Monday, 11 April 2016

56 Days


It was Thursday morning. I looked over to the alarm clock - 9:45 am - and I was still in bed. I had a doctors appointment at 10:20 am but was waiting for the last possible moment to get out of bed. I'd been off work for just over a month yet maintained the routine of waking up at 7 am each day. Today I allowed myself a lay-in. The previous two and half years had unquestionably been the worst of my life, but, for the first time in an age I awoke with unbridled enthusiasm, optimism and hope.

Three days earlier - Monday - I'd attended a family court hearing - the seventh court appearance I'd made in the previous two years. I'd felt nervous before-hand; the best I could hope for was to retain legal responsibility of my children and secure equal access rights. The worst: to lose my parental responsibility and with it all contact with my children for the foreseeable future. All outcomes were possible and I was acutely aware of that in the weeks leading up to the hearing. The day of the hearing was intense and exhausting. My ability to be a parent, my character and my mental health had all been called in to question - along with numerous other hurtful allegations. Representing myself was a challenge and defending myself was emotionally and mentally draining. Thankfully, it was decided that the children should continue to stay with me each weekend - at least until the final Family Court hearing some four months later. As an added bonus it was decided that my children could spend Christmas with me for the first time in three years. Under the circumstances it was a good outcome.

Two days earlier - Tuesday - I received a letter confirming I'd been awarded compensation for a mis-sold financial product I'd purchased over 11 years ago. An application I made over a year ago had unexpectedly bore fruit and the timing could not have been better. For almost three years it had been a constant struggle; financially. Despite a reasonably good income, the cost of living alone, paying a huge amount in child maintenance and paying to clothe, feed and entertain my children each weekend had taken it's toll. My children never wanted for anything, but on a personal level I had lost over two stone in weight. No new clothes in three years, no nights out with friends or socialising, no car, no TV, no mobile phone. Since the end of 2012 I'd slipped from being an affluent father of two, to being a single parent living well below the poverty line. Despite my austerity measures the debt still grew each month and was beginning to reach a level that was starting to cause genuine concern.

The compensation meant I could clear all debt accrued over the previous three years. I'd still have money left over to improve my living conditions and treat the children. It also meant that I would be able to continue to adequately provide a home for them too - it made me a more credible proposition for shared parenting. It felt like an incredible weight had been lifted.


The day before - Wednesday - felt like the start of a new era. I also scheduled appointments to attend my daughters parents evening, meet with the Citizens Advice Bureau and meet with my solicitor - to prepare for the next child custody hearing. Finally, it felt like things were moving in the right direction.

As I idled in bed I reflected on how well things were going. Realistically I could return to work in seven days with a relatively clear mind. I could return to a normal life and get back to being a father. A thud at the window and a deep booming voice shook me from my joyful introspection..

"Julian.. Julian. Can you open up please?"

I leapt from my bed and looked at the video screen of the intercom. I could see two policemen outside. Instantly I felt my skin tingle and my heart rate quicken. My last encounter with the police had not been a pleasant one - I'd spent over 18 hours in solitary confinement. Despite being released relatively unscathed the episode had shook me considerably. The sight of two policeman at my door conjured up flashbacks of the isolation, the fear and the sense of helplessness I had felt less than a month before. I froze.

"Julian, open up, we know you're in there."


I opened the door and pushed the button to unlock the front door of the apartment block. The two policemen strode in and asked if we could go inside for a chat. My mouth was dry, I couldn't find my voice for what seemed like an eternity. When I did it took the form of a nervous, barely audible verbal fart.

"Yes...yes...errr...you're not here to arrest me again are you?" I nervously half-joked.

The policeman looked at me with what looked like a mixture of pity and disgust. "Yes Julian, I think that's probably going to be the likely outcome."

My heart sank and my mind raced. Why on earth was I being arrested? There had been no incidents of note since I had been released from police custody in mid-September.

"W-w-what for?" I stammered. "Breaking a Court Order" the policeman replied.

Surely there had been some sort of mistake? I rapidly delivered a summary of the last few months. I explained that I'd already been arrested and found not guilty of these allegations just a few weeks prior.

They went on to tell me the date of the alleged incident, I quickly counted back the days in my head...

"That's impossible!" I said, as the prospect of this being just a misunderstanding suddenly looked completely plausible. On the date in question - Monday - both me and my former partner had been in court all day. Again I pleaded "There must be some sort of mistake, I haven't done anything wrong."

The second policeman began to flesh-out the allegation with details. It dawned on me that the event he was describing bore similarities with an incident that had in fact happened on the previous Friday. This incident I was aware of, however, the version being paraphrased to me now was a long way from the version I remembered, in this alternative version I was quite clearly being typecast as the villain. I said that I remembered the incident but it had not happened like that at all.

Immediately I was read my rights. I was told I'd be going to the police station for a few more questions. I felt the blood drain from my face and my palms clam up. Recounting my previous ordeal in custody I asked if I could get dressed properly and collect a few things. Under supervision I nervously threw on some clothes, grabbed my wallet, my phone and my house key. As I picked up my wallet I thought back to the compensation I'd just received - still untouched - and now tantalisingly out of reach. I grabbed a few coins from the jar that looked like pounds and left the house with what turned out to be £5. I was spared the indignity of handcuffs as I was escorted to the police car - I'd presented myself with no resistance. The almost apologetic nature of the arresting officers gave me a fleeting sense of security. One that would prove to be short lived. As I got in to the back of the police car I reassured myself. It will be OK.. just answer a few questions and you'll be home in a few hours.


Most of the way to the police station I gazed vacantly out of the window as the rest of the world carried on as normal. I tried to focus all of my energies on staying calm but my thoughts kept drifting to my children, they were due to arrive at my place the following evening. As always, I just wanted to hug them. The successful court hearing just a few days before made that even stronger than usual. Now on my way to a police station the longing for their hugs was stronger than ever. The journey must have taken about twenty minutes, I was then escorted from the police car to the same holding cell I'd graced just a few weeks earlier. I hoped I'd never see the place again, I couldn't believe I was seeing it again so soon. My over-riding emotion was disbelief. Thirty minutes earlier things had been almost perfect - now I was under arrest for the second time in a month.

Unfortunately I was all too aware of the process that was to follow. I felt like a passenger as I was read my rights for a second time, then searched, then relieved of all of my possessions before being told I would be held in a cell until they were ready to interview me. On my previous arrest I'd waited for 12 hours before requesting a solicitor. I'd foolishly thought that the truth alone would be enough. I didn't want to make the same mistake again. I asked for a solicitor and a phone call before being led through to 'my' cell. The officer allowed me a short phone call. I called a work colleague but got through to voice mail. I can scarcely recall the content of the message I left. Little did I know, that would prove to be my last phone call for a long, long time.

The rectangular cell had a raised bed-shaped platform in one corner and a small alcove with a "toilet" in the other. The only window was in the ceiling and consisted of sixteen thick cubes of strengthened glass that did their best to keep the light out. As the cell door slammed shut behind me I prepared myself for what I knew might be a long wait. With no phone or watch I can't be sure, but I think the time was approximately 11 am.

There was a small pillow-shaped cushion - no more than two inches thick. I propped it against the wall and tried to find a position that was remotely comfortable. For the first hour I was poised. I expected the door to open at any second and me to be led away for questioning, but each time I heard the jangle of keys approaching they would continue past the cell door. By the end of hour two all poise had gone, I laid foetus-like trying to ignore each second. By the time the cell door eventually opened I had lost all sense of time. As the officer frog-marched me through reception towards an interview room I caught a glance of a clock. It was 15:37 - more than five and a half hours had passed since my arrest.

