Enjoy this free chapter from A Prison Diary 3…
MONDAY 15 OCTOBER 2001
The signpost announces North Sea Camp, one mile. As we approach the entrance to the prison, the first thing that strikes me is that there are no electric gates, no high walls and no razor wire.
I am released from my sweat box and walk into reception, where I am greeted by an officer. Mr Daff has a jolly smile and a military air. He promises that after Wayland, this will be more like Butlins. ‘In fact,’ he adds, ‘there’s a Butlins just up the road in Skegness. The only difference is, they’ve got a wall around them.’
Here, Mr Daff explains, the walls are replaced by roll-calls – 7.30 am, 11.45 am, 3.30 pm, 8.15 pm and 10.00 pm, when I must present myself to the spur office: a whole new regime to become accustomed to.
While Mr Daff completes the paperwork, I unpack my HMP plastic bags. He barks that I will only be allowed to wear prison garb, so all my T-shirts are taken away and placed in a possessions box marked ARCHER FF8282.
Dean, a prison orderly helps me. Once all my belongings have been checked, he escorts me to my room – please note, room, not cell. At NSC, prisoners have their own key, and there are no bars on the windows. So far so good.
However, I’m back to sharing with another prisoner. My room-mate is David. He doesn’t turn the music down when I walk in, and a rolled-up cigarette doesn’t leave his mouth. As I make my bed, David tells me that he’s a lifer, whose original tariff was fifteen years. So far, he’s served twenty-one because he’s still considered a risk to the public, despite being in a D-cat prison. His original crime was murder – an attack on a waiter who leered at his wife.
Dean (reception orderly) informs me that Mr Berlyn, one of the governors, wants to see me. He accompanies me to the governor’s Portakabin, where I am once again welcomed with a warm smile. After a preliminary chat, Mr Berlyn says that he plans to place me in the education department. The governor then talks about the problem of NSC’s being an open prison, and how they hope to handle the press. He ends by saying his door is always open to any prisoner should I need any help or assistance.
Dean takes me off to supper in the canteen. The food looks far better than Wayland’s, and it is served and eaten in a central hall, rather like at boarding school.
Write for two hours, and feel exhausted. When I’ve finished, I walk across to join Doug in the hospital. He seems to have all the up-to-date gossip. He’s obviously going to be invaluable as my deep throat. We sit and watch the evening news in comfortable chairs. Dean joins us a few minutes later, despite the fact that he is only hours away from being released. He says that my laundry has already been washed and returned to my room.
I walk back to the north block and report to the duty officer for roll-call. Mr Hughes wears a peaked cap that resembles Mr Mackay’s in Porridge, and he enjoys the comparison. He comes across as a fierce sergeant major type (twenty years in the army) but within moments I discover he’s a complete softie. The inmates like and admire him; if he says he’ll do something, he does it. If he can’t, he tells you.
I return to my room and push myself to write for another hour, despite a smoke-filled room and loud music.
Final roll-call. Fifteen minutes later I’m in bed and fast asleep, oblivious to David’s smoke and music.
TUESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2001
Alsatians woke me at Belmarsh, at Wayland it was officers jangling keys as they made their early morning rounds, but as NSC is only 100 yards from the coastline, it’s the constant squawk of seagulls that causes you to open your eyes. Later, much later, the muffled grunts of swine are added, as the largest group of residents at NSC are the pigs living on the 900-acre prison farm. I drape a pair of black boxer shorts over the light above my head to make sure David is not woken while I continue my writing routine. He doesn’t stir. At seven-thirty I make my way to the shower room at the end of the corridor.
Dean accompanies me to breakfast: porridge from Monday to Friday, and cereal at weekends, he explains. I satisfy myself with a very hard-boiled egg and a couple of slices of burnt toast.
Induction. During the first week at NSC, a prisoner spends his time finding out how the place works, while the officers try to discover as much as possible about the new inmate. My first appointment is with Dr Walling, the prison doctor, who asks the usual questions about drugs, smoking, drinking, illnesses and allergies. After twenty minutes of prodding, breathing in, being weighed, and having my eyes, ears, teeth and heart checked, Dr Walling’s only piece of advice is not to overdo it in the gym.
‘Try not to forget you are sixty-one,’ he reminds me.
As I leave the surgery, Doug, the hospital orderly a friend of Darren (Wayland, marijuana only), beckons me into the private ward. Doug is six foot, and about sixteen stone, with a full head of hair just beginning to grey, and I would guess is in his late forties. The ward has eight beds, one of which is Doug’s, as someone has to be resident at night in case a prisoner is suddenly taken ill. But what a job; not only does Doug have a room the size of a penthouse suite, but he also has his own television, and his own bathroom. He tells me that he’s in for tax evasion, but doesn’t elaborate. Doug closes the door to his kingdom and confirms that medical orderly is the best job in the prison. However, he assures me that the second-best position at NSC is orderly at the sentence management unit (SMU). Doug whispers that the SMU job is coming up in just over four weeks’ time when the present incumbent, Matthew, will be released. Mr New, the senior officer – equivalent to Mr Tinkler at Wayland – will make the final decision, but Doug will put in a good word for me. ‘Whatever you do,’ he adds, ‘don’t end up working on the farm. Winter’s not far off, so if the food doesn’t kill you, the farm will.’ As I leave, he adds, ‘Come and have a drink this evening.’ (By that he means tea or coffee.) ‘I’m allowed two guests from seven to ten, and you’d be welcome.’ I thank him and, silently, my old mentor Darren. Who you know is just as important on the inside as it is on the outside.
