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I sentence you to….. long, lonely times: The Diary of a First-Time Inmate

1500x500My career as a solicitor came to an end as a result of a ‘technical hitch’, which in turn brought about protracted discussions as to my future!

During a period of eight years thereafter I had various jobs but more importantly fell victim to the dreaded BIG C. As my recovery began (with the aid of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley and the Beatson in Glasgow, to both of which I shall always remain eternally grateful), the Powers That Be decided to proceed with Court Action against me for fraud. I had on occasion visited various places of incarceration on a professional basis over the years, but the sudden invitation at Paisley Sheriff Court to join the ranks on the other side of the fence came as something of more than a shock.

The following entries, posted in ‘real time’ over the next few months from the 5th of June, are an accurate and verbatim record, taken on a daily basis, of my, and my family’s, experiences, health, reactions and feelings as I became a first time ‘innocent abroad’ in one of Her Majesty’s Prisons.

Many of the names which feature have been changed to protect the innocent…..and, more so, the guilty!

Epilogue: After the Holiday

Volume One was intended to record a different life for me and, regrettably, the family.

Those trusted friends to whom I have foisted that tome have suggested that I carry on where I left off whilst I still have enough grey matter from which to trawl just how marked an impression those dreadful months and their effects had on us all. The old maxim that ‘Life goes on’ can now be proved totally false…..after the trauma, a completely new life began. Whether for better or not is for other people to judge.

For my part I have been taken, but not surprised, at the change in attitude in some quarters… both positive and negative. Although I had resolved to be a changed man… to be helpful, considerate, constructive, understanding, less bumptious, cantankerous, short tempered… (the list goes on, but I am already struggling with the spelling!) I feel I have slipped back into my old ways, for better or more likely worse.

Although it was interesting to see the reactions of people I met in the first few weeks of liberty, I still had a constant ache gnawing at my inners… should I try to explain exactly how it had all come about or merely try to forget the past and keep it all bottled up?

The ‘Tag Man’ had been extremely pleasant and constructive, although always with the warning of dire consequences should I step (literally) over the curfew line, but once he had convinced me that I would not meet my Maker in a puff of smoke and steam on first plunging my electrified ankle into a bath, I easily got used to it. Not being a Morton fan, despite my holiday in that neck of the woods, that first bath was sheer bliss! Unfortunately bliss was short-lived, and my main priority, apart from trying not to talk about life inside to Margaret, who was doing a great job of carrying on as if it had not happened, was to work out what the hell I was going to do for the future. It had been difficult enough before June, but my chances of gainful employment seemed less than nil with the new burden on my CV.

Wise-Group-logo-hi-resAll was soon to change, and my life would be altered in so many ways! I received a letter from Routes Out of Prison, care of The Wise Group, ‘inviting’ me to attend an interview at their office in Glasgow Road, Paisley. I tried to summon up as much enthusiasm as possible, since this was the first indication that at least someone was good to their word and sticking to the promise of trying to help when the day came, although deep down I still held the negative, defeatist view that not only was I old and therefore of virtually no benefit to the jobs market and prospective employers, but I also now had another major Barrier to Work… little did I appreciate then how big a part that ‘Barriers’ phrase would play in the following three years!

As they say in all good Mills and Boon books, … ‘Imagine my surprise’ when I later received a hand-delivered letter from a girl called Amanda inviting me to return to her office to discuss a possible placement working in that very office!

There’s an old song by Ry Cooder: Hope remains when pride has gone,

It helps to keep you movin on

You’ve paid the price to come so far,

Just to end up where you are.

For the next three years I worked up to become the Induction Officer and got to see and appreciate at first hand the everyday problems of people about whom I had little knowledge before.

