Sunday 26 January 2020

At Her Majesty's Pleasure...The first 8 days

The room was bright although the sky was dull, no curtains. My eyes were puffy and sore and my head was banging. I'd had very limited sleep on what I can only describe as a piece of sponge covered in blue sweaty crash mat plastic material. It felt sweaty and smelt of old sweat. The noise I could here was unfamiliar. I felt sick and numb. Was I dreaming? I lay there for a while, emotions and adrenaline kicking in. I heard a loud clunk and my heart started to beat through my chest. I could hear it pounding so clearly in my head. My mouth was dry and I was dying for a sip of water. 

I sat up and went over to the sink to rinse my face and to take a sip of water above it was something that resembled a mirror but all I saw in it was a distorted smudged version of myself. It was that sort of mirror small children have in dolls houses, kind of like a shiny paper.

The noise outside was getting louder and I paced back and forth wondering what to do? I could see a "call for assistance/emergency button" on the wall. Should I pull it? The door was ajar but no longer bolted as it had been all night. That's what that loud clunk was. 
I was pumped full of adrenaline and the nausea was getting worse. I felt like my insides were about to either come flying up out of my mouth or from the other end. There was a steel toilet at the bottom of the bed, but it didn't have a seat, it was very basic. I sat back down and attempted to regulate my breathing. 
After a few minutes my stomach seemed to settle and I decided it was now or never. I pulled the a jar door and poked my face in the gap of the door and wall and looked left and right. 

I could see for what seemed for a mile, doors like mine open and closed with a combination of girls shouting, laughing, generally talking and some running up and down the corridors. It was busy. 

I closed my door I retreated back to sit on the sweaty bed. At that point reality started to sink in and I sat and cried. After 10 minutes of trying to sob quietly. I decided I had to do something. So I pressed the call button. Within a few minutes a woman in a uniform and a walkie talkie that kept bleeping, a sound soon to become accustomed to, peered at me through the small window in the door before entering the room. I said " I arrived last night and I don't know what to do" She told me to have a shower and reminded me of the pile of items I'd got in my room, which included a towel, she told me where they were and then Said I would be called to have breakfast. I felt like I was in a foreign country. She said if I required a razor to shave I'd have to collect one from the member of staff stood outside the shower and they would provide me with one for a  limited time in which I had to sign for having the blade on my person.

Upon my arrival, the night before, I'd been provided with a pile of items I would need. In it was a bed sheet, pillow case, a towel, a blanket, some pants, bra, flip flops, and a grey tracksuit, a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, soap, a blue plastic cup, plate and bowl, and a knit comb. 

I grabbed the towel and soap and proceeded down the corridor and down a metal flight of stairs towards the showers. I'd never felt so alone and out of place. Everyone seemed to appear to know what the hell they were doing. Whilst queing for the shower, fortunately I started to chat with another girl, she too had arrived the previous day, albeit earlier on in the day than my 8pm arrival. Suddenly it dawned upon me I'd made an alli in this new world which had been thrown upon me. She was my new best friend for the foreseeable future. I will refer to her as "Tammy".

I'd taken a few packets of cigarettes with me which proved to be some what handy. Tammy already seemed like a pro and got me to trade some fags in for a pair of jeans, which I'm thankful for as it seemed only the "unpopular girls" were wearing the grey tracksuit all day and the only other item of clothing I had was a smart dress with high heels that I had worn the day before. Not really the kind of attire you want to be wearing in this type of establishment! 
I became quite popular, as word spread that the new girl had got real fags! Instead of the nastiest pipe tobacco you'd roll because it was the cheapest.

So to breakfast I went. We were provided with a schedule for the day with certain times and places for where I had to be and when on a scrap of paper. "Apps and questions, Shower time, breakfast, exercise, lock up, lunch time, library, lock up, tea time and phone calls and back to lock up" 

I collected a tray and was provided with a semi warm breakfast, I really didn't feel like eating it and managed to have half an apple and cold toast with scrambled egg. After that it was time to go to the exercise yard. It was exactly like I had seen on the films, women walking around a high fenced tarmacked playground. We were allowed 10 minutes before I was told I needed to visit the medical centre to discuss if I required any medications with the Doctor. 

At that time I was on an anti depressant medication, and needed to ask for a prescription. I think everyone was on them. Women queued up awaiting their meds. You weren't allowed to keep the medication on you so every morning and night and lunch time if required, you could go and collect your medication. It was like something off "One flew over the cuckoos nest" you had to put the medication on your tongue and then swallow with a glass of water they provided and then allow a member of staff to peer into your mouth, ensuring you had indeed swallowed it. I'm guessing that bit is like the part you see on films when girls keep back their medication to trade in for other things, I did in fact learn that this actually was a done thing and learnt to realise many of the girls did it.

After that we all told to return to the landing we had come from. During this period I had spoken to several girls, many who wanted to exchange stuff for cigarettes. On the landing we had about 20 minutes before having to go behind our locked door. I had been provided with a kettle, some milk and tea bags the same tea bags that very soon were to put me off drinking tea for the best part of the next year. 

