LIFE STROY OF TERRY DONALDSON CHAPTER 7
That night the police got me out of the cell and took me to the front desk. I looked out at the warm, inviting Barbadian evening out past the steps and wished that things had worked out differently. If I had got through I would be halfway to London by now.
I thought of myself sitting on a plane, looking down at the deep blue of the water as the sun set over Barbados behind the plane.
No, it was no use thinking about ‘might –have-beens’. I had to discard all that sort of thinking and get up to date with what actually was happening, if I wanted to successfully get through this up and coming part of my life.
On the far side of the road I could see a movable stall that someone had set up out there where they were selling cold drinks and fruits.
From even just a few bits and pieces, the people the can somehow conjure up a basic living for themselves, whereas we in Europe are often so grumbling about how difficult things are for us. The fact is that we have become soft, whereas the people in the Third World have become stronger as a result of having to have been in their lives.
No, it was no use trying to run away. They would only catch me. I barely had the strength to stand up, let alone outrun some of these really tough and athletic types. I was only just beginning to go into the real cold turkey, which up till now I had partially staved off by smoking the crack.
The sweat was starting top pour itself from me, along with the heavy ammonia smell starting to fill the room.
I was formally charged, and just as I was about to be led back to my cell, just around the corner I saw two white guys, both respectable-looking.
I was taken to sit at a table with them. They introduced themselves as Mark Harrison and sidekick from the British Embassy. The one in charge was English, but the other- who, so he said- was also a ‘case worker’- was Scottish, and from the tattoos on his forearms looked like something out of the UVF, like something he had had bashed out whilst drunk down at Aldershot.
Having been nicked before- in Greece- I knew what the routine with these boys was going to be about. Did I want anyone contacted? Blah blah, the same load of old bollox they always come out with. They gave me a leaflet before they finally fucked off, one on Prisoners Abroad. It was a glossy publication. My my, we have been able to get into some of that nice funding, haven’t we? I thought to myself, looking at the stylish leaflet that was in my hands. I remembered Prisoners Abroad from the old days, and back then they certainly hadn’t been able to afford the kind of glossy, heart-rending appeal that I could see before me now.
It also looked as though they were working much more closely with the Foreign Office, as well, than had ever been back in the old days.
Years ago it would have been unheard of for a British Embassy man to have been in the business of handing out leaflets belonging to a non-government organization, or NGO as they are called.
The next day I was hauled before Oistin’s Magistrates’ Court, which was immediately adjacent to the police station.
We, the prisoners- were lined up in a special order by the police, and the first two or three that went in to see the judge were allowed home on bail. The next was one lad, on a charge of theft of someone’s bicycle. He got six months. Then it was my turn.
It was all a foregone conclusion what was going to be happening here. I’d have to do a little rollover and get my piece of time. No room for Perry Mason antics here.
‘How do you plead?’ the lady judge, Mrs. Marva Clarke, asked me.
A not unattractive woman, she was all business-like up on her bench there. But she wasn’t malicious, I could sense.
‘I plead guilty, ma’am’ I replied, ‘To all the charges’. I had been charged with not just possession, but with intent to supply, and with trafficking, far more serious offences. But there was no point in stretching it out- far better to go and get it all over in one swift bash.
She asked me if I had anything to say in my defence.
I explained how I had been a successful person prior to my drug relapse, and that I had lost everything through addiction- all of which was perfectly true. I had run into a bit of debt and been misled into coming to her country to take drugs back to the United Kingdom, and that was how I had come to end up here in her court.
She sentenced me to four years.
Under the Barbadian system, that would mean, god willing, I’d be out in three.
If I hadn’t felt so junk-sick I would have danced a little jig- to me that was a result!
The next guy to go in was a man called Williamson, a Rastaman. His crime had been to steal bottles of a local-made syrup called mauby, and then go down the street selling them cheaply. The money he got from all this was to fuel his drug- i.e. crack- habit.
He was a gentle soul, and was devastated when the judge gave him five years.
He hadn’t expected that. He had thought he was likely to get maybe a few months. For most of the guys living on the street, a small stretch is more of a rest than anything else, a place where they can put their feet up for bit and eat a bit more than they are used to on the Outside. In jail, all their sleeping and accommodation is provided, and the conditions they live in are very often far better inside than they are able to provide for themselves.
Most of the crime in Barbados, I learned, stems from crack addiction, from the thefts to the robberies, from the rapes to the murders. It really is the fuel that keeps the entire machinery of crime, punishment and attendant human suffering ticking over.
To take cocaine out of the equation would be the equivalent of taking petroleum out of the workings of a war. Everybody would be left with a huge pile of inert metal. Very little would happen, because very little could happen.
The cops that were escorting us were really pissed off that I, a drug-smuggler, should be given a lesser sentence than a man that had stolen a bottle of syrup. They were sucking air through their teeth in the west Indian style for showing vexed; they were clearly pissed off.
That just made me the more elated.
I was bundled into a police van- along with the two others- and off down to the centre of Bridgetown we went.
I had not been into the centre of Barbados’ main town at all in the week I had been here.
It was- I noticed- a very typical British-designed former colonial type place, with little courtyards sprinkled with palm trees. Narrow stone steps ran up and down along corridors built for far fewer people than were using them these days.
We parked up round the back of the main court house, and from the bus I could see a chamber where a dozen or so other prisoners were hanging their hands and pushing their faces up against the bars. They were trying to get water to drink, and were being ignored by the guard. I noticed that they all seemed very weak, hardly able to stand. As they were being ferried to and from court for their hearings, each man required two guards to effectively carry him along, so weak were they. The guards ferried them along at a gentle pace, more like male nurses in a mental hospital or infirmary than the prison officer-types I had ever seen before.
Now and again I could see them say something to their prisoners, some words of reassurance or comfort.
Then it was our turn to go upstairs and get fingerprinted and photographed.
They took us one by one. When it was my turn I was handcuffed to a burly screw, and led up along the narrow set of steps. Inside it was cool, but very cramped. There was nowhere to sit and I could hardly stand. The officials there didn’t seem to have seen anything like my condition before. One of the screws whispered something into the ear of one of the lady’s there, and she looked at me, nodding slightly. Then I was given a chair to sit in. It was apparent I wasn’t well at all.