A professional gentleman in his forties sat at the desk with a clutch of papers laid out on the table in front of him. He ushered me to sit down and began to explain the process of being arrested and questioned and how I would then be charged or released. He detailed precisely the charges that had been made against me and showed me the statements which had been made about the incident. He was professional and matter-of-fact in his delivery. He advised what the likely outcomes would be depending on the pleas of guilty, or not guilty. It became apparent at this stage that either plea could lead to a custodial sentence if the court found me guilty. This would be seen as the second breach of a court order and that is a serious matter. There had been mitigating circumstances to the previous breach - a note sent via text message rather than via email (email being the only media of communication the order allowed). The mitigating circumstances had been acknowledged by the judge at that hearing and that was reflected in his closing statement and verdict. He accepted that I had acted in the best interest of the children but conceded I had broken the order in doing so. The fixed penalty fine was reduced in view of this. Nevertheless, if I was found guilty on this occasion it would count as breach number two - and as my solicitor pointed out that would almost definitely result in a custodial sentence - of anything up to five years.

I walked the solicitor through the events that had happened on the Friday previous. His eyes showed he was somewhat surprised by my level of articulation - both in terms of accuracy and clarity. It felt like my five minute oratory had proved my innocence. My solicitor believed me, however, he was cautious about how likely it was for the police to believe me too. With no material evidence it was essentially my word versus the statements made by two other individuals. Throw in my previous 'conviction' just a few weeks before and the odds appeared to be stacked against me. We ended our conversation and the police officer returned to take me back to the cell. I would be called for police questioning in a few minutes. This time a few minutes was just a few minutes.

In no time at all I was taken from my cell back to the same interview room. I didn't glance at the clock in reception this time. The time was now of no concern to me, the imminent interview and my own desire for release were the only things in my mind. I entered the room, exchanged glances with my solicitor and sat in the seat beside him. Across the table were two female police officers and to the right an audio cassette system that looked more accustomed to home-recording the charts in the 1980's than to an interview of this magnitude with such huge and potentially life-changing consequences.

The officers introduced the process and provided a few instructions. The record-play button was depressed and the questioning commenced. Occasionally my solicitor would interrupt and advise me that I didn't have to answer particular questions. Other than that I answered honestly, confidently and comprehensively. After about an hour the interview ended. If it had been a job interview I think I'd have gotten the job. The police officers left the room and my solicitor congratulated me.

"You did well there Julian, well done," he said, as genuinely as he could. "Thanks," I said, "Do you think they will let me go?"

"We'll just have to see," he said as he pursed his lips, stood up and pressed a buzzer to call back the officer. "Good luck Julian, hopefully see you soon," and with that he left the room. Moments later the officer returned and led me back to my cell.

Again the door slammed shut behind me, this time I thought it wouldn't be long. The police would assess my interview then decide whether to charge me, or to release me. It was roughly 5 pm, if I was released straight away I could be home in time for the arrival of the children for the weekend at 6 pm. On the other hand, if I was charged I might not be going home for a number of weeks or even months. The uncertainty made the wait longer and more agonising. Time passed and I could see through the thick glass bricks that it was now dark outside. Finally the cell door swung open and a female police officer led me from my cell back to reception. It was now 8:30 pm.

When I got to reception things happened in a flash. Before I had time to compose myself I was told that I had been charged on two counts and I would stand trial the following day at the Magistrates Court. Not only that, I would be held in police custody to ensure I did not try to contact anyone who was involved in the incident. I pleaded for this to be reconsidered, all I wanted was to go home and be with my children. My plea fell on deaf ears. I asked if I could make a phone call to let someone know where I was, and that I wouldn't be home. This time I was told no. Again I was led back to my cell and this time when the door slammed shut I knew it was for the night.

I decided the best thing I could do was to sleep. I wrapped myself in the rug I had been provided with, took my glasses off and rested my head on the flimsy pillow. For the next 5 or 6 hours I drifted in and out of a light sleep. Each time I surfaced I hoped I'd wake in my bed, each time I was disappointed. Every now and then I would hear footsteps and the jingle-jangle of keys but they never amounted to anything. The night dragged like no night had ever dragged before.

All of a sudden I heard a heavy clunk and felt a rush of air. I opened my eyes and the dark cell was flooded with electric light, teaming through the open cell door. In the door stood a silhouette, I squinted to adjust my vision but it was no use, without my glasses all I could see was a policeman.

"Smithy?!" said the policeman with a kindness and sincerity that completely took me by surprise. "What the hell are you doing here?" I scrambled for my glasses as the silhouette took a couple of steps towards me, not sure if I was actually awake or not. I wasn't sure if I should pinch myself or be scared, this was all getting a bit too surreal. By the time I'd sat up the policeman was perched on the bed beside me and I could see his face clearly for the first time.

"Martin?! What the hell are you doing here?" I said, disbelieving. Me and Martin had played football together as children and teenagers. We'd always got on well, he was a lovely guy with a calm and pleasant demeanour. My shock at seeing him there was only just surpassed by his of seeing me. We man-hugged and for a brief moment forgot about the setting and circumstances of our chance meeting.

He explained that he was the Chief Constable of the police station and was doing an extra shift as a favour. I explained the sequence of events that had led up to my detention. We reminisced about old times and spoke about our lives since then. We talked about our children and our jobs. For a few fleeting moments it felt normal. He asked if he could get me anything. I said I'd love a cup of tea and something to eat. A few minutes later he left and returned with a cup of tea, a pot noodle and a cereal bar. We shook hands, said our goodbyes and the cell door closed. This time ever-so-slightly less menacingly. I feasted and slurped, it may have been about 4 am but I hadn't eaten all day. I hadn't even felt hungry, but now I senses awoke and my hunger was ravenous. I polished off the lot and laid back down. With a full belly I was soon asleep again.

I awoke with a start as the first flickers of natural light struggled through the thick glass ceiling. I could hear keys jangling and activity outside the cell. I reckoned it was about 7 am, that's the time I usually wake up alarm unassisted. I knew the Magistrate hearings started at 10 am, my trial could be any time from then onwards. There were still a few hours to wait but I was awake now. With the trial now in touching distance there was no chance of a return to sleep. The exact time of my trial depended on how many other people were to be tried that day, and whether mine would be first, second or even last. I could make out at least two other people in the adjacent cells, maybe three or four.

Time slowed down for the next few hours. I played through the trial in my head and tried to imagine what verdict the Magistrates would deliver. It was a constant cycle of fear and reassurance, the reality was I had no idea. I could hear people coming and going outside the cell door but still no one had come for me. The morning passed and the colour of light filtering in to the cell made me think that it was now early afternoon. Was there a problem? Had they forgotten about me? Of course not! The long wait was broken abruptly by a heavy clunk and the opening of the cell door.

I scanned the officer's face for any clues about my impending fate, it was just stern and blank. "The court is ready for you now" he declared and led me from my cell to a waiting area adjacent to the court. In the waiting area sat a member of the Crown Prosecution Service. At this point my detention now passed to them from the police. The CPS officer had heavy tattoo's on both arms and a goatee that had clearly taken quite a while to craft. He pursed his lips and forced an awkward smile as he firstly secured my handcuffs, then secured me to him.

"You'll be going in at any second mate" he said. We had a brief exchange, the contents of which escape me. I was there in person but my mind was all over the place. I was scared but took some comfort in the fact that whatever the outcome, at least I would know it soon.

The officer led me in to the same courtroom I had been in several weeks earlier. He unlocked my handcuffs and sat me behind the perspex screen that separated me and him from the main court room. On the far side of the room sat the prosecuting solicitor, on the near side sat my defence. Behind them were several other people, presumably people in training I thought. At the front of the court were three empty seats. At the back of the room was a heavy wooden door. The door swung open and in walked the Magistrates - three regal looking women who must have been in their 50's or 60's. As they walked through the room everyone stood, as they reached their seats they nodded and signalled that everyone could now sit down.

