January 2006 Archives
The holiday period is now over thankfully, and we start to settle into the prison routine: up at seven, dining hall seven thirty, worksheds eight thirty, dining hall at twelve, back to billets, worksheds at two, dining hall at four thirty then back to billets for the night. At the weekends its two trips to the dining hall at around twelve and four, with the rest of the day in the billets. So three times a day and twice at the weekend pretty much the whole prison gathers in the dining hall.
Low Moss is one of the few prisons in Scotland to have a dining hall at all; in most prisons the food is brought to the cons and they eat in the cell. The jail is pretty much full to capacity just now, so at meal times there will be about three hundred cons seated in six long rows of tables, usually supervised by about a dozen guards standing around near the doors or along the walls. Cons are called up to the serving hatches in rows and they pick up their plastic cutlery and are given a meal on a plastic plate. The food budget in prison is about one pound fifty per man per day, and the standard here is probably similar as to what you would expect in an average transport cafe. Porridge or cereal for breakfast, meat and potato for lunch and pie or pasta with chips for tea. At least here the food is hot when you get it; gone are the cold, curried sprouts of Edinburgh.
It seems a pretty high fat diet; some of the junkies who arrive are pretty emaciated and it looks good if they are released a few pounds heavier. Some cons hate the dining hall: you can be in there up to three hours some days; if you're first up you can eat your porridge in five minutes and wait an hour for everyone else to get served and eat. Some cons play cards or read books. Others put their heads on the table and fall asleep. But most just sit there talking or watching other cons to see who's in, who's holding, who's charged up, who's worth a 'tap'. And when you go up to the serving hatch yourself, you can be sure that most of the cons will be watching you. If you went up last and got an extra pie that's going pare you can be sure your walk back to your table will be accompanied by seagull noises from around the hall. Always check your back when leaving the servery as the latest craze seems to be taping some kind of paper tail to your clothing resulting in great hilarity and donkey shouts to go with your red face. There are no hiding places in the dining hall.
The cons share underwear and socks in prison. This is called 'small kit' and is supposed to be issued daily. In reality it can sometimes be three or four days depending if the passmen can be bothered to go and collect it from the laundry. When the kit arrives a guard issues it on a 'one for one' basis. Each con should keep a set for changing at lunchtime. I get in the queue after hearing the 'small kit' shout. Just before I get to the front I put my dirty underwear and socks in the 'dirty' bag. A small bespectacled guard with grey hair asks me where my dirty kit is.
"I've just put it in the dirty bin," I tell him.
"Well I never seen you, so you can't have another one."
"You can check my cell if you want," I say, "but I can assure you that the only clothes I have are the ones I'm standing here in."
Reluctantly, he gives me a small kit. We are also allocated a sweat shirt and a t-shirt; these are not changed and cons are expected to wash them although there are no facilities for this.
We get into a routine in the worksheds. We arrive there just after eight and sit around 'til twelve. There is not enough work to go round and out of about sixty cons in our shed only a dozen or so are busy. Some are making baggy blue shorts with Velcro fasteners and padded t-shirts; others are putting foam mattresses into blue plastic covers which are stitched together on the machines. I find out this stuff is going to other prisons for people who are on suicide watch. I try to picture the scene: a cell somewhere with no furniture, just bleak walls, no windows and the blue mattress, the prisoner paces up and down in his baggy blue shorts with Velcro fastener and padded blue t-shirt, trying his best not to self-destruct. I can't see how putting someone in that environment could possibly help them. I remember when I was arrested last year and remanded in Barlinnie. On the first night there, a nurse checked me over and asked me if I was feeling suicidal. I replied I was fine and never saw her again. If she had asked me the same question after a week in the remand hall, she may have got a different answer.
A buzz went round the prison this evening as news gets round that a prisoner has escaped. Apparently he got over or under the fence sometime before the end of his shift somewhere down at the worksheds. Back in the billets the guards count everyone two or three times to confirm we're one short and apart from visits the jail goes into lockdown. It's a bitterly cold evening and I wouldn't fancy being out there against the elements. The cons tune into the news to see if there is a report, but there is nothing reported on tv or in the newspapers the next day.
