Thursday, 27 January 2011


I caused an accident after losing control of my car. It was sideways, straddling both sides of a B road, a motorcyclist coming the other way came around a blind bend to be confronted with a car blocking the road. The impact launched him over my (destroyed) car and dumped him on the middle of the road, unconscious. His bike had been thrown some 14 metres back the way it came. My car dangled precariously over the edge of a drop past the verge. After about a minute or so of getting my breath back following the airbag deploying, I realised I'd caused a very serious accident. I'd seen the motorcyclist only for a split second, before the impact imploded against the B pillar behind my head and shattered every window on the car.

My sunglasses had disappeared from my eyes, glass from the door window was mingled with blood dripping from my face. There was no way of opening the drivers door, I clambered over the passenger seat and observed one of the worst sights of my life. For about 50 metres down the direction I'd come from, were the tell tale black lines of a skidding car. These were only interrupted by gouge marks on the road surface where car had met bike. In the middle of this lay the biker, motionless, unconscious, a mess. Onlookers, other motorists, were out of their cars but nothing more than background fuzz.

By the time I got out of the car, some other bikers had begun trying to help the badly injured guy laying on the centreline of the road. For a long minute, he didn't move, he didn't seem to breath. I'd just killed a man. Then some movement, some spluttering. Blind panic from someone who's just woken up to wish that he hadn't. His girlfriend, who had been a few minutes further behind on her own bike, arrived. Screaming and wailing, wondering how this has come to happen. No doubt a million thoughts all arriving at once. Most of them fearing the worst. First Aiders helped on the scene, I didn't know how to help medically. I was guilty, impotent and wondering how I'd gone from an enthusiastic drive to a potential killer in the space of 50 metres. It only took 3 or 4 minutes for the Police to arrive, I volunteered myself immediately as the guilty party.

I was breath tested and questioned on-scene, sat in a Volvo, bleeding on the back seats whilst in full view of the prone motorcyclist, by this time being worked on by the paramedics who'd arrived, hoping the patient could last long enough for the air ambulance to arrive. I'll never forget that poor man, lying there screaming for his helmet to be taken off, his girlfriend in tears and despair and me, not badly injured, no reason to have caused this, other than wanting to enjoy the road. The motorcyclist spent days in intensive care, being treated for most of his right arm being smashed to pieces, his collarbone wrecked, serious head injuries, damaged eye socket, chipped bones on his ankle and a massive nerve injury.

A year later and even after a number of operations, he still has many to go to correct his broken body and his impaired eyesight. The nerve damage to his dominant right arm means he'll never regain full use of it. He can no longer support his children by working on the rigs as he did beforehand.

My car was impounded by the Police and kept from the day of the accident, 30th April 2006 until the July. I was first formally interviewed in June 2006, then again in September. I was charged via postal summons in November 2006. Magistrates passed the case to Crown Court on 13/12/06, as their sentencing powers were not sufficient and at that point I knew I was going to prison.

10 days short of a year after my accident, I pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and banned from driving for 3 years, for dangerous driving. Aside from the odd speeding conviction (I was driving 65,000 miles a year for the previous 10 years), I had never been in trouble with the Police before. There was no feeling, no shock, no crying or anger when I was sent down from that court room. Just numbness. As the judge finished his sentencing, I had just one opportunity of shouting to Jilly how much I loved her, before being lead into the downstairs of the court.

The guard, a nice guy in his late 50s, explained that he had to handcuff me to himself, and down I went. Immediately down, through a number of locked, barred gates, to a booking in counter. All my possessions, and my belt, taken. My height measured. All my details recorded. Then four hours in a windowless cell with nothing but a wooden bench and contemplation for company.
on a sunny Friday afternoon, leaving a happy looking Carlisle, but for me, in the back of a paddywagon.

Watching people leaving school and work with a smile on their faces, looking forward to a weekend of choices. I was heading to
HMP Durham. You can say what you like about prison, and how easy it is, how great you think the facilities are, how prison is like a holiday camp. It's none of those things. It's a demeaning, soul-less place full of sad and sometimes evil people who have lives none of us would ever want or even imagine. All the freedoms you take for granted are removed in the name of control and security to the point that you're constantly reminded how little value society as a whole places on your miserable little existence.

