Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Coming out for a walk?

Here we are at the Home for Gay Sailors (as someone is fond of calling it) and we are now well into the year's start, so things appear to have settled down and everything is back to normal. Having said that, what's normal these days? Some folk think that dropping bombs on people is normal, so it's purely a personal perception, normality.

However, here at North Sea Camp, normal seems to consist of people going out of the prison to work, organising their days out and generally getting themselves into the correct mindset for their eventual and inevitable release.

It's a very strange situation that I find myself in because, after so many years in high security, something about this situation strikes me more forcibly than all of the other new experiences, and I'll explain that remark.

In the Lazy L I was surrounded by men - most of them young men too, in their twenties - who were going nowhere. Some of them were facing twenty, twenty-five, thirty years or more in prison and, in amongst all of the diverse topics of conversation, there was one which very rarely got mentioned, if mentioned at all - and that was the topic of release from prison. Those fellows (like myself) who were coming to the end of their time of incarceration didn't want to remind those just in the early years of theirs exactly what they had in front of them. Consequently there were few mentions, ever, of getting out of prison.

Here at the Home for Gay Sailors it is entirely different - and quite rightly so, I suppose. Without exception everyone is looking to go home in next to no time at all. They are organising days out down to the local towns, some go out each day to work and many can tell you precisely how many weeks they have to serve before they are released. Many are released weekly and that in its turn provides empty places for new people to arrive, which of course means that there is a fairly robust turnover of clients for the local shopping trade.

All of this brings me to a rather curious observation, because the other day I was talking to three fellows who came here from the prison in Nottingham and none of them have any more than a couple of months left to serve. That's not unusual in itself, but two of them have only been in prison a matter of a few weeks! All three have never been in prison before and the longest sentence between them is six months. This means that in reality each is taking up a space that someone who has been in prison for donkey's years (as like as not) has been waiting six or eight months for! Don't misunderstand me - I do not condemn these short sentence fellows, not a bit of it, but I do wonder about the criteria  being administered by whoever is responsible for these things. I'm perfectly sure that it is probably all to do with operational difficulties and only so many long sentence cons being allowed into places such as this at any one time, but it all seems a bit curious to me for all that.

On a personal level, I seem to spend all of my time these days out in the fresh air - over four hours of it yesterday in the wind and rain. I would go out for an hour with someone, come back and then another would arrive:

Frank! Are you coming out for a walk?
Well, after the years I've spent sitting on my arse in an uninviting environment, unable to walk anywhere unfettered, I don't need inviting twice - and it's nice to know that enough fellows want to go for a walk and a chat with me as a person.

Four times it happened yesterday - over four hours out in the inclement weather - and I enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, I recommend it as a career choice instead of running around the streets annoying the gendarmes and upsetting the populace.

It shouldn't be too long before I can start going down to the local town myself - a bit of shopping, stuff like that. I have already applied for my bus pass. I can't wait to get on a bus. I haven't used a bus for such a long time - some time in the 1960's in fact - it's going to be an experience in itself.

Oh well, my flatmate has just arrived and wants to go for a little drive about - who am I to argue?

The Voice In The Wilderness

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The mill cannot grind with the water that is past

There is absolutely nothing nicer than getting up at the crack of dawn (in this case, about a quarter to seven) and making a cup of tea, then going outside to sit on the step with the hoar ­frost decorating the grass and every other surface in sight.

As I sit there in the dark, slowly catching hypothermia, I can see a waning moon in the clear sky above me along with a few die-hard stars that are still glittering for my personal entertainment. Off to my right, in the direction of the dyke that is protecting me from the sea, I can see various navigation lights of vessels, big and small, as they go about their early morning sailings or dockings.

There is, of course, the odd call from a blackbird and the cooing of the isolated ring-necked dove, but the birds won't really get into their stride until daylight. I can even hear the very comforting bleating of a sheep somewhere nearby.

Personally, I think it's wonderful, especially after the last quarter of a century - but that's over now, so I won't go on about it. It kind of surprises me that some fellows take it into their heads (for whatever reason) to decamp, run away, bugger off from this place. I don't understand their logic. Having said that, if their thinking patterns were up to scratch, they wouldn't be in jail in the first place - and I am no different in that respect. Howsomever, I would like to think that my thinking patterns have improved a good deal since those early days.

I've had a sort of interesting week, because on Wednesday just gone I went for a little chat with the internal probation officer here at the Home for Gay Sailors, and I spent a very pleasant hour in the company of two quite nice young women. Well, let's face it, at my age everyone else is young. It was merely a sort of "getting to know you" meeting, and they were wondering why I had so much difficulty getting along with the Offender Management lot at Long Lartin. All I could tell them was that Long Lartin seem to be stuck in their high security mode and couldn't adjust to my particular situation in that they had no experience of dealing with a Cat D prisoner. Still, all that is water under the bridge - the mill cannot grind with the water that is past.

We discussed the fact that my parole hearing will be in May of this year and consequently I will have to sort of hurry up to fill the criteria of days out and things of that nature. One asked me what plans I had for my days out and I think I quite surprised them when I said that the first thing I intended to do was nothing more exciting than go down to the beach, wherever it is, and watch the sea for an hour or so and then wander back. I think one of them said she wouldn't mind coming with me. I've got no mad desires to go running about in Boston, shopping like an insane shopaholic with thirty minutes to go to closing time prior to Christmas - not me.