I was asked to stand and step forward to the microphone set in the perspex screen. I was asked to confirm my name, address and date of birth which I did with a couple of barely audible verbal nods. I retired to my seat in preparation for the trial to begin.

The prosecution read out the charges and delivered a scathing summary of my character. With each passing word I felt worse. The person they were describing wasn't me. All I wanted was the opportunity to defend myself. I thought of all the people I knew outside the court room and wished any one of them could be there to defend me. My hopes were in vain. By the time the prosecution had finished I had almost been convinced of my own guilt. I didn't dare guess what the Magistrates must be thinking.

My solicitor rose and addressed the court. For about ten minutes he spoke calmly and articulately in my defence. He pointed out that other than the current dealings I had lived my life as a law-abiding citizen. He spoke of my love for my children, and the fact that I had worked for the same company for the last fifteen years. With regards to the incident in question he suggested that the CCTV should be able to prove without doubt the events that took place on that fateful Friday. The Magistrates agreed and adjourned the trial until such point the footage could be viewed. The next date available in the court calendar was November 28th - almost two months away. I felt my spirits lift. I knew the footage would exonerate me and assumed I would be released on bail until that date. That assumption was quickly stamped out.

The prosecution requested that I be remanded in custody until that date as there was a risk I would try to contact the two witnesses. The truth was I had no intention of doing that - I just wanted to go home. That wasn't going to happen though.. The Magistrate upheld the prosecution's request and declared that I would be remanded in custody until November 28th. Following that I would then face trial in the very same court. My mouth dried up and my head felt light, the voices in the court room faded in to the background. I was devastated. I counted up the days until the next trial date....56...I was going to be locked up for the next 56 days. I couldn't believe it. The court room emptied, the guard ushered me from the dock to the cell. As we left the court room he turned to me and said "You were unlucky there mate." His words were of little consolation to me, I was numb and vacant.

Back in my cell there was a prison officer waiting to greet me. This officer had a friendly face and as I entered the room he asked me if I was OK. I informed him that I really wasn't OK at all. I told him I was scared and that I hadn't done anything wrong. In hindsight he probably hears that kind of thing every day.. no one is ever guilty.

"Of course, you're upset, that's normal" he said; clearly he was trained in the art of counselling distressed prisoners.

"I've done nothing wrong, this isn't fair" I exclaimed. "Am I going to be locked up here for the next 56 days?" I naively enquired. "Noooo!" he said, "You won't stay here!" He seemed amused by my naivety. "You'll be staying at Woodhill."

"Woodhill?" I queried. "Yes, it's a prison in Milton Keynes. You'll feel much better once you're settled there."


Up until that point the concept of prison hadn't really occurred to me. It was now almost 36 hours since my arrest but it felt like much, much longer. For the majority of that time I had tried to remain positive, anticipating a release at any moment. I didn't dare consider being detained. Stupidly I thought I would be held in the police station for 56 days. In hindsight that was a silly thing to think. In hindsight I wished I had stayed at the police station.

I was held in the cell until what turned out to be 7:00 pm, at that point the same officer returned to my cell, handcuffed me and led me to an armoured police van. I'd seen vans like this before; often with convicted criminals being ushered in with blankets over their heads to protect their identities. A small part of me was genuinely intrigued to see the inside of one of these vehicles. A larger part of me was simply scared.


The van was lined with five mini-cells. At the front was one 'open' seat accompanied by a desk. On the desk sat a laptop and several phones - this was clearly the officers seat. Me and four other prisoners were placed in the cells. Once in the cell I couldn't see anyone else. There was a small triple-glazed window to my right that allowed me to see out, but prevented anyone from seeing in. Through the darkened glass I could see that the sun was setting. I gazed at the sunset for the entire journey deliberately trying to empty my mind of all thoughts. The armoured van arrived at HMP Woodhill shortly after 8 pm and began a mammoth sequence of security checks in order to access the maximum security facility.

My possessions had been transferred to the prison from the police station. The prison officer documented these again and asked me to sign. I was led to a room for a health check - my height, my weight, any allergies and such like. I then received a full-body strip-search; the officer made sure I was not concealing any thing on (or in) my person. Next I was issued with prison clothes - a bluish grey jogging suit; my bed linen, a plastic bowl and some plastic cutlery. A photo was taken and I was issued with my ID card, complete with mugshot and prison number. The officer told me to keep it safe, he also explained that if ever went to prison again I would retain the same number. Finally I was asked if I smoked. I explained that I did and I hadn't had a cigarette for almost two days. The officer chucked me a smokers pack - a small pouch of cheap tobacco, some papers and a lighter.

"You came with a fiver didn't you Smith? Well, we'll take for the smokers pack."

I thought back to two days earlier when I had grabbed five pounds before leaving my apartment. Stroke of luck I thought... I was led from the prison reception to an area they called the Induction Centre. By now I had retained my composure and the reality of what was in front of me loomed large.

The Induction Centre was a cosy looking room, a large flat screen television hung on the far wall. The room had four rows of comfy red chairs, on the last but one row sat two prisoners in green t-shirts. The prison officer explained to me that these two men were listeners - long-serving prisoners with a wealth of experience to pass on to new inmates like me. If I ever needed someone to talk to, or I had problems I couldn't deal with on my own - the listeners should be my first port of call. As we stood in the doorway the listeners glanced up, nodded, then flicked their eyes back to the television screen on the wall. It was a wildlife show and they seemed overly absorbed.

The officer left and closed the cell door behind him, had it not been for the railings at the back of the room it could have been any room in a leisure centre, university or library. I sat down in the same row as the listeners. We exchanged pleasantries. They told me their names - Jack and Kirky; their crimes, and how long they had been inside. I told them my name and my alleged crime. They looked somewhat disappointed. They asked me if I had been to prison before, I explained I hadn't but I didn't really need to, it was abundantly clear that I was uncomfortable. They did their best to give me an overview of what to expect and reassure me. They explained that a prison officer is known as a 'screw'; your cell is your 'pad', a smoke is a 'burn' and a few other useful phrases.

"Great seeing a proper telly ennit Kirky?"

"Yeah mate, quality."

I looked at the television on the wall, it wasn't particularly impressive... smaller than you would see in most homes across the country. For about 15 minutes we watched the wildlife programme, occasionally one of them would offer up a witty remark, the other would chuckle back. I found myself joining in, even though I didn't find anything even remotely funny. Soon enough the screw returned.

The screw led us from the Induction Centre to Wing 1B. As he locked the gates behind us I took a deep breath and gazed at the imposing scene ahead. This place would be the place I called home for the next eight weeks — or maybe more. The wing was triangular; windows spanned from floor to ceiling on the near wall. The other two walls were lined with four floors of twenty-or-so bluish-grey metal doors. Each floor was connected by a wiry, grey metal staircase. A couple of pool tables in the far corner were the only glimmer of humanity. The dim lighting did nothing to disguise the fact that the place was dull and lifeless anyway. It was a menacing sight.

We climbed to the second floor and came to a halt outside cell 2-10 B. Two heavy clunks, the door opened and I was ushered in. Almost immediately the cell door slammed shut behind me, and the same two heavy clunks signalled the end of my induction. That would be the last contact with the outside world until morning — other than the occasional eye at the window of the cell door, peering in every few hours to ensure inmates were alive and unharmed. For now the metal shutter was closed making it impossible to see in, or out.

The cell measured twelve feet by six. To the right, a green curtain attempted to conceal a scabby toilet and sink. To the left; two wooden boxes, on one perched a portable TV. At the back of the cell was a small window with bars, beneath it a concrete ledge. A rickety set of bunk beds occupied half of the floor space. The top bunk was empty and presumably mine. On the bottom bunk lay a guy who looked roughly the same age as me. He was white, heavy-set, with brown hair and a scruff of brown stubble. My entrance seemed to shake him from his trance and as I stooped to catch his eye, he was already rising to his feet. He stood a couple of inches shorter than me, but much broader. He saw I was no threat and offered no threat of his own. He looked pleased to have company.