By now I was shivering, with great convulsions running through my body. Sweat was pouring off me, forming rivulets down the side of my face. I suddenly felt freezing cold.
I was made to stand up, and put my back against a height-marker. They made a note of my height; 5’8’- somewhere along the line I seemed to have lost an inch.
Then I had my hands rubbed over with a rubber roller, putting a black ink all over them. On specially prepared forms, with a little box for the imprint of each of my ten digits, the impression was put down on them. Also the outlines of my palms. Then I was made to clean my hands with a special fluid.
It was time for my photograph to be taken.
Just as you see in the old films, I was given a little placard with a number on it, and had to look straight ahead. A woman with a digital camera put the thing straight in my face. Then I had to look to each side, for two further photographs.
After this, they led me down back to where the van was parked. As we went along a little fat Indian –looking man jumped out from the side of an archway with a big camera in his hand and snapped my picture. He had other cameras around his neck. I shouted some words of abuse at him and made the clenched fist sign of rebellion. He smiled, looking pleased with the appalling-looking picture of me that he had just obtained.
I was brought back to the van and put back in with the others. Then it was the next man’s turn. Williamson was then brought back, and we were all done. We were hungry, and asked the screws for some food. I myself hadn’t eaten in some days. When you are smoking coke you don’t generally bother, but it was all starting to catch up with me now and I was as hungry as a wolf.
‘Why don’t you order a fish cutter?’ Williamson asked me.
‘What is that?’ I asked him, ‘ Fish inside a bread roll?’
‘Yes’ he said, realizing that in revealing my ignorance of the word ‘cutter’ I really was new to the island.
Still, I was learning.
The screw brought back a cutter for each man and a really cold drink- a local form of lemonade. There was crushed-up ice in it, even down at the bottom half of the cup and remained there even after the actual drink had been guzzled.
Then it was time for us to be on our way, and another couple of screws climbed in as reinforcements, including a female officer.
As we sped along, they put the siren on, just for a laugh really. For some villains it makes them feel important if and when they do something like that, like they are some big-shot gangstaman, even if they are really in for robbing some young girl.
We arrived at a very colonial style building, passing up into its drive through a set of stone pillars, painted black and white.
Ahead was a great green gateway, which opened to receive us.
On the side was a painted sign which read ‘H.M.P.Glendairy’. The van we were in moved slowly forward, and brown –uniformed screws came out of the shadows and surrounded us, like soldier ants checking out the arrival of some other insect into their ants nest, sniffing us, using their antennae to check we were giving and receiving on the right ‘wavelength’.
The main screw in our van got out, and handed a list of our names over to one of them. Then he got back into the van, and behind us the outer doors closed, and in front the inner doors leading to the interior of the prison opened up.
By now they had switched the siren off, thankfully., but there was still a lot of attention as we drove over through the courtyard to the reception area, Now we each had to get out, and were motioned to go upstairs. I needed badly to take a shit, and asked to do so, immediately. I was shown over to a little set of toilet doors in the open air, passing through a cavernous-type area which I later came to know as the Mess Hall. I spotted a television playing to my left as I entered, perched high up on a wooden counter and broadcasting something from Caribbean News Network.
I made it to the toilets, and just in time someone came out from inside, giving me the free vacancy. I expected a squat toilet, but this was a western-style sitting one.
From the pressure inside me the liquid shit splashed against the back of the toilet with a pressure. I had made it just in time.
Unfortunately I had not thought to make sure there was toilet paper inside, and now, looking around, I couldn’t find any. My arse was liquid wet with the shite, runny, and I called out for someone to get me some paper. Amazingly enough someone did come along and over the top of the little wooden door a few sheets were handed to me.
Giving my backside a quick wipe, I pulled the wooden string- the chain had been removed- and exited out, moving over to where the taps were to wash my hands. There was a tiny sliver of soap on the side of the set of large stone sinks, and, taking it up, I was able to get a thin lather out of it.
That was better.
Obstacle number one surpassed!
Now, for the next step!
When you come off heroin, or any drug for that matte, it is important to reward yourself for each little victory you achieve.
You need to give yourself a great deal of reassurance and encouragement as you go along.
Because of the state of mind you are in- which to be frank is one of fear. When you are weak and vulnerable it is natural for you to feel afraid. You are suddenly surprised just how frail you are. Other people around seem extremely powerful and aggressive, and will very often just sense that you are in a position to be fucked over. Which is why many of them will wait until someone is in such a state before showing their real colours, because by then you can do nothing about it. Or so they think.
I mad my way up the stairs, and by now a prison officer had appeared from somewhere, and was watching over me. Just to make sure I didn’t try and disappear over the top of the wall which, I could plainly see, was on the other side of a simple wire fence. If I had been James Bond it might have been different. Just getting up the steps was a big enough challenge.
The screw was pot-bellied and on the shoulders of his shirt were the silver letters HMP, in one piece on a badge that threaded through and could easily be removed for the shirt to be cleaned.
On his cap badge was a pair of crossed silver keys. I looked around the yard as I went up the steps. To one side was a main building, very old looking, with archways in between each of the pillars on its facing. It was three rows high, and I could see the insides of the cells as I went up. Men were sweeping the insides of their cells, or hanging out washing to dry on lines that were strung across. Here and there foam mattresses were hung on nails driven into the wall to air out in the rays of the sun.
Just then the screw motioned for me to come back, and go back into the Mess Hall.
‘Get some food, fella’ he said, pointing to a small serving hatch which was open in the side of the wall.
I went over and found a thin bony face looking back at me- the face of the man I was later to know as Mason. Without much to do he poured some tea using a ladle into a peanut butter plastic container. The peanut butter had been cleaned out, but there were still traces of it round the insides. Not that that worried me. All I wanted was something to eat and drink.
Mason then gave me a thin, long cake-like thing which I later learned was called a lead pipe. By putting it into the tea, and chomping on it, I found it extremely tasty and it assuaged my hunger pangs.