For some reason I began to enjoy getting to know the ‘customers’ (not ‘clients’, since that was the Jobcentres) and to realise just how lucky I was not to be burdened with the baggage that some of these poor folk lived with constantly… separated with kids in care, recovering from solvent abuse, almost illiterate (indeed one lad whom I actually knew took three efforts to even spell the school he had attended for four years!), rent arrears, no work experience or track record to speak of… and that was just the staff ….. Boom Boom!!  I am of course referring to the customers. Many were facing the problem of unemployment for the first time… it is a harrowing experience. Some had horrendous stories to tell of their lives, and sometimes your heart went out to them, and the need to help would scream in your head. Some were verging on suicidal — some I would gladly have assisted in their quest for that goal! The first thing I noticed, however, was that the staff here actually DID care and often went out of their way to accommodate customers and spend a lot of their time understanding their hang-ups, fears, gripes etc.

Redundancy/Retirement halted my new career, but by that time, with the help and support of my family and new colleagues, to all of whom I owe an everlasting debt of gratitude, I had recovered my self esteem and a bit of confidence, which have in turn been helped even more by my recent introduction to invaluable organisations like Families Outside and have been boosted by the success stories of people such as I who have been helped to become fuller persons again with regained hope for the future.

Ok. Finito! Nae mair!

Thanks for staying with me thus far; your reward is that that you can now brush away the cobwebs which will have gathered as you fought your way through my ramblings. If I have given you an insight into life of Lawrence, and more importantly given you hope and a smile now and then, I am happy. If not, then I DID warn you!

In memory of Mags, who sadly died earlier this year.

 

 

Diary: Tuesday 19TH August, 2008

Good Morning. I put the kettle on for the first time at 6.05. Big Jim came up to the already crossed card, on his way to Court. Officer Brian’s opening comment was to say the night shift had had a call from my wife to say ‘Don’t rush since she won’t be down – EVER, she’s found a 19-year old and is offski!’ This was followed 10 minutes later by James telling me there had been a major car crash on the M8 and that the road was closed for most of the day! Just waiting for Scott’s comments now.

The diary is not finished but is being filed in Bag No. 1 for onward transmission.

WHAT A FEELING!

By jove, they held on until the last minute, well the last 11 minutes, then Brian called ‘Right, JR’, and it was quick handshakes, cheerios, etc., and ‘I’ll be down to see you’. Charlie then said he would take me over on his way for lunch. In fact he went over to Mags in the carpark while I was doing the signing out procedures and getting frisked again to make sure I was not taking any HMP stuff with me, and when he had established he was right, said I’d be out in a minute! Just shows how observant they are. A quick checkout and sign for my tiepin, tie, bus pass and a travel voucher to Barrhead (the authorities give you a one-way ticket to your home address so that you get there before the Tag man!), then the front door opened, and I was free (physically at least). Mags and Alan were there, and I did not, as I thought I might, crack — outwardly. Absolutely great to hold them both and to drive away with a toot to Joe from Education, who was out having a cigarette.

I found it difficult to concentrate on my driving and to follow conversations as well – I was not used to applying my brain to extremes as opposed to working out the lunch menus.

I don’t know how to wrap this all up – the tag is now on, and phone calls are coming in on a regular basis. I will find an ending by the time I’ve typed this far, although by that time the tag might be off as well. The utter distress I felt can be nothing to the distress, anguish, and humiliation the family has suffered – for that I am eternally sorry. But grief is too late. However I’ve survived, with the help of several people but most especially Mags and Alan and the other family and friends without whose support it would all have been so, so different.

 

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Prison diary: Monday 18th August, 2008

Getting there; went to Education for the last time and collected my floppy disc. Sat around, did menus up to date since Scott doesn’t want me doing nothing. Just waiting for my last visit this afternoon but have a horrible feeling of I don’t know what about getting out. I have Mags, Alan, and Co., but I can now appreciate why some of them are quite happy to be in rather than out – facing people, fending for yourself, keeping out of trouble with other people etc. must be difficult.

