend I hadn’t managed to let know what had happened to me. His response was priceless, he heard the message and before I could even speak he screeched “Who the f**k is phoning me from a prison” which was then followed after I came on the line by “That’s a belter big man did you buy that wind up online because I don’t think Tam Shepherds does voiceovers?” The remaining conversation between friends shall remain private for now.
As I said it’s Friday and there will those reading this thinking about going for lunch with colleagues or even drinks after work, there will those who can think of nothing worse than either of those and who just want home to their family but everyone will be in their own way looking forward to the weekend. That’s one of the simple pleasures in life that you lose in Prison, that ability to look forward to events or simply to spend time with your family but as I said earlier some times you have no choice but to look on the bright side of life – Have a great weekend and if you can take a moments pause and think there but for the grace of God go I you’ll be all the better for it.
Thanks for taking the time to read, I hope you enjoyed the slightly random and irreverent way Friday’s blog has been written, we have tried to place a couple of nuggets of info along the way, and would encourage you to share with your friends and colleagues on social media if you are so moved. Have a wonderful weekend and/
For the whistlers please join in :
Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say.
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle,
Don’t grumble, give a whistle!
And this’ll help things turn out for the best
Always look on the bright side of life!
Always look on the bright side of life
If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!
And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
For life is quite absurd,
And death’s the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow!
With each blog posted we make the choice to bare just a little more of our soul in the hope that it leads to a positive outcome for someone else.