She asked me how I was coping with my arrival here and all of the unaccostomed freedom and seemed surprised that I not only wasn't struggling but was actually loving it. When I do go down into Boston, I may be a little surprised by the traffic, but I can't see me having any difficulty with the teeming hordes, if Boston has hordes. We got on quite well, but then again I can get on with anyone really because, contrary to popular belief, I actually LIKE people generally. I like the energy of youth, but only in small doses - they tire me out. I like people, so I rarely have a problem getting on with anyone - and if I do, then the reason is generally because there is something wrong with them, not with me.

So, things are settling down nicely here at North Sea Camp. I see no icebergs on the horizon so my ship should sail sedately on until, like those lights I see at the crack of dawn, I come to a safe haven - in my case, freedom from durance vile. Until then, I'll simply sit with my feet in the frosty grass, drink my tea, listen to the birds - and wait patiently.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I must go down to the sea again...

John Masefield had it right when he wrote:
I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and sky...
He went on to add the parts about tall ships, waves breaking sails shaking and the rest, but they don't apply here, so I won't bother with that part.

The lonely sea and sky... wonderful. When they told me that I was going (or coming) to North Sea Camp (or, as a certain person of our acquaintance would have it, the Home for Gay Sailors), I was as happy as a little fat puppy dog lying in front of a fire. So, when I arrived here on the shores of The Wash, in that limbo period between Christmas and the New Year, I had a plan. That plan being to perambulate sedately down to the sea shore and to stare vacantly at the waves whilst carefully avoiding the seagull shit.

It hasn't happened. Ha! Go down to the sea! We can't even see the bleedin' sea! There is a huge dyke between me and the water, and that is just as well because if it wasn't there I'd have to grow webbed feet and learn how to swim, both beinq equally impossible for me. (Having said that, a set of webbed feet might improve my chances in life - apparently normal people are passed over for the weird and talentless these days. However, I have no intention of wandering down that particular road at the minute so forget I even brought the subject up at all.)

So, here I am in the wilds of Lincolnshire and not very far from Skegness - a thriving resort in the summer months apparently. I've been given to believe that sooner or later I will be able to actually go and see Skegness on one of my days out and THAT'S going to be an experience in itself after so long staring at nothing but grey walls and barbed wire.

There are many things to be said about open prison, and no doubt I'll say them over the coming weeks and months - wandering around completely unfettered and unregimented for a start. I was walking slowly along the road the other day, talking cobblers with one of my new contemporaries, and we were rambling so slowly and leisurely that we were passed by a fellow in a wheelchair! He was being pushed by another feller and, as they passed, one was heard to remark, "We haven't got a decent lung between us!" I wonder if that was a reflection on the speed that my contemporary and I were travelling at.

I digress again. To get back to the theme - the most striking thing about this place so far (from my point of view) is the number of fellows who take it into their heads to run off! It makes no sense to me at all - not a smidgen. They have probably spent many years in security situations, albeit maybe not as many years as me, and they have managed finally to get to a place where they can simply wander around - no walls, no security, no limitations on freedom - and yet they run off! Not being very bright, they are invariably caught pretty quickly and are instantly returned to high security prison and automatically have years more added to their sentence for no good reason at all. Makes no sense to me. One fellow buggered off the day I got here and apparently there are several every week. I don't even begin to understand it.

Speaking personally, all I can say is that I have spent a quarter of a century waiting and trying to get myself into the position I now find myself in and nothing or no one is going to be allowed to make a mess of that for me - not under any circumstances.

Besides, I am like John Masefield - I must go down to the sea again - and that counts more with me than anything else. Or, as that well-known typing error Mike Spilligan would have it:

I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and sky.
I left my shoes and socks there,
I hope that they are dry.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Beside the seaside

Well, let me begin by wishing all and sundry a very happy and successful New Year. This is when we all start on the nation's favourite sport - breaking New Year resolutions that we never had any intention of keeping in the first place.

By the way, I'm in North Sea Camp now - an open prison on the edge of The Wash and near Boston in Lincolnshire. I don't think it's very far to Skegness - that Mecca of donkey rides, candy floss and "fun". Not that I expect to see any of them - not for a while anyway. I can't even see the sea here because there is a dyke in the way. There's nothing else between me and Holland apart from a large ploughed field and the dyke - and that's only there to prevent the sea from flooding the place.

I was brought here on Thursday 29th December, the day after my birthday - my first day of official retirement. They came for me in my little cell in Long Lartin, took me down to reception and searched every nook and cranny of my person - including my ex-interesting bits. Not a millimetre was missed. I pointed out that I was now to be considered a Cat D prisoner, the lowest security level!

"We've got to do our jobs," said one with clearly about as much imagination as a caravan site. "We have to look for illicit items."

I just let them get on with it - how do you talk sense to someone who not only isn't listening but who wouldn't be able to understand what is being said anyway?

That wasn't the end of it. They double handcuffed me and then put me in a high risk security van with little individual cells inside - a sweatbox.

I said, "You do know that I'm a Cat D, don't you?"

The response - "We do what we are told."

I decided to save my breath.

So, off we went, me rattling about in a tin box and wondering if I really was going to open prison - or was I on my way clandestinely to a less welcoming destination?

We drove to Leicester police station! However, nobody wanted to charge me or question me. They just transferred me from one sweatbox to another in a little security compound, and off we set again.

So - all the way across the country, chained up like a dog, until we arrived at North Sea Camp, where all fetters were finally removed and, in the blink of an eye, I was able to wander about to my heart's content. No walls, no fences, no restrictions - nothing at all.

Nothing has happened between then and now, it being the holiday season, and nothing will happen until Tuesday January 3rd.

The next few weeks should be interesting to say the least. I might even get my sense of humour back - we will see.

The Voice In The Wilderness