Within a moment or two I had had my tea. Then it truly was time for going upstairs, and as I went in I noticed the presence of two or three extremely tall fellas, dressed in the prisoner uniform of blue denim, but with red bands on their right arms. These clowns obviously thought they were Nazis in a film or something, they way they were ripping apart not just my luggage, but also the possessions of the two other new inmates that I had just come in with.
The first guy one of them had taken over to a small side area where he had made him strip and was busy ripping up his trousers, on the pretext that there might have been something hidden in the lining. He was making him squat up and down, as if there might be something hidden in his arse and this was going to dislodge it. It was all one big pisstake, and I could see immediately the way this place was run.
The officers were delegating to these clowns maximum responsibility, so as to give themselves as easy a time as possible. One of the redbands tried writing down my name and details in a big book, but he found this too challenging and after getting me to spell myown name about three times seemed to give up.
Now and again the occasional screw sauntered in, like a holy cow in the backstreets of India somewhere, drifting around looking for something to eat. They didn’t seem to know what to do. It was like a big holiday camp where if you were a prison guard you could just walk about willy nilly as you wished, as long as you wore your cap on your head.
The redbands were the ones doing all the running. By now they were ripping my towel in half, and having difficulty even in doing that. They were even managing to botch that up. It was like looking at a clown act in a circus. The clown that was trying to rip my towel gave up, and then managed to get a bit more motivated when he saw me looking at him incredulously. He brought in his helper, and together the two of them discovered that, yes, together they did indeed have sufficient power to rip my towel in half!
After tearing it, he stood there for a moment, slightly confused. You could almost hear the little wheels n his head spinning as he tried to work out what came next. Oh yes, I was to get back one of the halves!
He held up both halves in the air, one in each hand. From the slightly sprained expression on his face, I could ell that he was asking me to choose which half would be the one I was to inherit. I made my choice, then the remaining half was unceremoniously thrown into the bin.
I was issued with a toilet roll, a small soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and allowed to keep back just one shirt- the green one I was still wearing. All my other clothes and possessions were then bagged into a black plastic bin liner and tied with a knot around the end. This was then taken to the store room, where whoever was I charge there could plunder its contents to his little heart’s content.
I remember one small pouch of Golden Virginia I still had left over, and packet of Rizlas that I wanted to take with me into the prison. It was all I had to smoke. But no, this was too likely to get used in weed smoking, and was taken off me, and also put in the bin liner. I would be surprised if they lasted for a single night I there before being redistributed to some more deserving person- namely, one of the redbands.
As time went on and I learnt more about the behaviour of these redbands in the prison I was to be amazed that no-one killed them. Subsequently, when the screw’s authority broke down in the ensuing riot and burning, their day of judgment did come about- and many of them felt the long held pent-up wrath of their outraged fellow-inmates.
Then I ws led by an officer down across the prison yard and into the main building. It was cool in here- this was quite an old building- probably built I the mid 19th century, when Britain built most of its prisons. It reminded me of HIghgate Cemetery, in its design and in its own sense of antiquity. We went along a small corridor, and then through a set of iron gates into the Back Prison, entering a little courtyard as we did so.
Here there were what seemed to be hundreds of prisoners, all heaving and striving to get out. There were four chambers, two up a set of symmetrical steps, one on either side, and two similarly down. Each section had its own gate of thick-set bars, and though them I could see men, young and old, crying out to be let out for this reason or for that. Inside this courtyard was but one screw, who capriciously would attend one particular inmate over there, opening the gateway but for him and for him only. Then the screw wold saunter down to one of the other gateways and talk with an inmate there. The inmates that got attended to seemed to be those that knew the officers’ name, or were on first name terms for some reason.
It was like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, when he looks at all the condemned souls living and suffering in purgatory.
Welcome to hell, I thought to myself. I’ve finally made it.
The screw that was escorting me was holding me by the arm as we entered the downstairs lower chamber, marked D&E. He got the other screw to open the gate- clearly there was a division of labour here, with different keys assigned to different screws.
Inside here it was like being underground.
Come to think of it, it WAS underground. I was taken along a long dark corridor, where only at occasional intervals an electric bulb did illumined the darkness, each covered in layers of protective wire.
Along the way, at tiny makeshift tables men were playing dominoes, or back gammon, and occasionally a head would look up from one of their games to see the new white boy being brought in.
I wondered if there were any others from Britain. Then the words of the British Embassy man came back to me- yes, there were about twenty other Brits here, but spread out, not all in one place or part of the prison.
I was shown to a cell, number seven, on the left, and went inside.
It was like being in a grave. On the inside was a large plastic bucket with a wire handle. In it was a considerable amount of piss, with something else floating on top- a little wrap of something in a folded-up newspaper; obviously a turd.
Opposite me was a set of two crudely hewn bunk beds, nailed into the wall in bronze-age style, and along the wall were various large nails which acted as pegs for pieces of cloth to hang from. Right at the top was a thin sliver of sky which was darkening, now.
On the walls were various inscriptions, invocations, and messages. One of them read ‘Three Kings’; another ‘Sellasie Hai’, which I understood to be a reference to the Emperor Haile Sellasie of Ethiopia.
The screw by now had sailed off somewhere more interesting.
Just then some one else came straight into the cell- a cheerful-looking character by the name of Troy Wiltshire.
‘But you can call me Baggis’ he said. He seemed genuinely pleased to have me, struck me as amazed by some of the things I said. I didn’t have anything to smoke, though.
‘Tell you what’, he said, after a moment’s pause for thought, ‘I could get a cigarette for that soap, and maybe another one for that toothpaste’.
‘What about the toothbrush?’ I asked, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. Like the sun being eclipsed by the moon, a slight frown came across his face. No, not a good idea.
‘’What will you use then to brush your teeth?’ he asked me.
‘Fuck me teeth’ I said back, and he kind of shrugged, and took out of my hand all the stuff I’d been given. If I wanted a wash, I could always beg up a sliver of soap from someone. I knew my way around prison, believe me.
