I’d had a pretty good idea that this time I wasn’t going to be granted bail from the start. Everything from the past 16 months had been building to this point, and now it had all come crashing down around my ears. In some ways I was resigned to my fate. In actual fact, I had not been living for the past few months, rather going through the motions and waiting for whatever was going to happen. I was tired, disenfranchised, and sick of the daily drudge of dealing with utter cunts who had no thought for anyone else but themselves. I’d been pushed and pulled from pillar to post, attacked on all sides – everyone wanted a piece of me; I had been pursued by clients who wanted the best product for the best price, hangers on who wanted drugs for free, suppliers who wanted me to move huge volumes of gear for the highest profit they could extract, not to mention the Police who were constantly hovering like scavengers around a rubbish tip, persistently harassing me, eager to catch me out and prove to the world that they were winning the ‘war on drugs’. All of the above were quite capable of exacting violence, verbal and physical abuse if they didn’t get their own way, as I’d often discovered, to my own detriment. I’d so far lost five teeth, been gang raped at gunpoint, had a knife held to my throat at more than one occasion, and was living in an environment where I would constantly have to think about safeguarding my possessions, least they be pilfered by my so called friends. I had been trying desperately to pull myself out of this downwards spiral, but the harder I tried, the deeper I sank, so now, as I sat on the stairs outside my apartment waiting for the police to sift through the contents of my life, I could almost feel a sense of relief wash over me that the game was finally over. I was horrified at the idea of going to prison, and petrified at the thought of what would happen to me once there, but at least it would give me an escape from the constant demands from all sides that I was fielding on a daily basis. I was tired of everything! I’d given up the daily grind of even the most basic tasks such as shopping or cleaning, and had recognised that I no longer even bothered to take any pride in my own appearance, something I had been particularly vain about in the past.
Physically, I was also in pain – my feet were so red and sore that I could hardly even walk on them, my back ached, I had severe stomach cramps and a constant headache from lack of sleep. Every time the phone rang or there was a knock on the door, a feeling of dread flooded over me. Where once I had been extremely vivacious and outgoing, I now wanted to hide away from the world. I had grown sick of constantly entertaining people who lied to me and stole from me on a daily basis, sick of trying to conceal the bruises and cuts I sustained whenever my suppliers came and realised I hadn’t sold as many drugs as they wanted. I had got myself into a situation where I could not escape, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t leave the country, as the police had my passport, although even that had long since expired by now. I couldn’t even leave the area, as I was on bail and although my tag had been removed just prior to Christmas, I was still on a door stop curfew, which meant that the police could arrive at any time during the evening and if I was not behind my door, I would be subject to breach of bail conditions, and bail would immediately be revoked. I had tried to move house three times, and on each attempt, I had been found and severely dealt with by my suppliers. Hell, even the loathsome clients I had hoped to lose in the move, by omitting to inform them of my new address and deleting them from my phone, had somehow managed to find me, and I now faced a torrent of abuse from them at excluding them from my circle on influence. Something had to give!
I was resigned to the outcome before it was even confirmed. After the somewhat short, but now rather familiar ride to Holborn in the back of the police van and the inevitable procedure that followed, I once again found myself locked away in the bleak metropolitan police lock-up overnight, awaiting Saturday morning court. Again I'd been provided with a poor people's solicitor, as I'd kicked my incredibly expensive, incredibly corrupt and incredibly ineffectual one to the curb, so would have to start the entire procedure all over again. The fellow who served me this time was a youngish looking black guy with a shock of dreadlocks, but frankly it didn't matter what he looked like, or even in fact whether he was there or not, because the advice had been the same – no comment to everything, and by now I could have handled that on my own. I wasn't frightened at all about the procedure, having been through everything on numerous occasions over the past six months. I was however, mortified at the thought of prison; how I would cope with it, what they would do to me in there, and whether I would even make it out alive! One hears stories from others about what goes on, but generally those who have been inside and really know, don't like to talk too much about it, and anyway, to date, I only knew one other person who had been incarcerated before. Jay, my drug dealer, had changed the subject whenever it had been brought up in the past, so I was completely flying blind, not knowing what to expect, and I suspected that many of the tales I had heard in the past had in fact been either bragging or old wives tales. Either way, I was about to find out!
Next day in court played out exactly as I'd expected, and frankly was a complete blur, so overcome with worry was I at the prospect of years behind bars, and in fact almost the only words I managed to remember from the entire hearing was the Judge saying that as this was a second offence, committed whilst on bail, I would be looking at years, rather than months. By 2pm I was again handcuffed and bundled into the 'sweatbox', the name they use to refer to the armoured vans used by Serco and G4S to transport prisoners to and from facilities across the country. So named because each prisoner is detained in a 60cm x 60cm square aluminium cubicle with a hard seat, and no air circulation so as I was to find out on numerous occasions throughout my ordeal, you would soon be sweating like an animal, no matter what time of year it was, on any journey over about quarter of an hour in length. Fortunately the distance to HMP Pentonville was less than five minutes around the corner from Highbury Corner Court where I was remanded, but what I was spared in travel distance, I made up for in worry and anxiety at what was to come, so by the time I arrived the result was the same.