"Igor," he stated firmly and offered his hand. His accent sounded Russian or Slavic.

"Julian," I said, as I planted a firm handshake.

Neither of us raised a full smile, but there was enough warmth and honesty in our greeting to allay any immediate fears of murder or brutal ass-rape.

Igor's English was good, he told me he was thirty-one (four years my younger) from Lithuania, but born in Russia. He lived in a town in the UK I knew well. He'd arrived earlier that day and this was his second time in prison; indeed his second time at Woodhill. His sentence on the previous occasion had been four months, this time he was also sentenced to four months, however, with good behaviour he hoped to be released after only two. Our initial exchange was reassuring. Igor was not a violent criminal, he seemed like a nice guy and he seemed a lot more comfortable in the present environment than I did.

Igor opened his pouch of tobacco, rolled a cigarette and perched on the ledge next to the window. I rolled a cigarette too. He asked me who I was, and why I was here.

I explained I hadn't been sentenced yet, I was on remand and my trial was still 56 days away.

"Je-e-sus!" he gasped, raising his mono-brow in disbelief. "What did you do? Are you terrorist?"

His question made me smile. Did he really think I was a terrorist? My grin vanished almost immediately when I realised he wasn't smiling back.

"No, no of course not!" I said, but Igor had already produced a pocket-sized Bible and was thrusting it in the air.

"I am Christian," he declared — with a pronounced rolling of the 'r'.

I assured him of my own Christian upbringing, then gave a brief overview of my arrest a month earlier, and the events that had led me to be sharing his cell. I told him about the adjournment of the trial and how I'd been refused bail. His look showed signs of sympathy. He told me he knew of two other inmates who had been in Woodhill for precisely the same thing. He told me I should have pleaded guilty. He reasoned I'd have got an eight week sentence — like the two guys he knew. That would mean 'just' four weeks in prison. By pleading not guilty I'd made things worse. I'd have to spend eight weeks in prison awaiting trial and possibly a lot longer if found guilty.

I thought back to the family court hearing a few days earlier. I'd waited so long for a Christmas with my children, now I could miss it. I could also miss the final family court hearing in early January, with it my parental responsibility and access to see my children. Things really couldn't get much worse...

I finished my cigarette and tossed the butt out of the window. Igor looked at me with disgust.

"Don't throw it out there," he scolded. "Throw it in here" — he shook a yoghurt pot with a dozen butts in it in my face. "You'll need them later."


As I would learn, Igor had good reason to think I might be a terror suspect. He explained that 56 days was the longest period anyone could be detained without trial in this country. Recent anti-terror legislation had increased this from the previous limit of 28 days. He told me that Woodhill catered for prisoners of all categories. He and I were category B, our wing housed about 75 other category B and C inmates. He pointed at the cell window, to a heavily secured block less than 50 yards away.

"That's A block," he said, "also known as the lifers' block."

He named two of the countries most notorious criminals and scanned my face for recognition. The first, one of the men responsible for one of the most shocking and gruesome murders in recent history. The second, a man famed more for his string of violence in prison, than his crimes outside it. Their proximity reinforced the gravity of the situation I was in. All that separated us, from them, was a couple of walls, two electric fences, several metres of razor wire, and a handful of armed guards accompanied by the most fearsome and aggressive dogs I have ever seen and heard in my life. In the eyes of the law I was a serious criminal and I was going to be treated as such.


Igor's impromptu induction was far more enlightening then the official one. Besides, the chat was making things seem almost normal. Next, he ran through the prisoners' daily timetable. It didn't take him long! The cell doors would be opened at 8 am for thirty minutes. During this time we could have a shower. We could also speak to the guards — to ask for razorblades, or replacement kit. If we wanted anything we would have to document it on the appropriate application form. These applications should be placed in the boxes on the ground floor. For any immediate requests we would need to speak to the governor directly.

Lunch would be served between 1145 am and 1230 pm, during this time cell doors would remain unlocked. The same applied to dinner — between 445 pm and 530 pm. However, at 530 pm cell doors would be locked-down for the night.

Every other day between 230 pm and 330 pm there was an hour of 'social'. We could socialise with other prisoners, play pool, or go for a supervised walk in the yard outside. Further time out of cell could be earnt by working in prison, or attending a class of some sort. The application process for both employment and education could take two or three weeks, so neither Igor, nor I would be doing anything like that in the immediate future.

After an hour or so the conversation waned. All major topics had been covered and quite a few of the obscure and niché. The silences grew and conversation started to become an effort. I made up my bed — doing my best not to obscure Igor's view of the television — and hopped on to my bunk. I settled back and fixed my gaze on the television. I remember thinking it ironic that I didn't have a television at home, yet here I was watching Friday night television in a prison cell. TV or no TV, I would have given anything to be at home. I thought about my son and my daughter — fast asleep by now no doubt. I knew I wouldn't see them for a long time now. I wished I had photo's — I missed them both so much. As I lay back and looked up at the ceiling I couldn't help but think back to the long nights of waiting for them to be born. How did I end up here?

A convoy of programmes came and departed, the likes of which offer no interest to me on a typical night in. This wasn't a typical night though and I was more than grateful for the distraction. The lights, sounds and movements from the little set were comforting, the subject matter — largely irrelevant. I felt myself drifting away in the early hours of Saturday morning. I woke several times during the night, to the barks of prison dogs, the jangling of keys, or the occasional wailing of a fellow inmate.

The cell door clunked twice and swung open. It was morning and I could hear a buzz of activity. I opened my eyes and scanned the cell, as the realisation of where I was quickly crushed the brief respite of slumber. Igor was gone. Steam rushed in to the cell from the shower room next door. I hopped down from my bunk and freshened my face at the sink. I had no time for a shower, I had a call to make. I needed to let someone know I was here.

There was a queue of at least a dozen inmates outside the governor's door. I joined the back of the queue and took a moment to look around. Careful not to eyeball anyone, but sure to return any nods or fist-taps offered up. Everyone had the same bluish-grey jogging suit I had. Some wore trainers from the outside world, the less fortunate ones wore black elasticated plimsolls. Suicide risks I thought. Prisoners were walking around; huddled in groups or talking to the two or three screws on duty. It was a hive of activity, in stark contrast to the desolate scene I had observed on my arrival the previous evening.

After five minutes the queue hadn't moved. It was clear that in thirty minutes I would not reach the front. I wouldn't be speaking to the governor this morning and I wouldn't be getting a phone call. I left the queue, disconsolate and made back for the cell. I passed a screw on the way and asked about making a call. He told me that due to my charge I probably wouldn't be able to make a call for anything up to 6 weeks — there were a lot of checks that needed to be made. My heart sank. I asked if there was anything I could do, in a desperate voice that surprised even myself. He said I could ask the judge for permission at my bail hearing next week.

"Bail hearing?" I asked him to repeat. I thought I understood but I wanted to be sure.

He explained that prisoners on remand, like myself, could apply for a change in their bail conditions at a bail application hearing. This usually took place a week or so after the initial trial. It's not compulsory, but I could appear at court via video link and appeal to the judge for a change in my bail conditions. I could even appeal for my release. The disappointment of the phone call was rapidly replaced by a glimmer of optimism.

As I walked back to the cell I allowed myself a little smile. All of a sudden there was a glimmer of hope. Fifty six days of detention might evaporate in to just ten! I could be home within a week or so.

Igor could see I was lifted and asked me why. I told him about the phone call — or lack of one — about the bail hearing next week by video link and the possibility of an early release.

"What will have changed in seven days?" Igor grunted bluntly.

As I opened my mouth to respond I paused. I had to concede, he had a very good point. And the answer to his question was: nothing. Why would they change their mind?