But I could do with a smoke, that much I knew.
Baggis popped out for a few minutes, but came back with a couple of smokes in his hand. I immediately knew that he’d kept at least one one back for himself, maybe more. He handed me the two snouts, and then went out to get a wick so we could light it.
Notice the ‘we’ word creeping in, now. Having thieved about half of what was due to me, the bastard now wanted to make out that it was normal to #share’ a smoke with your cell mate. It was , whenever I had any smokes, but when he had a parcel come that was when it became difficult even finding the fucker.
Baggis didn’t want to wander around with a cigarette in his hand. That would have attracted the attention of a host of unwanted admirers, all keen to take a pull or two off ‘our’ smokes. Instead he came back with what looked like a mop end of slowly burning coil. It turned out to be thinly-rolled toilet paper, made into a length or what we called ‘a wick’.
He handed me the cigarettes, and I went first. Lighting the end from the wick, I felt the rush of nicotine as it hit me through the blood. My muscles relaxed, and there was a brief but distinct rush inside my head. Then that was it, my half was done, and I handed what was left reluctantly over to my new-found companion.
He pulled hard on the cigarette, so much so that it actually glared up at the lit end, and within two pulls was down to its cork. Even then he didn’t stop. Another strong suck, and his cheeks being drawn inward together so that they almost touched, and then the cork itself was halfway smoked up. As he exhaled it smelt of burning newspaper.
It was getting close to lock down time, and the screws were coming down, one on each of the two sides of the narrow corridor. Door by door was being locked, with a short pause in between for the screw to make sure that the right people and the right number of people in each cell was accounted for.
Another lad appeared in the doorway and came in. He was quite young, and clearly a bit out of it. He didn’t seem to know where he was, or what he was doing.
His name was Jamal. It sounded a bit Islamic, but actually wasn’t. The screw peered in to count us, and then shut the door. It was of a thick wood- green heart or purple heart they call it – really heavy and solid, a mediaeval –like cell door straight out of a dungeons and dragons storybook. At the back of it were many carvings, names inscribed, and symbols. Over the next three years, I supposed, I would increasingly develop my ability to read what these signs were trying to tell me.
I looked around for where I was supposed to go. Obviously, as the newest man in the cell, I would be squeezing I somewhere. Unless I wanted to be like someone out of a novel that starts knocking people out in his first evening in the new nick.
I wanted to sit down, anyway, and made to sit on the bare concrete floor. It was jagged and unevenly cemented, with cracks running through it and pieces that were barely clinging on.
Baggis was already laying down on his bunk by now, but could see my predicament. He got up, and swung himself over the side. Reaching down to Jamal’s foam mattress, he proceeded to rip it in half, straight down the middle with his bare hands. He offered me the choice of half, so I picked one.
This was to be my bed, and comfortable it was, too, in comparison to the floor.
That night I lay and listened to the sounds of the great beast of this prison that had swallowed me up, and through whose entrails I was slowly moving. What parts of me, I wondered, would get eaten away, get digested, and what part’s would remain, to be excreted, back into the world, once my sentence had been served?
Jamal suddenly went into a fit, or a kind of hysteria. Baggis jumped down, and held him, almost in his arms. But it was not an erotic embrace- it was almost like a healer taking hold of someone that had been possessed by devils. Baggis was speaking some words to him, and somehow what he was saying seemed to be getting through, if not the actual words themselves then the energy that was behind the words. Somehow Baggis intuitively had a knowledge, and understanding of what Jamal had been through, of the shock and trauma that he had witnessed that had pushed his mind to this dark and lonely place.
Bit by bit Baggis was able to bring him back. I could make out some of it, now that I had become accustomed to the rhythmic pattern of the words, over and over again, rising and falling like the crest of a wave.
It was something from the Book of Psalms, although I couldn’t place particularly which one, it sounded something Biblical. And it seemed to be working. It took over an hour, but eventually Jamal seemed to slip off into a light sleep. Maybe it was a light hypnotic or trance state, but Jamal was resting his troubled mind, and was even starting to dream.
Baggis let him go, and climbed back up the little wooden ladder that had been nailed to the rough sides of the bunk, and went to sleep.
The next morning I came to and heard the sound which I was to hear every morning whilst I lived on the left hand side of the Back Prison: the sound of wood doves cooing. It was a lovely sound; coo cooo coo cooo, and so it went on, gradually becoming supplanted with others sounds as the prison came to life. IT would happen gradually. At first I would hear the cells of the workers being opened, so that they could get ready for their jobs. These were always given the first chance to get into the showers. After the corridor was open, it was hell as there were about a hundred and fifty men on this side all rushing for shower space of about three taps.
I needed to take a shit, and, as there didn’t seem to be any other way of going about it, I stretched myself up and parked my arse over the rim of the bucket, ready for firing.
‘No, no!’ came the cry from Baggis, ‘Hold on! I’ve got something for you!’, and with that he leapt off his bunk and was down alongside me, standing, and with a sheet of old newspaper in his hand.
‘What you do, is this’ he began, so instructing in the first degree ritual of shit-taking in Glendairy Lodge.
‘First, you lay the paper on the ground’. He showed me, opening the paper into its full length of a double page, alongside the bucket.
Then, you squat onto the middle of the paper, and take the shit. Then, you wipe your arse, and put this paper into the middle of the heap. Then, you must wrap it all up like a small parcel and fold in the edges, so that it will not open when you put it in the bucket. Also, whoever takes a shit must be the one to empty and clean the bucket, when the doors open. That cuts across whoever’s turn it would normally be. We take it in turns, whose turn it is to clean the cell, whose turn it is to carry out the bucket, and whose turn it is to wash the clothes.’
This was all well and good, but I knew something he didn’t.
As someone doing cold turkey, I knew that my turds would be completely liquid. This, I thought, might make it difficult vis a vis keeping the crap on the back of the newspaper. The shit might well run off the sides onto the floor.
‘But, I think I might have diarrhea’ I said, lamely.
‘No, no’ he countered, ‘you’ll be alright’. I didn’t think he’d heard me, but by then it was launch time anyway.