Day 1 - April 20th 2007

When I left that courtroom, my friends, family, normal life and worst of all, Jilly (my other half), I felt nothing but numb. Only a few steps behind the courtroom and you’re in a whole new underground world. The guard handcuffs his arm to mine, he’s a decent guy in a shitty job, my chirpy small talk is probably a pleasant change for him. I’m only hiding the shock, though. We arrive at the holding cells area of the court to a reception desk, where it’s goodbye to my belt and tie- you know why, too. Lots of form filling follows, whilst my now worldly possessions are removed, inspected and logged from the bag I’d brought with me. Never has a pair of grey briefs looked so fucking pathetic.

I’m told I can’t take most of the toiletries I’ve brought with me, such as toothpaste, shower gel (no soap on a rope) and shampoo. They’re bagged up separately and given back to my barrister upstairs.
HMP Durham is the usual first port of call for custodial sentences from Carlisle, but as the prisons are so full, the guards downstairs can’t confirm where I’ll be going tonight. Four hours in a bare cell with just a wooden bench. A million thoughts are still gliding aimlessly through my mind. I can’t complain, this is all about punishment and no better time to start than now. “gez scouse on tour”, “kellez kendal krew” and hundreds of other works of art list the previous tenants who’ve enjoyed my surroundings. At least reading those takes my mind off the stench of piss. It’s about , another short walk, handcuffed again, and we’re on the wagon. At least it’s movement, at least something’s happening. It’s confirmed Durham have space, and with that, we’re off.

The cells in the prison wagon are about half the size of a plane toilet, you sit on a hard moulded plastic seat, and the cell wall in front of you has a cut-out for your knees. At 6’ I just manage to fit in without struggling, God knows what it’s like if you’re pretty tall? There’s a window to look out of, you’re on the other side of those blacked out windows that press photographers try to snap through when someone (in)famous gets a ride from Her Majesty. It’s a warm, sunny late spring Friday afternoon and as we head out through the
Carlisle traffic, the everyday people are leaving their everyday schools and jobs, planning their everyday, legal Friday nights. In freedom. It’s hard not to begrudge all those happy looking people, very hard. I won’t be planning my Friday nights, or any other night for a while. For now my nights, and my days, will be planned for me.

we arrive at HMP Durham. It’s moments like this you realise how much your freedom is a gift, as four of us are unloaded and herded into the prison, up the stairs and into the reception area. Five or six prison guards are behind a large desk, scurrying around, creating the paperwork to put us into the system. We’re told to wait in large, perspex walled waiting rooms until our names are bellowed and you begin answering what become standard prison questions; “Been in Durham before?”, “Been in prison before?”, “Drug problems?”. Somehow I feel unique in answering no to all three. I’m asked if I know what to do if I discover a prisoner who’s overdosed. I’ve never really thought about it, to be honest.

Back to the perspex room and wait for another shout, where I’m given my prison number, VT4352, and handed some of the clothes I’ve brought into prison with me. I’m allowed 12 items of clothing, a couple of writing pads and my nearly empty toiletry bag. Every item is logged, signed for by both the guard and me and the items I can’t have are put into storage. Next up is another room to be fingerprinted. No high tech, just an ink pad and sheet of card. I stand against the wall as my photo is taken and ID card is produced. Mustang Sally is playing on the radio and the guards don’t waste an opportunity to take the piss. Thank god these guys are human. At the back of the same room is a hatch manned by inmates, where I’m handed my prison issue clothes; two T-shirts, tracksuit bottoms, sweatshirt, prison jeans and a short sleeved shirt. Then it’s into a cubicle where I’m stripped and searched, my suit put into storage, I won’t be wearing it for a while.

Luckily I’m allowed to put my own clothes on. As sad as it sounds, familiar clothes have a strange comfort to them, like they’re braving a strange journey with me. A quick interview with a nurse, weighed, then another guy in another office. The three question repetition; “Been in
Durham before”, “Been in prison before?”, “Any drink or drug problems?”, no, no and no. Still.

