I dropped a smallish bombshell in my last post so it’s only fair to do a bit of follow up. I apologise if it’s reaaaaaaaaaaally long and spread over a few posts. For me prison was a very positive experience, but I was determined that it would be and made sure it was. I was on bail for the 5 or 6 months after my arrest so apart from one night in the cells I’d had no time at all in custody. Despite being endlessly told throughout the whole criminal justice process that I would be fine and that they’d never send anyone like me to prison, at the back of my mind I had doubts and expected a custodial sentence, even before I’d been found guilty. Perhaps it was just a survival technique but I felt like I needed to prepare for the absolute worst. In this case I thought that if I did that at least I wouldn’t be disappointed. And so I wasn’t! To this day though I’m incredibly glad I’d never watched an episode of Bad Girls. I think I’d have been a gibbering wreck if that was what I was expecting.
The night before sentencing I went on a bit of a bender with some friends. As you do. I was really rather drunk and a good night was had by all. Unfortunately I had a terrible hangover the next day so wasn’t perhaps at my best when I went to court. But I didn’t see how that really mattered when I wouldn’t be drinking again for quite some time. I’d hoped to maybe catch up on some sleep in the cells or the prison van. Ha!
So, sentence was passed. My friend Mel gasped audibly and my mother’s mobile phone started ringing REALLY loudly. Scotland the Brave, how embarrassing. I went down to the cells and waited. Then I waited a bit more. Then some more. Portsmouth Crown Court is an unpleasant looking brown carbuncle and couldn’t be more 70s if it tried. I had hoped for a little comfort in the cells. Wrong! I had a wooden slatted bench. No mattress, no cushioning whatsoever. I was freezing cold and my arse was numb. I very much regretted wearing a suit for sentencing and wished instead I’d had the foresight to wear a sleeping bag. Still, the nice custody bloke who’d been present at my trial was very sympathetic and got me a nice scratchy blanket and a copy of the Daily Mail. My favourite. To add insult to injury the lead story was some pro Tory political bullshit written by someone I was at primary school with. Well, actually it was a prep school, I’m frightfully middle class, me. I remember when I was about 10 there was a general election (or some kind of election) on and he came in to school with Tory leaflets sellotaped all over his brief case. Good times.
Eventually after much waiting some transport turned up from Southampton to take me and some other prisoners to our new home. I still had a hangover. They were a bit cack handed getting me in to the van; I was handcuffed and made to get into this teeny little space with one seat and a window and an inch thick steel door which a woman then stuck her foot into while she took the cuffs off, presumably blocking my way so I didn’t leg it down the road waving my arms about. Didn’t she know I wasn’t even slightly tempted to do that? My hangover really was pretty bad. And off we went. I felt a bit teary as we drove out of Portsmouth, you know what it’s like when you’re not going to see a place for a while, your brain invents false memories of how wonderful it is. “Oh look,” thought I, “the university, I went there for about 5 minutes.” And “Oh look, Commercial Road, I love shopping there, such wonderful shops and there’s never 50 million people getting in my way.” And “Oh look, the lovely flats as you drive out of the city, so attractive, the architect deserves a medal.” The Tricorn might still have been standing then too. Another carbuncle yet on that day I’d have looked at it fondly. Ridiculous.
The journey was…uncomfortable. I was wearing a thick anorak as it was the middle of winter. Unfortunately the temperature inside the transport van was hotter than the sun. I didn’t know it at the time but those things are known to all inmates everywhere as sweatboxes. I somehow managed to remove my coat, no mean feat in such a tiny space, but I had to employ a degree of contortion and possibly dislocated my shoulder as well. Stupid sweatbox. Radio 1 was playing at 200 decibels and while on this journey I heard that bloody JCB song for the first time. And the second. And the third. The other prisoners were chatting to each other too. Some little scrote who was on his way to Feltham and two other women. Unsurprisingly I stayed quiet as a quiet thing while the radio made my ears bleed.
And then we arrived at HMP Bronzefield. By this time it was getting fairly late, about 5 or 6 and it seemed we couldn’t come in because of some mysterious ritual called “roll check”. They mentioned it about 112 times. So after a long day’s sitting we sat some more. Little scrote was getting quite above himself by this time and was trying to get the other girls’ names so he could write to them. Bless. Only I’ve seen what male prisoners write now so I think I’ll take that back, actually.
After some time “roll check” was declared a success or something, all prisoners were accounted for, none were hiding in bins or on the bottom of laundry trucks and we were allowed in. Woohoo! Bronzefield is a modern privately run prison, bright, clean and shiny and not remotely what I had expected. I was met by another inmate who told me stuff about the prison including times of locking up, unlocking, meals, etc, none of which I took in. I was given a microwave meal as I’d missed dinner and then I was shown to my room. That wasn’t what I had expected either. In each section of the prison there was a central hub where all the officers hung out, jangled their keys and barked at people and it was surrounded by 4 “spurs”. In each spur was a large communal area with tables, chairs, and a pool table. Cells were situated either side on 2 levels and there was a servery, laundry room, shower room and a telephone box, or possibly 2. There were quite a few women around and about and I tried not to look at them as I went into my room clutching my stuff in a big plastic HM Prison Service bag. I sat on the bed and surveyed my new home. There was a single bed, a basin, a toilet partly behind a screen, some open shelving and hanging rail and a big thick steel door. And a TV. A TV? I hadn’t expected that! I put it on. Bugger it. Children In Need.