New Year's Eve and I am allocated a cell. It's a closed billet, there is a corridor with fifteen cells, nine down one side and six down the other, with a shared toilet/shower room. There is a heavily barred door at the end to lock the corridor in but prisoners are allowed free movement within. The cell is about the same size as the smallest room in your house. It is a square room about ten feet by ten feet. There are two single beds and some assorted cupboards and a small television, cream walls a barred window with curtains and a bright flourescent light. It's the kind of room you could probably live quite comfortably in yourself but with two sharing you are going to be living on top of each other. there is only about three foot gap between the beds so if one person is moving around the cell, getting dressed for instance the other guy has to remian sitting / lying on their bed until it is in his turn otherwise you will spend all your time bumping into each other. Your bunk is about the only space in the prison that is your own, whether in the dorms or the cells you seem to spend most of your time sitting or lying on it, not through laziness its just that there's not a lot else for you to do.
There are a few seats around and you wouldn't really have room for them in the cell anyway, you wouldn't just stand about or walk up and down the corrridor or stand against the toilet, so you just go to your cell and sit or lie on your bed. At least in Low Moss the prioners are considered low CAT and have a degree of movement throughout the day, to the worksheds or dining hall. In Barlinnie for instance most prioners are confined to the cells for twenty four houys a day unless they fancy a half hour walk round the exercise yard.
I introduce myself to my co-pilot whom I culd be sharing this cell with for the next few months. he's in for drug offences and is doing a similar sentence to my own. He's just a normal guy in his mid thirties and he hasnt done much jail time although he has done a few months of this sentence.
The rest of the cons in our billet system seem a pretty mixed bunch of all ages, although there is a
hard core who seem to stick together more than the rest, always together, in each others cells all the time and generally carrying on together. I am immediately wary of this group and I think if anything is going to 'go down' on this billet this group won't be too far away from it.
New Year comes and goes, we didn't expect any first footers and we didn't get any. Like Christmas, New Year was very low key and i think most of the cons just try to get it out of the road. You can make yourself feel bad by thinking of everyone at home having a good time so it's best just not to think about things like that, better to try and keep your head, just like your body, firmly inside the jail.
The days following New year are 'holidays' for cons and staff so not much movement around the prison. A con in one billet has a 'parcel' (package containing drugs) launched in from outside. I assume whoever was launching the parcel in was trying to get as close to the billet as possible but made a poor job of it and the parcel ended up stuck on the perimeter fence unknown to the cons at the time. The parcel stuck on the fence and has alerted a touch sensor and alerted the guards who decide to watch it. For a while to see if there are any further developments. They are not disappointed.
The cons hatch a plan, it is a formula which has been used in the prion before with some degree of success however it is a high risk strategy. At one end of each billet there is a fire/panic door. In the event of any emergency the cons can get out of this door and into the main compound. As soon as this door is breached an alarm goes off and the guards will be there within minutes. The cons know this and know their movements will be caught on camera. Up top ten cons put pillowcases over their heads and breach the door, two of them make for the fence in an attempt to get the parcel while the rest simply mill about in an attempt to confuse the watching cameras as to the identity of those outside. The plan would then have been to to get the parcel inside and stashed before the guards arrive. Unfortunately for them, the watching guards are in the billet within seconds and apprehend everyone.
Eleven cons in total from the billet are put in the digger apart from one who ran straight into a lamp-post and has a nasty gash on his head.
Next day all eleven are RTB'd (returned to Barlinnie). The cons knew the consequences of their actions but were prepared to take the risk. Just like the con in the methadone queue, its clear these guys are desperate for drugs. It's said there was an ounce of heroine in the parcel, who knows, but whatever was in it, they weren't going to give up on it easily.
Monday being a 'holiday' means the cons in the dorm have nothing to do. Everyone seems to be living on top of each other, conditions are cramped. Even the unpopular 'jail' tea bags are running out and we have no milk or sugar. I seen a con using a sachet of jam in his tea to sweeten it but most just do without.