E Wing is an induction wing, I arrive clutching a clear plastic bag full of my clothes, bed sheets and paperwork. Like all the staff so far, the officer greeting me was very polite and very concise, although a little flustered by having so little time due to staff shortages. He runs through some of the basics, hands me my pack of plastic plates and cutlery then explains some of the routines, but by now it’s passed 9 o’clock, I’m emotionally and physically wrecked, there’s too much to take in. “You’ll pick it up” he assures me. Not like I’ve got much else to do, is it? I’m given some emergency phone credit and use the phone by the wing office to ring Jilly. I’m too headfucked to crack up over the phone, but it’s so amazing to hear Jilly on the other end. Only 9 hours ago I was holding her in the waiting area of court. It feels like that happened in a previous life.

I’ve found out you’re allowed a special reception visit when you first come into prison where loved ones or friends can come for one visit in the first few days. Jilly, Mum and Dad have already phoned the prison and booked themselves in for tomorrow. I wish it was tomorrow now. As much as I try to reassure her I’m OK, she’s cracking up. It’s harder for her than for me. Mark, my new cell mate, is a star. I arrive at cell 3-15 like a lost puppy, a bag of clothes in one hand, linen in the other and more cloth in my head than both put together. Without a prompt Mark’s got me organised. It takes him a minute to do what would have taken me hours, sorting the bedclothes, putting stuff in cupboards for me. Finding someone decent for a cell mate has been the first good thing of the day. The only good thing. Having a portable TV in the room was a godsend I wasn’t expecting. More useful as background noise, helping me doze during the evening, proper sleep wasn’t going to happen, so I grab a few minutes here, a few minutes there. I’m not exactly a conversational masterpiece.

Day 2 - April 21st 2007

I’m getting a visit today. It’s the first thought in my head and it stays with me until breakfast, . Breakfast? As much as I hate the cheeky cockney twatter, prison needs Jamie Oliver. It was supposed to be sausage, a plum tomato and scrambled egg. I would have been better off having shat on my plate. And that’s another thing- plates. You get one plastic plate, bowl, spoon, knife and fork. They’re yours, for the duration of your visit. I head down from the 3rd floor of a large Victorian prison wing, to the ground floor, where meals are handed out. Then it’s back up to your cell, with your meal, where you’re locked back in to eat. If you eat all of your food, it’s probably a miracle, or you’re a sadist. Anything left on your plate (likely), you can’t take it back or put it in the tiny bin in the cell. You cut it up into small pieces and flush it down the cell toilet. I bypass most of breakfast and put it straight down the toilet. A bit like being bulimic but without having to taste the food twice.

How do you wash your now greasy plate and utensils? In the small cell sink, used also for washing yourself. No washing up liquid, just grease. The ordeal of my first meal depresses me. Eating is one of my main pleasures, and the food I’ve just tried is borderline inedible. Apparently we don’t get breakfast on the weekdays, maybe that’s a blessing? Breakfast out of the way and it’s back to remembering I have a visit soon. It’ll be very nearly 24 hours since I last saw Jilly, and in the circumstances, it’s been the hardest 24 hours of my life. 30 minutes feels like 30 hours, but eventually there’s a knock from an officer on the cell door, I’ve got a visit. A handful of us are led to the ground floor, where an officer walks us across the prison through numerous barred gates and locked doors, towards the visiting centre. It reminds me of sheep being moved through pens when they’re being dipped, but not enough that it allows me a smile about it. It’s strange, I’m about to see someone I’ve never been nervous of seeing in my entire life, but I feel apprehensive.

When I see her am I going to laugh or burst into tears? Either could happen. Prisoners from different wings are brought together in a waiting room just by the visiting centre, we’re all wearing the same dark blue jeans and blue striped short sleeved shirts. Some of them obviously know each other and take the opportunity to catch up about their cases and appeals and so on. Listening to them reminds me of Shawshank- no one’s guilty! After 30 minutes or so we’re led to a desk where we have to hand in anything in our pockets, where it’s noted in a book and signed for. We’re pat-down searched and then into the visiting room itself and sent to a numbered table already designated to you. None of the visitors are in yet. I walk over to table 25. It’s one of those tables on a metal frame, seats attached. Three on one side, one on the other. Like a penal version of a Happy Eater kids table. Last night I was given a small photocopied booklet by one of the officers, explaining the prison routine and how to organise visits. I brought it with me to the visit, hoping I could take it in to explain to Jilly how she’s going to be able to visit me in future. I had to ask one of the officers if it was OK to take it in with me.

