Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pilgrim's progress

Actually I've had a good week - well, I've had an interesting week, and that's good enough for me. It all started on Wednesday when I had a visit from John and Sharon. I wasn't all that sure what to expect, but I am delighted to say that I have met two more really nice people - two more to add to a growing band of nice people I have met in recent years.

In my early years in prison I met practically no nice folk - but that's hardly a surprise. However, as time went on, and as my personal attitudes changed and I altered my interests, I began to meet nicer folk - until now I seem to meet them at fairly regular intervals. This has probably got more to do with them than it does with me. Let's face it, who wants to be in contact with a raging bull who is only one step up from lunacy? From the days when I began to be interested in more academic matters, and spent my time on writing and similar pursuits, I seem to have gradually met a growing number of really nice folk.

John struck me as being a man clearly interested in what is right and seeing that things are put right. Sharon is a diminutive, elfin figure with a huge smile from the minute I saw her and DEFINITELY a person who knows her own mind. She made a big impresslon on me and I got the feeling that conversations with her would never he boring. Hopefully I can stay in touch with both.

Anyway, that was on Wednesday, and I have not spent a pleasanter afternoon for a long time. On Thursday I had to appear before a board to be granted temporary release on licence to allow me to go on an unescorted visit into Boston to the Pilgrim Hospital, there to have X-rays taken of both of my knees. I had expected a board with a lot of people sitting facing me across a large table. No such thing. There was a governor and a person assisting him, that's all. He informed me that they don't like sending people out under escort so I had to be sure I didn't make a mess of it, and I assured him that I wouldn't. That was it! He signed my temporary release document and off I jolly well went.

On Friday morning, after a heavy night of snow, I thought that all travel into town might be stopped because of the roads, but it wasn't. All I had to do was collect my temporary licence release book from the wing office, walk across to the gate, identify myself and tell them where I was going and get into the van. That was it - I was out of prison for the first time in twenty-six years, more or less. However, and this may sound strange, there was no sense of freedom at all, no feeling of any liberation. I still felt a chain firmly fastened around my neck. I expect I'll feel that chain for a long time to come.

The driver dropped me off at the Pilgrim Hospital and told me he would be back at just after noon and every hour after that until I was ready to go back. I expected, or had expected, a feeling of nervousness or trepidation of some sort once I was completely on my own, but there was none. I just took a deep breath, looked around me and saw that everyone in sight simply went about their business without a glance at me, and I put that down to the fact that, well, they had their lives and weren't interested in anyone else's really. As far as they were concerned, I suppose, I was just a well-dressed elderly fellow attending the hospital - and the fact is, I was, nowt else.

So, in I went to the reception desk and handed my appointment paper over. The receptionist simply registered me on the computer and told me where the X-ray department was. Off I went along corridors until I found it, several people smiling at me or saying "Morning!" as I passed. I was simply another person to them, and most folk are quite friendly, given the opportunity.

In the X-ray department it took about ten minutes and I was putting my trousers back on and on my way back to the front of the hospital again to wait for my lift back to jail. The time wasn't even eleven o'clock!

I had made the mistake of not taking any money with me so I couldn't even have a cup of tea or anything while I waited in the cold but fresh air. So, I stood and watched the world pass me by, and an interesting world it was too. Cars and pedestrians back and forth and not a single feeling on my part of being unable to cope with it all - it all seemed natural to me, easy. Then it got interesting.

A young woman, maybe nineteen or twenty, came up to me.

"You have light yes?" said she in some mid-European accent. Polish? Croatian? Welsh? Who knows?

"No," said I. "I'm sorry, I don't have a light."

Says she, "Where you from?" clearly wondering why my accent is different to everyone else's.

"I'm from the prison," said I.

"Prison?" asked she.

"Prison," I agreed.

She asked, "You guard?" obviously taking in the fact that everything I wore was dark blue.

I grinned at her. "No. I am a prisoner."

"You prisoner?" said she, and went off hurriedly.

So, my charm is still working then. She came back with another little blonde girl about the same age and BOTH were speaking the same language.

"This friend," said the first and told me a name that didn't even hegin to register.

So, there I stood, chatting (or listening) to two foreign girls who probably knew ten words of English between them, for about half an hour until a bus came and whisked them away. I expect they were foreign workers because it would seem that there are lots of Polish workers around the area who work on the farms. It was really nice to have a long chat to those two selfless girls, even though there was little, if any, real communication there.

Was I right to tell them that I was a prisoner? I think so. I see no reason to conceal it.

The van collected me at about twelve-fifteen and brought me back to the front gate, along with a couple of others they had collected. On arrival, all I had to do was inform the gate who I was and then walk over to the wing and hand in my licence book until such time as I will need it again.

An interesting experience and nothing like as hard or traumatic as I or anyone else had expected. It was simple. I took it in my stride really.

The point is that I have been released - unfettered, unescorted  and unwatched - and got back without drama. Now, when I go before the full board on Wednesday 15th of this month to see if I am fit to be allowed out on regular town visits they will say (hopefully), "You have demonstrated that you can be relied on."

I should think that things in the town itself may well be a bit more hectic - faster - but I see no reason to be concerned about it. It will all be taken in the stride of my current learning curve.

