Going to Court

Upon knowing that I was going to court and that there was the possibility of a custodial sentence I prepared by looking through some websites and prepared a bag of clothes and trainers etc for a week, and made sure that I had some cash on me (the reasons for these will come to light shortly) but remembering to take off my watch and jewellery. Packing seemed to take me an age and was one of the hardest things to do and concentrate on as it was something that filled me with more anxiety with every item I packed.

Arriving at the County Court and entering, I was greeted by a security check point where they gave me a quick pat over and checked my bag and items that I had brought with me. I then informed the officer that the bag was for myself and that I needed to put it in their care for my case. They gave me a raffle ticket number which I put in my pocket and told me that I could collect it after.

During the court hearing and sentencing I sat in a glass fronted room on a chair, accompanied by an officer. Upon entering the room I was taken to another cell type room just to the side of it to receive a pat down search. Once this was completed I was invited to take a seat back in the glass fronted room, where the hearing then proceeded. I sat and listened to the court, with people in the gallery watching and people constantly turning around to look at me, waiting teary eyed for what my sentence would be. I’d come to refer to it as the glass bowl, and it seemed ever more so with everyone looking on. Having received a non-custodial sentence review from probation I wasn’t expecting that I would receive a custodial sentence, so when it came, I couldn’t believe it even though I had prepared for it. The officer immediately came and got me and escorted me to the side room that we had been in before, although initially I walked, as soon as I was out of sight of everyone I couldn’t stand at the shock of it all and the thoughts of what prison must be like, not seeing my family and friends etc, my world felt like it had already come to an end.

Another officer then joined us and escorted me down the stairs, falling on to the wall at several occasions to support myself I almost pressed the panic strip, but the officers calmly and politely took their time to keep me moving towards a small room. Once in the little room (similar to the custody desk), a seat was provided for me to sit on and compose myself with a drink of water etc. The officers didn’t rush me and in all honesty were very understanding and courteous. I was then asked for my raffle ticket which I handed over, and my prepared bag was then fetched and returned.

Distracted by the fact that the officers engaged me in normal conversation initially, I almost didn’t notice that we had moved to complete some paperwork etc. Initially this concentrates on the usual name, address etc, but then turns to personal property, details of the charge and health/mental health etc. I was invited to change in to something more comfortable than the suit I had turned up to court in which I took the opportunity to do, trainers, jeans and a jumper. Being shocked and upset by everything I informed them that my mental health wasn’t great, the trauma of it all at the time I was arrested and now at court meant I had had thoughts of ending it all (though hadn’t ever actually attempted it).

Progressing through the personal property etc, every item was noted in the paper work and placed in to plastic bags which were sealed. My legal representative then came down and we had a short chat before I then went back to the small room again. Continuing with paper work I was asked if it was a sexual offence, to which the answer was yes. They referred to me then as being a VP (Vulnerable Person). The impact of this at the time didn’t seem very much, but I appreciated the impact of it throughout my sentence as you will see. After completing all the paper work, I was then placed in a cell next to the small room which was baron except for a bench and a strip of glass for the officers to keep an eye on me. The officers popped in several times to give me food, water and a few leaflets on my rights etc. The times in these baron holding cells always seemed the worst as they gave me nothing to do but concentrate on where I was, what I had done and the impacts of it. The officers kept me informed on how long the transport would be to pick me up and take me to prison.

“The Bus”

This was the first time I was cuffed, and again it seemed so very traumatic at the time, I was taken from the cell and escorted by 2 officers to the transport area (imagine a big garage) where the prison vehicle waited. It composed of a van, with several small boxes from floor to ceiling, literally about the size of a bus seat from the back of the seat, to the front of the next seat in front of you and a seat with a chair for an officer. Each cell, covered in plastic, with just a small piece of glass to look out of internally and a window to the outside of the van. I was then put in the van, nearest to the guard. Other prisoners were in the other cells that they had collected on route, which made me very nervous given my offence and thinking that everyone must now know. The officers were all knowledgeable on how to handle this and I needn’t have worried, at every stage the officers asked very discreetly so others couldn’t hear or mimed/signalled V for VP to which I nodded. It was all very quiet initially, my cell door was locked with a chain and my cuffs then removed and I sat ready for the journey as they locked the door. It wasn’t until this point that I noted the gap under my door. As the door to the van slammed shut, the officer announced that she would sort us a snack and some water shortly and then we were off. The big doors to the garage opened and the van made its way from the court along the public roads to prison. Good to her word the officer very quickly came around with crisps and a bottle of water which she handed to each of us under the cell door. This was a good distraction for the journey.