Igor could see that his ruthless realism had shattered me.

"You never know my friend," he said. "I wish you luck. Besides, if you can't call anyone — you should write." He pointed at the solitary pen and scrap of paper on the side. He was right, and I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me first.


For the next seven days — aside from meal breaks, health checks and an educational assessment — I wrote. I started with the reasons for my release. Then finances; monies I needed to pay — who to — and by when. I surprised myself by how much I could remember. Memory had long been my Achilles heel — or so I thought. Next the admin mountain from the outside world — messages for all sorts of people; my employer, my daughter's teacher, my solicitor, my doctor, my friends, even a friend to babysit my fantasy football team. I had plenty of time on my hands so why not cover everything? These things needed to be sorted out and finding time was always difficult on the outside world. Here it was more of a blessing than a chore. Writing took away the frustration of being locked up for 22 hours a day and transported me to another place.

When the cell doors opened for meal times a frenzy of activity saw inmates firstly scramble to collect food at the servery, then barter with other inmates for a whole range of goods. Food was just one of the forms of currency that could be exchanged on the prison's thriving black market; along with clothes, sugar, burn, paper and much, much more — including drugs of both the prescribed and recreational varieties. The rush to pitch, haggle and transact before time was called made it all the more intense. It was the perfect example of a barter economy.

No one was aware of my detention so there was no chance of me receiving any money to buy goods from the prison canteen. I knew if I wanted anything in addition to my meagre rations I would need to participate in this meleé. Through this process, and albeit briefly, I spoke to pretty much every inmate on the wing.

I struck a deal with a softly spoken chap two cells down. He was friendly and seemed as alien to the environment we were in as I was. I gave him my dessert; he gave me two burns and two sachets of sugar. He got the sugar hit he craved, whilst I could have a cup of tea and a cigarette in the evening and in the morning. I discovered some time later on that my bartering partner was serving 7 years for armed robbery.


The lunch time feed varied only slightly each day - typically consisting of a baguette, two hard-boiled eggs and an apple. The evening feed was only fractionally more enticing. Minced beef seemed to be the primary component of almost every dish — sometimes mixed with potatoes, peas and sweetcorn in a stew; sometimes with pasta, tomatoes and onions for a bolognese. To follow: a chocolate biscuit, some jelly, or an iced lolly. A breakfast pack was provided each evening, but this rarely made it to morning — usually consumed later on in the evening due to boredom, restlessness or good old-fashioned hunger.

Aside from feeding, cell doors opened only briefly. At 8 am inmates had thirty minutes to submit application requests, or take a shower — whichever they felt more pressing. Whilst, some days physical exercise was allowed for forty minutes mid-afternoon. The opportunity to be outside seemed appealing at first, but an enforced procession around a concrete forecourt turned out to be anything but pleasurable. The back-drop of the 'lifers block' and a 20-foot border of electric fencing merely reinforced the feeling of captivity. A group of prison guards patrolled the session with dogs straining angrily at the leash. Despite the heavy surveillance presence I witnessed a brawl, and was offered drugs on the first — and final — physical session I took part in on day two.


The 36 hours I'd spent in police custody had been in solitary confinement and I was now forbidden from contacting the outside world, With my ability to communicate deprived, I soon realised how much I valued it. The privilege of another human being to talk to was one of the few benefits of the move to Woodhill. And with so much time to kill, Igor and I talked about everything. We spoke about a wider range of topics, and on a much deeper level, than most friends I'd known for years on the outside.

Igor was kind, intelligent and selfless; not a bit like I'd expected at our initial meeting, or from the stereotype his conviction and nationality might have suggested. He had an altruistic nature and was deeply religious. His depth of knowledge in a wide range of subjects was impressive — from history and politics, to music and sport, he even shared my passion for geology. He had children too and a girlfriend he loved very much. I found comfort in hearing him speak about the longing for his children. He felt the same way I did. When he spoke about his girlfriend I thought back to happier times — I remember how in love I'd felt myself. It also made me wish I had someone outside waiting for me. Despite a relatively high level of engagement between us, after the first 24 hours the silences began to outweigh the conversations.

The removal of distractions is intended to provide prisoners with time to reflect on their crimes; to consider the error of their ways and think how they will do better in the future. It's the first step in the rehabilitation process. For me, the time for reflection simply accentuated the feelings of frustration, injustice and disbelief. I'd done nothing wrong and just wanted to go home. At the very least I wanted a phone call, just to let people know where I was and that I was still alive. I was plagued by the constant longing to see my children, to talk to them and squeeze them. I felt very low, close to giving up. I knew I needed to stay occupied; to pass the time, to prevent over-reflection and simply to maintain my sanity.

On day three I borrowed a book from the guy in the next cell. It was a novel; a thriller, the type of book I would never pick from the shelf. I was in no position to be picky and under the circumstances I was very grateful for it. I read the book in just a few hours — without pause. Never before have I been so engrossed in a book. The title and the plot, the theme and imagery all bore many ironic similarities to the environment in which it was being read. With no distractions it felt like I was there, I felt like an animal in a zoo. Igor mainly watched TV, whilst for me, writing filled almost every spare waking moment.

Every couple of hours we did a simple work-out routine: ten push-ups, ten sit-ups and ten reverse press-ups. It was good for the mind and good for the body, also good for dissecting dauntingly large periods of time. We reckoned if we kept it up we'd emerge from prison in tip-top shape. That was the plan, but with calorie intake at an all time low, I actually felt myself getting weaker and weaker with each passing day.

We read every single piece of graffiti in the entire cell — etchings that dated back as far as 1996. Some were funny, some were deep and philosophical, others were angst-ridden. Each tag evoked images of it's author and their story — their crime, their pain, their humour, their advice, who they loved and missed the most. My favourite tag was etched in the paint on the back of the cell door, it read:

'If you put people in cages, they'll behave like animals.'

An entire day was consumed by cleaning the cell with nothing but two old toothbrushes, some toothpaste and four sachets of prison-issue shower gel. The toothpaste was used to polish the metal surfaces on the beds, the sink and the toilet handle. We folded the empty shower gel sachets into strips and tied the loose curtain back to it's rail. We could finally go to the toilet without being in full view of each other. By the time we'd finished our compulsive clean the cell was completely immaculate. The sense of purpose, achievement and satisfaction derived from the task were strangely satisfying.


The television was our only link to the outside world and duly stayed on almost continuously. Getting temporarily lost in a programme or film was a welcome escape from reality and a good way to pass time. When I wasn't lost in writing I'd watch. Igor's viewing was pretty much constant and due to that he had free reign of channel selection. As someone who chooses not to own a TV, my dependency on it felt a lot like I'd imagine a vegetarian would feel who'd just eaten a load of bacon sandwiches..

For eight days Igor and I repeated the same process. Each day felt like a life time. Igor counted down the days, but I didn't know how many days I should be counting down from. It could be as little as 24 hours, or a further forty-seven days. If I was then convicted it could be considerably more. On the eighth day we were a given a brief escape from the cell and it probably came at a good time. With the bail hearing the next day neither writing, nor the TV could distract me.

Igor, myself and six other recent arrivals were taken from our cells to the Education Centre. As we left the wing and crossed the forecourt it occurred to me that this was the first time I'd been outside in five days. I squinted in the direct sunlight, the air smelt fresh and moist in my nostrils. The light drizzle felt wonderful on my cheeks. It was a reminder to my senses that I was still alive.

The purpose of the trip was to meet with a Relocation Officer, then on to complete tests in literacy and numeracy. These tests determined the education I would be offered, or what job I might be suitable for. This was good news for me on both counts — I had a pre-prepared list of 24 important matters that needed to be attended to that I had already written whilst in the cell. With my consent the officer could contact them all and do business on my behalf. My list contained instructions for the other court proceedings I am involved in, a message to my employer, payment to my landlord and a host of other bills, even things like a note to my daughter's teacher apologising for my no-show at parents evening. The officer seemed both surprised and pleased with my clarity and level of detail, He responded by speaking to me in a way I had not been spoken to since speaking with my solicitor back in the police station. It was mutual respect, and it felt good. I agreed with the officer that I would give him consent the next day, but only if my appeal was unsuccessful. Knowing that everything was taken care of was a huge sense of relief.

