Introduction: This is the other side of the story that is told in Strange Warmth. It is, however, self-standing and there is no need to have read Strange Warmth before you read this.
There is quite a bit of prison terminology in this story. As these terms are fairly specific to the UK I have provided a glossary at the end.
Mr Morris looked at the seven bags of property that had arrived with me from Her Majesty’s Prison Albany. It was not so much that there were seven bags of stuff that caused a problem, it was the time. It was well past seven o’clock and lockdown was at eight. He looked at his watch. “Richards, can we sort this tomorrow?”
“Of course, Mr Morris,” I did not tell him that I intended to hand out five of the bags to my visitors as soon as a visiting order could be arranged. I would have had a visit the following day at Albany, and the bags would have been handed out then, but somebody had the bright idea of transferring me to HMP Leicester for local release eight weeks before I was due to get out. “But I do need that one.” I indicated the smallest of the bags.
“Ok, we’ll sort your property card out in the morning.”
I nodded in agreement. Mr Morris and I went back some time. He was the first prison officer I met after my committal on remand; he was on reception duty when I arrived at the prison. Now he was a Senior Officer. In the eighteen months I had been on remand here he had been my Personal Officer so I had got to know him quite well. He had arranged for me to be Seg Cleaner, without doubt one of the cushiest jobs in the prison. That was a lifetime ago, though.
Actually it was only six and a half years, but it felt like a lifetime, and for all intents and purposes it may as well have been. Nothing was left of my old life; it had all been lost. The partner of over fifteen years, who said he would wait for me, managed to wait all of six months. I couldn’t I blame him; in truth I was surprised that he lasted that long. At least he stayed in touch, which is more than a lot of my friends did. The business that had taken me twenty years to build up lasted about as many months after my arrest; people supposedly acting in my best interests managed to fuck it up totally, and that fucked up my pension at the same time. So, here I was, a few months short of sixty, facing release and… nothing.
At least I managed to keep myself busy in prison. More important, I kept my mind active. The biggest threat in prison, especially if you were over forty, was shutting down; I most definitely avoided that. I played the prison game for all it was worth, taking advantage of every educational course that was available to me. Prisons like to show that they are educational and the more passes they can show the better, so the education department found it useful to have a number of high achievers sitting around doing degrees or post docs who they could call in to make up numbers on exams. In my five years down on the island I had taken both the numeracy competence and literacy competence exams about eight times.
I had also completed a degree and was in now my final semester of a post graduate diploma, which was why I was in something of a bad mood about being shipped out so far in advance of my release. There was no way I would be able to finish my assignments up at Leicester prison, where you were not allowed even a word processor, never mind a laptop, for course work. My first act once I got to the pad they were putting me in would be to write to my course supervisor explaining the situation and asking for an extension.
Exacerbating my bad mood was the realisation that I would be sharing a cell. After over five years of having a pad of my own, I was not looking forward to having a cellmate.
I grabbed the one bag of stuff that I really needed and hoisted it onto my shoulder. Mr Lynch, who I also knew from my remand period, took me over to the unit and showed me to a cell. He opened the door and told the lad lying on the left-hand bed that he had a new pad mate. Well, that was one good thing; the cell had beds rather than bunks. It was a bit cramped but at least it avoided having to scramble up into a bunk at night. There was a basic prison rule: whoever got in last took the top bunk. At my age that could be a problem.
Walking past Mr Lynch I dumped my bag and bedroll on the unoccupied bed. He asked me if I needed anything, so I told him I had to get some hot water, as I looked in my bag for my flask.
“Things ’ave changed a bit since you were ’ere last. You’ve got a kettle.” He pointed towards the bench by the side of the TV, then shut the cell door.
No matter how long you’ve been inside, there is something about that final clunk of the bolt as it shoots home that gets to you. I’ve spoken to lifers who have done twenty or thirty years and are looking at doing as long again, and they all say it still gets to them. It is almost as if the locks have been deliberately engineered to make that clunk as the bolt is shot, just to remind you of where you are and why.
Turning, I took a look at the lad lying on the other bed. He was wearing only boxers, allowing me a good look at his body, though it was not that much of a body but not too bad. One glance showed that he was a user and that the drugs had taken their toll on him.
Age-wise he could have been anywhere from twenty to forty, but I guessed about he was about thirty. It was difficult to assess ages inside. You’d come across lads who looked like they were in their mid-twenties and behaved like teenagers, only to find out that they were forty-five and had already served twenty years. Then there were the old lags you took for sixty and you found out they were thirty and only in the second year of a five-year stretch.
I held my gaze on my cellmate for a few moments. A look of apprehension, then fear, moved across his face. He pulled himself up, scrunching back against the low partition at the head of his bed that separated off the toilet area. He drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, his eyes pleading to be left alone. It was a fear I had seen a lot in the previous six-odd years. The last thing I wanted was a pad mate who was terrified of me, and whose behaviour therefore might be unpredictable.
“Which is your locker?” I asked, there being two lockers in the cell, both at the end of my bed.
He indicated his, so I thanked him and started to unpack my stuff, leaving him to watch some drivel that was on the TV. It didn’t take me long to put everything away but by the time I was done I was sweating like a pig.
The cell was very hot. That was another design feature of the penal establishment: you either froze or you baked. If there was any heat at all in the cells it would be too much, otherwise they would be freezing. This prison was Victorian and there were two nine-inch cast iron heating pipes running through the rear of the cells. Ours must have been the first cell in the pipe run, getting the hot water direct from the boiler house. The result was that it felt like a sauna.
I stripped off to my boxers and sat on the bed to sort out my final bit of unpacking: teabags. The lad on the other bed was still scrunched up in his corner. When I asked if he would like a cup of tea he replied in the affirmative, so I filled the kettle and took a couple of teabags out of my stash. I always made sure that I had plenty of tea!
I asked my cellmate where his mug was; he pointed to a plastic one on the windowsill, so I got it, then made the tea. Another question, and he told me that he took milk and two sugars. No problem; I had lived in Germany long enough to get used to drinking tea without milk, and I had quickly got used to doing without sugar while I was in prison. As a result I had a stash of whiteners and sugars, which were always useful as trade items.
I handed the lad his tea and sat down on my bed. “I’m Mike, here for local release.”
As if it was local for me! Of the twenty years before my arrest I had probably spent three in this country, and most of that time had been down in London.
The lad told me his name was Steve, and he was on remand. I did not ask what for and did not want to know. The first thing you learned inside was don’t ask, don’t tell. Of course, no matter what you were in for it usually came out sooner or later; the screws were bound to let it slip if you hadn’t been outed by the press.
I glanced at my watch. Noting that it was nearly nine I asked Steve if it would be possible for me to watch Horizon. He asked which channel it was on and when I told him BBC2 he changed the channel and looked at me with a questioning expression.
“What?” I asked.
“Why didn’t you just take the controller and change channels?”
The question hit me like a ton of bricks. I would never have thought of doing something like that. I took a couple of seconds to think about it and then replied, “Because such action would be impolite.”
Steve looked at me with a blank expression on his face, as if I’d said something completely unfathomable.
The first few days with a new pad mate were always difficult. You had to work out what their boundaries were, and impose your own. After six years in the system I had become proficient at working it out, but Steve presented me with a problem; I had never come across anyone who was such a non-person. It was as if he just did not want to be noticed, being happy to curl up on his bed and keep out of the way. That is not how it works, however — at least not unless you totally want to be taken advantage off. I quickly got the impression that Steve was used to that.
That notion was confirmed at unlock the following morning. Just before the key was turned I heard a voice telling the screw to make sure that the new chap did his share of the cleaning. Not a problem; I like my cell to be clean, and that means cleaning it myself.
Steve was still in bed. I left him there, went to the sluice area and grabbed a mop and bucket, and a brush and dustpan. It was a good job I had been there before; at least I knew my way around.
When I got back to the cell Steve was out of bed. He gave me a puzzled look.
“Got anything under the bed?” I asked. He just nodded. “You better get it up on the bed before I sweep and mop. Then get out for a bit.” Steve smiled, pulled a couple of prop bags from under his bed and dumped them on top.
He turned to leave the cell but just before he did he turned back, “Mike, you’ll have to fill in your menu slip today, before lunch.”