My second induction meeting is to decide what job I’ll do while I’m at NSC. I make my way to the sentence management unit, a building that was formerly the governor’s house and is situated just a few yards from the front gate. The pathway leading up to the entrance is lined with tired red flowers. The light blue front door could do with a lick of paint; it looks as if it is regularly kicked open rather than pushed.
The first room I enter has the feel of a conservatory. It has a dozen wooden chairs, and a notice board covered in information leaflets. Four officers, including a Mr Gough, who looks like a prep school master, occupy the first room on the ground floor. As he ticks off my name, Mr Gough announces, in a broad Norfolk accent, that he will be speaking to all the new inductees once everyone has come across from their medical examination. But as Dr Walling is taking fifteen minutes with each new prisoner, we may be sitting around for some time. As I wait impatiently in the conservatory, I become aware how filthy the room is. At Wayland, the floors shone from their daily buffing, and if you stood still for more than a few moments, someone painted you.
Eventually, all seven new inductees turn up. Mr Gough welcomes us, and begins by saying that as most prisoners spend less than three months at NSC, the officers aim to make our time as civilized as possible while they prepare us for returning to the outside world. Mr Gough explains that at NSC anyone can abscond. It’s all too easy as there are no walls to keep you in. ‘But if you do decide to leave us, please remember to leave your room key on your pillow.’ He’s not joking.
He then tells us about a young man, who absconded sixteen hours before he was due to be released. He was picked up in Boston the following morning and transferred to a C-cat, where he spent a further six weeks. Point taken.
Mr Gough takes us through the jobs that are available for all prisoners under the age of sixty, pointing out that over half the inmates work on the farm. The other half can enrol for education, or take on the usual jobs in the kitchen, or painting, gardening or as a cleaner.
Mr Gough ends by telling us that we all have to abide by a ‘no drugs policy’. Refusing to sign the three documents stating you are not on drugs and will agree at any time to a voluntary drugs test will rule you out of becoming ‘enhanced’ in eight weeks’ time. Enhancement allows you a further £5 a week to spend in the canteen, along with several other privileges. To a question, Mr Gough replies, ‘Wearing your own clothes is not permitted in an open prison as it would make absconding that much easier.’ However, I did notice that Doug (tax evasion) was wearing a green T-shirt and brown slacks held up by the most outrageous Walt Disney braces. There’s always someone who finds a way round the system.
I happily sign all of Mr Gough’s drug forms and am then sent upstairs to be interviewed by another officer. Mr Donnelly not only looks like a farmer, but is also dressed in green overalls and wearing Wellington boots. No wonder the place is so dirty. He appears keen for me to join him on the farm, but I explain (on Doug’s advice) that I would like to be considered for Matthew’s job as SMU orderly. He makes a note, and frowns.
After ten weeks locked up in Wayland and always being handed a plate of food, I can’t get used to helping myself. One of the kitchen staff laughs when I pass over my plate and expect to be served. ‘A clear sign you’ve just arrived from a closed prison,’ he remarks. ‘Welcome to the real world, Jeff.’
After lunch, Dean takes me across to view the more secluded, quieter south block, which is at the far end of the prison and houses the older inmates. Here, there is a totally different atmosphere.
Dean shows me an empty room, large by normal standards, about twenty by eight feet, with a window that looks out over the bleak North Sea. He explains that the whole spur is in the process of redecoration and is scheduled to reopen on Monday. In-cell electricity (ICE) will be added, and all rooms will eventually have a television. On our way back to the north block, an officer informs me that the principal officer, Mr New, wants to see me immediately. I’m nervous. What have I done wrong? Is he going to send me back to Wayland?
PO New is in his late forties, around five feet eleven, with a shock of thick white hair. He greets me with a warm smile. ‘I hear you want to work at SMU?’ he says, and before I can reply adds, ‘You’ve got the job. As Matthew is leaving in four weeks’ time, you’d better start straight away so there can be a smooth takeover.’ I’ve hardly got the words thank you out before he continues, ‘I hear you want to move to the south block, which I’m sure will be possible, and I’m also told you want to be transferred to Spring Hill, which,’ he adds, ‘will not be quite as easy, because they don’t want you and the attendant publicity that goes with you.’ My heart sinks. ‘However,’ he says, again before I can respond, ‘if that’s what you want, I’ll have a word with my opposite number at Spring Hill and see if she can help.’
Once Mr New has completed his discourse, we go downstairs to meet Matthew, the current orderly. Matthew is a shy young man, who has a lost, academic air about him. I can’t imagine what he’s doing in prison. Despite Mr New talking most of the time, Matthew manages to tell me what his responsibilities are, from making tea and coffee for the eleven occupants of the building, through to preparing induction files for every prisoner. He’s out on a town leave tomorrow, so I will be thrown in at the deep end.