The numeracy and literacy tests took place in a locked class room. We each had a PC and the tests got progressively harder with each level. A certain percentage of correct answers needed to be achieved to reach the next level. When finished, each inmate was given a print-out of their score, had a chat with the tutor and then was escorted back to their cell.

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The early levels of the tests were simple, but as they progressed the questions became more and more complex. I hadn't done simultaneous equations since I was at school. It took all of my focus and all of my memory to remember how, but it was incredibly satisfying. I got so engrossed I didn't realise that everyone had left except for the tutor and a guard and they were both now peering over my shoulder.

"You'll have to finish now, it's time for lock-up," said the screw.

"But I'm not finished yet," I pleaded, and pointed at the unfinished sum on the screen.

"Let him finish this one," said the tutor.

I completed the final maths question with an impatient screw breathing down my neck. I thought that deserved extra marks, but the screw didn't seem particularly impressed. As soon as the question was answered he whisked me back to my cell. The tutor didn't even have time to print off the results, but said she would send them on in the mail, I would get them later, or tomorrow morning.

Back in the cell me and Igor now had something to talk about. He talked about how it was hard for him to complete the literacy test in his second language, but did well in the numeracy test. Less than an hour later we were still talking it through when the cell door opened again.

The guard told me the tutor wanted to see me to give me my test results. I thought it was strange as she told me they would be posted to the cell, regardless I was pleased to be getting another outing. He led me back to the Education Centre and back to the same room where I had completed the test an hour or so earlier. This time it was just me and the tutor, and this time her tone was different; more welcoming, and smiling.

She told me I'd done very well in both tests and asked me what my job was 'on the outside'. I explained I was involved in the planning of business development strategy. The tutor told me I had scored the highest marks she'd seen since the test was introduced in 2010. She was lavish with her praise and for a brief moment I felt valued and genuinely proud. She asked me how long my sentence was and if I would like to work in the Education Centre. I explained that I was on remand, but if my appeal was denied I would be glad to help — it would be a pleasure.

All of this took my mind off the impending appeal, it even offered some solace if the appeal was denied. At least I'd have something to occupy myself with. The respite was brief; within a couple of hours the cell door opened again. Again it was a screw. This time he simply said:

"Smith, Dagys - get your stuff together, you're moving. I'll be back to get you in five minutes."

The guard returned in what felt like a matter of seconds and silently led us out of our cell, through the security checks and outside. Moist air filled our lungs as we squinted in the hazy autumn sunshine. We walked barely fifty yards before entering a block that looked identical to the one we'd just left. It was lock-up so the wing was eerily quiet.

Igor was first to be dropped off. The guard removed his handcuffs and ushered him in to his new cell. Inside I could see a prisoner sitting on the bottom bunk. I thought back to the moment I had been delivered to Igor's cell. Igor turned, our eyes met and we exchanged nods. The cell door slammed shut and he was gone. As soon as the door slammed shut, a volley of thuds could be heard from inside.

"I told you I didn't want anyone in with me. Get this fucker out of here!" Igor's new cellmate didn't seem too pleased with the new company.

"SHUT IT!" ordered the guard through the slit in the door, then snapped it shut.

My palms became clammy as the guard turned his gaze back to me.

"Come on," he said, gesturing in the direction he wanted me to go. We walked right to the end of the wing, to the very last cell door.

The guard removed my handcuffs, swung open the door and guided me in. On the bottom bunk my new cell mate lay motionless, gazing vacantly at the television. Before I had time to assess the situation the cell door slammed shut behind me.

"Alright?" I said — trying my best to sound confident and assured without being confrontational or aggressive. He nodded, but his eyes remained fixed on the television. It was clear he didn't want to talk. I awkwardly jumped on to the top bunk, glad to be out of his view. I stared at the television and tried to stay calm. My stomach was in knots. The security blanket of Igor had gone and the early impression of my new cell mate was not a good one. I alternated my gaze between the television, the ceiling and the tiny window for what must have been hours. Other than the sounds from the television the cell was silent. I willed myself to sleep but there was no chance. I was on edge. Every movement from the bunk below filled me with dread. Who was this guy? Why was he here? Why won't he talk to me?

Relief came in the form of dinner. The cell door clunked and swung open, air rushed in to the cell and the tension escaped. I leapt from my bunk and out of the cell.

I joined the queue for food. The faces were new, but the game was the same. I exchanged nods with anyone that offered eye contact, being careful not to eyeball anyone. I scanned the queue for Igor but there was no sign of him. As I got to the counter I held out my plate and cup.

"You're new here mate and you haven't placed an order so you'll get what's left," growled the server as he pointed to the back of the queue. I apologetically shuffled to the back of the queue and waited. It turned out to be a long wait and when I did get served all that remained was one hard-boiled egg and a bread roll.

I took my meagre rations and scanned the wing for somewhere to sit. There was still no sign of Igor so I sat alone in the corner. My mouth was dry from the nerves and I found it almost impossible to swallow. I was so hungry that I ploughed on; taking a gulp of water with each mouthful to wash it down. As I was nearing the end of my meal two inmates approached my table and sat either side of me.

"Alright mate?" they said in unison.

They went through the questions I had now become accustomed to: name, age, crime and sentence. Each of my answers was met with a nod and a smile. They seemed friendly enough, but something about their smiles made me feel uneasy. Their source of amusement would soon become clear.

"You know who you're in with, don't you?" the shorter of the two inquired.

"No..." I cautiously responded. Again they looked at each other and smiled.

"Should I?"

The inmate to my left cleared his throat and took and inhaled sharply.

"Your cell mate is serving 12 years for attempted murder. He was on a 10 year stretch, but they added two more years after he cut up his last - and only - cell mate."

I stifled my gasp and tried my best to act nonchalantly. I hoped that this was a joke, some sort of initiation prank. Surely I wouldn't be put in a cell with someone like that? As they continued I soon realised that this was no joke.

My new cell-mate had been in solitary confinement for the last six months. They told me he was on all sorts of medication, that he was a real loose canon, that I should be careful..

My nervous smile was now replaced with obvious horror. My worst fears had just become reality. I was about to be locked in a cell with an attempted murderer for the next 14 hours. I knew that if anything happened it would take a guard at least 10 minutes to reach the cell. Plenty enough time for me to be chopped in to little pieces. And even if I did make it through the next 14 hours, how would I make it through the next 42 days? My horror was now accompanied by an immediate sense of panic — I am going to die here and no one will know. No one even knows I'm here. I thought about my children, how I wished I could hold them. I glanced over to the far side of the food hall. My new cell mate sat alone, head down, focused only on his food. He must have felt my glare, he turned his head and for the first time since we had met he looked in to my eyes. As I switched my gaze back to my plate the guard bellowed:

"Time please gentlemen, let's have you back in your pads."

This time when the cell door closed I genuinely believed I wouldn't be alive in the morning.

My new cell mate was now ready to break his silence. He spoke with a broad Glaswegian accent — oozing with aggression and barely intelligible. I concentrated intently.

He asked me the usual questions; I returned the gesture, even though I already knew the answers. He called himself Jock, though I was pretty sure that wasn't his real name. Sure enough he had been convicted of attempted murder, he omitted to tell me about the fate of his last cell mate and I certainly wasn't going to ask. His dialogue was jumpy, his eyes were wild and there was an overwhelming sense that even whilst calm, he was only moments away from blind rage. He described the details of his crime, and how he regretted not "finishing the guy off".