I nodded to acknowledge that I had heard. Well, at least the boy could speak. After our exchange of names last night he had been totally silent and if I had not known better I might have assumed he was dumb. It didn’t take long to brush and mop out the cell. Well, how long does it take to mop a floor seven foot by twelve? Once finished, I took the cleaning stuff back to the sluice area.
When I got back to the common area Steve was standing by the pool table, and beckoned me over. A set of menus was laid out on the table and there was a pile of menu slips to be filled in. This was new, so I was grateful that Steve explained how things worked. I was even more grateful that he was speaking to me. It can be hell being stuck in a cell with somebody who won’t talk — or worse still, communicates in grunts. At least Steve appeared to have some command of the English language, unlike most of the younger inmates, and did not need to use fucking every third word.
I had just completed my menu selection for the week when the screw called out ‘behind your doors’. So, behind our doors we went. I noticed that Steve, like myself, was quick to get back in the cell. There are always some lads who hang around on the landing till the last possible moment, having to be ordered into their cells by the officer doing the lockup. I heard an officer shouting at somebody called Finnigan to get behind his door. A few moments later our door flap opened. The officer looked in, closed the flap and shot the bolt.
I got the kettle and started to fill it, asking Steve, who was lying on his bed, if he wanted tea or coffee. “Could I have a tea please? I don’t drink coffee.”
I made two teas and handed Steve his mug, then sat at my table and sorted out a text I needed to read for my course.
I had been in transit for three days and not had a chance to do any studying, which had been a pain. Although I was well ahead on things, one thing you learned in prison was to never assume that things would go the way you expect. There were too many ways things could go wrong, like some bloody security screw deciding, during a cell check, that the material I had for my course compromised security — just because he could not read the maths in the text book. That actually happened to me. It took eight weeks and the intervention of the Vice-Chancellor from the University I was studying with, to get that mess sorted out. Even then I don’t think anything would have been done had the Home Secretary not been a student at the same University and the Vice-Chancellor his tutor. From a couple of dropped hints I suspected that strings had been pulled behind the scenes — which resulted in the Governor not being very happy with the security screw.
Anyway, we were banged up and I had no idea how long for… but possibly till lunch. I decided I might as well get down and try to do some studying. It surprised me that Steve did not switch the TV on. Usually, that was the first thing the younger lads did when the bolt was shot. I glanced across at him and noticed he was reading — another surprise. Grateful of the chance to have some peace and quiet I turned to my studies.
About an hour later the flap was opened and a screw looked in, then the door was unlocked and opened. “Ramozis, education,” he stated. Steve got off his bed and got a folder out of the top of his cabinet. As he left he turned to me and said, “See you at lunch.”
The screw looked at me and glanced at his list. “What’s your name?”
“Richards, sir.” If you don’t know screws’ names you always call them sir or ma’am.
He checked the list again. “You’re not on my list. Are you doing any education?” I pointed to the textbook and papers on my table.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Structural Integrity Part Two.”
He came into the cell and looked at my work, then shook his head. “Rather you than me, lad, I couldn’t make head nor tail of all those squiggles. Right, you’ll be banged up till lunch.” With that he stepped out of the cell and locked the door.
I breathed a sigh of relief. It is always difficult when screws realise that you are more intelligent than they are. Some can be bloody resentful about it, especially if you are trying to do something to make use of your intelligence. Others can be damn right supportive, seeing the fact that you are doing something to give yourself a chance to improve your life as a positive thing. A few will actually go out of their way to help you. There was one screw at my last prison who, during a period when the External Studies Tutor was off on long-term sick leave, took it upon himself to research stuff on the internet and print it out for those of us doing external studies. It must have cost him a fortune in paper and ink as there were fifteen of us doing university level studies, and we all had a lot of stuff that needed researching.
I spent the next couple of hours working my way through the examples in the workbook, and looking up references in the textbook. This section of the course was giving me some problems; I was finding it difficult to understand the examples because I could not conduct the recommended experiments. HMP Albany’s educational policy might have been advanced for the prison service, but there was no way they were going to let me have hydraulic jacks, metal bars and cement beams to play around with — and definitely not an angle grinder!
The door was unlocked about ten to twelve. Steve came in; he did not look happy.
“Not a good morning, I presume?”
He turned and looked at me, “No, it was bloody shit. Maths and I don’t understand any of it. And she’s given us a pile of homework to do for Monday.” He placed his folder down on his table and pulled out a number of question sheets. He sat down and studied them, with a look of absolute despair on his face.
“Come on, it can’t be that bad.”
“It is. I’ll end up getting them all wrong and everyone will know what an idiot I am. I always fuck things up.”
“Would it help if I went through them with you?”
He turned and looked at me. “Would you?”
“Of course, why not?”
“Most people just ignore me.”
I was starting to get the feeling that Steve did not have a very high opinion of himself. Low self-esteem was not good if you intended to survive in prison. You needed to have a degree of self-confidence, otherwise the system would beat you into the dust, which was exactly what it was supposed to do.
Twenty minutes later we were unlocked to collect our lunch, then locked up again for roll check. I knew that we had at least an hour and an half. There were shift changes and officer lunch breaks to get out of the way before they did roll check, so they would not be phoning the numbers in to security till at least one forty five, and somebody would have the count wrong so there would have to be a recount. The earliest we would be unlocked would be two. That being the case, I thought I might as well help Steve with his maths.
It turned out that it was not mathematics but arithmetic. One thing that really gets me annoyed is people calling arithmetic maths. It’s not. Mathematics is a language that is used to solve problems. Arithmetic is a system of calculating using numeric values. It’s fair to say that you can’t do maths unless you have some knowledge of arithmetic, but you do not need maths to do arithmetic. Actually, you do not need all that much arithmetic to do maths. Look at Albert Einstein; he had trouble adding up his shopping list.
Anyway Steve had some arithmetic to do and it was not too hard. In fact, it was fairly simple so long as you knew the rules to follow. That was the problem. It appeared that the teacher had assumed a level of knowledge that Steve just did not have. She had explained everything in terms of numerators and denominators, without checking to see if her class understood what she meant. After helping Steve I had a strong suspicion that quite a few of her class would not know what she meant. Unfortunately nobody had asked, which is not surprising.
Well, it’s fairly obvious if you think about it. It is easy for somebody like myself, at fifty nine, to stick up my hand in a tutorial group and ask what internal distortion resistance means. I could be pretty sure that most of the group would have the same question. However, for a thirty-year-old in a class with other thirty-year-olds, all of whom are trying to not look stupid, it is not so easy to ask a question.
Once I had explained the basics of vulgar fractions to Steve, everything started to make sense to him. He was able to get on and make his way through the worksheet he had been set without any problems, or at least nothing major. He did need a bit of help sorting out improper fractions, but not much.
Unlock took place at half past two and the call went out for library. I took the opportunity to go along and get some books, as I knew I would be in the prison for seven weeks. It was Friday and I was a bit worried that I had not been called over to reception to sort out my property. Amongst my things were books that I was planning to read, but if I did not get over to reception it would probably be Tuesday before my stuff could be sorted out. Monday was always a busy day in reception with committals from the weekend, so it was unlikely that they would call for me then.
As it was I need not have worried. Mr Morris came to the unit for me just after three and took me over to reception.
I told him that I had intended to pass out five of the bags on the planned visit down at Albany, and I would be doing that as soon as I could arrange for my friend Paul to visit me in Leicester. That made life a lot easier for him as he just listed all five as sealed property bags to be handed out. He sorted out my visiting orders and made sure that my outstanding orders from Albany were transferred. That meant I could get a visit arranged as soon as possible
The sixth bag caused problems, because a pile of stuff we were allowed at Albany, like the word processor, was not allowed in this prison. I could understand that as it was a local facility; prisoners were not expected to be there long, so there was no provision for graduate external studies — or any external studies for that matter. The only educational provision was for basic literacy and numeracy. So, a number of things that were quite important for me were not on the facilities list, like my drawing board and geometry set. I could manage without my word processor — I always wrote my papers out long hand in the first place anyway — but I did need my technical drawing equipment to do the diagrams that were required.
