The Gift

After the bell rings, the doors slowly swing open. No immediate rush. Today will not differ from yesterday, last week, month, or year. For some, the routine is all they will know for the rest of their lives. Routines are essential in a place like this.

They give an early indicator of potential tension. As the individuals emerge, their initial anonymity diffuses. All dressed in similar clothes. Grey. Like their appearance; the result of being locked up in a cell without sunlight. Grey tops, with loose, baggy trousers and invariable trainers.
Slowly, there is a recognition of the established characters. All emerge with their individual bucket containing overnight faeces and urine and move towards the waste disposal area. There is no embarrassment, nor even a recognition that, as they emerge from their cells odours are wafting around them. Odours of their own making, occasioned by the smell of sweat, fear, poor diets, lack of exercise and institutional habit.

Some look down. Others look up defiantly at their watching audience. There will be no applause in this theatre of movement. The expected choreography is regarding basic functions, safety and routine. Move differently and others become alert. Their own safety awareness, escalates, responding to their awareness and sensitivity to immediate activity.

As a member of a team of ten, responsible for the control, containment and safety of four hundred individuals, the common understanding is that one inappropriate incident or response could trigger off mayhem. We notice a potential problem with the approach of the resident of Cell 56.

Serving life, he is unperturbed by threats of lock-down, isolation, removal of privileges or whatever. He has nothing to lose until nature within a very restricted health care service ultimately surrenders his presence elsewhere. Today his challenges are simple and easily met.

A change of established “cooks” from within the prison population, meant to show a commitment to rehabilitation and skills for prisoners imminently leaving the prison environment, has broken down. The food offered to the “customers” is both poorly cooked, badly presented, and with inadequate portions. Whilst such an incident has occurred for breakfast, it must not occur again. They must hear his message. Urgent phone calls to the Assistant Governor ensue. They send in qualified chefs.

Others are yet to emerge. Each “customer” poses different challenges. Some are more compliant, and ingratiate themselves with the staff group, trying to engage in discrete conversations outside of the main arena. “Snitching” is the common parlance, and yet without it, our organisation could not function. My developing interest is the last to leave his cell. He knows I watch him. I have been away for two weeks. His image always in my mind. He smiles. I am wet. I nod.

II

I know what to expect as my cell door swings open. They’ll be grouped along the landing. Some will stare at the inmate intently. Expectant, prepared, ready for a negative response. One or two will not be responding to your presence. It’s as if you don’t exist as far as they care. They dress you in prison grey. No individuality. Just another prisoner emerging from their enforced hibernation of up to twenty-three hours of isolation.
She’s different. Every inmate has a designated officer. If you have an issue or problem, in the first place you raise it with your named officer. If they consider it an emergency, then you approach whoever is manning your wing at that moment. Problem with the first option is that officers have time off at the end of their shift, or take holidays, or go on courses and training. Sod’s law is that when you want to talk to them, they’ll either be off duty on leave or away, perhaps on sick leave.

There’s a lot of that in this place. Certain more fragile officers are often away. They come back after several months, and within days you can see the look in their eyes, and you know they are getting ready for their next episode. It allows them to be off sick for up to six months on full pay. So they pile back in just before the six months, spend a couple of weeks on the wing, then off they go again. Sure they all send in regular sick notes, protected by the Prison Officer’s Union, and it’s a fiddle, especially for those getting near their pensions.

It’s a crap job. We all know it. Inmates have been sentenced by Courts, including those “innocent”; and there are one or two genuine ones stitched up either by the police or through evidence from dodgy sources. Once you’re taken down from the dock, it transforms your whole life. They banged me up five years ago. One to go. When I first heard the Judge say “twelve years”, I forgot that as long as I kept my nose clean, did as they told me, and avoided temptation, to bang a fellow inmate or an officer, I would be out within six years.
That’s still over two thousand individual days. Imagine it. Think of today, and multiply it two thousand times, and I’m still banged up. Not only that, my wing hasn’t been modernised so I piss in a bucket. I get one shower a week for five minutes and most of the time I stink. I know it. I hate it. I can’t do anything about it. Yet I’ve got the gift. The ability to attract women.

That’s why today, as my cell door swings open and I step out onto the landing, I know she will be scanning my face, wondering about me and fantasising. She won’t be the first but she’ll be one of the most important in terms of what she can do for me. So I smile. It’s been two weeks, so I am genuinely glad to see her and to note her reaction to me. It’s important. She nods. Good.

This is not her first prison appointment. She started her training in an all-female unit, with most staff also female. Just as many challenges in many respects. Some of those inmates were as difficult and dangerous as anything she might come across in this wing. There were also the same temptations sexually if you were that way inclined. She wasn’t and continued her training in a mixed-sex staff group before finally progressing to this wing. A difficult, potentially dangerous and challenging job. I was one of her group of prisoners meant to relate their issues to her.

The problem was I didn’t have any. I’ve always sorted things out myself. Sometimes using methods that others might not like. Tough. I was dragged, rather than brought up. So there I was one day wondering why I’d had to report to her in the office at the end of the wing. It was mid-afternoon, and she was on her own, although the office door remained open and there were fellow officers manning the corridors outside.

She had a file in front of her with my name on it. She already knew what I’d done, what my sentence was, and other issues that might interest the authorities. I’d pleaded guilty, put my hand up to the Judge, accepted my sentence, kept my head down in the wing, and was almost a model prisoner, although with a weakness. I immediately fancied her.
She explained that although I had raised no issues with her; it was a matter of routine that every prisoner had a routine review once a year to confirm there were no issues or problems which might impair their subsequent release, and which needed addressing. Inmates called it the “bullshit briefing”. Sit, listen, nod and then go back to your cell in exactly the same mode, attitude or approach as you had entered the room. That was the advice. They treated even the occupant of Cell 56 the same.

All my life, I’d never been short of girlfriends or partners, including on two occasions short-term marriages, and various other relationships including when I was a male prostitute for female customers. A thousand pounds for going to a London hotel, knocking the door of a room, having a shower, a drink, a few lines, and enjoying myself. Sorry, did I mention thousands pounds in cash?

Sat across from her at our first “interview” I wished the door I’d knocked had been one in a hotel room. The feelings were familiar, the person was giving me the same signals they’d used in previous years. The bonus was that this woman was immensely attractive. I’d have waived my fee, and she knew it. She had a particular scent. In an earlier life after meeting some very rich women I could identify individual perfumes easily. All I wanted to do now was move close to the nape of her neck inhale her scent and allow my senses to run free.

Now to find somewhere to perform.

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