Luckily, after it was thoroughly inspected, they brought it over to the table for me. So much has happened I don’t think I could have remembered enough to have been clear, otherwise. The room itself has about 40 low tables. At one end is our entrance/ exit, at the opposite end a high desk with a couple of officers behind it, viewing footage from the many CCTV cameras dotted throughout the room. Directly in front of me is a small tuck shop, manned by an old woman who looks like an escapee from lollipop lady school. More importantly right now, is the visitor’s entrance opposite me. All the prisoners sat for about 10 minutes at their tables before the first visitors were allowed in. Each prisoner’s visitors come in one group at a time, report to a desk to confirm ID, then are allowed to go and sit with their loved one. Every time another group comes through the door I glance up in a kind of ‘I’m not looking’ way, waiting to see some faces I recognise. As the room begins to fill, mainly with visitors who seem more than experienced with the routine, another idiosyncrasy of the prison system dawns on me.

Half the tables and chairs in the room are moulded grey plastic, dour affairs and half are wooden and padded with nicely coloured cushioning. Then it dawns on me, the nice chairs and tables are being used by the remand prisoners, unconvicted, whereas the convicted ones are provided with the harsh ones. Having listened to some of them talking before the visit, I suspect quite a few of the inmates enjoying padded bottoms will soon enough get to sample the plastic seats. The room’s almost full now, cons and remanders chatting away to their two or three guests like they’ve never been away. There seems to be a worrying amount of bottle blond perma-tanners in here. Like a lot of the prisoners they’re visiting, they also look like they should be locked up for robbing a branch of JJB Sports. At last, I see Jilly, Mum and Dad walk in. While they present their paperwork at the desk and look around, I try not to make immediate eye contact. I still don’t know how I’ll react. They look just like I feel, nervous yet relieved to see each other at the same time. It might have only been 24 hours, but months of emotion have flown through us all, it’s written on our faces. We all get chance to briefly hug, then it’s me on one side of the table looking across at three shocked people.

For the first time we all get to talk about the past 24 hours. I was well supported with friends and family at the sentencing, but despite constantly telling them I was going to go to prison, they were knocked for 6 when it was confirmed by Judge Batty. It really wells up inside as Jilly tells me how she was looked after by all our friends, and how many people have offered their help. Apparently the landlady at the local pub had got the champagne on ice, only for the potential party to turn into a wake. Well, I’m not dead yet. In the finest tradition everyone had got absolutely slaughtered, if only I could have joined them. Plenty of time for that in a few months, I suppose. I do my best to explain the processes I’ve been through and still to go through, but until my induction begins proper on Monday, I’ve got more of my own questions than answers, there’s not a lot I can tell them about what’s going to happen in the next few weeks.

How long will I spend in
Durham? When will I find out my release date? Will I qualify for early release? I just don’t know. As we talk the feeling of stress lessens and lifts from our shoulders, but there’s something about being emotionally exposed that makes me feel uncomfortable. I can’t pretend all is well, on the other hand I can’t show them how upset I am, either. If I did we’d all end up in a teary mess. Apparently before they were allowed into the visiting centre, they had to show ID, then they are walked to another room, where they can put their belongings into a locker. Before being allowed into the actual room, they had to stand on a line along the floor and be checked by a sniffer dog for drugs. Only then were they allowed to come into the room. Security is tight, and so it should be. Dad manages about 4 minutes in the visit room before a bollocking from one of the roaming officers.

All drinks are served in lidded paper cups, with a straw sized opening on the top to drink through, to prevent visitors from passing drugs to inmates via their drinks. Dad removes his and within 30 seconds he’s reminded to put it back on or he can leave! Jilly and I get a few minutes alone before the end of the visit. She is, of course, still very upset. I think the friends around us, being so good, have cushioned her heavy landing the day before. Like me, she likes to show a brave face, but I doubt either of us can or need to today. In what seems like an instant, the visiting time is over. In a reverse of the process this morning, we’re searched, led back to our wings and back to a day in the cell. Uneventful describes the rest of the day. Two meals came and went, luckily they weren’t as bad as breakfast. Maybe I won’t starve to death.

