With Christmas and induction over normal life resumed. Well, it wasn’t normal at all, but the standard routine was back. This was a good thing, it involved much less bang up. I’d signed up for the gym course so started going to that every day. At first this involved a great deal of sitting around because the previous course hadn’t quite finished, but all of the exercise equipment was available to us and the gym was very well equipped so I would spend my time alternating between reading and running/cross training/rowing/cycling. Even though I hate rowing and don’t particularly like exercise bikes. I could have spent my whole time exercising if I’d wanted to but since we were in the gym for several hours a day I would have run a serious risk of doing far too much and ending up looking like a skeleton with skin on. Just like those women of a certain age you see in the gym, who I think look terrible. They’re orange too. As it was I did get pretty slim. Skinny if you prefer, but still with great big boobs. Very odd. I felt good though, and over time it really improved my confidence. A friend of mine said afterwards that I looked “athletic”. I really like her. And as I’m talking in the past tense I’m sure you’ve gathered that I’m not perhaps quite as slim as I was then, though I’m working on it. I’m not bitter but pregnancy is not my friend.
Although I’d started the gym course at the previous prison we hadn’t got very far with it so starting again from scratch wasn’t a problem. The one at Downview seemed to be more comprehensive, offering various different skills and a fair few different qualifications. I really enjoyed it although I was ridiculously nervous every time there was an assessment and I had to demonstrate how to carry out various exercises on the machines or teach something to the whole group. I’ve never been much of a fan of role play and felt like a right plonker. Especially as the PE instructors were fond of a bit of banter and were always ready to take the piss. And I mean ALWAYS. But I got through it and passed the assistant gym instructor course with flying colours and was presented with a laminated certificate. Erm. Why is it laminated? What possible reason could there be to laminate a certificate? OK, so it won’t get bent or screwed up but is there some requirement for all of your certificates to be wipe clean? That really doesn’t bear thinking about.
I decided that all the sitting around that I needed to do so as not to be tempted to exercise all day long was getting a bit dull so thought I’d see if there was anything else I could do. I didn’t fancy wing cleaning as I’m allergic to any kind of domesticity so took a mosey over to Education to see if they had any interesting courses that were suitable for people who weren’t morons. I quite like the fact that I’ve implied there that you can just wander around in a carefree fashion. What shall I do today? Ooh, I don’t know, I think I’ll get up, wander down to breakfast, think I’ll go continental today, then I’ll pump a bit of iron in the gym then mosey on over to the library, maybe see a few people in Education. This is, of course, rubbish. It’s not a hotel. It’s not even a holiday camp although if I’m honest Butlins at Bognor looks more like a prison than a prison does. No, funnily enough the prison officers want, no NEED, to know your whereabouts at all times so if you want to take a mooch over to Education you need permission and a movement slip to prove it. There were a number of different courses available; hairdressing (this was out as I can barely even put my own hair up in a successful ponytail, never mind anyone else’s so imagine how bad it would look if I was cutting it), basic literacy, basic maths (I think I’ve mastered these already), cooking, basic IT (I’d done internet support for years – have you turned it off and on again? – so that was pointless), art (no), some others I can’t remember and book-keeping. I quite fancied that. I’d started accountancy in the past and had enjoyed it but didn’t complete it because I’d timed it badly. Number 1 son was only a few weeks old and I’d found myself nodding off in the less interesting lessons. But no babies to wreck my sleep now, just other inmates and they were mostly quiet. Book-keeping it was.
Even if I say so myself I’m pretty good at things like book-keeping. My brain works in the right logical way and I found it easy. Easier then everyone else I’d say. Someone remarked to me that I must have been a boffin at school, like this was a bad thing. I so nearly retorted that it was better to be a boffin and have some ambition than end up in prison until I remembered that I was in prison too. Oops, that would have been embarrassing. What a snob I am. But the comment had annoyed me, there’s no shame in being good at something, no shame at all. In fact, the only problem with the book-keeping course was the cooking smells that wafted in from the kitchen used for the cookery course. The course took place on a Wednesday morning and that was the only day when sandwiches were served for lunch, the rest of the week saw a hot meal at lunchtime. I was always completely dissatisfied with the sandwiches, they simply didn’t fill me up, even though had I been out in society they would have been fine. It must have something to do with being locked behind that door at lunchtime for 2 hours, boredom causes hunger. So delicious smells on crap lunch day were most upsetting. Maybe I should have done cookery instead, I could have stuffed my face. But I didn’t and just had to endure it and make do with the huge quantities of chocolate and biscuits I bought on the canteen. More about the canteen later. The book-keeping course was about 3 months long and at the end of that I passed and got more bizarrely laminated certificates. Nice.