Most people on the outside don’t understand that prisons work only if inmates and staff co-operate with each other. Most of the time they do. There has to be a degree of give and take on each side. Most officers will ignore the odd infringement of a prison rule so long as it is not likely to cause a problem. At the same time prisoners will not insist that officers do everything by the book all of the time. There are times when it is in everybody’s interest to bend the rules slightly.
So it was with Mr Morris. He phoned the governor and explained that I had a quantity of educational material which was not on the facilities list but which I needed to complete my studies. I noticed that he did not say exactly what the materials were, and that the governor did not appear to ask. As it was, I agreed to give up some stuff I did not need and Mr Morris put some stuff through on my property card as having the governor’s permission.
That avoided my having to use the request and complaints procedure, which would have involved an appeal to the Area Manager, then the Home Office, and probably a Judicial Review — all of which probably would not have got me anywhere, but would have caused an awful amount of paperwork for the prison staff.
I didn’t complain, and the staff didn’t look too closely at what I had; a satisfactory arrangement all round.
Mr Morris escorted me back to the unit, which appeared completely deserted, with no staff and no prisoners in sight. When Mr Morris unlocked my cell it was empty so I presumed Steve had gone to education or exercise.
On the way over to the unit Mr Morris had asked me about the studies I was doing and said that he was thinking of doing Open University. I had just completed a Cert Maths with the Open University, so showed him my some of my course work. He remarked that it did not seem to be too difficult. I told him it wasn’t, provided you kept up with the course work and the prescribed reading.
With that Mr Morris left, locking me in the cell. Being on my own I got my radio out of my prop bag and tuned into Classic FM. It was nice to be able to listen to some music and not have to have headphones on, which is the norm in a shared cell. I got down to sorting out my property and putting stuff in my locker, or in my prop bag under the bed. Then I put the kettle on to boil. Just then there was quite a bit of noise on the landing and I guessed that the staff and prisoners had returned. Once again I heard a screw shouting at Finnigan to stop chatting and get by his door.
The cell door opened to let Steve in and shut behind him. I picked up the headphones to plug them in, but Steve asked me to leave the radio on. He also asked me what the music was. It was Kilar’s Exodus.
“I like it; seems familiar,” he commented.
“Have you seen Schindler’s List?”
“No, is it from that?”
“No it’s not, but it was used as the music for the trailer.”
Steve confirmed he had seen that, which led to a conversation about the film. I was amazed to find that he had no understanding of the Holocaust; he thought it was just an incident where a pile of Jews were shot. I sat down on my bed and started to tell him the whole story: how not only Jews, but disabled people, religious dissenters, homosexuals, Slavs, Ukrainians and others were put to death, and that the Jews made up just part of the eleven million plus people killed.
It was during that conversation that I started to see another side to Steve. Clearly, he was not well educated; in fact, if anything his education was sadly lacking because he did not seem to have even a basic understanding of events in modern history. On the other hand, he was no idiot. Once he began to understand what we were talking about he asked some very pertinent and quite pointed questions… like why did the Dutch, Belgians and French allow the trains taking the prisoners to the camps to run? I told him there was no easy and simple answer to that. You needed to have lived in those countries at the time to even begin to understand.
From that point on things changed. I had not really paid much attention to Steve before but after that day I found that there was something more between us than one would normally expect in pad mates. Let’s be honest, most of the prisoners I came across there were morons, if that is not insulting morons.
The following Saturday and Sunday we were on lockdown most of the time due to staff shortages. A lot of inmates got worked up over lockdowns, but they never really bothered me. Having my studies and being able to get lost in a book kept me occupied. Being in a lockdown with a pad mate, especially one you don’t know well, can be a pain, though, and I must admit I was a bit worried when the unit manager came around just after Friday evening roll check to tell us there would be a lockdown over the weekend.
As it turned out the time we were confined to our cell was, if anything, quite helpful.
I spent hours talking to Steve and listening to what he had to say. In those two days he opened up to me in a way I don’t think he had to anybody before. He was, as I had guessed, addicted to heroin, although at that time he was on methadone as a substitute. Arguably that was worse, because it is harder to break an addiction to methadone than it is one to heroin. Why, oh why, does our government have a fix on not appearing to reward the addict? It would be a lot easier, simpler and cheaper if they followed the Swiss model and supplied addicts with heroin under clinically controlled conditions. I suppose it is too much to expect a government to act sensibly.
Anyway, it seems that Steve had been an addict for a long time and had been on the methadone programme for the previous couple of years, although he had relapsed a couple of times when he had missed appointments to get methadone scripts. The good news was that he had managed to get down to ten millilitres a day. He was about to move onto five millilitres a day, the final step before going clean, when he was arrested. The bad news was that he was back up to sixty millilitres. Apparently the prison service automatically put addicts on that dose when they arrived and did very little to reduce it.
I had never used drugs. Oh, I used cannabis once (all that did was trigger a migraine), and at a party somebody decided to drop some acid into my drink (which had no effect on me), but that was the extent of my drug use. As a result I was not au fait with the drug regime in prison.
Steve told me that there was a detox unit in the prison but that you could only get into it once you were sentenced… and there you hit one of the classical catch 22 situations that seem to abound in organisations like the prison service. The detox programme took three months, so you could only be admitted if you had at least three months left to serve. That meant you had to be sentenced to at least six months. If you received a sentence under four years you would be automatically released at the half-way point; a sentence over four years meant you would be released at the two-thirds point, although in both cases you would be on licence and subject to supervision once you got out till the end of your licence period. At least that was the case if you were sentenced to twelve months or more. Anything less and God help you, you were on your own. No licence, no supervision and no help with housing or jobs..
The problem was that the prison is a local and as such it did not hold people with sentences of more than one year. Given that any time spent on remand was set against your sentence, the chances were that once sentenced you would either have too little time left to serve to go into the detox unit, or your sentence would be such that you were immediately moved off to one of the training prisons. The result was that most of the time there was only a handful of prisoners who qualified for detox so half the unit’s cells were empty. Well, they were not empty, but they were not being used for detox.
The fact that Steve was a user should have put me right off him. I had had a couple of bad experiences with addicts and after that I had avoided anyone I even suspected might be a user. With Steve, though, somehow it did not make any difference. By time that weekend was over I knew quite a lot about him; although there was a lot I disliked about what he had done with his life, nevertheless I found myself liking him.
On the Monday morning Steve went off to education, and shortly after that Mr Lee, another officer I knew from my time on remand, came and took me to induction, or as he described it, “a fucking waste of time”. However, it was necessary to go through the motions and tick off the boxes on the check list.
One of those was education assessment, which was fun. The first question I was asked by the girl who was conducting the assessment — anybody under fifty looks young to me but she actually was a girl; I doubt if she was more than nineteen and I suspected she was on work placement from college — was how old was I when I left school?
I responded that I was fourteen.
She looked at me and remarked, “That means you’ve got no GCSEs then.”
I acknowledged that fact, because GCSEs did not exist when I was at school. Without asking any further questions she proposed that I should do Basic Literacy on Monday and Wednesday mornings and Basic Numeracy on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Thursday I would have IT skills.
In response to that I told her that I did not have time to do those as it would interfere with my studies.
She looked at me with an apparent attempt to assert her authority. “And what studies are those?”
“Postgraduate diploma in Material Engineering,” I responded. If she had bothered to look at my prison file she would have found that information in there.
“But you have to have a degree to do that,” she stated somewhat pointedly.
“I have three; five if you count degree equivalents,” I responded, enjoying the look of bafflement that passed over her face.
“How?” she exclaimed, as she opened my file and started to look through it.
“I went back to college in my twenties, and studied law and accountancy. I hold a BLaw and I have my Charted Accountant qualifications, which are recognised as first degree equivalents. I then got into information technology and wrote a couple of books, and did a Master’s degree in Computer Science. They admitted me to the Master’s course on the basis of my books. Whilst I was in Albany I did a Batchelor of Engineering and now I am doing a postgrad in Material Engineering. I hope to do a full Masters once I’m out, but it is not possible whilst inside.”
“You’re wasting my time!” was her response.
“No, you wasted your time by not reading my file before you started the interview.”
The problem with a lot of civilian staff in prisons was that they had a stereotypical image of what a prisoner was like. Probably ninety percent of the time they were correct; but the odd ten percent would catch them out — and it often caught them out badly.