Arriving at Prison

Arriving at prison, again each of the officers were professional and understood my situation, which was one of the things I was most concerned about. All the other prisoners were exited from the vehicle in cuffs to holding cells first and then I was collected. The door was opened and I was escorted to a holding cell, this was the first time I would be in a cell with other prisoners. Although I was in a room with 2 people I had never met, I later found out that this was because we were all VP’s for one reason or another (always keep your conviction/charge(s) to yourself).

One by one from each of the holding cells, people would be escorted out to be dealt with, but as it was tea time it wasn’t long before another prisoner arrived with food for us. Although a prisoner himself, he was a trusted prisoner and had earnt the position on good behaviour. Although not restaurant food or drink, I was very grateful and polite as I wasn’t sure when I may eat next.

Finally it was my turn and I was escorted out of the holding cell through to, for want of a better description, a clothes shop changing room. Escorted by 2 officers I was clearly and respectively taken through my first ever strip search. Not a nice experience, but one that during my time in prison would occur several times. After this I was then handed my prison clothing consisting of shoes, socks, shorts, jogging bottoms, vests, t-shirts, jumpers and even flip flops all in the required sizes! Although I had brought a few days clothes I was grateful for them as it could take a while to source washing arrangements.

After this I was then taken through to a reception desk arrangement and greeted by another set of officers. They took my photo for the prison ID photocard (vital for life in prison) and we went through completing/updating some more paper work and I received my login for the kiosks. The personal property was then gone through again, and logged in to the prison, some things being put in a bag for me to keep and others being put in my property box which the prison would hold on to. Items like my wallet, credit cards, driving license were logged in and put in a safe etc, however the cash was taken out and logged so that it could be used to purchase items in prison.

I was allowed the most emotional call I have ever made. As you are only allowed 5 minutes, this was very hard, but trying to keep it together I had a brief call with my dearest. Not everyone will be as fortunate as myself to have a family that sticks by your side, but I can tell you that the whole experience has certainly be brought me closer to them. The best thing they said on the call was that they were going to try and sort me a daily newspaper. I didn’t think about it at the time, but this would come to be of great help and distraction.

After my call I was then seen by a nurse who walked through several health and mental health questions. This is where any existing medication is also dealt with. Following this I was then taken in to a small room with a sofa and TV and entertained myself for a brief period before an officer arrived to have a short 1:1 chat with me. Asking how I was and going through some more paperwork she noted my offence and my “VP” status and asked for some brief details as to the charge and the reason for my VP status. Giving these very briefly in just a few words (as that was all that was necessary) received a short, okay that’s sufficient thank you. Upsetting but necessary and all dealt with respectively.

I was then taken out of the room and paired up with another inmate who had just been inducted, another VP. As the VP wing was full, briefly for the night we were going to be on a “mains” wing. It was clearly explained that this would only be for the night, which I was thankful for, but the anxiety levels rose none the less. Grabbing my bag, and a bedding bag that was provided I made my way with my cell mate and followed the prison officer through the various doors and gates to the wing. The wing was very dark when we arrived as it was late by this point, with all the lights off and every cell locked, we arrived at a cell and the cell door was opened. It was then explained that the officers would be round early to collect us about 7am. That was it and the door was closed.

The First Cell

The cell itself consisted of a double metal bunk big enough to sleep on but not sprawl out on, a small desk area, a cabinet of cubby holes, a window with bars (but no curtain), a sink, and a slight curved wall where the shower and toilet were. Both me and my new cell mate (his first time in prison to) just looked at each other and thought, right what do we do now! Both feeling tired and wanting to get some sleep (though seemingly unlikely) we went straight for the bedding pack. The pack contained the usual bedding of a pillow case, duvet cover and bed sheet along with a toothbrush, toothpaste, bowl, plate, cup, cutlery and an assortment of packs of tea, coffee, whiteners (powdered milk), salt, pepper, jams, vinegar, butter and shower gel. Concentrating on the bedding so that at least one of us could sit on our bed I started. The “bed” was really just a piece of plastic covered foam, and the pillow the same, neither was very comfortable but was sufficient. Once the bed was made it was literally time to try and get some sleep. Neither of us really slept much, with so much whirring around in our minds, generally it was quiet on the wing that night but there was some banging of doors and shouting at a few points between cells.

