There was a drawn out silence – weird in a Young Offender jail – like a deep breath before the plunge or the pause as the coke addict rocks his head back after snorting a line. Either way, in prison silence is a rarity and it stands out.
A Young Offender jail is full of 15 – 20 year olds. It’s a bit like gathering up all the naughtiest kids you knew at school, giving them no hope, a heroin habit, the balls to think “Fuck you” about everyone, and the anger to do something about it. I loved working there, no two days were ever the same. But, I worked with a guy who was, without a single doubt, the worst person I’d ever met who actually went home at night instead of wanking himself to a frenzy behind a 4 inch thick steel door to pictures of the women in car magazines. Then again, he probably did that too, except his door was pvc.
Rob was an ex semi-pro footballer. He’d lost his hair prematurely – much sooner than I’d lost mine – and was the product of some shithole near Leeds. He was sexist, racist, and loved every minute of doing a job that he considered “Ordering Scumbags about”. He’d gathered together two of the most misogynistic prison officers he could find and they’d often sit at lunch times chewing the fat and whipping each other into sexual turmoil by grading female members of staff and bemoaning the lack of real sex they actually had in their lives. It was like being in a KKK meeting with a bunch of inadequate onanists, plagued with their lost youth and the anger of their failings as men. Rob loved the fact he had keys – in prison, keys are power – for me they were just something I needed to get around the place, and he also carried a radio (something I had always refused to do). He’d even put in for “Control and Restraint Training” so he could carry a truncheon. Yes, really, a truncheon. Fucking hell. I hated him.
We had about ten lads in the unit – the “uncontrollable” in the jail, made to come to our unit as their last chance before a long and shitty stay in the block. They were a good bunch, headstrong, assertive, aggressive, but also lost; just too young to experience the lives they were leading. We could do some good for these kids. The work was valuable and I always thought of the numbers of people who wouldn’t get robbed if we could just gently lead any one of those prisoners onto a slightly different path in life. Rob didn’t give two shits. “Fuck them,” he’d say “they’re fucking no-hopers. And did you see Sharon’s tits this morning…..phwoar!”
We’d done a group cooking session one morning – making lasagne, which even in here meant better food than on the wing – and were all sitting around eating it in the centre, except I wasn’t eating. I had a thing about my weight at the time and I was trying to lose as much as I could. But I sat with them all anyway, chatting and watching them enjoy eating what for some of them was the first meal they’d ever cooked in their lives. But it wasn’t enough for Rob. He kept glancing over at me as he shovelled the lasagne into his grim mouth like he hadn’t eaten for months. I could see his brain working. “Ere….” He called over. “Ben, howcome you aren’t eating?” He knew why, I’d stupidly told him about how I thought of my weight. “I’m not hungry Rob.”
“Is it because you’re on a diet you fat fucker?” he said.
“I’m just not hungry.”
“You fat cunt,” he laughed. He paused, looked around the room at the lads watching him, and then he picked up a big fork full of his food and slung it across the room at me “Here doggy, doggy. Here, fat cunt.” He was laughing really hard. Then he threw some more “Come on fat cunt, eat some.” It landed on the table in front of where I was sitting. The lads just stared. Nobody spoke, and the only person laughing was Rob. I got up and went into the office to calm down. They finished the meal a few minutes later and went back to their cells for lunchtime bang up.
I was in the unit office when the lads came filing back in for the afternoon. They were hovering around the door. “Ben, can we have a word?” asked Ollie – inside for gutting someone with a knife.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“We’ve been talking and we didn’t like what Rob did to you this morning. So, we’ve come to ask if it’s alright to fuck him up when he gets here.” I looked past him and could see bulging pockets on some of the others – a sure sign there were pool balls or any manner of self-made weapons in them.
“Ollie, Rob was just joking, it was a private joke between us. Don’t be so daft. Now, get into the unit and we’ll get started.” Half of me, no, most of me, wanted to say “Yep….in fact, I’ll fucking do it, you just keep watch,” but where would that lead? And I kind of liked my own bed, clothes, and freedom. Anyway, he was gone for the day. “He’s a cunt,” said Ollie. Yes, he was.
And now, a couple of weeks later, me and Rob were listening to this silence. All the lads were on lunchtime bang up. Suddenly Robs radio blared out “All units, lockdown. Alarm houseblock C”
“What’s going on?” Rob asked.
“No idea.” Though I knew it wasn’t good.
“I’m off out to see,” and he ran out of the building towards houseblock C. Then, like a rumbling train, the noise started. At first I thought it was just the general hum of the prison waking up and getting back to normal, like an engine warming up on a cold day, but this was different. Then were screams, and things started to get smashed up in cells. The noise built, toilets were being kicked off walls, TVs thrown at doors, furniture kicked to pieces, and as I looked at the nearest block of cell windows I could see burning debris being thrown out of the small window slots between the bars. Prison officers were running up and down looking fierce. And hopefully Rob was getting his head kicked in.
About half an hour later an officer rushed into the unit “There’s an escape and the rest of them are causing a riot to distract us. We’ve got three missing.” Rob appeared.
“This is ace!” he was beaming from ear to ear.
“You cretin.” But he wasn’t listening, he was turning up his radio.
“Prisoners are in the gym roof. All tornado team to the gym.” Rob quickly got up and rushed to the door. “Where are you going?” I asked. Like me, he wasn’t a prison officer and had no business going anywhere.
“The gym!” Then, “Wooo hoooo,” he yelled as his fucked up ex-footballers knees carried him in their slightly off-balance way along the path to the large gym block.
Ten minutes later the prison riot team walked in a big black mass past the unit with Ollie and two others in head and arm locks, bent over and handcuffed. Ollie was struggling and being walked quickly. Rob was following right behind, laughing and looking all the world like an angler with the biggest fish of his life. The prison officers were ignoring him. “Hahahahahahaaaaaa Ollie,” he shouted. There were cries of triumph and dismay from the cell windows. They hadn’t made it out, but at least they’d given the prison the run-around; taken some power back for everyone inside that jail that afternoon. The riot faded quickly as the prospect of sleeping in a flooded cell began to sink in to excited minds. Ollie was moved to a more secure jail and Rob was hauled before the governor.
A couple of months later he was sacked. But not before I had the chance to punch him in the car park one glorious evening. We were one less wanker inside, for now.