All around me are working class folk devils.
I am a god-fearing man now, but I have ended up here again. The audacity of my captors is incredible. They storm my cell while I pray, to assault me and provoke a reaction. They drag me into the corridor and pin me down. One of the Officers grabs my genitals. The pain is excruciating and I think my testicles might explode. I sink my teeth into the shoulder of the Officer and try to tear the meat from his bones – anything to get his grip from my aching balls. They use this as justification for keeping me here in the hole, this dark place deep inside Her Majesty’s Prison.
When I was fifteen years old I took a ride in a car my best friend had stolen. I didn’t know at the time, but when the cops stopped him, he ran away and I wouldn’t snitch. I got put away for the first time the next month, for two years. I was bred for prison life, the way they breed farm animals. It might have seemed like I was free to roam around London like it were a habitat made to keep me alive for a while, but there are gates everywhere that only my master can let me through. I realise now that He knew from the outset where I was destined to end up.
My best friend is a murderer. He was 10 years older than me, and told me once how someone had tried to mug him at knifepoint. My friend had wrestled the weapon away from the assailant and slashed them across the throat. I don’t think anybody knew but me.
I am put back in the hole, the bare cell where I spend every day with no exercise, association, shower, TV radio, newspapers, phone calls, toiletries, or complaint forms.
Many days I go hungry. I retreat into myself and then burst out in disturbed anger when the door is opened. It is as if they have twisted me up so much that I have become a spring-like being, constantly ready to explode. However much I pray for sanity, I cannot help but pounce on my captors when the opportunity presents itself, and the cycle continues.
Everyone wants to be able to be viewed as a good person. My relatives and I would go to the temple after a day of selling cheap cider to a community of bitter, powerless alcoholic men and women in the borough we lived. We would sit there in the main temple room for a mandatory five minutes, thinking about bets we might make at the weekend, or orders we had to make for the shop. Then we would hurry away and get our free meal in the lunch room. Back out on the streets of London there are invisible walls around every moving body I see. Every few feet there is a guard, and on every corner is a shop owned by a Paki like me. Years ago I disowned my whole community, and they disowned me, and now I am no longer fully human. It’s hard to believe we’re not all the only being of our kind, living amongst aliens.
There is always a perpetual storm underneath. When I came out last time I wouldn’t take a job at an abattoir so the guy at the job centre sanctioned me. He said it was all I could get with no qualifications and a long prison record, that this is where people like me go. I was on the outside for 8 months. I got caught shoplifting then didn’t show up to court. Two weeks later I beat up a cop who tried to arrest me outside of Poundland, and I went back in.
On the Wednesday afterward I was in a Category B prison and I watch a rapist die through the hatch in my cell door. They did CPR on him for 20 minutes, then left his body outside my cell for half a day before someone came to remove him. His feet and head poked out from underneath a black sheet. I stared at his face for hours through the hatch, waiting for his eyes open. I’m glad he is dead.
In the Close Supervision Centre, I was starved for the first thirteen days. I was transferred there for PTSD, caused by any number of things. When you’re branded mentally ill, they can justify anything. I have four broken ribs and cannot see out of my left eye. I hear voices outside my door, talking about me on purpose, laughing. Sometimes the voices are not human, the sentences spoken in 1’s and 0’s, or in low growls like angry dogs. I wait for them to come in again. I stop praying.
My best friend here is a murderer too.
He lives in a cell on the Y Wing, somewhere in the world outside this prison within a prison. He killed his wife ten years ago. He is like a brother to me. He was the eyes in the back of my head. Together we would laugh at the violence and suffering in here. We laugh at the idea that anybody can improve themselves in this place. In the lunch room we could watch a man get stabbed in the neck, and keep eating.
We would sit in the prison workshop, working unpaid for 8 hours a day. We would make parts for rifles to be sent to Afghanistan with the British Army.
All around me are working class folk devils. Paul Taylor’s. George Jackson’s. I don’t organise a union, I don’t start a riot. I lie naked on the floor of my CSC cell, resigned to the hole. I am thankful that there is no damp, no rats and no liquid cosh to battle with anymore in 2015. I am blessed, and still I am repentant for nothing.
The world burns and swelters. The walls get thicker as I move through the layers of this prison world. As the security tightens I can get away with more. I can’t take a ride with a friend, or pet a cat on the street at night-time, but I can stick a finger up to the prison warden who pushes bread through the hatch in my door. I can scream at the top of my voice for hours.
There is always a perpetual storm underneath me wherever I stand, and for my whole life my instincts have informed me about who the enemy is.
Credit for some of the phrases in this piece goes to Anarchist prisoners in the UK and US who have written open letters from behind bars.
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Story Photo by Tomek Dzido