After my comment she got up and left the interview room. Mr Lee returned. “You seem to have upset our Ms Simmonds.”
“She had not read the file.”
“Typical, the more qualified they are the less likely they are to do the groundwork.”
“She’s qualified?” I asked.
“Oh yes, child genius, got into Oxford at sixteen and got her degree at nineteen, did a Master’s in Education last year… for all of which she knows nothing. Anyway, better get you over to the Health Centre, then we can get you back to the unit.”
The Health Centre visit was quick. The doctor knew me from my period on remand and he had made a point of reading my file. It took him about ten seconds to review and sign off on my meds. Then it was back to the unit.
Steve arrived back from education about half an hour after I got back, and immediately asked if I could help him with his worksheets. It was all fairly simple stuff and once I had explained it to him he quickly did the worksheet that he had to hand in at his next literacy class. However, a suspicion was starting to form in my mind.
Life dropped into a routine. Steve would go off to education in the morning; I would sit at my table and study. About quarter to twelve Steve would return and I would spend the next half to three quarters of an hour going over his worksheets with him. In the afternoon we would be unlocked at about two thirty for exercise, except on Fridays when we were unlocked at quarter to two so we could go to the library. Often in the evening we would lie on our beds and talk, or I would be writing letters with the radio on. Steve seemed to prefer the radio to TV and would often ask if he could borrow my radio and headphones if I wanted to watch a programme on TV.
Just before Christmas some stationery I had ordered whilst at Albany finally caught up with me. I had ordered it two days before I had been transferred out. Of course, it had arrived at Albany after I left and then had to follow me through the prison system.
With an ample supply of stationery on hand I decided to check out my suspicion about Steve. Whilst he was out at education I wrote a series of letters in different sizes on some white A4 card. Basically, I was constructing my own version of a Snellen chart — that set of letters of diminishing sizes you are asked to read when you go for an eye test.
Once lunch was over, I handed Steve one of the sheets and asked him to tell me what the letters were. He read them with no problem.
Then I put a card up in front of the TV and asked him to read that. He went to move closer to it, but I told him to stay where he was — about eight feet away from the chart. Steve started to tear up and said he could not read it. He started to cry. I went and gave him a hug and told him not to be upset. “You just need to see the optician.”
Unfortunately seeing an optician in prison was easier said than done. Mostly they had one who would attend periodically: if you were lucky, once a month; if you were unlucky, once a quarter. However, there was a way to short circuit the system, if you knew how.
When we were unlocked for exercise I approached Mr Roberts, another of the Senior Officers I knew from my time on remand, although he had not been an SO then. I asked if I could have a confidential word with him later. He agreed.
As we were returning from exercise Mr Roberts called out that he wanted to see me in the interview room. I went there and took a seat to wait for him.
A few minutes later, after doing lockup, Mr Roberts came in. “All right, Richards, what is it?”
“It’s Ramozis, Mr Roberts. I am a bit concerned about him.”
“Oh, what’s up?”
“He is getting very depressed over problems he’s having in education. In fact, I think he might do something stupid if it is not sorted out soon.” I sat back in my chair letting that sink in.
I had played the at risk card and that had got his attention. I could give him a way to deal with it, but first he had to ask for my help.
“Right, Richards, what’s the problem?”
I quickly explained that Steve was very short-sighted and could not read the whiteboard in education. Mr Roberts asked why he was not wearing glasses and I told him I believed he had lost them at the time of his arrest. I went on to say that he had put in an application to see the optician when he had arrived at the prison but nothing had happened. I was fairly certain that both those statements were false, but the number of applications that got mislaid in prison was beyond belief so nobody was going to be able to check up.
Once appraised of this information Mr Roberts said he would deal with the issue, and returned me to my cell.
I told Steve what I had done, and that, when asked, he should say that he had glasses on the outside but had not been wearing them when he was arrested. He was also to say that he had applied to see the optician the first week he was on remand. I assured him that Mr Roberts would sort something out.
One thing that always worried prison officers was having somebody who was likely to self-harm. They would go out of their way avoid any such problems, so I fully expected something to be sorted out quickly. I was not prepared for just how quickly!
About half an hour after I returned to the cell one of the Health Centre officers unlocked us and told Steve he had an appointment. I don’t know whether that was one of the days when the optician was in and they pushed Steve onto the list, or if they had called the optician in, but in just over an hour he was back in the cell with the news that he was getting glasses.
Somebody must have pulled something somewhere, for the following week, on Christmas Eve to be exact, Steve’s glasses arrived. In the intervening week I had managed to find out that he had never had his eyes tested.
The eye test incident brought about a change in my interaction with Steve. I had put my arm around him and given him a hug when he was crying. For anyone who hasn’t been in prison let me tell you that was a big no-no. Physical contact with other inmates was kept strictly to a minimum — and I mean a minimum — unless, of course, you were fucking their brains out. That is mostly the straights, though; most gay prisoners avoid that type of relationship.
However, the physical contact seemed to have broken a barrier on both sides. After that I found that if I was sitting at my table, drawing a diagram to explain something to Steve, when he looked over my shoulder to follow what I was doing he would often place a hand on my shoulder. I found myself doing the same when I was looking over his shoulder at the worksheets he was doing. Something seemed to be drawing us together, although I could not see what.
One thing was quite clear: Steve was not my type. For a start, I was nearly twenty eight years older than he was. More important, he did not have the intellectual capacity that I needed in my companions. I’m not saying Steve was stupid; in fact I had begun to think he was far from that, but there was no way he was up to my level. As far as I was concerned Steve was definitely not relationship material. There was also the minor matter of his being straight.
Strangely, though, having Steve around just seemed natural. Not in the way you got used to having a pad mate around; this was something more. He seemed to sense when I was stuck on something in my studies, and getting tense. He would get up and make some tea, forcing me to break from whatever was causing the problem.
Then came the day when I was having a particularly nasty time trying to calculate tension and compression forces on a structure; forces which I was sure could never have existed in reality but dreamed up as some fiendish plot by the author of the text book to give you the worse possible calculations to do. I had been stuck on it for a couple of hours and my neck and shoulders were really starting to ache. Steve came up behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders and his thumbs on the back of my neck, and started to massage me. After about twenty minutes I was really relaxed.
“Where did you learn that?” I asked.
“Oh, I worked in a sports place when I first left school. I learnt it there; they said I should train as a therapeutic masseur.”
“No, it was about then that I started using. The moment they found out I was fired.”
That got us talking about his future.
I knew Steve liked to exercise — he went to the gym whenever there was a session available. That did not seem very often for our unit, but when there was one Steve went. Overall, although somewhat on the thin side, he did not have a bad body. It wasn’t one of the heavily-muscled body-building types you see a lot in prison, but there was clear defined muscle there. Steve quite liked exercise, and seemed to know a lot about it, so the obvious work for him would be in a gym or similar facility. That would require him to be registered on the Register of Exercise Professionals, and neither of us knew what that required. I told him I would look it up when I got out and send him the information.
There, I had done it; I had committed myself to staying in touch with Steve once I got out… a total breach of everything I had said I would do, or planned to do, once I was out. My idea had been to put prison behind me and forget about it as soon as possible. Clearly that was not going to be the case.
Christmas Day fell on a Thursday, so the previous Friday was our last chance to go to the library for some three weeks. As a result we were allowed to take out six books rather than the normal four. I had already taken out a couple of books which I knew were going to be fairly heavy reading, so I knew I had enough to last me over the Christmas period. I also knew I had a couple of books coming in from an online supplier ordered for me by my ex-partner in Holland. So, not needing any extra reading material I grabbed a book on IQ tests. I thought it might come in useful over the Christmas-New Year period.
It did. There were staff shortages again and we were banged up for most of Christmas Day and all of Boxing Day. We were given half an hour’s exercise on Christmas Day, as well as a half hour association during which we could make phone calls. Boxing Day was bang up all day. It was not a problem for me, and as it turned out, not really one for Steve either.
On Christmas day I got him to have a go at some of the IQ tests. The results confirmed what I had suspected: his IQ appeared to be above average. He was not a genius, but he was well up at the top end of the normal range. He touched on above-normal in a couple of the tests.