It was inevitable a fight would break out and it was inevitable the weak would be targetted. A young con, who looked as if he was just out of young offenders, came in with a bad attitude. He was going to do this and he was going to do him. One night he put toothpaste on a guys sheets he didn't like because the guy was stout. The y/o got a supply of pills from the nurse and split them with a young friend. They both retired to their respective bunks and slept for the rest of the day and through till the next morning. The y/o was on a heavy dose of methadone along with a few other junkies in the billes and many more in the jail. When the call came over the tannoy for methadone the y/o was still fast asleep and another con, who must have been desperate for a hit went down and took his place in the queue. Of course someone told the y/o he was missing his dose and when he declared himself to the nurse the con was caught red-handed and put in the digger (punishment cell).
Although it seems plain that this was no fault on the y/o the incident causes some ill feeling towards him as the desperate con was 'well liked'. Later that evening a con told the y/o to get away from him as he was 'gouching' too close to him and "I'm rattling and canny get a gouch!" "fuck off and gouch somewhere else ya prick!" I could see the con was uptight and it did look as if he was indeed' rattling.' I don't think he had any sort of medication sorted out yet. Minutes later the con steps into the toilet and shouts on the y/o "C'mere you, have you been putting teabags down this toilet again?"
The young boy walks into the toilet to protest his innocence but he never got a chance. By the sounds of things the con smacks as soon as he walks in and after that sounds like a few digs - it is over in seconds. The con walks out looking pleased with himself and moments later the y/o follows and goes over to his bunk. His face is puffed slightly but there is no blood. He lies down on his bed and sobs quietly.
On Wednesday we are allocated jobs. When my turn comes I am took into an office and a guard informs me I can have a job in the textile shed or the scrap shed. I choose textiles as I worked in the scrap last time and it's a dirty job breaking up old cables separating the lead from copper.
The Home Office, or whoever it is that decides, has decreed that each prisoner should be given an allowance of approximately five pounds per week. This money is used to cover the cost of phone calls to families, friends, legal reps etc. ...toiletries, writing materials, and sundries. Prisoners are mostly offered the opportunity to work to earn extra money. Apart from passmen duties which are guys who are allocated parts of the prison to clean, and cooks, the prisoners at Low Moss work in the work-sheds. If you work in the sheds your 'wages' rise from the five pounds allocated to just over eight pounds so basically you work all week for just about three pounds.
Of course eight pounds a week is not enough money for a prisoner to get by, the goods sold in the prison shop are exactly the same as your local store, so prisoners are allowed to use up to fifteen pounds of their own money as well as the eight pounds earned giving your average con up to £23 per week. The prisoners personal cash is called PPC and not all prisoners have it.
Next Day after breakfast we report to the textile shed for work. There must be around sixty cons milling about and in the middle are two rows of what looks like industrial sewing machines. At the top of the shed is a raised bench with a couple of guards sitting. I report to the guard and tell him I am a 'new start' and he asks me if I can work a sewing machine.
I remember as a boy playing with my mothers old 'Singer' in the front room. I tell him I can't. he tells me I can learn how to work a machine or I can sit about doing nothing all day for six months. "It's up to you." I say "Okay then" and go and sit with the other cons. Nobody seems to be doing anything.
The shoplifter has an idea! He sees a con sweeping up round the shed and asks him if there are any other 'shed passmen' jobs going? The con tells him there was another guy helping who was liberated recently. The shoplifter asks the guard if he can have the other passman job. The guard replies he can have the job if he wants and can start straight away. He comes back over to us, brush in hand. I ask him why he wants to do that? He replies "If I can walk around sweeping up all day I can collect the dog ends on the floor and I won't have to buy tobacco.
"I have no PPC and needs must."
Minutes later a guard shouts out a list of names, mine included, and tells us to go back to our billets as there is not enough work. We are taken back to the billet leaving the shoplifter there, sweeping up.