Whilst I was a serving prisoner I engaged with agencies, both internal and external, in how to try and improve life inside, I have recently been given a copy of some of my work that I created in prison and thought I would share. The following is from a letter I wrote to the Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) on self-harm and deaths in custody. It’s not happy reading but the ending is better.
I have just read your article in the April 2017 edition of Inside time. It gave me an immense sense of pride to know that I am a part of something bigger which will hopefully change people’s lives. Thank you for allowing me to become a part of it. I was left thinking what else I could do to assist you in your aims, so I decided to share with you the story of the very serious attempt I made in taking my own life. I am not wholly sure how it will assist you but thought it would provide an understanding or an insight at the very least.
It was December 2008, everything was going well for me, or as well as it could being in prison at Christmas. I was a listener, a prisoner representative and I was working in reception as an orderly and listener. My days were extremely busy, 14-16 hours a day wasn’t unusual, sometimes longer if when back on the wing I was called out as a listener, but I loved it. I was in my element, you see prison is my sanctuary, being a prisoner is something I excel at, and I use my experience and knowledge in helping others, that way all the negative things that have happened in my life I can use as positives when helping others.
Just before Christmas on a Saturday at about 12.30pm this guy came in with a 14 day sentence, he had spent a few days in a police station and it was clear that he was withdrawing from drugs and was quite distressed. I spoke to him as a listener to see what the issues were, because of the day Christmas fell on he was due for release on the Wednesday, four days away. He saw the nurse and doctor, he was then taken to the normal induction wing and by twenty to six he was dead, he took his own life by hanging himself. It upset me but didn’t unduly affect me. If that makes sense? However, just after Christmas a guy that I had been a listener to for over six months, also took his own life by hanging. This did have a massive effect on me, which quickly turned into anger towards the system. I phoned my girlfriend who gave me no support whatsoever and we ended up arguing. When I called her the next day, she had felt bad, apologised and said she had bought me a present, which was an expensive watch. I asked her to bring it up on a visit so I could see it, which she agreed to. Over the next few days there was another guy who took his own life, this time it was a youngster over at the YOI unit, he too had hung himself.
I was now seething at the system. Fortunately I had my visit the next day. My girlfriend had brought the watch with her, which I then stupidly took from her and tried to conceal it upon my person. I was seen on camera, they stopped the visit immediately, took the watch off of me, stripped searched me then marched me back to my wing. I lost all my jobs and was placed on G.O.A.D, and was told my visitor was now banned for three months. I can’t remember what punishment I received at my subsequent adjudication.
I have to point out that I only found out that I had been sacked from my reception job by two prisoners a couple of days later, at first I was told I was suspended. I then found out that I was being investigated for supplying mobile phones to prisoners, which was not proven as it was a false allegation made up by someone that I thought was a good friend. Someone I provided support to during his first few days in prison. He ended up replacing me in reception, he also knew my girlfriend was bringing the watch up on a visit. Yes, I was angry, stressed and bored but at no stage was I having suicidal thoughts. On G.O.A.D I was only allowed out to collect my meals and for exercise, plus a shower now and then when I could also use the phone. This night however, a member of staff was on duty with whom I got on with and he let me out for association.
I had phoned my girlfriend, she was drunk and told me that her and a friend had invited three men back to our house, she said that they wouldn’t leave and was trying it on with her, I told her to just call the police but she just brushed it off, I got angry and she hung up. I called back after waiting to get on the phone and she just said you and me are over and hung up. Then it was time for bang up. Now, bang up has never bothered me, this time though as soon as that door shut an immediate wave of emotions came over me, I felt helpless and have never felt so alone in all my life, or had felt like the way I was ever or since. My neighbour, through a hole in the wall where the heater pipe goes through, asked me if I was OK, he was also a listener. I just brushed him off with saying yeah, but I wasn’t.
The officer done his roll check, I just sat there and started to work out how I could hang myself. I also started writing a suicide note to my girlfriend. They say that once you decide it’s over, some people feel at ease. I did not feel at ease at all. I was in tears, feeling terribly sorry for myself and had convinced myself that everyone was better off without me. I couldn’t work out how I could attach a noose. I then realised that I had a load of medication in my draw, I hadn’t been taking them for a while but still collected them. There was codeine (30mg) anti-depressants (45mg Mirtazapine) and sleeping tablets (7.5mg Zoplicone), about 40-50 in total and I took the lot, I was even sick in my mouth a couple of times but swallowed it back down.
My neighbour, as I found out later, was calling me and couldn’t get a response so he rung his cell-bell and they found me passed out on the floor, everything was a bit hazy after that, it wasn’t until I had come round in the hospital that I realised where I was. I was angry that they saved me as I wanted to be dead. I was in the hospital for a few hours, got brought back to Norwich and placed back in the same cell and they opened an ACCT.
What scared me the most was how quick I went from anger to total despair and attempted suicide. As with the first guy I mentioned earlier it can happen at the click of a finger but then like the second guy, after several months. I had also been a listener and should have known to talk but I didn’t. Well, that’s my story. I hope it can help in some way, I feel it highlights that getting more people to talk is imperative and should be a key promotion.
A while ago I saw a news article about the Samaritans attending police stations in South Wales, what a great idea that could be expanded on by attending all Magistrates and Crown Courts. This is an area where local ex-prisoners could become involved, they will also have experience of the local prison and could provide a wealth of information to newly incarcerated people which could have huge positive implications on their mental health.