Good laugh with Alan, Alas, and Mick. I will see Alan tomorrow as near 12.00 as I can manage. When I got back, the lovely Karen was over looking for me since she hadn’t realised I was leaving tomorrow. She thanked me and wished me well and said any help she could give she would – might hold her to that. Then it was red face time as she gave me a hug and kiss – against all rules – in the main Hall – God did I get it for that from all onlookers, but worth it!

Big Jim was pacing up and down like a caged animal waiting for tomorrow. He is devoting his energy to flattening a pack of Rice Krispies, which is now just powder and could give him some explaining to do if he’s raided! Going to put it in someone’s breakfast pack tonight and tell them he’s just saving them the bother of eating air! Scott had his toe nail removed this afternoon – no pain, it appears.

Today   now   is   long     and     it         is         only       4——-1   5 !

New Pop Station has remember – Pop Nostalgia on for the good old days — ye Gods — Kylie and Jason! Geez, thank God I’m off! Another attempted suicide by the wee guy down from me – wrists again, but into loo and then rang the bell – obviously a cry for help rather than a serious attempt. It shows how desperate folk can get, but it takes some courage and an awful lot of bottle to make the terminal effort.

I hope Nora is back to normal after a wee health scare and that Alan is too after his visit to Dr Khan!

That was kind – just had a nice note from Wee James and a big strong guy from the kitchens came up and shook my hand and said won’t ever see you again. I offered Brian my cell for the night if it helped in any way – there are 25 coming in tonight!

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Only got 19 inductees, but one only left a fortnight ago – the guy who kept shouting for his mammy who was in the Hall. I think it may be a noisy night, because he is totally away with it. And here he goes at only 9.32! I had pointed out the number of new guys who had eaten half their tea by the time they got to the cell doors – I hadn’t touched mine, and I’d almost dropped it half a dozen times through shaky hands. Officer Charlie looked in the hatch to wish me a good sleep, and Listener Simon said cheerio with a hand shake. Gary said he’d see me in the morning – some are really genuine guys in dreadful circumstances. Mandy came up with a few nights’ pills, in case I didn’t have any at home, and a Discharge Prescription – good for her. Funny now the number of ‘good for’s I’ve noted – it just shows how many people do have an interest in you – albeit a lot are merely doing their jobs, but still.

This is the last night of looking at the blue steel door – but not the last night of looking at the family photo – it is going up in the bedroom to remind me of the love and support I have received these long days and nights. The last night of the green T-shirt and / or jumper. The last night of having unfettered control of the remote control, but I’m going to make an effort not to hog it at home for a change. (We’ll see how long that one lasts.) The last night of breakfast packs. The last night of someone else being in control of the light (although I did have my desk lamp).

Alan might be disappointed to note my bed was not foamed or filled with crisp crumbs, as they often are when someone is leaving! He might however laugh about Scott getting pissed off with one of the second floor Passmen bombing him with wet toilet roll when he was on the phone – there is nowhere to hide. My bags are packed and at the door ready to go – I feel tired but don’t feel like sleeping, so I’ll do my Sunday Sudoku. Must give the remote to James in the morning, custard creams to Scott, and Herald Magazine to Duncan.

We’ve arranged for Big Jim to get in at 8 a.m. to mark off the card before he goes up to Paisley Sheriff Court and, hopefully, freedom.

 

Prison diary: Sunday 17th August, 2008

Not much going on yet – Davey came in at 8.30 with my milk and ‘Last Sunday!’ I had my last brunch, done probably my last washing, and phoned Mags before she goes to Church. She’ll be knackered – Lauren stayed the night and was baking etc! I will need to adopt Davey this afternoon to help with the quiz in Brian’s absence – surprising number of gaps this week. Right, a few we are really not sure of, but we should maintain our unbeaten record. That’s it – last one is sealed, waiting for tomorrow a.m. uplift.

