Im nineteen years of age. Im standing in the dock. There a Judge. A right snooty f***. Hes staring at
me. Got a twinkle in his eye. And for all I know, hes as bent as a nine Bob note, and wearing ladies knickers and push-up bra in the bargain. Or hes one of the old school. Fancies a tipple. Got a flask of Johnny Walker concealed under his gown.
So the Judge squints at me and says:
Have you anything to say before I pass sentence?
Yes your honour. Ive gone. Ive got plenty.
I snatch out my notes. I start to read. Im getting worked up. I cant find my place. I hear someone cough. I stand to attention. Clasp my hands behind my back. I raise my chin. I open my mouth…And out comes the old legal banter:
In conclusion, I say…Number one. It werent me. Number two. Ive never even met the feller. Number three. The police are all liars. And number four. Well, (I cough) nuff said your honour.
So the Judge looks me up and down and says in a voice that makes him sound like hes got a turd shoved up each nostril:
Murder is a very serious crime. You have destroyed a human life. For this you must be punished. The police have testified they saw you with a gun. We are all architects of our own destiny. The fact that you claim not to have fired the weapon does not preclude you from guilt. You are a known criminal, and a menace to society…20 years!
The first night I stuff my head in a pillow and cry myself to sleep. Im nineteen years old. I wont be going home until Im nearly forty. The walls are caving in on me. Theres barely room to swing a cat. Im getting claustrophobic. Every second in my cell is making me ill. I break out in hives. My skin feels all prickly. My face is hot, and my shoulders, and arms, and legs are drenched in sweat.
In the middle of the night I hear my cellmate moaning in his sleep:
“Barbra, my lovely Barbra”, he says.
The bunk above my own begins to shake. Were all alone. The doors are bolted shut and no one cares. Im innocent, completely innocent…I might have done a lot of things, but Id never harm another living soul. Suddenly it all gets too much for me. I get an awful feeling. I spring out of bed, and vomit everywhere.
I wipe up the mess and climb back into bed. I lie there and stare at the bunk above me. I look around the four dirty walls. I looked at the tattered pictures and the faded Playboy posters. I wriggle about, and try to stop my body shivering from the cold. Im a nineteen-year-old kid. Im doing a twenty-year stretch for a murder I didnt commit.
In jail Im mostly scared. I try and stay out of everyones way. Its not the first time Id been in trouble. But it is the first time Ive been in stir. Its the first time Ive been separated from my parents. And its the first time in my life Ive felt so utterly alone.
Theres fights erupting over nothing. Twenty-three hour lock up. Horrible shitty smells. Horrible cramped living conditions. Nosh you wouldnt torment a rabid dog with and the fear of being grabbed in the showers, by a nonce the size of an Olympic shot putter.
There are all sorts of nasty blokes on my wing. But out of the blue I get a nice surprise. Im sweeping up the floor, when who should I bump into but the terrible twosome. Ive known the pair of em for years. We grew up on a council estate in South East London. Moochie’s the tall one and Errols his light skin friend.
The first time I got nicked was with these boys. We were using stolen credit cards in a tailors shop in Savile Row. We were getting kitted up for Errols sisters wedding. Moochie and Errol did 6 months, and I got a suspended sentence. I was 8 days shy of my eighteenth birthday.
Its my second month inside and things are looking up. I get a pile of letters from my mum and dad. Im scared, but at least I have my mates around me. If anyone tries to strong it, as they sometimes do, a word to my spars and my problem is solved. Unfortunately for me this cushy number doesnt last. Moochie gets parole. And a shortly afterwards, Errol gets ghosted to an open nick. So all in all Im buggered. Im left on my own. And thats when my troubles begin.
What I remember…the two of them bearing down on me. The skinny white bloke, laughing, and spitting in my face. Then calling me a dirty queer bastard. Telling me hes gonna make my life a misery, now that my bodyguards have chipped. Give me such a god almighty kick-in, that Ill shit my pants, and bawl like a kid. Then his mucky little partner opening his fly, taking out this cock and telling me to hurry up and suck him good and proper. And when I refuse the smaller one getting me in a headlock, while his mate grabs my arm and tries to rip it off.