One by one we were led into a bare, grey, gloss painted room with graffiti etched into its walls, dust and grime all over everything, and an old analogue TV mounted on a precarious bracket in the corner, which had obviously not been operable for a good many moons! I know all this because I used the time sitting there to studiously avoid the looks from any of the other inmates lined up along the wall beside me awaiting a similar fate, unsure what the protocol was, and frankly unwilling to find out. About the only person I can recall was an uber-tall black guy, clad in shiny blue disco trousers, Doc Martens and a full length fur coat, who paced endlessly up and down in front of the wall of reinforced glass windows which looked out into an equally dirty, dull and depressing hallway where we were spasmodically being called from and led down, further into the depths of the prison bowels.
Finally it was my turn to be led away down the corridor to a steel covered desk where all my personal belongings were upended from my bag and displayed for the three prison officers in attendance to see.
'Oh look! Everything matches!' one cried out in amazement. I failed to see the relevance. Obviously the police had already removed anything of interest, including the drugs I'd had packaged ready for delivery to a couple of clients on my way to lunch with friends, my mobile phones which I had expected, but I noted with alarm that my wallet was missing too, in fact all that was left were my keys - two sets, my cigarette case, and sunglasses case, all Louis Vuitton, and my SJ Du Pont Gold lighter, along with my Cartier Tank watch, so yes, I guess they did match. These of course were all prohibited items and were therefore going to be sent away to the prison storage facility, and my cigarettes were also not allowed as the packet was already open, so they disappeared as well. Next I was moved into an open fronted cubicle and asked to surrender my clothing one item at a time, which was shaken out and the pockets checked before being handed back to me.
'Drop your underwear and give em a flick' one of them instructed while the rest looked on. If I was ever under any doubt that my freedom and basic civil liberties had been rescinded, after this exercise I was now under no illusion. Obviously I'd not been shy in dropping my pants in front of a crowd of similarly sexually charged boys continuously over the past twelve months at any of the countless naked, drug-fueled sex orgies I'd conducted in my flat in my intoxicated state, but now, stone cold sober, having to do it to order was a far different kettle of fish. Humiliated doesn't even begin to describe how I felt, but I supposed I would have to get used to this treatment from now on. Next they assigned me a bundle of prison issue grey tracksuits, polyester socks and oversized cotton boxer shorts, and I was herded into another holding room, reunited with all the others who had been processed before me, and handed a microwaved box of cardboard chilli and rice – By then the clock on the wall showed that it was 4pm so I guessed this was dinner!
After a short wait, I was called again, and escorted through to see the nurse, where another raft of questions ensued – the same old police routine regurgitated.
'Are you on any medication?'
Do you have a history of depression, anxiety, or mental health issues?'
'Have you ever had any thoughts of suicide?'
These had already been answered, and frankly were totally superfluous, apart from the first one, but even that didn't matter because I soon learned I would not be allowed them anyway. I had begged the police to retrieve my false teeth, but this had been met with mirth. I'd recently spent a considerable sum of money in finally having mine overhauled after many years without dental attention, and whilst waiting for the gums to settle sufficiently to enable implants and porcelain caps to be fitted, they had provided me with dentures as I only had six teeth left on the top and eight on the bottom. I also had tablets for the ongoing problems with my throat, where I had been due to meet the consultant in two days time for a biopsy for suspected throat cancer, so this was of grave concern, but I was quickly told they could not provide the medication, and I would not be keeping the appointment.
Although I wasn't unwilling to admit it at the time, I was already suffering from depression and anxiety, not helped by this situation, but of course having heard stories of inmates being sedated and isolated in custody to deal with these 'issues' there was no way I would have subjected myself to that, and yes, I had absolutely contemplated suicide over the past few months, and at this present moment I certainly couldn't rule it out, but I'd be damned if I would tell them that either – If I was going to do it, I would make sure I did it well and succeeded – If I was going to do it, I didn't need them to try and 'save' me!
I also had another problem – I was due at the Coroners Court for the hearing for the guy who had died in my sitting room some months earlier, presumably of a GBL overdose. I'd been summoned as a witness obviously, and was told It was imperative that I attended. This was not going to happen now either, as the hearing was tomorrow, and apparently according to Prison protocol, they can't schedule outside appointments where the prisoner knows in advance, in case they attempt to gain assistance in breaking out along the way. This was particularly laughable, as since the time of my arrest, I had not been allowed to talk to anyone on the phone, so no-one knew where I was, let alone that I would be en route from HMP Pentonville to the Coroners Court. Still, I reasoned, what were they going to do if I didn't show up? Arrest me?
