Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A rocky coast where ships can founder

It has been yet another week where news or progress is, shall we say, noticeable by its absence. Nothing to report and, as Henri Maria Remarque might have said, "All Quiet on the Western Front". 

However, being a prolific writer (of sorts), I am never lost for a few words, and this week is no exception. Incidentally, may I just say that I never sit down at my typewriter with anything specific in mind to write about. I just sit down, light my fag, have a drink of my tea and start bashing the keys, just to see what drivel I can come up with THIS week. 

And this week, what has come to my mind are two things. One - a couple of idiots on this wing (staff and not cons), have tried to deny that a certain governor works in this prison and that she doesn't exist at all! Not to worry, no doubt that little matter will be sorted out in no time at all.

The other matter is a conversation I had earlier in the week with one of my fellow zoo exhibits, another member of the Scum Class of two thousand and ten. (I've said this before, it's not easy being scum like me you know.)

So... there I was, standing minding my own business and waiting to collect my lunch, which, incidentally, Egon Ronay it ain't. So... (I've got to stop saying 'So') So... there I am with my dinner plate and one of the younger fellows comes to stand next to me and he begins to chat. Now... (that's nearly as bad as 'So') I don't pretend to remember his words verbatim - I'm not a policeman or a trainee psychologist - but the general thrust was...

Him: All right Frankie?

Me: Well, you know me, when am I not all right?

Him: Here! You've been in jail a long time, haven't you?

Me: I'll be starting my twenty-fifth year in March.

Him (in disbelief): Fuck me!

Me: Thanks for the offer, I'll bear it in mind, but playing hide the diddler with a geezer has never appealed to me.

Him: No! Listen! Did it go quick?

Me: What?

Him: The years!

Now... l've had this question, and variations, asked by a lot of fellows and it is a rocky coast where ships can founder if care isn't taken in the answer. These youngsters, whatever they may have done, sooner or later come round to the realisation that whatever it was may not have been such a good idea after all. They realise that this life is not some sort of dress-rehearsal for something else... this is IT! This is the only chance they will get at life and they want someone, anyone will do, to assure them that everything will be fine. They need a mother's hand to brush away their fears and to tell them that it's okay, things will be okay in the end and they CAN have a bit of cake for tea. Well, it's not that easy unfortunately. There is no mother's hand, and only God can change the past - no, on reflection, not even He can do that.

No, this is it I'm afraid - but I couldn't tell the young fellow that because he would end up as one more statistic on the list of suicides in jail. When all hope is taken away, nothing is left, and a weak character soon finds himself against the wall without a blindfold.

So, I sort of grinned at him.

Me: How long have you been in jail?

Him: I've done nearly four years now.

Me: And if you look back on those four years I bet they have gone by like the snap of your fingers, eh? (And I gave my fingers a snap.) Just like that.

Him: Yeah , it's pissed past.

Me: And you look at the years ahead and think they will never pass, right?

Him: Yeah.

Me: Don't worry about it. Live each day as best you can, get whatever small pleasures you can for each day and, before you know where you are, you will look back and it will all be gone, just like a snap of the fingers! (And I snapped my fingers again.) Just like that.

Him: Yeah! Yeah! You are right.

Well, what I didn't tell him was that he would also be older, not a patch on the man he is now, bent-backed and tired. But let's not tell him that part, he can discover that himself. All around me are young men, some not much more than teenagers really, and they have twenty, thirty, forty years to serve. May the good Lord have mercy on them, because the prison system won't.

The Voice In The Wi1derness

Monday, January 25, 2010

Paranoid eyes?

This week I have something to report for a change. During the early part of the week I was given a paper informing me that on Thursday 14th I had a video-link conference scheduled for 2:15 pm with The Wallace, my probation officer. I had been informed of this much earlier, of course, by The Wallace herself, but the paper made it official.

I'd  better mention The Wallace, as I call her (the name she used in the film 'Braveheart'). I don't call her that to her face of course - she's taller than me and probably packs a healthy right hand. (I'm foolish, I never said I'm stupid.) I like The Wallace and I can easily see her in one of those period dramas dressed in plaid and saying, "0ch wee manny , eat yerrr gruel and ye'll grow up tae be a big lad like yer mammy."

Anyway, to get back to the point, I went down to the legal part of the visiting area on Thursday afternoon and they put me into a little room and there was The Wallace on the telly! I got seated and the kangaroo buggered off - these things are private apparently.

"Hello Frank," says she, but I can barely hear her and she can barely hear me. I thought we would be reduced to sign language, and I only know one sign - it's universal and everyone knows what it means but I would never use it with The Wallace because I like her and besides, I refer the reader back to my earlier statement concerning her right hand. It turned out that I had to use the phone to speak to her, so we got that sorted out and settled down for a chat with me doing my usual slagging off of psychologists - but that's another matter.