I would only have slight reservations about feeding someone else’s dog my lunch and dinner. When I went to collect dinner, a white board listed tomorrow’s meals with a number beside each. We have to choose tomorrows food the day before. Seems bizarre. Thank the lord for snooker, the championship at the Crucible has begun. Like watching Golf, snooker can remove vast chunks of time without you realising it, like a kind of baize time machine. With no books and only my writing pad for company, the TV is essential. Ironically, this evening ‘Porridge’ was on. Now I understand the meaning of black humour. It actually seems quite accurate, too. Ah, while I remember, Saturdays you also get a ‘tea pack’. This is a bundle of tea bags, coffee and sugar sachets to last you until the next Saturday. I won’t be using mine, Mark (my padmate) can have it. He reminds me that anything in short supply has a currency value, so if it’s available for nowt, get it, and sell it! My final moments of today are whiled away watching match of the day. Usually I’d catch matches live on the telly, well that’s how it happens in freedomland, but today I have to make do with watching Man Utd draw with Borough. Bugger. Let’s hope
Chelsea cock up against Newcastle tomorrow. Being in Geordieland, I’m probably not alone.

Day 3 - April 22nd 2007

Living on the top bunk, sleep is disturbed by daylight punching through the gap between the makeshift towel-for-a-curtain and the edges of the window. As we head into summer it looks like I’m going to be a consistent early riser, though I don’t think that’ll bother me too much. Having endured Saturday’s pseudo breakfast, comes, the door is unlocked and I head down the levels to breakfast, though today with different intentions. I’m in no mood for eating, but Mark loves his milk, so I go and get my ration to give to him. Amongst all the grade 2, shaven headed prisoners, my bed headed student look makes me stick out like Gary Glitter at a pantomime. Strangely enough, Sunday morning isn’t that different to home. We both sit and watch T4 Sunday on Channel 4, the ‘hoorah henries’ on that stupid Castaway island thing are still hyperknobs, too.

The door is unlocked and we’re told it’s time for exercise.

Mark goes, I stay put and write. Exercise is a glamorous title for a walk around in a slightly grassed yard, surrounded by 30 foot, razor wire hatted fences. I can see them from my cell window. Two or three different wings use the same yard at different times, but each time the routine’s the same. Small groups of two or three tracksuited lads walking around in big circuits like a photo shoot for Allsports. Loners lean on the fence posts waiting for the session to end. As of yet I’m not really missing the outdoors, mind you, it’s not really what you’d call outdoors, anyway. Time will tell. A couple of hours before lunch and it’s our half of the wing’s turn for ‘association’. ‘Association’ sounds like a phrase used by comfortable shoe wearing lesbian social workers. Despite the glamorous connotations, it’s nothing more than an hour out of your cell, a chance to shower, make a phone call and play the odd game of pool. I’m told there’s always a queue for the showers at the start of the hour, so Mark and I get our names down on the pool table.

Surprisingly it’s just like being down the Crown and Cushion back in Appleby. Same rules, still two shots carry on the black and winner stays on. Watching 3 or 4 games, the standard isn’t that high, one guy wins 3 in a row against players who’d get beaten by my mother. Mark’s on the table when my turn comes up, a scrappy game, especially on the black, but it’s Man Utd (me) 1,
Liverpool (Mark) 0. Time for a shower. The wing shower is a corner room with 5 or 6 separate cubicles about 4 feet high. You take your towel and shower gel in, have your wash, dry and re-dress in the same room, with the guards in full view outside. There is no bumming whatsoever. Thank fuck. Dinner today is a delightful melange of circular beef steaks served with lightly caramelised onions, chipped potatoes and haricot beans in a tomato jus. Some might even go as far as to call it burger chips and beans.

At least this one’s edible, I needed to lose some weight but going to prison for a diet is taking things too far. The food’s actually served by other inmates from our wing who’ve applied for, and got, prison jobs. They come under the generic term ‘cleaners’, though their duties seem to span quite a bit. In return they get benefits such as being out of the cell most of the day, first dibs on all sorts of things and they even get paid for it. My mind’s beginning to settle now, the shock to the system is subsiding and confidence is beginning to grow. I haven’t spoken to Jilly today and I’m missing her like crazy, but my phone credit is low and I decide to leave a call till tomorrow, she’ll be at work and I’m likely to catch her first time. Sleep comes more easily tonight, maybe it’s two full meals and a whole evening of trashy Sunday TV?