I whipped off my shorts, and squatted down, just as a big burst of liquid shit came along flying through me. It squelched all over the paper, spraying as far as the door, making a modern art rendition across the floor.
Baggis looked at me with a mixture of contempt and admiration, then, out of embarrassment, looked away.
Just then I was reminded by Baggis of my old Afghan friend Sufi, in his appearance and in his manner. It was as if Sufi was there, looking at me through his eyes. Almost like a call from the far side of the grave, although whether Sufi was alive or dead I had no idea.
I cleaned up as best I could, but I knew that for the next two to three weeks things were going to be difficult for me, at least as far as using bucket paper was concerned. I told Baggis about my coming off not just cocaine, but heroin, and he seemed to have heard of it.
‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’ he recited to me.
These were the words of the Lotus Sutra, recited from the heart of the mystical invocation to the Shakyamuni Buddha. I had come across them myself through going along to some Buddhist meetings that had been occurring in my area. I wondered how Baggis might have heard them, then suddenly it was as though I could ‘see’ around him, an English girlfriend that he had had some time back, a girl visitor to his country, that had met him, and being filled with the ‘spirit of Kosen Rufu’- the devout desire to bring the words of the Lord Buddha to all other sentient creatures, had imparted them to him.
‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’ I replied, and he seemed amazed that someone he had come across at last recognized those ancient holy words, which, translated, mean ‘I HAIL THE JEWEL OF THE LOTUS’.
Baggis helped me clean up along the floor, wiping out stains of my crap that I couldn’t or wouldn’t see.
I asked him what he was in for, and he brought out a newspaper cutting. It showed him being carried along by a massive black policeman, who had both his hands around Baggis’ neck. Baggis’ expression was one of great disdain, and it seemed in the photograph as though he was struggling to breathe as much as anything else. According to the story attached, he had been on trial for robbery and had attempted to escape by using the open window of an upstairs toilet, and shinning down a drainpipe. He had made it to the back of the courtroom, but had been apprehended again climbing this, and, after having been brought back to court, had been given fifteen years.
In the interim period he had grown his hair long, in the Rasta style, in dreadlocks, and a beard, which is what made him look like Sufi, to me at least. In a way he was, for me, a kind of updated Sufi. Wherever I go, I tend to come across someone just like Sufi, or perhaps I should say someone that is a Sufi, which means ‘mystic’ I whatever language the word actually comes from.
I went back to sit down on my piece of foam, and Baggis clambered back to his perch. I looked up, and noticed for the first time a small window which was up there, and through which presumably only he could look out. ‘What’s outside?’ I asked him.
‘You can have a look if you like’ he replied, and with that I really had to pul myself up along the rickety ladder that was in reality only a few strands of wood hastily bashed into the sides of the wall. Using the outer side of my left foot, and the inner side of my right, I made my unsteady way to the top, then, with a heave, I was there. Looking down, it suddenly seemed as though I were about twenty feet off the ground. I felt a bit unsteady, and, remembering that from the ground I was actually only a short way up, found some consolation.
I looked out through a frameless window into an open area, and what I could see from the sign on its side was a medical building. It looked nice out there; an area of green grass, well tendered, with small concrete boundary running around its side. I had seen a similar style in the keeping of some of the Pakistani military buildings and outposts in Peshawar. It seemed another piece of heritage from the old British Empire days; a small touch, but nevertheless a nice one for me to see once again.
It looked completely peaceful out there. I looked through the three different sets of bars that had been thrust across the window space presumably over successive eras in the prison’s history, to where there stood a beautiful great breadfruit tree. Its limbs rose high upwards gracefully like a painting or a tapestry, such as you see some times on really old Persian carpets representing the mystical tree of life. At the top a slight breeze made the branches rustle in the wind, swaying slightly as if they were dancing tiredly together, after a long night out on the town. Further down past that I saw some other out-buildings, although I didn’t know what they were for, they looked like workshops of some description.
There was suddenly a noise from the other side of our door, or if not so much a noise than at least both Baggis and I became aware of another’s’ presence. As I looked, I thought I could imagine an eye looking back at us from the other side of the door, through the ‘bull’s eye’ or ‘Judas hole’ as it is sometimes referred to.
‘Tally’ said Baggis, as the eye outside moved off. Several times a day the screws tried to get their tally, or the total numbers of prisoners added up together, and square it against the number which their records accounted for. It sometimes took several attempts to get the tally right, often resulting in frustrating line-ups of us lot in the hot sun while they continued to keep getting it wrong.
Cherchung, click, cherchung click, cherchunG CLICK! Louder and louder came the repeated sounds of doors being opened by the screws coming down from the gate area along both sides.
Then our door was suddenly sprung open, and swung inwards.
People were already milling around the outside, moving up and down, going about their business. Little things would keep people busy, such as who was getting a visit that day, or who was getting a parcel come in. What might be in that parcel was always a matter that occasioned considerable consternation, especially if cigarettes or – should I say it- weed- was due to accompany these other goodies.
I managed to get some energy together and headed off to the tiny room that had been converted into a shower area, right up at the top of D&E by the gate, and on the left.
I managed to get to a running tap just as the rest of the gang got there. There must have been about thirty of them, and not one of them was looking pleased to see me.
Some had expressions of amazement on their faces, others their faces a picture of hostility. I wondered, as I swiftly dipped my ammonia-smelling body under the running water, if I was about to get kicked to death in there.
‘Morning fellas” I tried cheerily, but not one face moved a muscle; everyone’s was seemingly carved from granite.
I noticed a piece of soap lying on the floor, and as I leant over to pick it up I suddenly remembered the classic scene from some old American film about prison life regarding the picking up of soap from the floor of the shower, and how it was always an unwise thing to do when you first come into a jail. It was too late, though, I already had the small piece in my hand and in so acquiring it I had inadvertently flashed my white arse in the air, unfortunately in the direction of where this posse of hard-looking characters was standing, poised, ready to take their place in the shower just as soon as space became available.