Dean grabs my laundry bag and then accompanies me to supper, explaining that orderlies have the privilege of eating on their own thirty minutes ahead of all the other inmates.
‘You get first choice of the food,’ he adds, ‘and as there are about a dozen of us,’ (hospital, stores, reception, library, gym, education, chapel and gardens; it’s quite a privilege). All this within twenty-four hours isn’t going to make me popular.
WEDNESDAY 17 OCTOBER 2001
I wake a few minutes after five and go for a pee in the latrine at the end of the corridor. Have you noticed that when you’re disoriented, or fearful, you don’t go to the lavatory for some time? There must be a simple medical explanation for this. I didn’t ‘open my bowels’–to use the doctor’s expression–for the first five days at Belmarsh, the first three days at Wayland and so far ‘no-go’ at NSC.
Dean turns up to take me to breakfast. I may not bother in future, as I don’t eat porridge, and it’s hardly worth the journey for a couple of slices of burnt toast. Dean warns me that the press are swarming all over the place, and large sums are being offered for a photo of me in prison uniform. Should they get a snap, they will be disappointed to find me strolling around in a T-shirt and jeans. No arrows, no number, no ball and chain.
At reception, I ask Mr Daff if it would be possible to have a clean T-shirt, as my wife is visiting me this afternoon.
‘Where do you think you fuckin’ are, Archer, fuckin’ Harrods?’
As a new prisoner, I continue my induction course. My first meeting this morning is in the gym. We all assemble in a small Portacabin and watch a ten minute black-and-white video on safety at work. The instructor concentrates on lifting, as there are several jobs at NSC that require you to pick up heavy loads, not to mention numerous prisoners who will be pumping weights in the gym. Mr Masters, the senior gym officer, who has been at NSC for nineteen years, then gives us a guided tour of the gym and its facilities. It is not as large or well equipped as Wayland, but it does have three pieces of cardiovascular kit that will allow me to remain fit – a rowing machine, a step machine and a bicycle. The gym itself is just large enough to play basketball, whereas the weights room is about half the size of the one at Wayland. The gym is open every evening except Monday from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm, so you don’t have (grunt, grunt – the pigs are having breakfast) to complete the programme in a given hour. I hope to start this weekend, by which time I should have found my way around (grunt, grunt). Badminton is the most popular sport, and although NSC has a football team, the recent foot-and-mouth problems have played havoc when it comes to being allowed out onto the pitch (grunt, grunt).
Education. We all meet in the chapel. The education officer takes us through the various alternatives on offer. Most of the new inmates sit sulkily in their chairs, staring blankly at her. As I have already been allocated a job as the SMU orderly, I listen in respectful silence, and once she’s finished her talk, report back to my new job.
Matthew is away on a town visit today, but I quickly discover that the SMU job has three main responsibilities:
a) Making tea and coffee for the eleven staff who regularly work in the building, plus those who drop in to visit a colleague.
b) Preparing the files for new inductees so that the officers have all their details to hand: sentence, FLED (full licence eligibility date), home address, whether they have a home or job to go to, whether they have any money of their own, whether their family want them back.
c) Preparing prisoners’ forms for visits, days out, weekend leave, work out and compassionate or sick leave.
It will also be part of my job to see that every prisoner is sent to the relevant officer, according to his needs. Mr Simpson, the resident probation officer tells me, ‘I’ll see anyone if I’m free, otherwise ask them to make an appointment,’ allowing him to deal with those prisoners who have a genuine problem, and avoid those who stroll in to complain every other day.
I go to lunch with the other orderlies. The officer in charge of the kitchen, Wendy, tells me that NSC was commended for having the best food in the prison service. She says, ‘You should try the meat and stop being a VIP [vegetarian in prison].’ Wendy is a sort of pocket-sized Margaret Thatcher. Her kitchen is spotless, while her men slave away in their pristine white overalls leaving one in no doubt of their respect for her. I promise to try the meat in two weeks’ time when I fill in my next menu voucher. (See overleaf.)
Now I’m in a D-cat prison, I’m allowed one visit a week. After one-third of my sentence has been completed, other privileges will be added. Heaven knows what the press will make of my first town visit. However, all of this could change rapidly once my appeal has been heard. If your sentence is four years or more, you are only eligible for parole, whereas if it’s less than four years, you will automatically be released after serving half your sentence, and if you’ve been a model prisoner, you can have another two months off while being tagged
Back to today’s visit. Two old friends, David Paterson and Tony Bloom, accompany Mary.
The three of them turn up twenty minutes late, which only emphasizes how dreadful the 250-mile round journey from London must be. Mary and I have thirty minutes on our own, and she tells me that my solicitors have approached Sir Sydney Kentridge QC to take over my appeal if it involves that Mr Justice Potts was prejudiced against me before the trial started. The one witness who could testify, Godfrey Barker, is now proving reluctant to come forward. He fears that his wife, who works at the Home Office, may lose her job. Mary feels he will do what is just. I feel he will vacillate and fall by the wayside. She is the optimist, I am the pessimist. It’s usually the other way round.