Day 4 - April 23rd 2007

If you’ve been sent to Durham, either from another prison or a fateful courtroom, your first port of call is E wing. Three stories high, around 25 rooms per story. If you’ve seen prison on TV before you’re not far off having a good mental picture. Narrow balconies stream from the central stairway, with wire netting filling the empty middle on the higher floors, just in case you were to ‘fall’. The ground floor is the place for our hour long association periods. Three pool tables, a table tennis table, some phones and a shower room complete the available activities. There’s also a laundry room manned by wing cleaners (other inmates) who’ll wash and dry your clothes ready for the following day. Then there’s the main staff wing office, dominated by a large, wall mounted, slatted board with cards inserted for each prisoner showing their status and location, it looks very much like a car showroom sales office. But without cars.

Staff on E wing seem friendly and very easy going, whether or not this approach is unique to the wing I don’t know (though I doubt it, to be honest), but it’s a welcome surprise. Some of the inmates here are first timers like me, some are career prisoners on return visits. Either way there seems to be little trouble in here, I suppose respect breeds respect. This morning my induction is supposed to begin. Most of the administrative side of the prison re-awakes on a Monday morning after the weekend off, which is why today’s the first day I can be put into the ‘system’, meeting Probation and the Benefits Agency. Around
12 of us are taken from our cells and escorted over to I-wing, a small building where part of the induction takes place. It’s also a small building where a certain M. Hindley once resided when the prison also housed women, so I’m told. After two full days settling in, I’m hoping today can provide some answers, the most burning being “when the fuck do I get out of here!?”.

Typically when you’re sent to prison, you’ll serve half your time before being released on licence back into the community, meaning my 12 months becomes 6. Once released I’ll only go back if I fail to keep in touch with probation or commit another offence. Not likely. In these days of full prisons and trying to rehabilitate people in the community, something called HDC was invented: Home Detention Curfew. This scheme allows low risk prisoners to be released from prison up to 4 ½ months before the half way stage of a sentence, if they’re serving between 12 months and 4 years. To participate you’re tagged, a box is fitted in your home which is linked to the telephone network and you have to live under a curfew, usually around 7pm to 7am.I’m hoping that somewhere along the induction someone will be able to discuss HDC with me, I might be able to get out of here in 3 months and get back to work. Some people spend their whole lives avoiding work, I just wish I could jump straight back into it. Talking about capital equipment, leasing, revenues, negotiating deals, making appointments, it all seems a million miles away from this boarding school for bad adults.

I’m called away from a group sat watching a looping introduction
DVD (which makes me smile, as it’s being played using a Playstation, very high tech!), into a small room with a woman who introduces herself as a probation officer. We talk briefly, she fills in her questionnaire. It’s a Groundhog Day of questions I’ve already answered for at least 5 forms in the past 3 days. As with the other quiz masters at HMP Durham, she seems taken aback by someone who’s admitting guilt and providing a lucid and coherent conversation. Spending your days listening to people diverting guilt and spinning lies is the norm for prison officials and political editors alike. The subject of HDC comes up, vague answers seem to be the speciality here. Despite being the interface between the justice system and us criminals, she doesn’t know the guidelines 100%, although she still knows more than the others I’ve asked before. She won’t commit to a definitive answer, but she seems to think I should be out on a tag within 3 or 4 months. At last some positive news and something to tell Jilly when we speak later.

It’s the best thing I’ve heard in 3 days. I’m assured that in a few days I’ll be given a proper sentence calculation which should give the earliest dates for release, and that the process of applying for HDC is automatic. For what seems like the 947th time since I arrived, she’s yet another person to explain that the prison system is at breaking point and that delays can occur. Great, I hope bloody not. Back out to the looping
DVD and I’ve just got the guy from the benefits office to see, just to make sure I’m not still claiming anything. Should be a short meeting. Chatting to one of the guards, an old guy who’s seen it all yet treats even the biggest tossers with respect, we talk about my circumstances and why I’m here. Guess what! I’m famous! After years of obscurity I’ve made BBC News North teletext. Well bugger me, a story about Cumbria has made it at last. Usually Sellafield would have to vaporise everything west of the Pennines before a Cumbrian story gets a mention.