2 months later
So theyre standing on the wing. Paddy tells me where to find em. Its the tall skinny one with the tattoos I want the most. Hes the one that broke my arm. The little midgets just his stupid sidekick.
Im that scared I can barely stop myself from toppling over. I clench my fist again and a sharp stabbing pain shots up and down my arm. My bones still ache from where they did the damage. The skinny one twisted my elbow back like he was trying to literally dislodge it from the socket.
Its three weeks since by arms been out of plaster. Ive been calmly and patiently biding my time. Ive been lying on my bed trawling through the possibilities. Ive been planning how to get the dirty bastards back.
So Im running towards them. I smash my fist into the little ones face. I hear a crunch and his nose splits apart. His eyes go all droopy. He slips backwards and cracks his skull against the metal rails. Blood spurts everywhere. People are running to get out of the way. He curls up in a ball. He rolls about moaning. Hes paws at his face, and screams out in pain.
Three months ago, I could never have been that ferocious. But being locked up for twenty-three hours has focused my mind. Im obsessed with my own self-preservation. From now on its survival of the fittest. Its the law of the jungle, kill or be killed. Were in prison and theres no one to protect us. Theres no place to hide. And nowhere to run.
I look up and see the tall skinny one looking back at me. Before I can move hes up on his toes. Hes moving fast along the landing. Somebody shouts that one of the screws is coming our way. Meanwhile this 18 stone con called Big Nigel steps outside his door and inadvertently blocks the landing. Big Nigels got one of his famous jigsaw puzzles spread out on a plastic tray. So the skinny one has to stop. Hes forced to turn round and face me.
“Piss off you c**t”, he says. “You aint got the bottle”.
Hes standing with his fist bunched up, and I can see by the haunted look in his eyes that hes buzzing on gear.
My knees start to wobble, and in my heart I know hes right; I aint got the bottle. Im a small time crook. Ive never been one for senseless violence. Id rather blag my way out of trouble, than stick a prison shiv in anybodies back. But as usual people are watching. If I dont do him, Im done for. Soon or later every c**t in the nick ll be having a pop.
So I clench my fist again. A shooting pain runs all along my elbow. Im standing there. I actually feel physically sick. Im terrified but theres no way out of it. Its him or me. I run towards him and as he swings at my face, I duck and throw the hardest punch Ive ever thrown in my life. Its the punch Ive been practising in my cell for the past three weeks. And even before he reacts I know Ive broken his jaw.
Big Nigels starts squealing, and one of the other prisoners, a black guy name Foxy, guides him back to his cell.
The skinny geezers head rolls to one side. He lets out a wail that rises up from the back of his throat. He drops to floor and one of his teeth slides along the landing. Hes lying with blood and saliva trickling out of his mouth.
For a second I wonder if hes dead. Then I hear one of the older cons shout, do the bastard. So I smash him in the face with my shaking fist. And now my hands are covered in blood, my hearts pounding and Im going berserk. Im venting my anger against all the Judges, and all the lawyers, all the police and all the screws and all the cunts that locked me away for 20 years. I stomp on his face and watch his body twists and his legs fly up into the air. People are shouting that the screws are coming. Theyre yelling that Ill kill the poor bastard.
So what if I do? I scream back. After all, isnt that what everyone wants?
I stand there looking down at him and let the chunk of iron fall out of my hand. The second it hits the ground its whisked away from sight. Theres blood everywhere and the skinny geezers face is battered to a pulp. And then I hear the trample of heavy feet. Loads and loads of bodies and heavy feet. And the first screw in the mob fly kicks me to the ground. Then somebody else grabs, my arms, legs and my ankles. Somebody calls me a nasty evil bastard, and they lift me high and carrying me away.
I come back from the block a changed man. In the block Im alone and afraid. The air is stale. I can hardly breath. At times I feel alarmingly close to suffocation. The mattress I sleep on is smeared with come stains, dry shit and blood. The four walls are carved with inmates names. Im driven to despair and the guards play on my unstable emotions. They look through the spy-hole to see if Im awake. Only twenty-eight more days, they hiss. They flip up the cover and laugh out loud.
