Rows and rows of heavily barred windows rose up beyond an inner fence of thick steel mesh crowned with razor wire. Across the exercise yard a tall metal pillar was topped with several fully functioning, high resolution, all-weather, surveillance cameras. It was Christmas Eve, 2002.
The sounds of shit dance music and shouted requests for a loan of tobacco filled the dark early evening. Somewhere off to my left, from another House Block, wafted the last few words of a Christmas Carol; shouted at first, then screamed until the singer came away from his small window and someone else summoned up the breath for a chorus of “Please release me….”
Entering the large House Block where my office was located, I clanged the large metal gate shut as quietly as I could, then heaved and locked in place the heavy wooden inner door. The smell of prison hooch filled the lower hall. It was a smell I instantly associated with Christmas: sweet, sickly, rotten fruit and sugar with yeasty high notes of desperation. Passing the laundry, the smell intensified as the three laundry workers lounged inside the fuggy room – they’d have spotted me well before I’d got to them, and had already got plan A, B, and C in place for hiding the fermenting stash. I waved, smiled, and walked on. The festive brew lay undisturbed, ready to render the unwary blind, sometimes permanently. Merry Christmas…
My office was dark, but I didn’t put the light on when I entered. The security lights outside on one side of the exercise yard shone out in the cold and left artificial moonlight shadows on the walls inside. The phone rang. I knew it’d be my wife but I didn’t want to answer, and I didn’t want to go home. So I sat and stared at the badly filled in wall planner opposite. It had been a bad year.
I hadn’t cheated on her, but ten months later I would. I didn’t know it at the time, all I knew is that I wasn’t happy, something was missing. Right now it wasn’t untenable or inevitable, but all the signs were there in glorious grim technicolour. Twenty minutes passed. She would be at home worried that I had already left her. Our marriage was collapsing, we both knew it. She didn’t deserve any of this. I didn’t love her.
I left the House Block the same way that I came in – avoiding the main thoroughfare and the unending line of “Happy Christmas’s” I’d have to go through with pissed Prisoners and merry Staff before I finally got out of the jail and into my car. I locked the metal gate quietly again and started off down the outside of the cell block, breath hanging in the High Secure air.
Half way along the exercise yard I heard a drunken voice from a cell window shouting at a female member of staff on the walkway above me: “Oi….MISS. I’d fuck you!”
I stopped and looked in the direction of the voice’s cell through the evil river fog that always hung over the jail in winter. He saw me and added: “And I’d fuck you too you gay bastard.”
I laughed. “Happy Christmas luvvy,” I shouted back.
The road home ran through the flat lands of the Isle of Axholme. It was desolate in the December cold. At home the prearranged family meal had finished. Tomorrow a heap of shit presents would be opened and I would get drunk enough to fall asleep and not have to talk about us.