I have no idea what brand the teabags were but I am sure there was more tea in an old sock. They were grim. It was at that point when I suddenly became a fan of coffee, at least you could taste it more than just water and milk.

I sat behind closed doors for a few hours on my sweaty mattress. I had a book to read, I can't actually remember the name of it, but I still have it stored away in a box somewhere, it was a romantic novel with a pink and black cover. I had traded a couple of cigarettes for it. I had also been shown where the library was, so at least I could fill my days with some reading.

Everything seemed to feel so surreal, I couldn't really focus and I just felt emotionally numb.

After the couple of hours had past, my door unlocked whilst the walkie talkie bleeped its way down the corridor. Tammy knocked my door and asked If I was going to go down to get my dinner bag, which consisted of a sandwich or packet of super noodles with an apple, yoghurt and a bag of crisps. I walked with Tammy and we sat chatting with some other girls near the pool table. Tammy suggested that we get in queue for the phone boxes. I stood and waited my turn, which seemed an eternity before I could call my parents. This was a really important part of the day for the girls. Communication with their loved ones. Some girls cried, others were smiling, others shouting. I was told at that point that all the phone calls were recorded or listened to, so your privacy had been taken straight away. 

I cant really remember how the conversation went with them or who I even spoke to, likely to have been my mum but it seems such a distant memory now. I am sure it went something like this, "I am so sorry, It's Ok here, I have made a friend, Please come and see me. Please can you bring some belongings in, I am OK, I am so sorry". I seem to remember at that point in my life continuously apologising for everything. 

I returned back to the landing for the long and lonely night ahead and I heard that all too familiar sound of the clunk of the door, as the key locked me in. That night was long and I tossed and turned, my life didn't seem like my own. It flashed before me, cliché as it sounds, like it does on the films, my mind racing with all the thoughts and images I had seen and had over the past 48 hours. 

It was only 2 days ago I was preparing for my day at  Crown Court, I'd had my last meal in a shitty wetherspoons, if I'd have realised it would have been my last meal in the real world, I would have chosen somewhere slightly more upmarket! I did not see it coming.  

I had waited an entire day for my case to be held, as the time kept getting pushed back. Right up until that very moment when the Judge stated I was getting a custodial sentence of 30 months, thinking initially and hoping he actually said 13 months, my barrister had assured me that I would be walking away with a suspended sentence. I cannot believe they do actually say "send her down" and down I went.

I cried and cried and saw my friends and some of my families faces for the last time in the real world. I was escorted down these concreate steps where I was asked to sit in a holding room. In there was a girl already, awaiting to be sentenced for stabbing her boyfriend. I felt like at any moment a games show host was going to jump out and say "just kidding" but nope, this was it, as surreal as it was this was my new life.

I had gone from being a regular girl who had never been in trouble with the police, I hadn't even shoplifted mascara from Superdrug, a local shop, that many of the girls did in my school days. To suddenly being given a custodial sentence.

The night was long and as I drifted off to sleep I could here the girls on my landing shouting to one another, telling jokes from behind their own individual doors on the landing. Some would sing, some would say how much they loved each other. Some of the girls had televisions and had picked up a daily printed TV guide from the library to tell the other girls with TVs what channel to watch and then, or to simply give a running commentary of what was on TV. 

The next morning wasn't quite as scary, it is amazing how quickly you fall into a routine. Tammy and some of the other girls suggested I put an "app" in to request moving to a different place, as I was quite far away from home and most people only stayed at that place when on remand and waiting for a court case or those on trial. I had no idea what an app was, back then you didn't even have mobile phones with "apps" on. Turns out its as simple as it sounds an app was an application. So with guidance from the other girls, I put in the "app" to ask for a transfer closer to home.

That week I became quite accustomed to the routine. I learnt if you didn't want the sun shining in your eyes, to stick toilet roll to your window with toothpaste to form a blind. In fact toothpaste was fabulous and could be used as glue for many things! Toilet roll tubes could be made into pen holders and toothbrush holders with the help of the toothpaste/glue. I learnt how to boil an egg in an kettle, how to trade cigarettes, or in fact any type of tobacco for pretty much anything you wanted. In one week, I had read more books than I had in my entire life. I learnt the words to the sound of music "Do-Re-Mi, which the girls on my landing harmoniously sang in harmonies with each other!

I was at this place for 8 days before I moved closer to home and to where I would call HMP Drakehall my home for the next ten and a half months.

I have many stories of those ten and a half months at HMP Drakehall, some good, some bad, some hilarious and some horrific. Perhaps I will share some of my experiences soon.

And as for what crime was committed and to whether I was guilty or not, as all the best convicts say...I am innocent!!! But that I suppose is another story...

"There is so much of my past self that I don't resonate with at all anymore, but I love her just the same. She was growing. She was doing her best. She fought hard to get me here"

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