The Wallace can't understand why I am not being progressed to a less secure establishment. Neither can I. I'm not at all sure if I should be saying this, but I'll say it anyway. The Wallace says that I should be released into the community because I can be managed better there, or words to that effect. She said much the same thing at my last parole hearing and intends to say it all again at the next. It won't do any good of course - they ain't listening to anything like that. All they want are further reasons and excuses not to let me out of jail. Considering the junkie rats who are being released on a daily basis, with the system being fully aware that these people will reoffend at the very first opportunity, it gives me pause for thought.

However , I'm not here to condemn other people, leave that to those who enjoy inflicting misery on others, I'm only discussing my own position here. The question has to be, why will the Parole Board not only refuse to sanction my release but not even sanction my move to a less secure establishment? It took me twenty-three years to get downgraded to a category 'B' prisoner and that only came about because they lost a court battle!

The Wallace has no idea. She has asked but can't get any sort of answer, let alone one that makes sense.

So where does that leave me? Well, all I can do is plod along in my own inimitable way and adhere to the words of that famous poet, Roger Waters, he of Pink Floyd fame:

Button your lip and don't let the shield slip.
Take a fresh grip on your bullet-proof mask.
And if they try to break down your disguise
With their questions...
You can hide behind paranoid eyes.
I've just realised that The Wallace will read this - I'd better get more than a bullet-proof mask in that case! I've said it before - it's not easy being me.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Leave it with me - I'll get back to you...

It will be remembered that on November 18th of last year I took part, reluctantly I might add, in a Sentence Planning meeting - me, a Governor, a supernumerary and someone taking the minutes. In fact I reported on the meeting and wrote a quite hopeful and enthused vignette for this blog. I was complimentary - nice in fact. I saw no reason to be otherwise. At the end of that meeting I was promised by the Governor who was in charge that I would receive a copy of the minutes as soon as they had been typed up and that if I had any problems doing so to contact her on the subject.

Since then I have made several applications for these minutes and sent each and every application to the Governor involved. Not once has she responded and, needless to say, I have never received the promised copy of the minutes.

Now, this didn't bother me over much - people are busy, computers break down, typists run off to sea with one-eyed Lascar sailors and all sorts of things go wrong, often as not nobody's fault. Trusting soul that I am I saw nothing sinister in my lack of success in obtaining those minutes - not until yesterday that is. Yesterday, Saturday 9th January, I received the "Summary" of the "recent Sentence Planning meeting" and, not to put too fine a point on it, and not wishing to be needlessly rude or crude, it is all a complete and utter bollix! There is not one single word of any sort of a positive nature. Everything in that summary is negative, everything.

However, that's not what is exercising my ire, as they say, oh no. What is attracting my animosity is the way that what I said to the board has been substituted for what they think I SHOULD have said. My words have been twisted and perverted and on a couple of points words have been attributed to me which were never said at all.

The sort of thing I mean is, during the "little chat" I said that the Lifer Manager at Whitemoor seemed to dislike me, although we had never met, and he seemed to have a problem with my obtaining three degrees. I said that he seemed to resent me for some strange and quite obscure reason.

The "Summary" states: 

Wilkinson said that the Lifer Manager was jealous of him.
There is a world of difference between resentment and jealousy. I have to say that I resent the way this "Summary" has been written, but that doesn't make me jealous! I'd have got my spelling right for a start.

There are several instances where such perversions have taken place and, in all fairness, it could be simply that the person who wrote the summary doesn't really understand the meaning of the words - though I doubt it. I think they knew exactly what they were up to, otherwise they would have given me a copy of the minutes of the original meeting! That seems logical to me.

Logic! HA! Logic and the Prison Service - never the twain shall meet. In fact I think it is against the rules to employ logic or to apply it in the prison system. It is certainly stupid to expect to find any applied logic being employed.

So, I have sent the "Summary" off to Mike Pemberton and of course he will send a copy back for me to send to the website. I have written an official complaint out about not getting a copy of the minutes of the meeting, and if that fails to produce the required result then I'll ask the Ombudsman to get involved. I can't see any reason why they can't supply me with a photocopy of the handwritten minutes. Whatever I get from them now will always have that odour of suspicion about it, much like Governors in general I suppose.

Finally, let me give a bit of advice to anyone out there who may be thinking of a career as a prison governor. You only need two skills:

1. You will need to learn how to say 'NO' in a thousand different ways and several languages.

2. You will have to learn how to repeat the following sentence with heartfelt sincerity:

Leave it with me. I'll look into it and get back to you.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lap dancing for the over sixties

There is no news this week, not of any sort at all, but that's only to be expected considering that it is the beginning of a new year and nobody has really recovered from the debauchery and hedonism of that particularly pagan celebration yet. Next week should see things getting back to some sort of normality, or what passes for normality in places like these.

Oh! Before I forget, there IS one bit of news, or it might just be gossip or wishful thinking, you never can tell around here. Our wonderful Number One governor, he with the ego as big as Brighton Rock (ha ha), has departed, gone, left, moved to pastures new. Of course I asked about it and was told that he hadn't gone. So, as I say, gossip or wishful thinking - the fuel of prison life.