Good of Jim and Michael to come down to help keep me entertained. We were all entertained knowing that Scott had a double visit from his aunt, to whom he has been sending 14-page letters – boy did he get some stick. One more day of sitting on a wooden board in the visit cell – I will certainly not miss that; hoping your visitors are alright, or indeed they are there, since you’re not told if they are late and have been refused, didn’t turn up etc; regularly being left in for 5/10 minutes after scheduled start time etc. 6.00 Tonight is the first time I have been approached to sell my painkillers. No further comment but would have been interesting to hear the going rate. Breakfast has been delivered – 4 rolls, margarine, lots of jam. Davey is off until Wednesday, so he stood and talked for a while before dub up and wished me well and a handshake, but remember curfew time! Really genuine, quiet good guy who, like the others, must get totally pissed off with some of the younger folk who have absolutely no respect for anyone or anything and who, in some cases, haven’t been to school since they were eleven and who have no intention of or requirement to get educated. (Bad English, eh?)

I did a bit of packing – I’ve got a lot more than I thought, so, like Jim, I’m glad I didn’t try to make myself at home. I returned the staff radio to the Office and gave James the remaining undone Sudoku from BOOK 2. Standing at the back gate after visiting, talking to Big Jim – some of us share our family gossip or whatever, which we’ve got from our earlier visits, and I told him that Wur Jim had asked if I’d been putting on a show at visits, to which I had replied, ‘YES’. Big Jim said he’d been OK but just always thinks about his daughter. I can see me totally losing it as the doors open on Tuesday and I see Mags and Alan at the car – mind you, it would be worse if they weren’t there! Only joking about the last bit! Sorry, losing it already at the thought, so am stopping to compose myself. I really do find it hard to contain feelings at times.

I don’t know if it is the ‘nearly there’ syndrome, but I thought Summer Wine was much funnier tonight – think I’ll have a piece of a Lees Macaroon Bar which I got today – however I won’t miss the high power trading of chocolate, milk, rolls, jam, sarnies, etc., although I am glad that’s the full extent of trading in which I have dabbled. I will give Scott the rest of my horde. I better get back into my Grumpy Old Man mode for Peggy, or she’ll think I have changed. If you were of a mind, you could moan all day in here, but one of my few lectures has centred on the self-centred, greedy, inconsiderate attitude of Paula Radcliffe, or No. 23 as she is now known. Holding on and on for weeks, going to training camp, going late to Beijing, and finally deciding to run for herself, not Team GB, knowing that she wasn’t fit and hadn’t run or trained enough – all the time knowing she was merely stopping the amateur vet Haining from an all-time dream of competing – pathetic, and hopefully we’ll hear no more of her. There, it is off my chest, but of course there’s now no one to hear it – lucky them!

Damn it – I’ve got dye from my brown socks on my white boxers – I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own!

Good laugh in the Herald – the Burnley match was held up for 45 minutes when a member of the Red Devils parachute team landed on the roof of the stand instead of the pitch and had to be cut free. Simon Fraser University from Vancouver won the World Pipe Band Championship again.

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We had been talking earlier about Scottish Government’s proposals that all prison visitors have photographic ID from the autumn onwards. Half of prisoners lose contact with their families when they go inside – how lucky I have been. Apparently the Bar already charges £12.50 for photographic ID cards; that’s a lot for people who may well have spent a small fortune getting there in the first place.

Wonder who’s on tomorrow and how long I’ll be allowed out.

 

Prison diary: Saturday 16th August, 2008

Now midday, and the door is shut. Davey took my letter to deliver to the Depute Governor since he was doing the rounds today. Sure enough, I had a visit from him to acknowledge it and say he would drop me a note about it. He said it was appreciated, and so would the Officers since it helped boost morale. Good, job done, so I will settle down amongst my drying clothes, read my great Saturday Herald, colour specs on Nakamura in the magazine section and continue watching our cyclists rule the world. I had some Latin homework to do for Scott in replying to a letter from his aunt – ah memories (not of his aunt – of Latin!). The water pressure went low for a while, and from the shouting out windows, I understood that a washhand basin had come off a wall and the poor chap tried to put it back up, with water spraying everywhere. He didn’t want to shout for help in case Officers thought he had vandalised it himself, and it was only when the water started to appear under his door that help came to hand!