Writing a diary in prison and making it interesting is quite difficult, as your day is regimented into routine after routine.

The whole place is run to keep the prisoners just occupied enough to stop them going mental and as cheaply as possible. As such you’re often doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same way as you did the day before. Which, dare I say it, is exactly the way the guards like it.

The Prison Canteen (not as in where you eat). In Prison, you don’t carry or use cash (no guesses as to why…), instead you have ‘private cash’- a prison bank account from which you can spend money on your canteen- When you arrive in prison, any money you have on you is put in your own private prison account, in my case, £80. Every week, depending on your privilege status (more on that later), an amount of money from your private account is made available for you to spend, cunningly titled your ‘spends account’. How do they think up these names? Prisoners on the standard regime, like me, are allowed £12.50 per week. Prison provides you with the basics to live, such as toothpaste, soap (don’t go dropping it, though…), razors and shaving gel- which Mark tells me can also work as hair gel. I’ll take his word for it. If you want or need anything extra, and have the funds in your spends account, you can use the canteen to order goods.

These items are typically things like stamps, phone credit, confectionary, stationary, batteries and toiletries. It works a bit like an incarcerated version of
Argos. Each item on the list has a 4 digit code, which you enter onto an A4 printed sheet along with the quantity required and description for each item. On a Sunday evening you hand in your sheet and your goods arrive on the Monday evening. Maybe it’s a bit quicker than some branches of Argos? It was yesterday when I submitted my canteen sheet, so I was hoping my supplies would arrive today as planned; 2 Biros, 1 pad of A4 writing paper, 20 envelopes, a couple of stamps, some shower gel (no more soap on a rope) and phone credit. Being on remand, Mark isn’t limited to what he can spend every week, so he takes the opportunity to buy enough sweets and biscuits to bribe an entire nursery. Christ on a bike, the cell now looks like a tuck shop. Sadly today my canteen goods didn’t arrive, not sure why, but it seems to happen from time to time. I’m told goods that don’t make it on Monday usually arrive on Thursday, so for the 321st time this month, my fingers are once again crossed. If not, I’m going to ring Trading Standards on the cunts. Well, maybe not. To finish things off for the day, I prepare a load of Applications to submit tomorrow morning. I’ll explain more later…

Day 5 - April 24th 2007

A few different things happen today, for the first time life inside passes without dragging forever. Hopefully time will continue to accelerate.

Applications. If you want to do or know anything in prison, you need to fill in and submit an application. It’s a simple form, you just fill in your name and number, then what you want in a large box below. Typically if you want to request a move to another wing or prison, need a haircut, want to visit the library or doctor, would like a job in the prison or pretty much anything else, you fill in an ‘app’. I was considering putting an app in for Sky+ and a 12 pack of Export, but thought better of it. An app I’ve put in this morning is for a move to another prison, either Kirkham near Preston (an open prison) or Haverigg in Cumbria (cat C). Both would be easier for visits, not to mention they’re lower category and the regime should be more relaxed.

If I’m honest, this place is also very Geordie. I’ve nothing against that, it’s just that it feels strange enough being in prison without being surrounded by ‘why ayes’ every where you turn. Hedging my bets if I don’t get a prison move, I also put an app in for F wing, the softest wing in the prison, along with one for a haircut and another for a library visit. Reading a book is definitely preferable to the daytime TV I’ve been subjected to so far. If you’re a cross dressing property investor who likes buying tat and selling it auction for a loss, whilst having an affair with your mum, I’m sure it’s great. Later in the morning I’m taken from my en-suite room for another part of the induction process. This is one of those bollocks sessions, done for political correctness and not a lot else- a nice 45 minute talk on bullying and racism. Half of the guys in the room have spent more time inside than out and know it backwards, the other half just stare into space hearing blah blah blah. Having said that, a special mention must go out to the officer who did the talk. He reminds me of the best teachers at school- funny but no mug, honest and freely admits to not liking the PC bullshit for the sake of it.