There are times when I revert to being a child. I scream and groan and beg to be let out. I scrap my nails along the wall and plead for mercy. There are times when I feel giddy with exhaustion. There are times when every muscle cramps inside my body, like hundreds of little bundles of stone. There are times when I dont feel quite human. There are times when I wonder if Im already dead.
I loose track of time, and for hours I focus on tiny spot on the wall above my head. For hours I attempt to run away to the land of dreams. For hours the only sounds I hear are jingle of the screws keys and the squeak of their rubber soles. Sometimes Im aware there are others around and I bang my bed against the floor. I call out, shout and scream and at last ,I am triumphant. I hear the desperate moans. I hear the rush of thuds. I hear the sound of muted screeching. And thank God, I know Im not alone.
Im miserable and desperate for any human contact. I dream that someone dropped the bomb and outside a dying world is slowly grinding to a halt. Im the last man alive. The final testimonyIm a pathetic wretched animal, in a damp barbaric cell.
Sometimes I think I was forgotten long ago. I anxiously wait for the familiar squeak of the rubber soles with bated breath. There are times when I wonder if I ever existed at all. There are fears I am afraid to contemplate crawling around like millions of ants inside my skull.
I remind myself that I have a family. I remember running through fields, climbing trees, and splashing through puddles as a kid. But for all I know thats just something I invented. For all I know Ive spent the last nineteen years dreaming my life, and now all of a sudden, I am awake.
Im afraid that I will die alone in my underground dudgeon. I sink my teeth into my arm and bit my flesh. I stab my thumb against my eye to remind myself that Im alive. I scratch the plastic knife across my arms because at least the pain tells me I can feel.
I find a spider in the corner of my cell. I watch its eight legs slowly crawl across the floor. I spend an hour talking to the spider. I tell the spider that Ill call him Jim. I hear the spider saying, “Call me anything you like mate”. I jump to my feet and pull out my hair. I let out a scream and gouge my eyeballs. I wring my hands and crack my head against the wall. I slide to the floor and hide my face. I lay their sobbing terrified. Ive finally reached the moment of reckoning. Ive actually gone out of my mind…But I survive, and now Im back on the wing, and there are lots of people glad to see me.
Im not a hardened druggie, but I have my vices like every one else. Like a lot of the guys, I smoke cannabis to pass the time. I lie on my bed for hours and travel to a world of my mind. I reach into the vaults of my memory. I think of girls I have known. I think of my family and my friends. I pray that God will help me. I spend beautiful hours dreaming I am free. I dream I go to college and get myself a proper job. I close my eyes and clenched my teeth, and suddenly the anger and frustration bubbles up inside me.
I smoke because sometimes I get so angry and so depressed I want to hurt someone. I smoke because at least it makes me happy for a while. There are days when I imagine I hear voices. I become convinced that people are out to get me. I make secret plans to murder them one by one. I walk about the wing, muttering to myself, ready to pounce and unleash my fury. Then association is over, I curse and I shuffle back to my cell.
Almost three years into my sentence and I meet a prisoner called Mr K. Mr Ks a right character and we wind up being cellmates. After 4 years and nine months my old cellmate Clive is given Parole. All and all, Clive turns out to be a stand up geezer. We fall about laughing talking about the old days. And afterwards, he sits there almost crying. He clutches hold of his bible, and swears and he wont be coming back.
I show Mr K the ropes and in return for watching his back he agrees to get his lawyer to look into my case. Since the fight with the skinny geezer, no one gives me grief. Ive now got friends. But Ive also got 20 yrs inside a tiny stone and metal box. If I ever get out of the nick, I promise myself a life worth living.
At night Mr K and me share a joint together. Mr K tells me he hasnt smoked a joint in 20 years. Instead he confesses slyly,
“I drinks Champagne and do a little coke from time to time.”
Without meaning to he has reminded me of my twenty-year sentence. Fortunately Im now a hardened man. Still, as tough as I am, Im only human. I stare at the picture on the wall of my family and chuckle sweetly to mask the pain.
Mr K and me are sitting on our respective beds giggling like schoolboys. Im on the top bunk and Mr K is on the bottom. It is around eight oclock at night. Mr K opens his wallet, holds it out and shows me a picture.