I advised the nurse of all my other health issues, and was told not to worry, they would take care of it all, then they ushered me through to another room where an enormous black man in another grime ridden, gloss painted, steel clad 'office' asked me if I smoked and gave me half an ounce of tobacco, a lighter and a pack of rizla papers. What was I supposed to do with that? I had never rolled a cigarette in my entire life! Not having ever been a pot smoker, I didn't even know how to roll a joint! I normally only ever smoked Cartier or Davidoff cigarettes, and usually once a week I would take myself off to the tobacconist in the basement at Selfridges and stock up on them as well as my weekly pack of Davidoff cigarillos. I could also get new flints and gas for my Du Pont lighter at the same time. I detested roll-ups, and thought the habit vulgar and common, but at the time I was so nervous and worried about everything, that I needed tobacco to take my mind off everything around me. I settled down to teach myself to roll, managing to spill most of the tobacco over the desk and floor, but it kept me busy for half an hour.
Finally one by one they escorted us to cells on A wing, which was daunting to say the least, although I shouldn't have been too surprised as in reality when I thought about it, it looked exactly as the images I'd seen in the newspaper or on television, every time a prison story had been reported in the past five years. The cells themselves however were a different story. The door clanged open and I was deposited in a room about 10 ft long by 8ft wide, with a set of bunks along one wall and two small desk-like tables along the other, followed by a wall about 4ft high which screened the toilet and hand basin – well, I say screened... It may have stopped anyone who looked in through the narrow glass observation panel in the door from watching you while you took a shit, but there was no privacy from the fellow on the top bunk should he choose to look!
My cellmate was a black guy of about 60, from Jamaica, although he had lived in Britain for almost his entire life. He was quick to regale me with stories of his conviction. He was a heroin dealer, but had not been arrested for drugs. Instead he'd had a client who hadn't paid, so he and a couple of mates had been driving over to this fellows house to “cut 'im up wit da machete, mun,”
when the police had stopped them for speeding, searched the car and found the machete, hidden in his shirt down his back, so he had been charged with holding a prohibited weapon, and sentenced to 28 days prison. He reckoned he'd had a lucky escape, although he was worried about his stash. Evidently he was also a carpenter by trade, and had been renovating a clients kitchen, so had concealed some £50k worth of gear under the floorboards of the house whilst he worked there, however now he had been away for three weeks and had not found anyone he could trust to go back to the premises and collect it. I envied him. If this was the worst of his problems, he was in a far better place than me!
Actually he wasn't as bad as I'd first thought. He soon gave me a running commentary on how things were run here, what the routine was and what to expect regarding food, hygiene and lock-up times, which was lucky really, because apart from dumping me in the cell with a complete stranger who could have been an axe murderer for all I knew – and almost was, the Prison officers hadn't told me any of this. I learnt that there were manual jobs available where you could earn money, and education courses which also entitled you to a payment, although neither was going to make you rich, in fact it was barely enough to pay for an ounce of tobacco a week, and the way I was wasting it due to my lack of rolling skills, I would need at least two! He showed me a copy of the education course list and most of it appeared to be fairly basic English and maths, but that was really the least of my problems. They had given me a phone pin, and told me that if I needed to ring anyone, I would have to do it that afternoon before I'd been locked up, but the only phone available was in the holding room where we had eaten our dinner, and it hadn't been working, so by now it was Saturday night, and no-one knew where I was. I needed to get hold of Tom, and organise for him to go and collect all my belongings, as currently I wasn't even sure that my flat was locked.
By 5.30pm we were ‘banged up’ for the night. My cellmate asked if I minded if he prayed on the floor in front of the toilets. It was the only area big enough to lay out his prayer mat. Frankly, compared to what I'd imagined might happen to me in here, praying was a relief. By 10pm he was finished and soon fell asleep on the top bunk, but I knew that it would be many hours before I could even contemplate retiring, so I sat down with a couple of pieces of scrap paper, and started to make a list of all the contents of the flat. Next, I made another one of all the people who owed me money, and then rearranged them in order of how likely I was to get it out of them. I knew that most of the people that I'd been dealing with had been low-life scum, and had refused credit to them, but there were a handful who I had rightly or wrongly called friends, and now that I was in here without the benefit of being able to prepare for it, I would have to rely on these people to pay up in order to survive! I then made another list of all the contents of the storage shed I'd been renting around the corner in St John's Wood. If I was brutally honest with myself, I would have to make plans to have all these arrangements wound up, and someone would have to dispose of all the excess assets I had lying around the district because it looked like I was going to be here for quite some time. Giving myself something to do kept my mind off the horror of where I was, and what might become of me – I seemed to be in a bit of a daze at the time, and couldn't quite believe what had happened. Eventually I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, and fell into a troubled sleep.