So, this past week has been kind of interesting, to say the least.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Heaven itself upon the past has power

I managed to fall down the steps the other day - yet another bit  of proof that I am not safe to be let out without a nurse, or at least a carer. It was dark, of course, and I was having my usual wander with one of the boys and we were traversing a set of steps that come from the direction of the health care toward the wing. I thought I was standing on the bottom step, so I stopped and started to blow my nose - then stepped off. I wasn't on the bottom step. I was two steps up and when I stepped off, I stepped off into fresh air. Nary a thing to rest a weary foot on.

Needless to say I went down like a sack of taters. I managed to get my hands out to protect my face and they hit the ground first. They were closely followed by my knees - wonderful. There was a terrific 'clump', of course, and I felt sure that I had broken something. I got up, but apart from a bit of skin off the palms of my hands, I was fine. Of course the nitwit I was with thought the whole thing was hilarious - such a kind, empathetic type. He was enormously entertained, as we carried on our walk, and he told everyone we met. It's nice to bring a bit of jocularity into someone's life, just a little bit painful.

Went to see the nurse the next day, and the outcome is that next Friday I am off into Boston to the Pilgrim Hospital to have my knees x-rayed. It will be a couple of hours out of the prison for me and I will be able to go under my own steam.

It hasn't stopped me from being outside in all weathers, of course, sore knees or no sore knees. I often stand there and watch the birds. There are lots of them around this place - linnets, blackbirds, sparrows, robins and so on. I also find that they are not as scared of people as they generally are, they practically hop around your feet. I think some folk may find me a little strange when they see me staring at ostensibly nothing, but, in the words of William Henry Davies:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
I quite like my days now that I am retired and have the freedom to practically do as I please (within reason) because it brings the words of another writer - Dryden - to mind:
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have lived today.
That certainly strikes a chord in me. Okay, I would have much preferred that things had taken a different course, one that didn't include years in jail, but, as Dryden also said:
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power;
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
Well, once I have had my day out at the Pilgrim Hospital, I can then begin to have fairly regular days out. I know that The Wallace is supporting me in that so that is okay. I have spoken to a number of people here and there and they expect me to be gone by Christmas - back to the land of the living.

There is little prospect of me actually going very far today, though, on account of the snow that has fallen overnight - the last thing I need is another nosedive into oblivion!  

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Any idiot can face a crisis

The other day I had occasion to speak with my personal officer here at the Home for Gay Sailors and, during the course of that discussion, he said that he had noticed the change in me since I came here to North Sea Camp. He said that when I arrived the tiredness was etched on my face and I looked like a tired, old man. On reflection, it's true too! I was unshaven, with stubble as grey as a badger's arse, wearing clothing that gave me the appearance of an unsavoury 'hoodie' and trudging about the place like a man looking for somewhere to lay a weary head.

Can't deny any of that.

However, since then over a month has passed, and every day, no matter what the weather, I've been out in the fresh air for several hours each day (and/or night), wandering as the fancy  took me, chatting here and there to various folk. Naturally I bought myself some clothing more befitting my age group, cleaned myself up with the aid of a razor and the soft water of the area - and it appears that a transformation has taken place.

Personally, I didn't notice it, although several people (on reflection) mentioned here and there that I was looking very smart.

To get back to the conversation mentioned earlier with my personal officer. He said - and I paraphrase - that it had been noticed, of course, that I was now clean, smart and striding about the place like an upright citizen. Not a negative word had been said about me by anyone, and I was living a very level life, well under the radar.

Clearly I am doing nothing that I haven't done for years - the big difference being that here at the Home for Gay Sailors I am getting better and fresher food, more fresh air and a freedom of movement that clearly agrees with me. Oh, I am perfectly sure that Long Lartin, the Lazy L, will have fully expected (and probably wanted) me to make a bollix of it all and bugger off at the first opportunity. Well, that clearly hasn't happened. Here I am, still sitting here in North Sea Camp, more than content with the progress I am making and not a crisis in sight. Surely that must show that it is the very  nature of the oppressive regime of the high security estate which causes the stress levels to be so high!

It sort of reminds me of the words of Anton Chekhov when he said:

Any idiot can face a crisis. It is the day-to-day living that wears you out.
It's true too. All of those pointless years spent wearing myself out for no good reason, and it has all been washed away by just a few short weeks of a more relaxed lifestyle. Surely there is a lesson to be learned there!

So, where do we go from here? Well, I had a letter from The Wallace, who informs me that there is to he a decision made in a couple of weeks' time (15th February) as to my suitability for day releases and overnight releases - AND she is supporting me in that. Of course there are obstacles to overcome - there always are - but nothing very difficult to sort out. I shall (when the time comes) wander down to see the sea for my first day release. That's all I want to do - nothing fancy or ambitious, just see the sea.

My second one will be a meander around the shops in Boston, just to see how the folk in the real world live and to ensure that the crowds and traffic don't turn me into a basket case.

The third one will be an overnighter somewhere approved by The Wallace. And after that? Well, the search will begin for a hostel where I can live in peace and quiet while I write a few things, read a few things, get used to having a dog again perhaps, and put the past quarter century where it belongs - into the capsule of forgotten nightmares, along with all of the other memories that are better forgotten, and concentrate on the future.

The mill cannot grind with the water that is past.

The Voice In The Wilderness