I didn’t want to fuck about but I didn’t want to come across as nervous, either. Such a course of action in prison invariably creates the very problems you might be trying to run away from. If I were a much harder man, I would have played it much harder, but I am not, and never have been an unnecessarily violent man.
Nudity is always something I have never been that comfortable with, least of all in front of other men. In all my time in Islamic cultures, it is one thing that almost never happens. Modesty, or the covering of one’s private parts is considered an essential element of everyday civilized life. In some ways, you might even say that it is the essential distinguishing characteristic for a civilized existence, or at least one of the considered historical preconditions.
Another element that was to become a part of my predicament was the size of some of these guys’ equipment. I believe that one of the hidden reasons for racism is sexual inferiority, or at least suspected sexual inferiority. Ever since I had been a kid, black guys’ equipment was always rumoured to be massive. Looking around at the other guys in the shower, and then looking down at my own excuse for a dick, I suddenly realized the truth behind that old adage. Some of them were wearing snakes, for fucks’ sakes.
Ankleswingers. Black mambas. I felt embarrassed to look, and hoped nobody was going to suss me out, but peeping round the periphery of my vision I could see one guy’s dick was almost half the length of my arm, and it wasn’t even at half mast!
Now I could see why so many white chicks like a black man up inside them. They must get more sensation from a big willy, in much the same way that a man gets more sensation from a tight pussy. It struck me with the force of a lightning bolt why so many white girls are as keen as mustard to open their legs for a black man, compared to the half-hearted responses that white fellas get.
I couldn’t say I blamed them, either. These black guys all had the most amazing of physiques. They were like body-building champions, but whereas a white man would have to virtually live in a gym to get similar results, these guys just grew like this naturally.
I finished off, taking my time to rinse off. I didn’t want to seem as if I felt under pressure. In prison you have to start as you mean to go on and that means being a bit hard, even a bit harder than you really are, or at least than you actually feel.
I stepped to get over the little wall at the shower entrance, and, naked, into the corridor. My place was immediately taken by one of the black guys. The noise form the shower room was deafening. The younger men, especially, were screeching to one another as loudly as they possibly could, often deliberately imitating monkeys. Growing up in Wood Green, for someone to put a monkey label on a black person was always considered an insult of the highest order, and resulted in an immediate slap of the offender, but here it was different. The monkey was regarded as a creature of cleverness and ingenuity, and was imitated – if only in fun- with an element almost of respect amongst the local men.
I subsequently met two man with monkey labels- Monkey Man and Rass Monkey, and both were proud of their titles, having earned them the hard way.
But the noise for me was painful. Partly because I was coming down from heroin, but also because of the sheer acoustics inside that shower room were making the sounds heighten and increase.
I toweled off in the corridor, and then slid back into my shorts. My oversized trainers were still the only shoes I had, so I put them back on. In this environment of extreme heat and with lots of water flying around, I could see that they were far from the most ideal form of footwear. I looked at what the other lads were wearing and saw that they were all kitted out in slip-on shower shoes, the cheapest kind available in all the tourist shops. I mentally made a note to try and get hold of some.
I wondered what the routine was for the day, and, as I got back to the cell, found Baggis hard at work wiping the floor off with a piece of damp sponge.
He had just finished. Jamal came back just then with the bucket in his hand, and put it back, nice and clean, on its little wooden stand.
Then he stepped outside, and in a little air vent on the outer side of the door placed the cleaning items he had used; a piece of sponge tied to a stick, and a pot for carrying the water in that you would use for its cleaning.
It would be my turn tomorrow. I already felt like a bit of a tourist- I had had a shit in the bucket, but Jamal had carried that out. And I hadn’t done anything ion the cell, either.
Well, there was no rush, but I mentally made a promise to myself that the following day I would do something, if only to wash my clothes. You had to keep yourself going through each day with things to do, specific tasks that had to be done if you wanted to stay on top of it all. If you started letting things slip, such as not cleaning the floor, or letting your clothes get filthed up, you would attract the negative attentions of others and start getting the piss taken out of you. But it wasn’t only that. For the sake of your own morale you had to get busy and do your work, even if the only ‘work’ you had on or could do was that of keeping yourself and your cell in ship-shape and good order.
Breakfast time. At the far end of the corridor I could se a small team of lads in bright white overalls and caps appear and start putting up a trestle table on its two wooden horse struts. The top of the table was metallic, and had been scrubbed clean. On top of this the men in white struggled to pace a great steel urn with a lid on the top. I smelt tea, sweet and hot, the aroma trailing down the corridor. I could see the bread, too, dozens of little rolls, all boxed up, fresh, or as fresh as fresh can be in prison, anyway.
One of the lads there looked at me, and said something. I greeted him, for some reason, in the Arabic, ‘Asalam a Leikum’, which means ‘May peace be unto you’. I don’t know what made me greet him in this way. Sometimes a spirit moves inside each of our lives and does so with an awareness of things and a purpose of its own which is not fully revealed to us individually, or consciously.
This lad looked at me with astonishment, and then faltered, grasping for something inside himself before he replied, also in the Arabic, ‘Wa allei kum Assalam’ which means ‘May peace be unto you also’, and is the traditional reply from one Believer to another.
He came up close to the bars, ‘Are you a Muslim?’ he asked.
I replied that I was, that I had the kalima, the belief which is ‘That there is no god save Allah, and that Mohammed is His messenger’, which is the litmus test for the distinguishing mark of anyone professing adherence to the Faith.
‘What is your name?’ he asked me. ‘Abdur Rahman” I answered, which was the truth.
‘And yours?’ I asked him.
‘My Islamic name is Rahim, Abdur Rahim, although not everyone knows me by that name. Most people just call me Stanton, Donald Stanton’.
‘Most people call me Terry, which is my ordinary name.’ In Islam not everyone wants to walk around and make a big thing of their Faith. A name is an identity, is a facet or aspect of one’s inner being, and is not to be revealed to every passer by on the street.
He spoke with a slight American accent.
I told him where I was from, and what I was in for. He seemed to know some of the details already. It was great to be start making friends already. I felt elated that things were working out for me.
‘You’re going to need a bowl, for food, and a cup, of some kind, Stanton told me.