Once I had the results I tried to explain to Steve why he scored above-average on the tests but did so badly in class. I pointed out that surviving on the streets, as he had done for a number of years, took intelligence. A stupid person would not last very long; you had to have street smarts. IQ is not a measure of how clever you are; rather it is an indication of your potential.
The fact that he had an above-average IQ — and that I had been able to show him that — gave Steve much-needed confidence. We had talked about his future a few times but he had always been very negative about it. Whenever I had suggested that he should look at doing a course or getting some training his response had been that he was too stupid for that. With the IQ tests, I had shown him that he was not too stupid at all, and he began to realise that classes or training might be a real possibility.
In the week between Christmas and New Year there were no education classes, so Steve was in the cell all morning. As I had done everything I could on my studies, at least until I got out, I spent the time going through all his worksheets with him. I was pleasantly surprised at how much he was able to pick up once it was explained to him in a way he understood.
Education was open as usual after New Year, so Steve was back in class each morning. He had tests on the Monday and Tuesday and the following Thursday he came back to the cell with a big smile on his face. He had not only passed the tests, but had obtained a Level 2 Diploma in both Literacy and Numeracy. That evening we broke open one of my reserve bars of chocolate to celebrate, and to say goodbye, because I was to be released the following day.
My actual discharge date fell on the Sunday, but as the prison service does not release inmates over the weekend, I would be let out on the Friday. Steve had been aware of this since I arrived in the cell; it was one of the first things I had told him. I do not think it really sank in, however, until I started to pack up my stuff.
I was rather surprised the next morning when just after seven a screw came and banged on the door, telling me to get ready because someone would be coming for me in ten minutes. Normally, if you are being released in advance of your nominal date they leave it till the afternoon to let you out. Fortunately I was already up and ready; Steve was still in bed. He got out and came over to give me a massive hug, telling me I was the best pad mate he had ever had — and he had known a few, having spent at least a couple of months each year inside for petty offences.
I assured him that I would keep in touch. Seeing a look in his eyes that reminded me of a puppy who knew he was about to be abandoned, I reiterated that I would write to him as soon as I got to the hostel where they were putting me, just a few hundred yards from the prison.
The officer came back and unlocked, telling me that I needed to get over to reception pronto as there was a gate pickup for me at eight. This had me puzzled as the hostel was within walking distance of the prison. Even if I was going to be escorted there I would not have expected to be picked up.
Once I was processed through reception — where a wheeled suitcase I had ordered was waiting for me (fortunately the five bags of property had all been handed out on visits) — and the gatehouse, I found my Offender Manager waiting for me outside.
The unexpected pickup was quickly explained when he told me that there had been a fire at the hostel so they had to find temporary accommodation for me at another one some sixty miles away. I was not very happy, but there was not much I could do about it. A condition of my licence was that, until the licence period was completed, I had to reside at approved premises — which essentially meant a probation hostel.
It took an hour and a half to get to my new place of residence. I must admit that once I got there I was pleasantly surprised. It was a purpose-built hostel that had only recently opened. Every room was single-occupancy and each had an en suite shower attached.
My Offender Manager introduced me to the hostel staff, then left, saying he would see me the following Monday. The hostel staff set about telling me the way the hostel worked and all the rules and regulations. One annoying thing was the curfew; you had to be in the hostel from ten at night until seven thirty in the morning. That on its own wasn’t too bad, but if you were not working you had to attend a morning meeting in the hostel from nine to nine thirty and afternoon constructive activity sessions from two thirty to four.
The staff were displeased that I had a word processor, because computers were not allowed in the hostel. I pointed out that it was not a computer. Whilst they were trying to sort out something about this, which involved phone calls to the head of probation services, I went off into town to get some supplies. Specifically I needed writing paper, pen, ink, envelopes and postage stamps. I had promised Steve I would write to him, and it was important to me that I made sure he got a letter from me the following day.
Whilst I was up town I also got myself some new underwear, a couple of shirts and a mobile phone.
I phoned my mother to let her know what had happened and where I was. It was too far for her to get up to see me, and there were no direct buses from the village she lived in, anyway, so we agreed that we would not meet up until I was moved back to the original hostel in Leicester. I had been assured that it would be a matter of two to three weeks at the most. I was fairly certain that would be the case as I had been placed in a hostel across the county boundary. My home probation service would be paying the host one a higher rate for my placement there, so they had an incentive to get me back to Leicester quickly.
When I got back to the hostel I was pleased to find that the hostel staff had decided — by which they meant they were told — that my word processor was permitted. That was a relief; although my writing was fairly fine I hated writing letters by hand; it could be very painful due to my arthritis, so I preferred to avoid it. Drafting assignments in fits and starts is one thing; sitting down and writing a letter by hand in one go is another.
Using my word processor I quickly knocked out a letter to Steve, telling him what had happened and where I was. I also gave him my phone number, and sent him a five pound note so he could get some phone credit.
After that I had to join the other residents of the hostel for our afternoon session of purposeful activity. I am sorry but if you can find any purpose in sitting around a table taking part in an ‘odd one out’ quiz for over an hour, you are a better man than I am I must admit that I could not resist winding up the woman running it. When you’re asked which is the odd one out — London, Paris, New York or Rome? — it is perfectly correct to offer Paris on the grounds that it is the only one of those cities not to have experienced a Great Fire. I know she expected New York on the grounds that it was not a capital, but I submit that my answer was equally valid. She was even more upset when I was able to give her the dates.
Actually I was being a little disingenuous because Paris actually suffered a number of major fires — including one in the 14th century and the Opera Fire of 1916 which were especially serious — but none of these were called Great Fires.
For some reason the purposeful activity session ended a lot earlier than planned, and I was able to get out to the post box and post Steve’s letter well before the last post. I used a first class stamp, so expected that Steve would receive it the next day, Saturday. Just to be on the safe side I enclosed a stamped addressed envelope with my address on it for him so he could write back to me.
The weekend was somewhat depressing. I was in a town I did not know, with very little I could do. One thing that I had looked forward to in Leicester was visiting the university libraries — there were two universities there, but the place I ended up in had none. Worse, its town library made the book section of an Oxfam shop look comprehensive.
There was also something else — something I had not experienced for a long, long time. It was feeling an emptiness, a sense that something was missing. To be more precise, it was someone. Steve was not there… and that left a hole that I had not expected.
Somehow, in the eight weeks that I had shared the cell with him, he had wormed his way into my life. It was only after my release that I discovered he was there. When I went to make a cup of tea I automatically looked for his mug, then realised it was sixty miles away.
I tried my best that weekend to shake off the feeling that something was missing, but nothing worked — I always seemed to end up thinking about Steve.
On the Sunday afternoon I went to a free concert in a local church. It was given by a local brass band, which I thought would be fairly safe. One thing Steve and I had not discussed — or even listened to — was brass band music. I am not that much of a fan, but the only other option was to sit in my hostel room and listen to Gardener’s Question Time, then some serialization of a book I had never heard of, on the radio. The brass band seemed the better choice.
Actually it was very good, which is often the case with bands from the northern industrial and mining towns. I was impressed with the whole programme, but especially the band’s arrangement of Widor’s Toccata, a jazzier and more sympathetic arrangement than the usual brass band transcription.
The finale, though, was my undoing. They played a series of pieces by Johann Strauss Snr, ending up with the Radetzky March. That piece brought back a very recent memory, and before I knew it I was in tears.
New Year’s Day had been another lockdown because of staffing levels, so there had been no morning association. Just before lunch I asked Steve if he minded my having the TV on as there was a concert I would like to watch. He had no objections so I switched on BBC 2 for the New Year Concert from the Golden Hall of Musikverein in Vienna. The opening shots were a montage of scenes in Vienna and Steve said it looked beautiful. I told him it was. That got us talking about my time living and working in Europe and the places I had visited. Steve said he would really like to go somewhere like that; I suggested that maybe one day I could take him.
The Musikverein New Year Concert always ends with the Radetzky March. The moment the brass band began to play it I remembered that conversation. Suddenly, I realised how much I wanted to take Steve to Vienna — and also to Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen and Oslo. I wanted to go back to the world I knew and I wanted Steve to be there with me.
The next few days were hectic, as I tried to sort things out. Among other tasks, I had to register with the local police and the Job Centre.
