First Night

When I got off the ‘bus’ from court, I was still shell-shocked at what had happened.  However, when entering the reception area of the prison, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was clean and bright, and the officers seemed ok.  There were quite a few of us, so it took a while to be processed.  We were given something to eat and a cup of prison tea(!).  We saw a nurse and a doctor.  Did I feel suicidal?  No.  I just felt numb.  I produced a clean urine sample, then given whatever belongings I could keep.  I made a phone call to my partner and told her not to worry.  At around 7pm, we were taken to ‘C’ wing, where all prisoners start off.

We weren’t allocated a cell so just walked into the nearest vacant one.  Mine was at the far end of the corridor.  I struggled to get in because a cupboard was partially blocking the door.  The officer thought I was refusing and gave me a shove.  He was young and cocky.  I didn’t like him.  He was nothing like the officers I had seen in reception.

I looked around the cell.  Apart from the toilet and sink, there was a cupboard and a table.  I hadn’t expected much.  I was in prison, after all.  But they reminded me of something that would have been found in a skip.  There was a plastic chair and, of course, the bed.  This was rusty and bolted to the floor.  The bedding obviously hadn’t been changed since the previous occupant.  There were black hairs on the sheets and pillowcase.  All the bedding was covered in cigarette burns.  The pillowslip felt hard and crusty round the burn holes.  The toilet was dirty and stained.  It was partially hidden by a dirty and torn shower curtain which, presumably, was for privacy.  Judging by the length of the curtain, however, there wouldn’t be much privacy.  In a moment of desperation, I wondered if the curtain rail would hold my weight if I tied the curtain round my neck.  I gave it a tug, but the rail was too flimsy.

I tried to look at the positives.  There was a kettle and a TV.  Perhaps things would look better in the morning.  I got changed and climbed into bed.  I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep.  It was winter and extremely cold.  The windows didn’t shut properly.  It was windy, and I could see the shower curtain blowing around.  I got dressed again, put my jacket on, and got back into bed.  But I couldn’t stop shivering.  I pressed the buzzer on the wall and asked for another blanket.  I know now how pointless this was but at the time, I thought it was a reasonable request.  Doesn’t the prison have a duty of care, and doesn’t this include warmth?  “Where do you think you are, the fucking Ritz?”, was the reply.

I lay back down and thought of my partner.  I loved her very much.  I missed her so much, I thought my heart would break.  We had been together nearly thirty years and had never been apart.  She was now disabled and had been forced into a nursing home.  I felt guilty, and rightly so.  Through a mixture of mental health problems and stupidity, I was in this hellhole, and she was in hers.

I desperately needed someone to talk to.  After a while, I heard someone asking the other women, one by one, if they were alright.  I waited for her to come to me, but she didn’t.  It went quiet; she had left.  I pressed the buzzer again and asked if I could talk to someone.  “Did you say you felt suicidal when you first came in? the officer asked, impatiently.  I told him I hadn’t.  “Well, it’s too late now”, he said, “and press that buzzer once more and I will put you on report, and that won’t look good on your first night, will it?”

I lay back down and started to cry.  Not because of any threat of being put on report.  I didn’t even know what it meant.  But I felt so low and so lonely.  I cried for most of the night.  But I cried quietly.  I didn’t want anyone to hear me.  I had to be tough, didn’t I?  Isn’t that what you have to be, in prison?