‘Where do I get them? I asked, rather naively. He gave me a look that said something, and made as if he was going to say something, then thought better of it and changed his mind.
‘I’ll see what I can do’ was all he said, in the end.
‘I’ll have a hunt, too, maybe someone’s got a spare one’ I answered.
Then the leader of his team appeared. A really black-skinned fellow that everyone called by the name Blackie. He stubbed out a cigarette that he had been pulling on, and flicked it clear of the serving area.
There were three of them, facing outwards with their backs to the wall in the small area facing the gate of D&E, now being opened by an attendant screw, his brown uniform with brown shoes and cap. HMP letters were on his shoulders, too, and his cap badge also showed the crossed keys, ancient-looking, almost as if its design had been taken from a tarot card.
The cry went up, ‘Tea and bread! Get your tea and bread!’ and men started appearing from the entire length of the corridor, rallying to the battle cry and congregating in a queue by the gate.
Blackie started giving out tea to the men, while I went and got my old peanut butter jar. At least it had a screw-top lid, I thought to myself, as I lined up behind someone in front of me.
‘Not so close man!’ the guy in front of me nearly jumped into the air. He was a little fella, only about four feet something tall. It turned out his name was Malcolm Forde, and he was a long-term prisoner there, having done about ten years on that sentence alone but with a further ten or so to go.
He was making out that I’d ‘bounced him’ that is, rubbed up against him in a sexually provocative way. I instantly knew that this little cunt had to be stood up to. He was getting me to show my mettle.
I raised my fist into his face, and snarled, showing some of the absent and broken teeth that the years of my most recent drug relapse had brought about.
He seemed suitably impressed. In his eyes he had me down for a nutter that was best left alone. Not worth fucking with, especially if he might be getting bitten.
A soon as I saw him take all this in, I relaxed, and smiled.
‘Only joking’, I said, cheerfully. He turned around, and got ready to take his breakfast, fast realizing that he was barking up the wrong tree if he had thought he was going to be able to bully me.
It turned out that Malcolm Forde was one of the most prolific Bullermen in the entire prison, but I never had a problem with him from that day on.
Later that day Stanton came back and brought with him a pair of old shower shoes. Now that was what I called brotherhood. I accepted them, and we talked for a while about where I had been, how I had come to embrace Islam. In talking with Stanton, I realized that I had never really had the chance to talk over some of my experiences in Afghanistan or Pakistan with anyone, or even to take time out to properly review them.
He seemed amazed to actually meet someone in the flesh that had traveled those places, that had seen the Russians take over, the revolution in Iran, and so on. It started to occur to me that I had a few traveling stories that were worth telling, if not for any heroic role played in them by myself, then at least for their rarity and individuality.
I told him about the different mosques I’d been in, and the people I had met. The Islamic world is a complete plethora of different traditions and practices, especially in India where it co-exists with that other giant of belief- Hinduism.
Stanton would drop by periodically after that, with a couple of cigarettes or even the few spare peanut-butter packets they would get together for those that got special diet. Sometimes he would ask me to write letters to his various girlfriends- he had one in the States by the name of Fanny, with whom he had had a son, also called Donald.
His sister had been in the New York Police Department, but had been killed in the line of duty. He told me of the day of her funeral, when she had been buried with all military honours.
His other girl was a Chinese-looking girl, who was traipsing around the island, basically living a wild, difficult-to-fathom kind of lifestyle.
Around this time I found out that another lad, called Tyson, had a pack of playing cards, and I would borrow them, from time to time, to do fortune–telling readings for the lads that could afford to pay me the five cigarettes that I was charging. Tyson, who was a body-building freak but with a definite interest in mysticism, asked me to help him learn the tarot. I wrote down the bullet meanings of each of the cards, and within a day he had memorized them , along with the way of laying out the cards in a spread called the Celtic cross. Whenever I got a smoke out of doing a reading, I made sure that Tyson got one too, although I naturally kept back the bulk of my earnings for myself.
Quite a few of the lads came forward for readings while I was down on that Corridor, and all of them seemed pleased with what I was able to tell them. At times like this I don’t try and ‘do’ the reading- I just let the influence form itself and then come down through to me.
There was Bentley, the Jamaican man with a perennially bad and bandaged leg, which some said was rotting, whose cards I read. There was Christopher Smith, from St. Vincent, who didn’t believe him when I told him that he would be going home on his appeal, after having been given fourteen years from his first court. But, although he had to wait an extra year for it to come, go home on his appeal he did, and without the help of any lawyer!
Then I did Stanton, and what I said seemed to affect him. He paid me a lot of cigarettes for that, and also asked me if I could do magic. At first I wasn’t sure what to say, but when he then pulled out a further ten cigarettes I suddenly remembered that of course, yes I could do magic!
He asked me to put a spell on the Chinese-looking one, handing me the other half of the packet as he did. The other lads in the cell –sitting there, watching me do the reading, just out of interest, had gone totally silent by now, but I could almost sense their indrawn breaths as they realized that I was going to be able to give them a whole cigarette –each- as a gift from me. Already I was earning my respect, if not as a master magician than at least as someone that could trick this guy from the kitchen out of a packet of cigarettes and provide a smoke that night.
The guys from the kitchen were notorious for being exploitative with the prison’s food, selling it off for their own personal gain, either right under the screws’ noses and often with their mutual connivance.
They were also known as rich. For a few cigarettes- the universal currency in prison- they could provide you with extra meat, extra fish, canned sardines, big thick wedges of cheese, extra milk, extra peanut butter. They would sometimes accept as payment other things as well, and store these up in the wooden lockers they kept stashed up in their cells on their own corridor, away from the rest of the other prisoners. These items might include Lascos, a milk powder drink very popular in Barbados and coming in a series of flavours, such as strawberry, banana, carrot. These came in very pretty packages, showing palm trees on the side of beautiful beaches, and really did make you feel you were drinking something exotic when you mixed it with water and ice.