I woke with a start at 9am as the cell door clanged open. Mr B, My cellmate was off to church. I would have gone too, if only to get out of the hideous cell for an hour or so, but as I wasn't on the list, I wasn't allowed. Evidently the pastor would be around to talk to me later in the week, and I could put my name down if I decided to go next week. Left again to my own devices, I spent the morning revising my lists and making others, this time of names of possible people I might ask to help me out with the ever growing number of chores to be carried out in the coming weeks. This was all well and good, but not having had access to the telephone anyway, I would have to wait until my numbers had been added to my pin, and God only knew how long that would take.
Mr B arrived back at around 11.30am, and then half an hour later we were unlocked for lunch – just enough time to walk down to the servery, line up while our orders were read out, collect it and walk back to the cell. As I had only just arrived, I was on default so got what they had spare.. Lunch was a fry up, and not exactly a culinary delight, but certainly better than I had thought it would be. Maybe things wouldn't be as difficult in here as I thought. After lunch as we were locked up all afternoon, My thoughts turned to washing. I hadn't had a shower since midday Friday, and by the looks of it, I would be waiting a while longer! My B had said that they usually opened the shower room for an hour or so every second day, and two landings would have to jockey to get a spot, but on weekends it was never open. He had quite openly told me that he had given up, and would have a shower when he got home a week later, as it was too difficult to manage in here. I had been used to a shower at least once a day, quite often twice, so I was damn sure I wasn't going to wait until I got out of here – that could be months, or even years away! I'd been in the same clothes for two days continuously too, so as much as I hated the idea of my prison issue garb, and in the absence of a shower, I decided I would at least feel a little fresher in a clean tracksuit and underwear. I probably looked horrendous, I couldn't tell because there was no mirror, but then I reasoned, there had been no one in here so far worth looking pretty for!
We didn't have a television either. My predecessor had sold it to another inmate for a bag of 'spice'. My B. had asked the officers repeatedly for another one, but apparently the answer had been the same on each occasion,
'Not our problem, there are none spare, you'll have to wait until you're moved to another wing.' So far Mr B had been on this wing for the past three weeks, and it looked like he would be here until he was discharged a week later, and it also looked like there would be no television for the foreseeable future.
Monday morning dawned and I awoke early, keen to get things sorted and find out what was in store for me over the coming weeks and months. 'Mr B' had a maths class scheduled for the morning, however as yet, I had no idea about my day. Eight o'clock struck and a deafening siren rang out across the wing, followed by someone screaming out 'free-flow'. Apparently the doors were open for 20 minutes or so to enable inmates to travel from their cells to their places of work or education. Mr B was off, and I was left standing in the doorway, with no idea what to do. Before long an officer came along and handed me a strip of paper. I was to see the sexual health nurse. Evidently they wanted to take some blood tests and screen me for Hep B. I had already told them I had been inoculated for hep A and B, but that didn't seem to matter. I had no idea where to go but that didn't matter either.
'Down the end of the landing, turn left' He bellowed at me, looking at me as if I was demented. I followed his advice and knocked on the door, and waited.
'What the hell are you doing hanging around here?' another one demanded. Evidently I was just supposed to open the door and go straight in. Who knew? I was at my wits end, in a complete fog. Everything looked the same. For the next few weeks there would always be someone bellowing, whenever I was out of my cell, but I was soon to work out, disgusting as it was, that the best option seemed to be just not venture out for anything apart from the bare necessities. Once inside the sexual health clinic they were much friendlier, The nurse told me to sit down while she prepared everything, then fastened a tourniquet, pulled out a needle and tried, without success to find a vein. I must confess, my arms had seen better days, but I had become so used to self medicating by now that I could normally hit a vein within 3,5 seconds, in fact, after about four failed attempts, I volunteered to find it for her, but of course that was not allowed. Eventually they decided to get me back later in the week when the doctor was in, and try again with him, so I was allowed to go.
Just then another siren went off, sounding a bit like those blasts you hear on movies when submarines are in trouble, and the word 'lock-down' blared across the loud speakers. Again I had no idea what was happening, but the nurse was quick to point out that I would now need to stay here until a full head count had been done, as there was either someone missing, or there was an 'incident' somewhere on the wing. She made me a cup of coffee, and we sat chatting about what I had been doing on the outside. Not the drug fucked orgies of course, but the writing and film stuff, and she was fascinated, only stopping to ask
'What on earth are you doing in here?' This was a question I would ask myself numerous times over the coming months, and only served at this point to illustrate how incredibly stupid and foolhardy I had been! After about half an hour, an officer came running into the clinic, before yelling,