The latter pointed out to me that I was overqualified for all of the jobs they had on their books and I would probably have to reduce my expectations. The young lady was trying to be helpful, but actually the last thing I wanted was a job. I had worked out a plan for a nice little business, and just had to decide on a way to get it started. One thing was certain — it was not going to be possible from my present location; I would have to wait till I got back to Leicester. I realised I also needed to be back there for Steve.
Unfortunately it did not look as if that would happen in the near future. The news my Offender Manager gave me at our meeting on the Monday was not good. The damage to the hostel was more extensive than had first been thought. It had been found that, rather than a clean-up and paint job, there was a need for some structural work, and it would be at least four weeks before I could be moved back to Leicester.
One good thing that came out of that meeting was that it was accepted that my studies amounted to a purposeful activity, so I did not have to attend those stupid afternoon sessions.
On Wednesday I received a letter from Steve, telling me how he was, and how surprised he was to get my letter — because most people dropped him the moment they could. He said he missed me, and our talks. I didn’t know about his missing me, but I was certainly missing him. In a postscript at the bottom of the letter he thanked me for the fiver and said he had applied for my number to be put on his phone list.
That night I sat down and wrote back to him, telling him what I had been doing since my last letter, and about my plans for starting a business. I also mentioned, as something of an aside, that I missed him.
The following evening my phone rang, showing a number I did not recognise. It was the prison, phoning to tell me that Steve had applied to have my number on his phone list. Was I prepared to accept calls from him? Yes I was!
It was Saturday before he phoned. He said he was writing another letter to me. He told me that he had a plea and directions hearing at the Crown Court on Friday 1st February. It would be a bit hard because of my curfew, but if I got an exemption from the morning meeting I should be able to get to Leicester in time for his hearing.
As it turned out, it was not hard to get out of the morning meeting; in fact the Janet, the duty manager, seemed glad to give me permission to miss it — probably something to do with all the awkward questions I kept asking.
Steve’s letter arrived on the Tuesday. Most of it was chat about the prison, including complaints about his new pad mate, a body builder lifer who apparently hogged the TV and was hitting on Steve. That did not surprise me; it was surprising how many very butch, macho prisoners wanted sex from their cellmates, especially when the cellmate was weak and vulnerable.
One line in the letter really hit me. He wrote, ‘Thank you for taking an interest in me, nobody has done that before’.
The question was what was my interest in Steve? I was finding it hard to define. Sexual? I would not have minded having sex with Steve, but that was not my main interest. He was not very sexually attractive for me, and in any case, so far as I was concerned, Steve was straight — although, from a few things he had said, I gathered that he had engaged in gay sex when it was a question of surviving or getting heroin. No… the thing about Steve was that he filled a hole in my life. The problem was I could not define what that hole was.
I posted another letter off to him on the Wednesday, telling him I had sorted out things at the hostel and would be at his court hearing on the first. Once at the court I would be able to make an application to see him. I was hopeful that there would not be any problems.
Naturally, I had not told the probation staff that I was going into Leicester to see Steve, but I had not lied to them either. What I had said was that I needed to go into Leicester to meet my mother (which was true), to sort out my bank account (also true), and to deal with some legal issues and file court papers (again, totally true). It just happened that the County Court, where I had to file the papers, was in the same building as the Crown Court where Steve’s hearing would be held.
Friday the first of February came round faster than I expected. I woke early that morning — well before six thirty, which is what I had set my alarm for — and full of excitement in anticipation of seeing Steve again, even if it was behind a sheet of glass.
I took a quick shower, dressed, and went down to the dining room to get some breakfast. One of the night duty staff was just laying out the breakfast things. It was a fellow I had not seen before.
“You’re a bit early aren’t you?”
“Need to be. I have to catch the seven forty five bus, and it is ten minutes from here to the bus stop.”
He turned and looked at me.
“The seven forty five is the Derby bus; there is no way you can catch that and get back for nine.”
“I’m not attending the meeting this morning.” The moment I spoke I saw there was a problem.
“Are you working?”
“No, I have to go to Leicester today. I arranged to be exempt from the meeting this morning.”
“Well,” he said, “there is nothing in the log book, or the diary, so you’d better wait till the one of the managers gets in. You can sort it out with them.”
That would really fuck things up, The managers did not come in till half past eight, and then there was handover which would take half an hour. If I had to wait until then there was no way I could get the bus into Derby in time to catch the train to Leicester to be there when court started. I told him that I could not wait that long because I would miss my appointment, and moved to leave the dining room, with the intention of going to my room and getting my stuff.
Before I got to the door he shouted at me, “You are on hostel detention from now!”
Hostel detention meant you could not leave the building; you could not even go outside to the yard for a smoke. To do so would be an automatic breach of licence which meant recall to prison. All I could do was to wait around for someone to come in and sort the mess out. It seemed an awful long wait.
Fortunately, the first person to arrive was Janet, the assistant manager who had made the arrangements with me. Even better, she got in early, arriving just before a quarter past eight.
She had hardly got through the door when I approached her. Before I could start to explain the situation she asked why I was still there. “Shouldn’t you be on the bus to Derby?”
I told her what had happened.
“What!” she exclaimed, “Mike, only a manager or assistant manager can place you on hostel detention, and only after a second warning about something! It is in the diary, I know I wrote it there. Come to the office.”
I followed her to the office. The staff member who had placed me on detention was at the duty officer’s desk when she entered. “What’s this about there being nothing in the diary about Richards being exempt from the morning meeting?”
“There is nothing in the diary for today, except for Malcolm having to go to the hospital.”
Janet looked at him and let out a sigh. “That was last week.”
She walked around the desk and looked at the diary. “You’ve got it open at last Friday!”
Turning to me she continued, “Mike, get your stuff. I’ll drive you down to the supermarket. With a bit of luck we can get there before the eight fifteen has completed its run around the town.”
I ran up to my room, grabbed my coat and bag and was back down before Janet had finished putting her coat back on. From the look on the duty officer’s face I reckoned she had given him a tongue lashing.
The supermarket was situated at one end of the town’s bypass. It wasn’t far from the hostel, at least not by car. Fortunately for me the bus took a long route through a housing estate before joining the bypass at its other end. Janet got me there about a minute before the bus arrived.
On the way she had apologised for the action of the duty officer, explaining that he was not staff but a temporary cover they had got in from an agency. She also assured me that the hostel detention would not go into my file. Thinking about it later on the bus going to Derby, I realised that in this they were protecting themselves. With no entry in my file there would be no record of it, so it would be hard for me to sue them over an unlawful detention.
It was nine-fifteen when I got into Derby, and I had to dash across town to get to the railway station. There was no way I could make it in time to get the last train that would get me to Leicester before ten. Worse still, when I got to the station the departures screen showed the nine forty one from Sheffield going to Leicester, Market Harborough, and all stations to London, as being twenty minutes late. I checked to see if the nine twenty one was also running late. It had been, but only by ten minutes and I had just missed it.
The train was more like forty minutes late when it eventually arrived, and there was a further delay before it left Derby. It was just after eleven when I finally got into Leicester.
I literally ran from the station to the Crown Courts, and was held up yet again by the queue waiting to go through security. At last, I managed to make my way to the Crown Court area and asked which court Steve’s hearing was listed for. The hearing was over, but they told me that it was likely that he still in the building; if I went down to the visitor area I would probably be able to see him.
The custodial officer on duty when I got there was very helpful, asking me who it was that I wanted to see. I gave him the name and he went to check on Steve’s status. It was only about two minutes before he came back and informed me that Steve had been discharged.
“Yes, sir, apparently the prosecution advised the court that they would not be offering any evidence on the main charge. He pleaded guilty to two minor offences, and the sentence for those was less than time served, so he was released. About twenty minutes ago.”
I must have looked a bit faint or something because he became rather concerned and asked if I would like to sit down.
No, I did not want to sit down; all I wanted to do was get out of there and start looking for Steve. I hoped there would be a message on my phone, which I had to hand in to security at the entrance.
I made my way back there, retrieved my phone, and checked it for messages. There was one from my mother telling me that, given the weather, she did not think it wise to travel into Leicester. I agreed, especially as I was in no mood to have a nice afternoon tea with her.