Well, after Stanton had paid me with the full packet of cigarettes, I felt that I had better give him something of value, if I could. After all, my reputation as a juju man was now at stake. I could hardly continue to trick people out of further smokes if I wasn’t at least seen – i.e. by the two others in my cell- to be doing ‘something’ mystical for Stanton, in return for his smokes.
So, after ‘cell doors’ we kept the light on for a bit, and I let the guys have a smoke each. It was appreciated, and I now felt more like a partner in the cell and less like a tourist.
Then, when we’d finished, we had the light out, and, lying on the floor, I laid down and looked at the thin strip of light under the door. As the evening wore on, I kind of visualized this Chinese girl coming back to Stanton, and when the screw came for tally I was so entranced I didn’t even notice him. All I heard was a gruff, ‘Where de third man?’ from above me. Because I was lying so close to the door, he couldn’t see me, so I had to pull back and raise one arm, that he might spot me lying down there. Then, noting my presence in his body-count, he went on his way.
The next day the two lads in my cell were setting the corridor ablaze with an account of my magical prowess. When would Stanton’s girl come back to him? The strangest thing is that she actually did, though long after he had given up on it ever happening. But who knows, maybe magic is like that- maybe there is an inscrutable part of it which we might well be able to activate but never fully tame or make subservient to our notions of time. I can’t say, but although Stanton never gave me the full and unlimited canteen he promised me I did get a bit of a living through him for the writing of his love letters. He was a bit of a lady’s man. There was one girl in Guyana who he wanted to trick, but the reputation of the Guyanese girls is enough to make any normal man blanche. She said in her letter that she was working in a soap factory, but could he send something- i.e. money or something valuable, like a walkman? Stanton was too smart to put up with any of that nonsense. He sussed that the letter he had received was probably one of a hundred that that girl had sent out that month. It was a good business for them, apparently, because if one in fifty men that they wrote to sent something back, this was the equivalent of having to work at a daily job. From what we heard there were many men who fell for this kind of trick, and some of these Guyanese girls would become very wealthy, especially if they could get their man to fly out there and marry them.
The letters I wrote were always considered to be the best in the entire prison, although several times I would have to do a rewrite or a major correction to the letter if Stanton thought it needed changing. I was happy just to keep busy, and earn a little something along the way.
Come evening time, and the noise level suddenly increases. People milling around, seemingly aimlessly, in a massively overcrowded tiny area, hemmed in by heavy stonework extending in every direction.
I look up to the next balcony above, and see people enjoying an almost party-like atmosphere. Almost everyone has got a cigarette in their hand- some have got several, but these are unlit and are intended for sale or trade. One big very dark lad, a Jamaican, doing twenty five years for running coke through the island by the name of Biggs I see walking up and down with a packet of cigarettes in his hand. It is so dark in this corridor that I can see the whites of his eyes in stark relief. I go up to him and ask for a smoke.
He rolls his shoulders and makes a half turn away.
‘I can’t do it man’ he says, clearly enjoying the chance to say no to someone gasping for a fag.
‘This here has got to go on roll-on. I need to buy one roll-on. You got a roll-on?’ A roll-on is a deodorant. It is obvious that the last thing I have is any fucking roll-on. The frustration is massive. If I were stronger I would just knock this cunt down and take the fucking snouts. But I can’t. This is a time when the real world begins to impinge upon the fantasy world, with the inevitable result that the real world starts to win. It is a phase everyone coming off the gear has to go through, and it can take quite a while to make it through, a time when the drugs wear off and the James Bond fantasy fades. It is not pleasant at all to come face to face with your own limitations, especially after living in the cocaine-inspired fantasy land of delusion for so long.
I remember once seeing a poster for a film called ‘Cocaine Fiends’. It was one of those 1930- type films set in the Deep South, and was subtitled, ‘Your daughter could be next’.
The negroes in this film were depicted as going out of their way to seduce young white girls into a life of cocaine- addiction and prostitution. It was a product of its time.
I am stuck for a smoke, and glance around to where I might be able to cadge one. I see one fella who indicated he might be interested in a card reading, and ask him if he is ready for it. He pauses for a moment, thinking about it, then nods his head.
‘Come’ he says, and we toddle off down the lane to his cell.
Inside it is like the Hilton, with carpet on the floor, and big wooden lockers he has brought in with him. This guy is coming to the end of a seven year sentence, and has contracted HIV somewhere along the way. Here in this place such things are commonplace. He might have been held down and fucked by someone- if you find yourself in a headlock with a blade to the side of your neck there’s not a lot you can do about it if some one starts sliding up your arse.
HIV and Hepatitis C are as common as anything here. People are walking around, sharing razor blades, using unsterilized needles for tattooing themselves, and even having unprotected sex.
Young – and not so young- men are ‘shacking up’- selling themselves for cigarettes, packets of biscuits, and, if they can get it, drugs as well.
I sit down and lay the cards out. I put my hand out, palm turn up for the cigarettes he is going to pay me. He smiles, and takes out a few smokes. It’s not much, but it’ll do.
At least at last I can smoke today.
I get him to shuffle, and concentrate his thoughts into the cards. Originally this pack had but the basic fifty two cards but since Tyson has been learning the tarot side it has now been expanded, under my direction, to its full seventy-eight complement. Now we have the additional cards fort the major arcana, such as the sun, moon, and star.
When he is finished I take the cards from him and lay them out in a pattern called the Celtic Cross. I look through the cards and am not sure what I see, let alone what to tell him. It looks as though after he leaves here he is coming straight back. It is too depressing to say that directly to him, though. Surely there is something else here in his cards? I try and talk around what I see, but he has already sussed that I am avoiding the truth, I can see it in his eyes, just as he can see it in mine. In the end I just tell him to play it very careful when he gets out. There. That’s the least negatively-loaded way I can find of expressing it without being an outright liar.
Later that night, after cell doors, I light up my smoke from a wick, and pull on it. After waiting this long for a smoke, you would have thought that the satisfaction would have been immense. But it was not. It was all a big anti-climax. What a waste of time. There is barely any sensation from this smoke at all; certainly nothing to write home about. I make a vow that before this sentence is done I will have stopped smoking.