Book-keeping was just an extra and I was still taking part in the gym course at the same time. We did badminton, volleyball, basketball, weights and a community sports course. I absolutely hated volleyball, largely because of the group of prisoners who played it all the time, took themselves far too seriously (even though they were rubbish) and intimidated anyone that joined in, especially if they weren’t very good at it. And the ball really bloody hurts. I’d played volleyball at school and enjoyed it. But I didn’t enjoy it in prison, not one bit. I was crap at basketball too, like all girls in the UK I’d done netball at school and was taught that you absolutely categorically must not run with the ball. And now they wanted me to. Sod that. I was really surprised to find that I loved weight training when I had expected to find it hard and scary. I’ve no idea why it would be scary but I was intimidated by the idea of it nonetheless. But that was before I discovered Body Pump and one of our instructors, happily, was a Body Pump instructor. Body Pump just made me feel great, it’s really hard work but that coupled with all the cardiovascular exercise like running I was doing made all the difference to me. And I loved the fact that when I first started doing it I could barely walk for a couple of days after. I’m strange like that. Badminton was great and a lot harder than I remembered. It looks to be such a gentle sport, but it’s very hard work. But even badminton wasn’t safe for me because somehow during my assessment my bra strap became unattached and went PING noticeably. Great. I had to skip to the loo quickly to sort it while they all laughed at me. Brilliant. The gym course earned me many shiny laminated certificates. You know, I think I still have them somewhere.
Time marched on and I’d already moved cells a couple of times. This is quite normal, you start off on the induction wing and you’re only likely to stay there for the duration of your sentence if you get a job there as a wing cleaner or in the servery. The vast majority of people go to C Wing which has a large number of landings, each accommodating about 40 prisoners. I didn’t like C Wing even though it was a bit newer looking than the induction wing, A Wing. They’re imaginatively named, aren’t they? C wing was loud and busy and I didn’t like the atmosphere much. Neither did I know anyone on my particular landing as all the people I’d made friends with at the start were elsewhere. So I hid away, keeping myself to myself, avoiding all the noisy bastards and only coming out for meals and to go to the gym, library or for visits. Luckily I didn’t have to stay there long. I had put in a request to go to a “drug-free” wing and a space became available before long. By drug-free what they really mean is that you do regular piss tests (such a lovely term) and if you fail them then it’s back to C Wing with you. We all like urinating in front of relative strangers, don’t we? But it was a means to an end, because from the drug free wing (B Wing, of course) you could progress to the ultimate prize, the privilege wing. Yes, my friends, D Wing, the Resettlement Unit. In my head I hear a harmonious “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh” like that we associate with angels and see D Wing lit by a single ray of light from the sun. Perhaps that’s just me. On D Wing there are no steel doors, there’s no bang up (although you are locked onto the landing at night). On D Wing you have the key to your room and your own private shower. On D Wing you don’t have to eat in the same room as a toilet. It’s like a teeny tiny hotel room. But D Wing was for the privileged few and I didn’t know if I’d ever make it.
So, in the mean time I had to make do with B Wing. Nonetheless I liked it there. There were good officers on that wing, I had friends there and we had an evening ritual of Scrabble or card playing. One night we played hide and seek. It was hysterical because there was nowhere to hide. I still have visions of my friend trying to squeeze herself under the pool table. Hilarious. Quite early on during my time at Downview I had decided to become a Listener, essentially a prison Samaritan. We were available day and night to go and see people if they were feeling depressed or felt they needed someone to talk to. We weren’t allowed to offer advice, just listen. I’d joined up because I’d been inspired by the chaplain who’d listened to me when I first got there and was feeling upset about being moved when I was. She’d made me feel so much better and I hoped I could do the same for others. We weren’t called out very often but regularly enough to justify our existence. Other people joined up because we had a weekly meeting and the Samaritans that ran the initiative always brought in biscuits. Very cynical. I remember coming back to my room one night after a meeting and was surprised to see that only two of my friends were sitting out in the association area. I got to my door and was a wee bit suspicious that my light was off when I was sure I’d left it turned on. I opened the door, switched on the light and 4 people jumped out at me, one from behind the shower curtain, one from behind the wardrobe door, one from under the bed and the other had squeezed herself in the tiny space behind the wardrobe. Bastards! When we’d all stopped laughing we noticed that the girl that had been under the bed had some hair stuck to her (I told you I’m allergic to domesticity and I hadn’t swept the floor for a couple of days) and it looked just like a merkin. It couldn’t have attached itself to a better place.