During our introduction it became apparent that he was passionate about football. I told him about my brief career as a professional footballer and he seemed suitably impressed. Glad that we had found some common ground, I hopped on to my bunk. My new companion and surroundings placed even more importance on the appeal  hearing I was due to attend the next day. It wasn't just about freedom and justice anymore, it was now life or death. I had to get out, or die.

I laid on my bunk and stared at the television. Jock was pacing around the cell, he was clearly not comfortable. He opened the cupboard under the television and pulled out a small plastic cup filled with blue and white pills. He took one of each and the returned the cup to the cupboard. Next he produced a pouch of what looked like tobacco and sat on the ledge next to the slit window. As he rolled a cigarette and put it to his lips he asked:

"Do ye smoke?"

"Yes" I said. He motioned to me to take a drag of his cigarette. "No, it's OK — I've got my own baccy," I said.

He laughed, "This isn't baccy.. it's spice. It will help you sleep."

I'd never heard of spice, but the room was now full of pungent smoke with a fruity tang. I put the cigarette to my lips and inhaled. Immediately I started to cough. Again Jock laughed. I handed the cigarette back to him and returned to my bunk.

As I lay on my bunk I could feel my head getting fuzzy and my heart pounding against my chest. I started to feel paranoid, I needed to get out, but I couldn't. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep but my mind was racing. Thankfully, it wasn't long until I could hear snoring from the bunk below. Jock was asleep. Now I just needed to make it to the morning.

I don't remember falling asleep, or sleeping. The next thing I do remember was being awoken by the familiar and now friendly clunk of the cell door. It was morning. I had made it through the night.

As I strode across the wing to the servery, the euphoria of making it through the night quickly subsided as my thoughts returned to the bail hearing that lay ahead. I collected my breakfast and returned to the same seat I had sat in the previous day. The two inmates who had warned me the day before gave me a nod of approval.

I glanced back to my cell just as Jock was emerging. He was easily six feet tall and heavily set. His muscular arms strained to burst through his prison issue t-shirt and his whole demeanour screamed danger. Conversations hushed as he descended the metal staircase. Heads dropped as he passed each table. It was clear that Jock commanded universal respect.

"Morning Jock," chirped a heavily tattooed inmate.

Either Jock didn't hear, or he simply didn't care. He ignored the greeting, and also the queue at the servery, but no one seemed to object. Silently, and armed only with a polythene bag of Rice Krispies Jock joined me at my table.

"Did you sleep OK?" I nervously inquired.

"Yeah, nae bad," he said through a mouth full of cereal.  "Did ye enjoy yer smoke last night?" he added with the hint of a mischievous grin.

"Um, yeah.. it kind of knocked me out," I replied, mirroring his grin.

Jock erupted with a deep belly laugh, "Good man."

"Time gentleman please," bellowed the screw. "Back in your pads please." As the inmates began to filter out of the servery, the screw reeled off a list of surnames from the clipboard in his hand who were to wait behind. His list included mine.

The screw told me that my bail hearing would be at 3 pm that afternoon, and that I must wait in my cell until then. I glanced up to the clock on the wall: 830 am. 3 pm was still six hours away, that meant I would have to spend at least six more hours alone with Jock. As the screw led me back to my cell I took a deep breath. Last night had been an ordeal but the next six hours were going to be just as bad, if not worse.

Once inside Jock asked me where I'd been. I told him about the bail hearing and expanded on the brief answers I'd given him the previous day. As I shared my story I could see he was captivated. I told him how I hadn't done anything wrong and that I was missing my children terribly. I detected a hint of humanity in his usually wild and vacant eyes.

Satisfied with our exchange I retired to my bunk and fixed my gaze on the television. Plumes of spicy smoke began to waft up from the bunk below. I closed my eyes and willed for time to pass quickly.

A loud thud woke me from my slumber with a start. I opened my eyes and glanced at the cell door. It was still shut. Confused; I sat up. If the door was still shut, what made that noise?

Jock was pacing back and forth, he looked agitated. He turned his wild eyes to mine as I sat up.

"What's wrong?" I asked, unsure if I really wanted to know the answer.

"I'm out of smokes," he snarled. "I called for the guard half an hour ago and he's still not fockin' here. If he dunnae come soon I'm gonnae go fockin' mental." He turned and delivered a volley of punches and kicks to the cell door.

"Ye got any smokes?" he demanded.

"No, I'm all out," I apologised.

Jock grimaced and let out a primal scream. Incensed, he walked over to the television and in one fluid movement swept it off the cupboard. It felt to the floor and smashed. Thick shards of glass now littered the cell floor. He looked at me with a feral smile. I nervously smiled back dreading his next move. I was now locked in a cell with an agitated and unrepentant attempted murderer who now had a variety of glass weapons at his disposal.


Instinct told me to run but my legs disagreed, besides there was nowhere to run to anyway. I thought back to my children. Would I ever see them again? Jock returned to the cell door and commenced pummelling. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and began to pray.

Behind Jock's thunderous pounding I thought I could hear the faint rattling of keys, or was my mind playing tricks on me? No, it was definitely keys and Jock's assault on the door paused momentarily. A voice boomed in to the room with comforting authority.

"Get on your bed Jock," the voice ordered. "Face down."

"Fuck ye," Jock spat back.

In a flurry of activity the door swung open and three screws rushed in. The first two pinned Jock down on his bunk whilst the third swiftly applied the handcuffs. Now restrained it still took two screws to frog-march him out of the cell. The third screw turned to me and told me he would be back in a minute to clean up. As the cell door closed I could hear Jock's vitriol fading gradually in to the distance. I flicked my gaze back to the shards of glass on the cell floor, scarcely able to believe the carnage that had just taken place.


Within ten minutes one of the screws returned.

"Time for your hearing now Smith," he said.

I jumped down from the bunk and carefully negotiated my way around the shards of shattered glass on the floor. The screw handcuffed me and escorted me out of the wing. As we crossed the forecourt a prison dog snarled and strained at it's leash. Despite my fear of dogs it barely registered. I was still haunted by what had just taken place and fearful of the hearing that lay ahead. We entered another faceless building, through two security checks and in to a waiting room. The screw removed my cuffs, deposited me and left. In no time at all a female screw entered the room and led me out of the waiting room and down a dimly lit corridor.

The corridor had several doors lining each wall. The screw opened the last door on the right to reveal a small cubicle with two grey plastic chairs. Opposite the chairs was a small wooden desk and a television screen which for now was blank. The screw guided me to sit in the chair to the left, she took the chair to the right and fixed her gaze at the blank screen, so I did the same.

After a few moments the blank screen flickered in to life to reveal a court room that I recognised from ten days earlier. The presiding judge sat at the front of the court room, to his right: the prosecution, to his left - a familiar face. It was the same solicitor that had spoken with me whilst I was in police custody. The same solicitor that had represented me in the very same court room just ten days earlier. It was only ten days ago, but it felt like a lifetime.

The judge introduced himself and explained the purpose of the hearing. The prosecution spoke first - just as before - and delivered a scathing assessment of my character. The judge was told that I was violent and dangerous, and that my 'victim' was terrified of me. Their recommendation was that I continued to be detained until the final hearing.

After digesting this information the judge turned to my solicitor. I crossed my fingers under the desk and could feel that my palms were saturated with sweat. My solicitor spoke well; he countered the prosecution by stating I had no previous convictions and that the crime I had been accused of was a non-violent one. He suggested that if I was released I would not pose a threat to anyone. The judge then turned to me and asked me why I thought I should be released.

Nervously, I began to speak. I echoed the words spoken by my solicitor. I also told the judge that the last ten days had been terrifying. I assured him that if I was released I would not try to interfere with either of the witnesses. I told him that I was scared and I just wanted to go home. I could hear the desperation in my own voice.

