Ho! Ho! Ho! HMP by David Breakspear.
Please excuse the somewhat bah humbug opening to this blog, but I hated Christmas in prison. The only thing I liked was earlier, and more, bang up. However, I doubt very much I would have the same sentiment this year.
Bang up in prison was never an issue for me. Again, a sentiment with current circumstances in our prisons I doubt I’d have if I was still in. Being behind my door in the evenings was my time, and in the mornings before unlock, although the morning was set-aside for studying when my mind was at its freshest. Unless I had been called out through the night as a listener, not that sleep would follow a late night/early morning call out.
The hours between 4am-6am in prison are difficult to explain. As long, of course, that the night passed with no incidents those two precious hours began with cup of black coffee and a roll-up once ablutions had been covered. 2012, whilst serving in HMP Blundeston was the last-time I slopped-out. Blundeston has gone now, been demolished, but there are still a number of prisons in England and Wales which were built on the same design as Blundeston where the hit and miss, roll the dice or blow the fuse to start over operation of night-san is still in use.
Night-san is formed from the word’s night and sanitation, I know right. Genius. When the vast majority of prison cells had in-cell sanitation fitted the design of prisons like Blundeston, especially the size of the single cells, meant the cells could not be fitted with in-cell sanitation. So, slopping out is still continuing in some of our prisons to this day.
Sorry, I digressed a bit there. A profound silence and calmness was so apparent between 4 and 6. I’m not sure how I go about explaining it to be honest. One of those if you know you know situations. Once I had done what I needed to do I’d then meditate for ten minutes. After that I was ready for the day ahead. Another, after another coffee made and sat studying/researching/writing until unlock. Then it would be off to work I go.
The morning ritual I had was the same all week including weekends. The majority of purposeful activity as in workshops, education and so on is a Mon-Friday morning thing. Weekend regimes were slightly different but nonetheless I still had my own weekend routine, there are 52 of them so it wasn’t difficult.
I saw out my last prison sentence on M wing in HMP Norwich and my favourite time of the week on there was Sunday’s. Saturday we would be banged up straight after tea and not unlocked (unless for visits) again until lunch was served and then banged up again until about 2pm, bit of sosh (association) tea would be served at 5 ish and then bang up again until the cycle begins once again Monday morning.
The only change to the week ahead, which would have kicked in on the Sunday was the new menu for the week. And that had its own four-week regular cycle so would get pretty samey quick. I swear I would go out of my way to not order cheese.
“1-06 bruv. Cheese. Da fuk. Oh maaaaan! Not again!”
I’m sure some of you have worked out where I’m going with this. Routine. Prison is all about routine. This is when this will happen and that is when that will happen. Keeps things nice and simple. You know where you are, and where you should be. I’d like to think just those few sentences highlight why prisoners get so frustrated when the regime doesn’t run how it should. Or when an officer promises to come back to you but goes home instead.
And it is at this point why I dislike Christmas in prison so much. Nothing to do whatsoever with missing out or missing people and parties. I didn’t have the energy at Christmas to think of others I was too busy trying to balance my internal clock. As regular as if it were engineered by Germans and put together by the Swiss. I knew it was fast approaching, Christmas is not like Easter hopping around the calendar.
December the 25th each year, every year in perpetuity. You couldn’t even rely on the regular Friday canteen delivery. Canteen would be thrown all up in the air as well, sometimes for real too. Make sure you get your canteen sheets in for Tueswedthursday morning in the afternoon during the night at the weekend. Postal orders had to be sent via the North Pole, signed off by Mrs Christmas before being added to your spends account because
So you have to send them in one full moon before low-tide. Excuse the previous non-sensical sentences but I thought it would be the best possible way of showing you what happens to my brain at Christmas time in prison. I kid you not, it would take me until March to get back to relative normal.
And then the bastards change the clocks.
It wasn’t all bad though. Like the time at one prison when a prisoner left with the visitors from the local church who had attended the Christmas service in the prison chapel. That certainly had us rolling about.
At a certain open prison I received a five-day home leave over Christmas one year and that was a special one. Taking yourself back to prison is a strange experience following a home-leave, or at least the first one. Saying that going on my first home-leave was also a strange experience. I travelled to London by train and was fine until I got there. Arrived at Liverpool Street station went through the turnstiles and it was if the whole world were waiting for a train. They were everywhere. Fortunately, someone had met me and managed to bring me back from a bout of serious anxiety.
I do have some incredible unforgettable memories from being in prison at Christmas but that is more to do with individuals than it was the prison itself. The worse comes from HMP Pentonville when speaking to my two sons for the first time I had spoken to my own children from prison on Christmas Day. It broke my heart into a thousand pieces. Maybe that is why I hated Christmas in prison so much. However, the change to the normal regime is also a major reason.
To me the Christmas period was as mentally tough, if not more so, than the rest of the year put together.