A couple of good things happen today. Shortly after returning to my cell from induction, a slip of paper is put under the en-suite door- it’s my sentence calculation. This is a set of dates confirming my parole date (the halfway point of my sentence) and my end of sentence date. Just my bastarding luck- my sentence straddles a leap year, so I’ve got 366 days. Thanks. To me though, the most important date is the HDC eligibility date. As I had hoped, my HDC date is set for 21st July, 3 months after my incarceration. As much as I can be in here, I’m buzzing. This feeling is amplified when, a little later, a letter is pushed under the door. It’s from Jilly. It’s a selfish feeling, but being inside here, you fear the world’s moving along out there quite nicely without you, when what you really need is to be told you’re still being thought of and missed. Reading Jilly’s words brings so much comfort, like I’m being connected to the missing half of me who’s still outside. To finish the day off, Man Utd are on TV playing AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League semi final. Liverpool fan Mark is predictably rooting for Milan, though for most of E wing it’s in Utd’s favour- anything but the Italians! It’s a nervy game, but Utd rally in the second half to earn a 3-2 win, Rooney scoring in the 90th minute. Carlsberg don’t make prison days, but if they did, they’d be a bit like this one

Day 6 - April 25th 2007

It’s the usual routine for breakfast; I nip down to collect my mini carton of orange and ignore the food. No sooner have I settled down to watch wonderful daytime TV (it’s like a daily, non-surgical lobotomy), than I’m collected with 11 other new arrivals and taken to the assessment centre. Sadly it’s nothing too exciting, just another 5 minutes with a lady probation officer to discuss things. Encouragingly she intimates that they’ll be pushing to get me out on HDC as close as possible to my eligibility date on the 21st July. Coming out of the assessment centre coincides with outdoor exercise time for the rest of the wing, so we’re allowed to join in for the 40 minutes or so. Thankfully it’s a nice sunny morning and warm too, so I join the other lads in lapping the exercise yard. To distant onlookers, we must look like a criminal ant farm, criss-crossing the yard along the concrete paths dividing the grassy areas.

As daft as it sounds I choose to walk on the grass- enjoying any feeling under my feet other than the hard laminate and concrete of the past 6 days.

It happens sooner than I thought; we’re back in the en-suite and a knock on the door disturbs another moment of boredom. The interrupting officer opens the door and shouts “Olley?”. I’m offered an immediate move to C Wing, both the officer and Mark assure me it’s a quiet, drug free wing, not to mention there’s a strong possibility of a job on the wing. Being overwhelmed with alternative offers, it takes me about 50 miliseconds to say ‘OK’. I’ve got 10 minutes to gather up all my belongings into a couple of bin bag sized clear bags and then I’ll bugger off! Despite being a hyperactive, talkaholic channel swapper, Mark’s been a great source of help during my first few days here, so I thank him for everything (whilst allowing him to do most of my packing for me) and even offer him my 3 pack of custard creams. I wouldn’t want to taint my generosity by admitting I’d never have eaten the bastards anyway.

True to his word, the officer’s back and I’m on my travels. He’s a nice, chatty guy which I hope is an indication of what lies ahead in C wing. The prison’s like a maze, possibly not by accident, and our journey to the bottom of the C takes in a few different wings on the way through- including the infamous D Wing, nicknamed Bosnia by some of the guards. As we arrive in C Wing, it’s immediately obvious this place is much smaller then E Wing, perhaps half the length and two thirds the width. It feels much more old fashioned too, more like
HMP Slade in Porridge, with narrow landings hemmed by iron railings. My new cell’s on the 3rd floor again, number 1, I’ll be sharing with a big fella from Carlisle called Phil. As I unpack the opening conversation takes the usual prison turns; swap convictions, sentence lengths and a bit of prison slagging off for good measure. Phil’s in here for a short while after a spot of criminal damage and threatening to set fire to his ex-wife in a domestic one drunken night.

He’s a BIG guy, but as nice as pie and happy to admit that it’s the drink that gets him in trouble. I should count my blessings that I’ve found yet another decent cell mate, rather than some insane criminal I could have been landed with.

It feels strange. With the move I’ve done something moderately exciting, but I can’t tell the person I really want to share it with, as C Wing has already had association for the day so there’s no chance of using the phone. If loneliness is being alone in a crowded room, then helplessness is being in safe custody unable to control any aspect of your real life. Ever since I’ve been in here I’ve had the urge to grab my mobile and ring Jilly, then realise I don’t have one, I’ll have to wait.