The judge advised that the court would now retire to consider what they had heard; they would be back soon to deliver their verdict and with that the television screen returned to black. I wringed my hands, turned to the screw alongside me and nervously enquired:

"How do you think that went?"

She could see that my eyes were filling with tears.

"You'll just have to wait and see," she said, "It shouldn't take too long."

I turned my attention back to the blank screen and tried to stay calm. After an eternal and painstaking wait the screen flickered back to life. The judge began to speak. I felt my chest tighten and my heart race. His words were barely audible above the sound of my own thunderous heart beat.

"The court has decided that providing you live only at your home address and that you do not contact the witnesses - you will be released until the final hearing in 45 days time. Do you understand?"

"Yes," I mouthed, but no sound came out. I tried again..

"Yes your honour, I understand. And thank you. Thank you so much."

With that the screen returned to black. I turned to the screw. I was euphoric, but emotionally drained. Her eyes were now full of water too and she was smiling back at me. All of the pent up emotion tumbled from my eyes. Instinctively, I leant forward and embraced the screw. For the first time I could remember I felt safe. After a moment the screw backed out of the hug.

"OK, we have to take you back to your cell now. You will be released later today."

Ten minutes later the screw returned to take me back to the wing. He didn't need to ask me how the hearing had gone, my face did that for me. Even the application of handcuffs couldn't wipe the broad grin off my face. There was a spring in my step as we crossed the forecourt and entered the wing. I knew that these were the final few hours of my incarceration. Eleven days of fear, pain and longing would soon be over. I'd made it — or at least that's what I thought.

The faint murmur of voices grew louder as we passed through security and in to the servery, it was lunch time. The screw removed my cuffs and told me he would back at 3 pm to prepare me for release. I glanced up to the clock on the wall — 12:05.

The morning's events had tied my stomach in knots, it was only now I realised just how hungry I was. I tore off a chunk of bread and eagerly stuffed it in to my mouth as I crossed the servery and made my way to my 'favourite' seat. Before I got there a voice stopped me in my tracks. It was a voice I recognised and it was calling my name in an unmistakable Slavic accent:

"Julian...Hey! JULIAN!"

"Igor!" I exclaimed, with a mixture of surprise and delight. "It's so good to see you!"

As I approached Igor I scanned his face. He was smiling but his eyes looked sad, as I got closer I could see that his right eye was swollen, above it an arc of butterfly stitches intersected his mono-brow, below it a purple bruise faded through blue, green and yellow as it crept across his cheekbone and down to his jawline.

"What happened?" I asked, incredulously.

"Oh.. that," he said dismissively and with the pretence that suggested he'd forgotten the right side of his face had been butchered. "Don't worry, that's nothing. You should see the other guy!" he quipped. "We had a fight and now I'm in a cell on my own. What about you?"

I thought back to the events of the last 24 hours and took a deep breath. "It's a long story, but the good news is I'm going home today!"

"That's great!" Igor boomed with passion and sincerity. "That really is great."

For the next few minutes I told Igor about my experience the night before. Igor's eyes and mouth progressively widened with disbelief as I told him firstly about Jock, then the spice, and then the fate of the television.

Our catch-up was punctured by the screw's call of 'time'. Igor's new pad was three doors away from mine so we made our way back together. It was only when we paused outside my cell that it dawned on me — this was goodbye. I was leaving in a few hours but Igor would be here for at least another two months. The thrill of my imminent release was tempered by the thought that I was leaving him behind. I almost felt guilty. With a hand shake and a goodbye, Igor was gone.

I pushed the cell door open and made my way inside for the final time. There was an empty space on the cupboard where the television used to be. I looked down to the floor: the shattered glass had gone too. My eyes flicked over to the bunk and I froze in horror. On the bottom bunk with his hands clasped behind his head lay Jock. He lay motionless; the shadow cast from the top bunk made it difficult to see his expression. He was either asleep or staring at the underside of the bunk above. I blinked hard, unsure if what I was seeing was real, but each time my eyes opened he was still there.

A sharp clunk from behind me made me jump. It was the screw locking us in. It stirred Jock too, he let out a huge yawn and turned his head. I could see his eyes now and he was looking straight at me.

"Bet ye didn't expect me to be here did ye?" Jock said with a slightly deranged snigger. He could see that I was nervous and seemed to be revelling in it.

"Er.. no, no I didn't," I nervously fumbled.

"What's wrong?" he said. "What are ye scared of? Do ye think I'm gonnae slice ye up like that other fucker?"

This was the first time Jock had openly admitted the attack on his previous cell mate. Up until that point I'd been able to convince myself that it wasn't true, but now it was out in the open there was no hiding from it. My mind raced through all the possible responses, but when I opened my mouth to speak all I could muster was a nervous giggle. The silence of the cell amplified my giggle, it rang loud in my ears and hung in the air. I sounded ridiculous. Ridiculous and terrified.

Jock unfolded his arms and reached beneath his pillow, his eyes remained fixed on mine. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to run too, besides my feet were glued to the floor. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might burst through my chest and a thousand angry butterflies fluttered in my gut. Time slowed down to a standstill, I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. What was he reaching for? What did he have under that pillow — a piece of glass, a razor blade, a knife? I knew when I opened my eyes I would have the answer.

When I did open my eyes Jock was still smiling, my gaze flashed down to his hand, but there was no weapon. Instead his meaty paw clutched several sheets of paper and he was holding them out towards me. The frozen terror thawed in my veins and my fear subsided.

"I was reading yer stuff," he said, "I hope ye don't mind."

I looked back at the clutch of papers and recognised them as my own. Jock had read everything — all of my personal thoughts, my hopes, my fears, how I had lost my children, my job, my everything.

"No, no of course not," I said cautiously, still unsure how the rest of the exchange was going to play out.

"Good, cuz I thought it was really good. Ye don't deserve to be here mate and your ex sounds like a fockin' bitch. How could she do that to ye?"

I nodded and shrugged, muted by shock this time rather than fear. Finally able to move my feet I shuffled across the cell towards Jock and reclaimed the clutch of papers.

"I'm nae allowed another telly so I'm gonnae write too," Jock declared triumphantly.

"Good man," I said mimicking Jock's response from the previous days' smoking initiation. "They're going to let me go home at three o'clock today," I added, with a relieved smile.

"Get in there ye focking beauty," Jock toasted with a clenched fist. "Before ye go, I've got something for ye," he said, and his hand disappeared back under his pillow again. This time he pulled out a much smaller piece of paper and pressed it in to my hand. There was a name and telephone number scrawled on it:

JOSIAH BLAKE — 07966 406 326

"What's this?" I asked, thinking I must be missing something.

"Ye ever get in any trouble, or ye need someone fockin' up — call that number and say your a friend of Jocks. Oh, and when ye do get out can ye send me in some paper and pens?"

"Yes of course," I said, "And thanks." I wasn't entirely sure what the appropriate response to being offered the services of a hitman was and I was pretty certain I would never need one, but this was Jock's way of saying thanks and I wasn't about to decline. Jock's offer, whilst genuine, was a chilling reminder of just how far I had descended in to the shadowy world of criminality. As I jumped up to the top bunk I allowed myself a private smile. This would make a good story I thought, and picked up my pen.

'56 Days by Julian Smith'

It wasn't long before the screw returned and led me away from the cell for the final time. I shook Jock's hand and bid him farewell before offering my hands to the screws handcuffs. As he escorted me down the metal staircase I paused and allowed myself one final look back. I looked at Igor's cell and gave a nod just in case he was watching. My civilian clothes and personal possessions were returned, along with my dignity and freedom. I shaded my eyes in the bright autumn sunshine and felt the warm rays on my face. I walked at least a couple of hundred yards before allowing myself one final look back — it was a menacing sight — but I was now free.


Copyright © 2015 by Adam Cann

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