The weak winter sun had finally given up any attempts to break through the clouds by time I left the courts. It was a dull and dank day with that fine drizzle that keeps trying to turn to snow but does not quite make it.
My plan to go to the university libraries was forgotten, although I did manage to get into my bank and sort out my account. There was a lot more money there than I expected; it seemed that Mattius, my ex-partner, had transferred two thousand Euros to me the day I was released. That reminded me that I needed to give him my new contact details.
For just over four hours I walked around Leicester, trying to visit all the places that Steve had mentioned during our talks, in the hope that I might just find him. It was a fruitless search. Eventually, just after four, I gave up and got the train back to Derby.
It is difficult to express how I felt. There was an emptiness and a sense of loss that… well, I simply could not describe how I felt. It was a totally new feeling for me and I did not recognise it.
That night I slept badly; in fact, I don’t think I actually slept at all; I just lay in bed feeling empty. I could not get Steve out of my mind, and the idea of not hearing from him or seeing him was just too much for me. Eventually I gave up trying to sleep. I got up, showered and dressed, and sat in my room listening to Classic FM.
Over the next few days I consoled myself with the thought that Steve had my telephone number and address. He could get in touch with me, and I expected that he would. Every day I eagerly awaited a letter or a call from him. There was nothing, however, and the feeling of emptiness grew.
By the Thursday when my Offender Manager came over to see me I was really down, and I think he got a bit worried about my mental state. He did have some good news for me, though. The building work at the Leicester hostel had been finished and they would be moving people back in as soon as the painting was done. He planned to move me the following week.
Saturday came and I had a chance to go back to Leicester and look around to see if I could find Steve. Of course, I had to obtain permission to go, but I had good reasons. Mattius, my ex, was driving over from Holland with his new partner to return a lot of my stuff that had been sitting in his garage for more than six years. He had arranged to put it into storage in Leicester, so that I would have easy access to it.
I thought that seeing Mattius with someone else would be strange. We had been together for fifteen years before my arrest, and at the time there was no reason to suppose that we would not be together for the foreseeable future. I had actually planned to liquidate my interests in the UK and buy a house in Holland where we could live together. Even after I was arrested, Mattius said he would wait for me. That did not work out, however; six months later he had met somebody else. I really could not blame him, although that relationship had not lasted very long. Later, he had met Jon and, when I was released from prison they had been together for four years.
Mattius had remained a friend throughout my whole time in prison. He had written to me regularly, and set up a virtual phone number in the UK so I could phone him without the high costs of an international call from a prison phone, which could be crippling. I had not known, though, that each month he had made a deposit into a savings account so there would be some money for me when I got out.
I had been lucky. Although most of my friends in England had dropped me the moment I was arrested, my Dutch and German friends had stood by me and supported me. But then, as Mattius had pointed out, if I had been in Holland or Germany I would not have been arrested — and they also knew the truth about what had happened.
I arrived in Leicester a few minutes after nine, which gave me a good four hours to spend looking for Steve before I had to meet Mattius and Jon. They had travelled over via the Channel tunnel the night before and were staying at a hotel down by Folkestone. It was a good two and a half to three hour drive from there, and as they would not be leaving till about ten, we had arranged to meet up at one.
My search for Steve was another fruitless one. If anything, I was more down than I had been all week when I finally met Mattius and Jon.
All the time I was inside, even after I knew that he was in a new relationship, I had held onto the idea that once I was out Mattius and I would get back together. When he arrived at our meeting place, a bar close by Leicester station, we hugged each other and then he introduced me to Jon. In that moment I realised that there was no chance of our getting back together, not because the relationship between Mattius and Jon was so obvious and so strong, but because I wanted something different — something that I had felt with Steve. I finally realised that what I wanted was to be with Steve.
We sat and had a light meal and a drink. Over the meal Mattius interrogated me about how things had gone since I was released. He did a fine job of it, as could be expected. I had taught him how to interview I.T. system users to find out what they wanted, and I had been one of the best solution architects in Europe. I had passed on my skills to Mattius.
“You know something, Mike…” he said, leaning back from the table and looking directly at me.
“You’re in love.”
“In love. I don’t think you have ever been in love before, or had anyone in love with you. I hero-worshipped you and you responded and it worked for us, but it was not love. I don’t think you were in love with Mark, either.”
Mark had been my previous partner, and that relationship had ended about the time I met Mattius.
“I know Mark had a bloody big crush on you, but a crush is not love. For once, Mike, I think you have fallen in love, and it is hurting.”
“Well, you either have to find this Steve and sort something out, or you have to get over it. Either way, I don’t think it is going to be easy.”
He was damned right; it wasn’t easy. Once he had made me consider it, I had to admit that I was in love with Steve. The problem was, there was no Steve around to love. Without him life was going to be hell.
During the whole of the first week of February I hoped that Steve might phone me or send me a letter, but neither happened. After my meeting with Mattius I knew that I needed Steve and that I had to find him. The problem was I had no idea how to go about it. I could not even be sure that he was still in Leicester — his home town had been Derby and he had spoken about living in Nottingham.
The one thing I did know was that Steve did not have anywhere to go when he got out; he was homeless. I knew he had experienced periods of homelessness before, because he had talked about it a number of times and about how he survived on the streets. I just prayed that he had managed to get into one of the hostels for the homeless; the weather had been far from good.
On the Monday, immediately after the morning meeting, I went down to the local library and consulted the telephone book, looking for homeless hostels in Leicester, Derby or Nottingham. Once I had made a list I started to phone around them asking if Steve Ramozis was resident there.
A few informed me that they had nobody of that name in residence. One, in Leicester, told me he had been there for a couple of nights but had not been in since Friday. That told me that Steve was probably still in Leicester. Unfortunately, most of the hostels would not give out information pertaining to residents. I could understand the reason for that, but it was not very helpful.
Tuesday was a total disaster. I had to get a ten thousand word paper finished for my course. It was due on Friday, but I was getting nowhere with it. I found it impossible to keep my mind on the subject, because I kept wondering where Steve was.
Then, to cap it all, the ink cartridge on my word processor ran out. I was sure I had another, but could I find it? No way. I traipsed around town for the better part of an hour and a half trying to find a printer supply shop that stocked the cartridge I needed. That proved to be a total waste of time. It turned out that my cartridge was so out of date that it could only be obtained from specialist mail order suppliers. In the end I bought a computer magazine, looked through the advertisements for cartridge suppliers, and phoned them to see if they stocked the one I needed. I was quickly eating through my phone credit, which meant another trip into town to buy a prepayment voucher. Things were just not going my way.
In the end I phoned my supervisor at the university and explained that I was having problems getting the ink cartridge and he gave me an extension on my submission date. Actually he was quite helpful, saying that, given I had only just been released he imagined I had my hands full, so would give me an extra four weeks. I only needed one, but I was not going to turn down four.
When I got back to the hostel there was a message waiting for me from my Offender Manager. He would be over on Thursday for our weekly meeting, and would then transfer me to the hostel in Leicester. That was a relief; at least I would be back in the city where I hoped Steve was living. Actually knowing that helped me a lot. I calmed down and got a good sleep that night, and the following day I was able to sit down and work on my paper. I also managed to order the cartridge for my word processor. I even remembered to put the Leicester address on the order form.
Thursday morning my Offender Manager arrived and we had our weekly meeting. Really it was a waste of time, but it had to be done so the box could be ticked.
That finished, we went into the office so that I could go through the leaving process. The amount of paperwork that had to be filled in just to leave a hostel was unbelievable. I was in the middle of going through it all when my phone rang. It was my mother wanting to know what time I would be in Leicester. I told her I did not know but that I would call when I got there. I had just finished the call when Janet asked me to sign another pile of papers. Fortunately that was the last lot and once they were signed I was free to go.
I found my Offender Manager in the car park, talking on his phone. He indicated that I should get into the car as he walked about the car park.
“Sorry,” he said as he climbed into the driver’s seat, “there’s a bit of a flap going on. I need to pop into the office and then go to the West Indian Social Centre before I can take you to the hostel.”
