I like to think of myself as being in the business of doing things selflessly so my friends don’t have to. I got arrested so my friends don’t have to. I spent a night in the cells so my friends don’t have to. I had a trial so my friends don’t have to (and also so they could watch and see what one was like, it’s not like that old programme from the 80s, Crown Court, that was rubbish). And I went to prison so my friends don’t have to. Not that any of my friends are likely to find themselves in a position where the outcome is a prison sentence, thankfully. Surely “get arrested” is on one of those ridiculous 100 things to do before you die jobbies? Yes, I did it for them. A friend of mine remarked that in the year or so before I was arrested my life was a bit like a soap opera. All sorts of bad things happened and it’s fair to say I was in a bit of a pickle. That’s putting it mildly. She reckoned that at the end of every day as I went to sleep the EastEnders drums were going. Cheeky monkey. But in truth she wasn’t far off the mark.
This selfless act *ahem* of going to prison also meant that my friends got to see first hand what it was like. Well, the visitors’ centre anyway. And believe me, there were some sights to be seen. I hope they enjoyed coming to see me, we certainly had plenty to talk about, not least the other visitors and some of the things the other prisoners got up to. Visits for me were an opportunity to feel half way normal as long as I didn’t attempt to get out of my seat or take off my yellow sash, that is. I was lucky too, lots of different people came for visits throughout my sentence, both friends and family. On one occasion two of my friends’ husbands came to see me and on another the friend who said my life was a soap opera was supposed to be coming with her husband but she was ill so he come on his own. Bless him. I really appreciated the time and effort everyone took because it was a bit of a trek to get there.
One of the visits I remember most, though, is when my sister brought her new boyfriend to meet me. Now, I’m not sure how the conversation went, but I suspect it was something like “Hi, my name’s Small Sis, what do you do? I work in the pub, my dad’s an accountant, my mum works in the dockyard. Oh, and my sister’s in prison for wounding with intent. Do you want to the Big House with me come and meet her?” Well done to him for not running away as fast as his legs would carry him while waving his arms about. One of my prison friends had a visit on the same day and had already been called across so was there when I got to the visiting hall and sat in my seat. When Small Sis and boyfriend came in we said hello and then I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I’m not very good with knowing whether to hug or kiss strangers in social situations (for my previous blog about that go here) and decided to opt for the safe option of a handshake. Gah! He hugged me and kissed me on the cheek! Now I looked a bit awkward and like a total tit. Really, who shakes their sister’s boyfriend’s hand? I’ll tell you who, red faced idiots. We sat down and then were a bit more relaxed. Apart from the embarrassing start the visit went well, my sister’s boyfriend was (and still is) very nice and he didn’t seem scared of me or the situation at all. Even though I kept trying to frighten him by going “Garrrrrrrrrr” and pulling funny faces. Not really. Alas, when I got back to the wing after the visit my friend ripped me to shreds, she had witnessed the whole hug/kiss/handshake debacle and really seemed to be enjoying laughing at me about it. For an entire week. And to anyone that would listen. Witch.
After 9 months inside it was time for my first town visit. These took place on Saturdays and Sundays and you were allowed three or possibly four a month (I can’t remember exactly, it’s been a while now). If you were working in the community you needed to spend one full day in prison in every seven day period so if you worked Monday to Friday you could have a town visit on one of the weekend days but would need to spend the other inside. Because I hadn’t yet started my job I arranged two town visits on that first weekend on both Saturday and Sunday. I was beyond excited but also strangely nervous. It had only been 9 months but I’d seen The Shawshank Redemption and I feared that institutionalisation had set in. What if I forgot my green cross code and got run over? Remember kids, SPLINK. “Oh my god, what does SPLINK stand for, I’ve forgotten? I’ll get run over!” Etc. On the first visit my mum, dad and the family lodger came up to see me. I was called over to the gate, searched and then….let out! It was very odd. Quite a few people go out each weekend so there were still a fair few milling about, waiting for the bus that goes from just across the road or getting into cars with their friends and family. I’d like to point that most of the women go to the local hotel on their first town visits. For…er…..conjugal stuff. But there was no man in my life so that wasn’t an option. I could have gone there and watched TV I suppose but that would have been not unlike being in prison anyway. I got outside the gate and there were my parents with the family Berlingo! It was gold. Sahara gold. Lovely. Off we went. We stayed in the local area, my mum had made a picnic and we didn’t do anything overly exciting just in case I might explode or something. But it was a lovely day. And everything seemed so….normal. I’d expected there to be some kind of discomfort or weirdness but it was like I’d never been anywhere else. Hurrah for not being institutionalised! The next day my friend and her whole family came up to take me out. I really do have the most lovely friends. This was a very exciting day because they were going to take me to London, hurrah! From the prison in Sutton to London isn’t a very long drive so we were there within an hour. We parked on Waterloo Bridge as there’s free parking on Sundays, or at least there was then (don’t tell anyone), and they took me on the London Eye. Yay! I really enjoyed it. After that we went to Covent Garden and had a mooch about, not quite sure what to make of the street performers, tried loads of clothes on and had a spot of lunch. It was a great day, I was absolutely beside myself, I just couldn’t believe what a lovely time I was having or that it was allowed. I had to be back in the Big House by 7 at the latest otherwise there would be big trouble and no more trips outside the prison walls. By about 4pm I started to get a little…..anxious. I fully trusted my friend and her husband to get me back in plenty of time but my mind was working overtime and presenting to me numerous scenarios that might arise to thwart us like tons of traffic (in London? Surely not!) and make us late. Stupid brain. As it happened we were at least an hour early. And I was on a high, I’d had the most fantastic weekend. While in prison! Amazing.