So, nothing to report at all really, but I did have an interesting conversation the other day with a kangaroo who clearly was as bored as me.

At this point I want to mention the art of asking stupid questions - and it is an art, well around here it is: "Are you reading that paper you are sitting on?" We all know the sort of thing I mean.

Right, to get back to the interesting conversation. During the course of it, the kanga asked me, "Frank," said he, clearly under the impression that we are related, "Frank, you can't have long to go now. You've been in a long time. How long?"

"Nearly twenty-four years," said I. "And thank you very much for reminding me."

He ignored that but went on. "You'll find things a bit different out there now. It's all changed now."

"Everything changes, in time," said I. "Even rivers change."

He ignored that too but went on to ask the question that started this whole thing off. "When you do go home," said he, "what will you do for a living?"

"Well," said I, "I've given that a bit of thought and to be quite frank about it I am torn between several possible careers."

"Oh yeah!" said he. "You mean with all the education you've done?"

"Not really," was my answer. "But I have got options."

"I wish I had options," said he. "What have you got lined up?"

"Well," said I, getting ready to deliver my normal plethora of idiotic abuse. "I can't make my mind up whether to be a film star or a drug dealer. Mind, I've also been thinking about lap-dancing for the over sixties with a little part time job doing favours for sailors down the docks. According to Blackadder there's good money in that. I considered being a model but I haven't got the legs for tights. I'm keeping my options open, I haven't decided yet."

I kept my face straight through all that too.

He looked at me and finally said, "You know something, some people think that you are just taking the piss half the time."

"Ah!" said I. "That's because I am taking the piss."

"It's no good talking to you," said he and went off to be bored elsewhere.

Why do people ask stupid questions? Maybe it's just me. Maybe I attract them. Maybe I have the face that cries out to the rest of the world and invites silly people to ask silly questions and I haven't got the decency or social grace NOT to take the opportunity to take the piss. This clearly makes me a bad person.

Mind, when you think about it, lap dancing for the over sixties isn't THAT bad an idea. I might get on the telly!

Yeah! Crime Watch!

Happy New Year.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Nobody lives forever

Today is Sunday 27th Decemher 2009 and, to all intents and purposes, Christmas is over. Just the New Year to get out of the way now and that will be that until next year. That's what it means to most convicts anyway. But, as we all know, I have to be awkward - nothing is simple with me. I have my birthday in between Christmas and the New Year and what this has meant over the years is that whatever presents may have come my way have always come with the words, "This will do for your christmas AND birthday." I've told you before - it's not easy being me!

Lots of things happen at this time of year. We have all of the awards - "Man of the Year", "Sports Personality of the Year", "Biggest Mug of the Year" and all the rest of them. Then we have all of those programmes on the idiot box where everyone tells everyone else what hopes they have for the coming year and, of course, we have the insane and pointless practice of making New Year resolutions which we have absolutely no intention of even attempting to keep. 0h, we think we intend to keep them, but that's only because we are usually pissed out of our brains when we make them - apart from us poor little cabbages in prison, that is. (Although I am certain that there are a few drunks in here too!)

None of these, or any of the other seasonal lunacies, is attracting my attention this year - not a bit of it. What is exercising my three working brain cells at the minute, and has been for some time now, is the fact of my own mortality. Nobody lives forever, although there are one or two around who give the impression that they might. Every time we turn on the idiot box, there they are, and seem to have been since Adam and Eve were arguing about the best fruit to use in the cocktail and settled for apple.

When we were young, we just knew that we were indestructible and would live forever. William Hazlitt got it right when he said:

No young man believes that he shall ever die.
It's true too - that's how politicians can persuade young men to be soldiers and go off to war.

The young never die. No, it is the old buggers like me who do that. The older we get, the more aware we become of our own mortality. We know that we are not far off meeting the Grim Reaper when our contemporaries begin to drop off this mortal coil and we suddenly find that we are attending a lot of funerals. 

Willy the Bard told of the Seven Ages of Man, and I suppose that he too got that more or less right. What I mean is that the Bible mentions "three score years and ten", which would give Shakespeare's seven ages ten years to an age. In which case, I am into my seventh - three years in, in fact: the old dotard, sans hair, sans teeth, sans just about every­bleedin'-thing.

Yes... I am becoming aware of my own mortality, no two ways about it. Oh, I am not saying that I am about to snuff it and everybody should start a collection for flowers, nothing like that. I'm good for another thirty years yet, and, with the advances being made by medical research, that could well extend a long way. However, medical research and the passage of time to one side and notwithstanding, I am fully aware of my own mortality. And it comes home to me most sitting in a cell in the silence of a quiet night, surrounded by the sobs and groans of the tough guys.

It also comes to me that I could do no better than to finish with the words of Nicolas Sarkozy:

Life is the same for everyone when you are alone at night in an empty room.
Good luck for two thousand and ten.

The Voice In The Wilderness