Meat and Drink (03-08 Jan)
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.