Prison categories: A

Thursday 15th September 2011

DONE a couple of spells in D Cat before they moved me up to maximum security. Very different. Much harder getting in for one thing. Been an escape from Parkhurst that week, so everyone was edgy. Mutterings and looks at the gate. Humphrey’s bass sax upset them, being such a big beast. Reckon they reckoned he was trying to smuggle drugs in in it.

Buzzer, jangle, clang, rattle, clank. No sound quite like it. Corridors smell of echo and cleaning products. Think school or hospital, but with nothing at all redeeming. Drab, dull, bare. They out-stare you. You look away. Lean tattoos and raw jaws. The officers wear black ties.

The lads are waiting for us in the chapel. There are colours, pamphlets, and wood: a sanctuary.

Humphrey’s unstoppable in any situation. He serenades them, vamping riffs of echoing flatulence and eddying rivers, wins smiles and nervous claps. They’re unsure what is permitted.

“So, I’m going to get you some writers, like Marcus here. We want poems mainly, but also sketches, monologues, songs. They tell me you’ve got a band. Who’s in the band?”

And, of course, they seize upon it. Hunger is one of the default settings in prison.

I went back four times. We started with limericks and acrostics. Nearly caught me out one time when, relaxing back into teacher mode, I leant against a wall.

“Hey, mate, move a bit to your left, would you?”

Had I not looked first, I would have set off the alarm.

“Nice one, Pete.”

Made sense somehow, to acknowledge the ruse.

Hidden, heart-felt verses emerged from worm-wood. The band urged officers for more practice time. Having to read stuff out at Humphrey’s showcase gig terrified them. It was sponsored by a firm of solicitors. VIPs from the Arts Council attended. The lads insisted I do my Unequal Opportunities piece.

“Any idea what that bloke Marcus is in for?” was asked, over the chaplain’s tea and biscuits, Humphrey told me, after.

To me it’s simple. Fail to educate when they’re inside and they’ll be back. End of argument.

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