I don’t know about you but for me, January, is, by far, my least favourite month; and not just because it is cold and bleak. You won’t know this, but I’ve been thinking for five minutes since writing that last sentence on what is good about January. The beginning of a year full of what can be is all I could come up with.
There is another reason I don’t like January that much but before I share why, I should warn you that my following story contains themes of suicidality.
This specific January was in 2009, I was serving a twenty-seven-month sentence on B wing in HMP Norwich, B1-11 my address. In B1-10, was a good friend and fellow listener – Listeners are people in prison who receive training from the Samaritans to provide support to their peers – a friend it is easy to say I owe my life to.
Life had been going well for me in prison, I was considered a trustee and I was working in reception as an orderly, one of the trusted positions in prison, until you break that trust. I was also a listener and a prisoner rep, where I’d take any issues brought up on the wing to management meetings. On a previous sentence I spent half of it in an open prison, I wanted to do so again, so I was ‘working my ticket,’ and things were going well.
However, you can take the criminal out of society, but just because one is sent to prison, it doesn’t necessarily mean, one stops being a criminal. As well as ‘working my ticket,’ I couldn’t help ‘playing the game’ either. Being reception orderly meant the rewards of ‘the game’ became more enticing than the rewards of ‘working your ticket.’ Getting to an open prison isn’t guaranteed, but earning a few pounds based on your skills and job was. If I were worried that much about being caught, I doubt very much I’d have been in prison in the first place.
As the saying goes, what comes up must go down, and no more did I feel it than after being caught with my hands in the till. In prison, it isn’t easy becoming a trustee, and it wasn’t from one sentence I learnt that, took me quite a few years, and sentences. In the same way it did how to ‘work my ticket’ and ‘play the game.’ I eventually learnt in 2016 on my final prison sentence that you cannot do both.
After spending 15 to 16 hours a day out of my cell, I went to spending 23 and a half hours a day as I was placed on good order and discipline whilst being investigated for certain transgressions. I should point out the transgressions were not proved but suspicion is just as bad as the act in prison.
I then began to fall-out with people on the outside. I was feeling such a failure, and slowly but surely, I began to think the world, and everyone in it, would be a better place without me. I had been saving up my medication along with medication I had acquired other ways. At the point I had saved enough I was ready to take the lot.
My neighbour in B1-10 and I would most evenings chat through the pipe. The pipe is a thick pipe for heating the cell that runs through the back of each cell. Most have gaps around them, wide enough to slide certain items to one another and to speak to each other, something he and I did regularly, especially if one of us had recently had a ‘listener’ call. This night, he had been trying to talk to me, but I hadn’t responded. He knew my mental health wasn’t great at the time, so decided to take no chances and rang his emergency bell.
The officer who unlocked my door found me slumped on the floor. A nurse was also there, she was doing what was needed until I was taken to hospital by ambulance. Coming around properly, along with feeling ashamed and embarrassed, I was angry I wasn’t successful.
I learnt a huge lesson from my experience. Rather than wonder, if it weren’t for my mate, I wonder how different things would have been if I had chosen to do what we usually did and talked through the pipe.
At the time, I felt like the biggest failure ever. Now, I’m on top of my world.
Talking to someone can, and does, make the difference between thinking about things and acting on those thoughts.