Good for Davey; the door has been opened for about 6 hours today, so I am lapping in coffee and gossip and general natter about Prison Service and how to deal with the ‘Goodies’ and the ‘Baddies’. The one thing to come out of the intense discussion is that there are people outside who, if you saw them, you would normally cross the street to avoid who are actually good folk who may have been in for months untried from all walks of life, as well as the other side of the coin with the (normally) younger ones from whom you would run away. There must be a way of holding untried separately, because some of them may well be found Not Guilty but will still be scarred for life.

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The guy (unnamed for his own protection) who makes absolutely beautiful models of cars, trains, houses, anything – merely from a photograph – out of small bits of scrap wood and wee stones from the exercise yard – is kept in observation for his own protection. He apparently started his jail career by pinching a drop from the Paisley Gang, including Speccy Boyd!, and has had a rather uncomfortable time since.

I spoke to Mags at the fifth attempt. She had been working at the Contact Centre this morning and had gone late for her shopping. Peggy was putting up her new brolly in the house – if she brings me bad luck, I’ll be annoyed! It’s a light one, presumably for light showers. It’s worrying in a way – I’m QUITE sure Mags had told me about the Contact Centre, but I’m not ABSOLUTELY SURE – this happens a lot now, and you’d think with little to concentrate on, I’d remember every morsel of information I get at visits or from phone calls. Let’s see when I get out. Well, it is now 6.15, so time to settle down with the paper. I said that hours ago but just haven’t had the time!

Prison diary: Friday 15th August, 2008

Biffa man arrived at 7.30 – definitely will not miss that next week. Another quiz question. What is the only Premiership Club never to have had a strip sponsor? West Bromwich Albion (per TV reporter Julia Caesar,  would you believe!). 9.05 and housework and washing all done, just about to start a Sudoku since the paper and mail delivery is so unreliable. I must complain (Aye, right!). It will be interesting to see whether today will be a long, tedious one like Tuesday, which almost had me in tears, or like yesterday which, apart from the first hour of unwellness, went so much more quickly and culminated in a good visit – watch this space (if you are still awake!).

I have had a relaxed morning, but as usual the Jobcentre wifey has not appeared – I’ll just need to do it myself on Tuesday. Scott and I watched live coverage of a penguin being knighted, and no, we have not joined the top floor wacky baccy crew! It was an Emperor given to Edinburgh Zoo by the Norwegian Government. I spoke to Wee John; he’s back for breach of bail conditions and asked if I was here the last time he was in – absolutely spaced. The penguin by the way is now Commander in Chief of the Norwegian Army and is called Olaf. No, still not kidding.

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A nice letter from Scott was slipped under my door, so I will definitely keep it to show Mags and Alan. Well, it looks as if Scott has got his transfer wish. I was in this afternoon having a coffee and watching the Olympics when he was called to the Office. If that is the case, he’ll be off in half an hour, although he has got a visit tonight at the same time as mine. While he was away, two Estates chaps came in to measure my cell – Davey said I was being served with an eviction notice. I replied that, in view of the slump in property prices, they could have it cheap with vacant possession on Tuesday early. Can’t rely on anything – Scott came back to advise he has to go on Monday to get a toe nail removed – nothing else! I nearly forgot to mention the ruse the boys are playing on Wrong Planet – or did I? He has been sitting with his back to the door watching TV; They have been changing stations with a remote control through the peephole and he has been looking around, inspecting the TV front and back, by which time they have put it back to the original channel. As soon as he sits down they do the same – priceless expressions on his frustrated face! Childish, yet really funny to see the antics.

Good, relaxed visit with Mags and Alan together. Jim and Michael on Sunday. I spent an hour doing Quiz No. 8 and will finish our answers off over Sat/Sun opening to send off on Monday. Today has passed reasonably quickly again, and the evening visit certainly gives you something for the end of the day and time to come back to share gossip with the others before bang up.

