I wake shivering at around 7.00 am. Despite wearing all of the few items of clothing issued, the solitary blanket (not even a proper blanket at that) could not keep out the biting cold. But after several nights like this I have slept. And dreamt. Unusual, and, a mixed blessing, bringing back haunting memories of my former happy life, my children, my ex-partner. A life so far away now it’s recollection in such vivid tones disturbs me.
I rise from the iron bed frame, which creaks and groans as if in echo of how I feel. Everything around me is cold to the touch, most of all the bare stone floor. I put on prison issue slippers, the only footwear I’m allowed in the segregation unit. I wash my face in the cold water and begin exercising to try and get some warmth back into my bones.
The Judas flap is opened for the first time of the day, and a screw peers in, flipping the light off and on. It’s Sunday, so the routine is running somewhat later than usual. At around 7.30 am some form of triangle is clattered, then around 8.15 am the door is unlocked for breakfast. I emerge from my cell to be greeted by a dozen screws competing to see who can pull the sourest face. I walk a few feet to the hotplate to collect my food, and then return to my cell.
Disaster! I forgot to make an application for exercise, so I must spend the whole of the next 24 hours in the cell. The cell is 13 foot x 7 foot with walls and ceiling of white, and bright fluorescent light overhead. There is a barred window with a narrow mesh cage outside the bars. Above this, cutting off the sky, is another cage. Apart from the bed there is a ‘cardboard table’ and ‘chair’, the latter unusable, the former not much better. There is also a stainless steel sink and a vile smelling toilet.
I eat my breakfast. I have been given no bread ration all the time I have been in the seg unit, nor have I been given my tea ration. I sip some cold water. I find my mind going back again and again to the dream.
All my property has been withheld from me, I have absolutely nothing. I managed to get hold of a pen after a few days because I was required to fill out an official form, and am writing this on the back of an old envelope. Feeling cold again I do some more exercises and pace the cell to keep warm.
Lunch is at 11.00 am, mushroom soup, it tastes of week old milk. Outside snow is falling slowly through the bars of the roof cage. I can’t see if it settles on the ground, all I can see is the stained concrete of the wall opposite my cell.
Throughout the afternoon I wait for the weekly shower, a ritual whereby several screws stand around making offensive comments while a prisoner takes a hurried shower but I’m missed out of this. I haven’t had a shower in the five days I’ve so far spent in the prison. Also on Sunday afternoons is the weekly kit change, when replacement bedding and clothing is issued. The total issue is 2 sheets, 1 pillowcase, 2 towels, 2 pairs of underpants, 2 pairs of nylon socks, 2 tee shirts, and 1 boiler suit. The boiler suit is actually designed to be worn by High Risk prisoners in transit between prisoners, and should be worn over other clothing. I’m missed out of the kit exchange, also, the screws have been true to their word to ‘stitch me up’.
The final meal of the day is served just after 3.30 pm, leaving 16 ½ hours until breakfast. In the evening I spend an hour running the length of the cell, doing press-ups, sit-ups, etc – partly for exercise, partly to keep warm, and partly to have something to do. After this I wash out my spare pair of socks in the sink, hanging them on the bed frame to dry, though that may take a couple of days in this cold.
I still have another few hours to kill before I turn in for the night, when the cold and boredom just get too much – about 8.00 pm. I make up my bed carefully to take advantage as best I can of the meagre coverings. The blanket is actually a strip cell blanket, designed more for indestructibility than warmth, too pieces of nylon cloth sewn together, and scarcely bigger than the mattress. So first I lay down a sheet and tuck it in, then the blanket, over this I lay my two towels. Finally I cover these with my second sheet and tuck it in tightly. At just after 8.00 pm I turn out the light and slide myself, fully clothed, between the bottom sheet and the blanket, hoping I’ll get a few hours sleep sometime during the night, and wondering how many more days I’ll have to spend living like this.
February 2001. HMP Wakefield