“What dyou reckon”? he says.
“Very nice…bit young for you aint she”? I say.
“Cheeky fucker. Id do anything in the world for that girl”, he says holding the picture up to the light.
There is a moment of silence, during which time I suspect that Mr K is reminiscing. I think about myself, and I realise that I have no one waiting for me at home. The last girlfriend I had was almost three years ago. Though I dream of girls nightly, they exist as only fantasies to filled the sexual void. My ex-girlfriend gave up on me long ago. Thats not to say I blame herI sometimes feel sad because, I cannot say that I have a special person. Someone that I could love. Someone that would love me back.
Sometimes I daydream about porno stars. I focus on perfect steamy bodies. Im a red hot blood male so of course its only natural. But Im always amazed when I see a gorgeous pair of tits. They are such a visual part of a womans anatomy. I try to see each girl as an individual, though in truth, there is little to distinguish one of my phantom girl friends from the next. But the girls play an important part in making me feel manly. But like all the good things inside my head they dont last.
Long you got left? I say.
I sometimes ask this question and imagine that Im the person giving the answer.
“Four monthsYou”? says Mr K.
“Seventeen years, four months”, I say.
“Salright…Fuck it”. I shrug my shoulders the way I always do.
“Whens youre next appeal date”? says Mr K.
“Not for another couple of years”.
“From what youre told me it dont take a genius to see youre innocent.”
“So Linvall, whats the first thing youre gonna do if when you get out”?
“Sit in my own kharzie and take a shit without being watched. Then visit that big gaff youve got in Kensington, and rob the place”.
Mr K likes my humour and we both crack up. Mr K stops laughing before I do. His tone becomes deadly serious, which catches me off guard.
“No seriously, what you gonna do”? he says.
“I am being serious”, I say lowering my head over the side of my bunk.
For a long time now I have taught myself not to get too hung up on my future. I feel cheated by life and cheated by the law. But fortunately Im no longer that kid I was three years ago. Im no longer nineteen and wet behind the ears. Im older and wiser. I wont weep or crawl for anyone. I dont want pity. All I want is to be treated like a human being. I want dignity and respect like any normal man.
“Really”? says Mr K. His voice goes quiet. I can tell that he is unsure whether Im joking or not. He wants to believe that Im just being flippant. Its hard, because despite what he knows of my particular circumstances, Im still a prisoner serving twenty-years for murder.
“Nah”…I say still trying to stay on the up and up. “Get married have a coupla kids, stay out of trouble”, I add.
“You gonna go straight”? says Mr K. He sounds relieved.
Im looking up at the ceiling and I dont know what to say. Its a very odd question…What exactly does he mean by going straight? To be perfectly honest, Im not sure myself. Ive been in prison for almost 3 years and in order to survive Ive had to play dirty. Ive seen more drugs and violence in here than I ever saw on the outside. Im constantly looking over my shoulder. Arguments are frequently settled in the most brutal and primitive fashion. Im surrounded by: murderers, rapists, robbers and other colourful sorts. I have spent so many years in the company of criminals that violence and extortion are practically the norm.
I dont expect the world to welcome me back with open arms. Ive spoken to enough cons to know that wont happen. Im lucky in the respect that Im reasonable educated. Unlike some other cons I am able to read and write. I went to school with great ambitions, but somehow for reasons I cant explain, I ended up a thief. The only thing I will know with certainty after my release is how to rob and beat a man to death with out letting it affect my conscious. In some respects Im more of a criminal than I ever was. At least in my thinking. And as my cellmate Clive once told me. “One mans crime is another mans necessity”. So to me, the idea of going straight seems slightly ludicrous.
“Yeah give it a go…why not”? I say grinning, because I wonder if Im conning myself.
“Listen, the day you get out, come see me Ill give you a job”, says Mr K.
“Thanks Mr K”, I say. “But by the time I get out of here Ill be ready to retire”.
We smoke the rest of the joint and I spend the night dreaming about a school trip to the Arc DTriumph. In my dream I speak French though the only words I recall on my awakening are Bonjour and Garcon.