Name Rab C Nesbitt’s two kids. Gash and Burney.

Being a sook, I have written to the Governor to record my appreciation for the way I have been treated during the 75 days. I wonder if there will be a reaction. I should have kept a copy for my file but couldn’t get access to a photocopier!

 

Prison diary: Thursday 14th August, 2008

No Education today. I felt fine when I got up and had a shave etc., then BANG! Terrible stomach kept me shut in for an hour, and even Charlie was concerned. That is the worst I’ve felt since I came in; perhaps the food is now getting to me, or the fresh orange, or more likely a losing battle with nerves – who knows but – PAUW!

Once the cell and I were cleaned up, I sat with a coffee and helped do the menus for the weekend. I don’t know about visits yet, so I’ll just lie down for a while. However I have scored off another day on Alan’s calendar – we’re getting there.

Looking back over the diary so far that I have typed at Education. An update on the young lad James – he is working hard on reducing his methadone and is now about a third of his intake two months ago. Big Jim has taken him under his wing, but let’s hope he doesn’t slide when, or if, Jim leaves. I must get Jim to phone me on Tuesday night to confirm the outcome – I reckon 6/12 months deferred sentence would be what he should aim for, bearing in mind he has done three months on remand. Looking at my photo of the family reminded me that Wrong Planet had wandered in last night when I was having a consultation (!). He stared at me, then the photo, and said ‘Is that you in that photo?’ meaning Alan. I replied that was my son, to which he said, ‘Thank God, I didn’t recognise the other folk!’

What song did Cindi Lauper sing before Roy Orbison? ‘Drive all night’.

What’s the political significance of Roxette’s ‘Listen to your heart’? It was adopted as the freedom song for the Czech uprising against Communism.

Who first recorded Tina Turner’s hit ‘Simply the best’? Bonny Tyler.

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I must see if I can get an Aerosmith CD when I get out – they really have some superb tracks like ‘Don’t wanna miss a thing’, No. 8 in the Top 10 Power Ballads. It has been on all day and by far the best day’s music for yonks. No. 7 is Barbara Rush – ‘The Power of Love’. No. 6 Bryan Adams – ‘Everything I do’. No. 5 Roxette – ‘It must have been love’ (used in Pretty Woman as a rewrite from a Xmas song). No. 4 Bonnie Tyler – ‘Every now and then’. No. 3 Marillion – ‘Kayleigh’. No. 2 Heart – ‘Alone’. Bet it’s Robbie Williams or some similar crap at No. 1. just to spoil the quality! That would be a major disappointment. However 8.00 visit may well be Mags; that will more than make up for it. Fine: No. 1 Meat Loaf – ‘I’ll do anything for love’. Fair Enough!

Just heard Duncan got five years, therefore two and a half, less two months done – I don’t think he’ll get a tag, though. Wee John from Paisley has been put in a cell and locked. He’s been barred from The Court Bar and did a double take when he saw me!

Well, that was a nice surprise – Mags and Jacqueline! Really good swopping stories. J suggested any party we have will need to be in the afternoon. Funny to hear that Young L had been asking where I was – good for her. Interesting to note how relaxed J was; she is obviously used to dealing with all sorts of folk through the Housing Department. I met Duncan before visits; he is quite happy, even the Clerk of Court reckoned he would be on about 9 years plus. Quiz question from Mags: Which is the only city in the world to lie in two different continents? Istanbul / Constantinople.

I wrote Mark a brief note to thank him for his help and support, in case he is suddenly transferred to Chrisswell before Tuesday a.m. Coming back from Visit, it seems someone had had a suspected heart attack – just thought I’d mention it! It is getting a bit over the top now – along with my four rolls and half an acre of jam has arrived a bag with margarine! I’ll need to start trading jams PDQ. Heard a big bit about Duncan on the News – some arsenal he had in the house and garage! I have Scott’s Prisoner Number for future reference, but will keep it separate from my notes.