In the early hours, we both realised that neither of us had a watch or clock, and with no TV we realised that we wouldn’t know what time it was to wake up. However as it was going to be light by this time and we weren’t really sleeping this wasn’t really a concern. Maybe a cheap watch or clock would have been a good idea to though!

Good to their word the following morning an officer came to our door, we heard him a mile off with his keys jangling around his waist. We quickly took the bedding off the bed, put it in our bag again and off we went to our proper cell. Seeing the inside of a prison in daylight is definitely an experience and not one I intend to repeat. Crossing the numerous yards, I expected shouting out of windows etc feeling that everyone must know from the looks of us, but everyone was fast asleep. When we finally got to our house block (entirely for VPs) I felt a bit more at ease knowing that I was surrounded by other vulnerable people, this included ex prison officers, ex police officers, those that had got themselves in to debt inside and other sex offenders.

The officers informed us the cell wasn’t quite ready yet, and so they left us out on the wing until it was ready. The wing consisted of 2 floors of cells with a set of stairs at either end, with some pool tables, a snooker table, showers, laundry, an office, a fridge, a kiosk (touch screen computer), servery hatch, tables/chairs and a single exercise bike. It was general association time so everyone was being unlocked which made me feel very anxious and nervous not having been inside before or knowing what to do at all. So I stood at the end of the upstairs, next to the stairs and chatted to my cell mate for a bit. This was a good place to stand as the occasional person would engage us in conversation and we could selectively choose others to try and engage in conversation to. Engaging and chatting with others (although hard) is vital to passing the time inside and making it easier.

After a while there was a pool table spare so we played some pool, and then others came to join the queue to play where the winner stays on and this naturally led to conversations occurring. We noticed as we were chatting people using the kiosk machine. Using the login I had been provided with I logged in and had a look through the options. There was everything and anything to do with prison life on there. However the first thing we had been told by reception to do, was to do our menu choices, as it can take 3 days to apply what you choose to have from the servery to come through. So I went through for the next week choosing what I’d like to eat, there was a good selection to choose from and each day there was always something I liked. After about 30 minutes most people were locked up again apart from us and the wing workers or they had left the wing to go to work. This gave us a good opportunity to walk around the wing and check everything out which we did. As it got to near 11am we realised we hadn’t had any breakfast, so we asked an officer who told me that we needed to ask at the wing office for some cereal. This wasn’t very helpful and was quite frustrating as even if we had asked, we didn’t have any milk. However I remained polite and to be fair it wasn’t long until lunch. Not everything in prison will go according to plan, and this was something that we just had to let go of. As it turned out our cell was then ready.

The New Cell

The officer took us to our cell, this was different to the last one in that it didn’t have a shower, but still at least there was a curved wall to protect our dignity from our cell mate, and there were 2 plastic chairs. The officer informed us that he would just go and get us a kettle and a TV. I had to double check! Sorry I said a TV?! I hadn’t even thought that would be an option so I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out both were even brand new. This cheered me up as at least I knew I’d have something to pass the time straight away.

The wing cleaners had cleaned the cell initially and it was liveable, the walls were covered in the remnant of toothpaste (used to stick photos or pictures to the wall) and some paint was flaking off but it would do, over time we could make it better. We then spent the next few hours unpacking properly, making our beds and putting everything in the little cubby holes provided. The steps to the top bunk even serving as shelves. One of the trusted prisoners then came around with the officer to make sure that we had everything, and they realised we were missing the key to our cell and curtains for our window. This was something else I hadn’t thought about, you are even supposed to have your own key to your cell so you can lock it so others can’t get in, I’d always assumed just officers would have keys. Unfortunately they had lost ours, so we just needed to keep an eye on our door or ask an officer to lock/unlock it each time. A pain, but nothing that anyone could do anything about straight away.

We then noticed people had come back from work etc and that the servery was open. We’d expected it to be shouted, but to be fair I think we’d probably been paying too much attention to getting the cell sorted. So we grabbed our plate and off we went to join the queue. I knew already the food selection was out of our hands, but turned up anyway, the person asked my name and cell and he then said, ah you are new. He then asked me to wait to the end to see what was left, I thought this wasn’t very good but kept it to myself, have they forgotten about me again (I thought), however they were actually helping me out as it would give me a selection of a few things rather than just what was down on the sheet (normally the vegan option!). So I thanked them for the options and choose a chicken baguette with crisps and milk. The milk was to go with the cereal that we got from the office, it was nice and cold at the time, but obviously I wasn’t going to use it until the following day so not wanting to trust the open wing fridge (I wouldn’t for anything other than cold water) I simply put it next to the vent in the window.

I sat with my cell mate on the tables and chairs, and soon found myself in conversation with others on the wing. Again a good way to easily make conversation. After that “behind your doors” was shouted and everyone slowly was locked up behind our doors. Now having a TV and a kettle, this was definitely the time for a cup of tea! I offered to make one for my pad mate to which he was thankful and we chatted away whilst watching TV for a bit. I took time to read the manual I was handed about the prison and this informed me of how to arrange visits, add phone credit, get numbers added and everything else about prison life. Getting my friends and family up as soon as possible for a visit and having their numbers added was definitely top of my list, so I’d sort this next.

After unlock, I went to the kiosk and followed the instructions for adding my family and friends, and got some credit on my phone. As this would take some time to go through, I then approached an officer to use the phone on the wing to call my family. He then took me to the phone, entered a pin number and I could chat to them for a few minutes. Not ideal with the length of time, but it was free and was amazing to talk to them. I had to keep my emotions in check, even though there was a phone hood I could hide behind and keep quiet as I didn’t want everyone hearing my conversations. So glad I made sure I wrote all the numbers, names, addresses, DOB’s etc down.

That was then sorted and time to get to know some more people and play pool. The evening meal time eventually came round and we repeated the same routine, becoming a little more familiar and knowing to go at the end, each time there was always something to hand although it wasn’t always what I’d have chosen. For the first few days I knew that was something I’d have to accept.

I checked the Kiosk again, and my cash that I’d brought in was already on the machine which I was impressed about, so I had a flick through the canteen (shop) items I could choose and opted for a few items that would come in the coming days. Something to look forward to! The trusted prisoner came back with some Velcro and curtains for the window, no curtain poles here I’m afraid. They seemed very make shift, but they did the job required.

“Exercise” was shouted, and a door I’d not seen was opened which went out to a large yard where there was some of those outdoor gym machines you see dotted around parks nowadays. I like to run, so I went back inside, put the prison shorts and vest on and went back out to run around the outside of it and use the machines. Not the most glamourous of things but something to keep my mind occupied, it also gave lots of people something to talk to me about and me to them to. 30 minutes came around far too quickly and in we went again, but it was definitely time for a shower before lock up. So I grabbed my things and went off for the showers on the wing, a novelty to be sure, but adequately positioned doors and walls cover everything and they were nice and warm. Just as I got out they shouted lock up and off I went back to the cell.

My pad mate offered to make me a cup of tea, and we spent the night watching a film. I wasn’t looking forward to the night, but at least this time I knew some of the people outside the door (on the wing) and knowing that this was going to be my cell at least for a little while I could relax a bit. The clinking and clanging of keys I knew was a sound I would never get used to though. That was my first full day done!

2nd Full Day

The second day repeated the routine of the first, this would seem very mundane to me from the outside but being inside it helped me to settle in a bit and not feel so anxious as I knew things would happen at roughly the same time and what the day would probably form.

Today was a good surprise though, an envelope slipped under my door which was prepaid and came with writing paper. I’d kept a pen from reception so I spent some of the day writing an emotional letter. The first few days were certainly emotional, but I kept this to in my cell and on my bunk. Only a few people actually asked me what I was in for, which I dodged or changed to just the period of time, everyone is in for something but its important to keep it to yourself.

The best news ever, something to look forward to, the request I’d put in my for first visit was accepted and it was just 2 days away!