I nodded; it was too much to expect things to run as planned. Although it had only taken an hour and a half to drive up from Leicester, it took the better part of three to drive back. There was a major jam on the M1 — I think at one point it actually took an hour to travel one mile. I suggested it might be better to leave the M1 and go across country, but apparently when they were transferring an offender they had to pre-book their route and then stick to it.
It had gone two by time we got to the probation offices in Leicester. My Offender Manager left me in the car whilst he went in and picked up some papers. We drove through back streets to the West Indian Centre, where I waited in the car for another ten minutes.
Finally, we started off for the hostel where I was to be accommodated. We were in a one way system, and where I would have expected to turn left to the main road we had to go right. That meant we passed a large new multi-storey building with the words “Dawn Centre” standing out down one wall. My Offender Manager mentioned that it was the location of the health service I would have to use.
The name Dawn Centre rang a bell with me. It was not on the list of the hostels I had compiled, but then if it was fairly new it probably would not be. I wracked my brains trying to remember where I knew it from, then recalled that a couple of nights before my release Steve had mentioned it, telling me that he used it as a postal address when he was on the streets in Leicester. It was a new homeless hostel and was very hard to get into.
At my new hostel and my Offender Manager handed me over to a case worker assigned to me from the hostel team, who would guide me through the registration process. That took over an hour and it was past four before everything was done and I was able to go to the room that had been allocated to me. Unfortunately it was a shared room, and I was not too happy about that.
I remembered I needed to phone my mother to let her know I had arrived and found I did not have my phone with me. For a moment I panicked, wondering where I could have lost it, but a moment’s thought made it clear. When Janet had handed me the last pile of papers to sign, I had put the phone down on the table. I must have left it there.
My Case Worker was still in the office when I got down to it, so I explained what I thought had happened. She phoned the other hostel and confirmed that I had left the phone on the table. They would post it to me but I would have to pay for the postage and they would not send the phone until they received the postage money. I agreed; there wasn’t much choice, but it left me without a phone and I needed one.
Unfortunately, the new hostel had imposed a five o’clock curfew on me, which they did for everyone who was not working. There was not enough time to get up town and back before sign-in. One of the reasons for the curfew was to make sure you were in the hostel for the evening meal. Once that was over it would be too late to get to a phone shop to get a new mobile. I did manage to phone mother using a pay phone in the hostel, and we agreed to meet on the Saturday.
That night I lay in bed, half listening to my roommate who was jabbering away telling me of all the burglaries he had committed over the year. He was certainly keen to portray himself as the hard man. I was not listening, having put my responses on automatic, which injected the appropriate ‘mm hmm’ or ‘aha’ when required. I was thinking about Steve. I was fairly certain that he would get a letter if I wrote to him at the Dawn Centre, but what could I say?
I got up the next morning, showered and made the first entry of the day in my journal. It was Friday the fourteenth of February, Valentine’s Day. Oh! That was the answer to my question; I knew what I could send to Steve. The first thing I did when I got up town was to get a new pay as you go phone. I went into a card shop and got a floral gift tube, some wrapping paper and a card. Finally, I bought a red rose from the market.
Back at the hostel I put the phone on charge and then set about preparing the gift I planned to send to Steve. I made a note of my new phone number and attached it to the stem of the rose, along with the card, then placed the rose in the tube and wrapped it up. I had three quarters of an hour before my lunchtime curfew kicked in — just enough time to get to the Dawn Centre and back.
I handed the package in at their reception. The young man looked at the label and told me that Steve had gone out about half an hour before. He said he would make sure that Steve got the package as soon as he arrived back.
That was useful information. It meant that Steve was actually staying at the Centre. I returned to my hostel, signed in and went through for lunch. I wasn’t in much of a mood to eat, though; I was worried about what Steve would do when he got the rose. I mentally kicked myself. Steve was not gay; how could I have been so stupid as to send him a rose on Valentine’s Day? It was a blatant announcement of something I was certain Steve was not ready to deal with.
After lunch I went up to my room and lay on my bed, listening to the news, and wondering what would happen. The afternoon seemed to drag. I expected a call from Steve any moment, but waited in vain. At five I went down to sign in and get dinner, after which I returned to my room.
It had just turned six when my phone rang. I grabbed it off my bedside table and pressed the answer button. “Steve?”
“How did you know it was me?”
“Only just got this phone. You’re the only person I have given the number to.”
We chatted for a couple of minutes until Steve said his money was running low. I suggested we meet up on New Walk; he agreed, so we ended the call and I got ready to go out.
There was no sign of Steve when I got there but just after I had sat on the bench where we had agreed to meet I saw him walking towards me. Seeing him confirmed to me exactly how much I wanted him in my life.
We sat on the bench talking for nearly three quarters of an hour. Steve did most of the talking; I listened and made the odd reassuring comment. He told me he was back using heroin. He described what he had to do to fund his habit. It was not nice, but it was something I just had to accept. If Steve was going to be part of my life I had to deal with it.
The alarm on my watch sounded, warning me that I had fifteen minutes to get back before curfew.
Steve walked back with me, promising me that he would get onto the methadone programme as soon as he could. Now he knew I was there for him he had a reason to sort himself out.
We walked down the road until we stood on the pavement opposite my hostel. I turned to Steve and have him a hug. He pulled me into an even tighter hug, turned his head to me and placed his lips against mine. We kissed for what seemed like an eternity before we broke apart.
Steve looked into my eyes. “I love you, Mike.”
“And I love you.”
“You know I’m a fucking mess.”
“I know, Steve, but we can work on sorting it out. You’ve got me now.”
“That’s all I need.” He turned and started to walk away, then looked over his shoulder and shouted, “Happy Valentine’s.”
* * * * *
That was six years ago. Those six years have not been easy; in fact they have probably been the hardest six years in my life — harder even than being in prison. There were times when I could have cheerfully murdered Steve, like when he stole my camera kit to pay for methadone because he had missed his appointment at the drug clinic. It was not so much the fact that he stole it that annoyed me, but that he only got a hundred and ten pounds for something worth over two thousand.
At one point we actually broke up and did not see each other for over a year. I even got involved in another relationship but that did not work out. John, my new partner complained when I called him Steve. I couldn’t blame him.
Although Steve and I had not seen each other we had kept in touch, and when I got a text asking me to meet him, I was there immediately. We were back together within about five days, determined to do something about Steve’s drug use. I managed to raise the three thousand pounds that was needed for Steve to go into private detox. More important, I managed to get a charity to fund him to go on a rehabilitation programme. It meant we were apart for four months but it was worth it; Steve has now been clean for two years.
Of course my big fear was that once he was clean he would no longer be dependent on me and I wondered whether that would change his feelings for me. It was a risk I had to take, though. Getting Steve clean was more important that having him with me. As it turned out, if anything, it made Steve’s feelings for me stronger.
During the rehabilitation he spent a lot of time in psychotherapy, going over his reasons for turning to drugs. One cause that was identified was his rejection of his own homosexuality. Once he accepted that the final barrier between us was gone.
After he got out of rehabilitation Steve went on a course at a local college and qualified as an exercise professional. He also obtained a qualification in therapeutic massage. He now works at the local sports centre, where he has been for the past six months.
We spent Christmas in Holland with Mattius and Jon, who wanted to meet Steve. I think Mattius still feels a bit proprietary towards me and wanted to approve my new partner. After that we drove to Vienna, with stopovers in Stuttgart and Munich to visit friends I had not seen for years.
It is now New Year’s Day and we are in Vienna. Steve is sitting at the breakfast table looking out across the city through the double doors that open on to the balcony of our hotel room. Shortly we will listen to the New Year’s Day concert from the Musikverein. Of course, we do not have tickets. That would have been almost impossible to arrange, even for me, but we are in Vienna. We will be back here for Valentine’s Day, the two of us… Steve and me.
Association — A period when prisoners are allowed out of their cells to associate with each other or make phone calls.
Bang up — A period during which prisoners are locked in their cells.
Banged up — To be locked in your cell.
Licence — A period of supervision of an offender after their release from prison. A person on licence can be recalled to prison to serve the rest of their sentence at any time during their licence period. Until 2014 licence only applied to prisoners serving more than 12 months.
Local prison — A prison that takes in remand and short-term prisoners from the surrounding area and holds transitional prisoners for short periods.
Local release — In the UK the practice is, whenever possible, to move prisoners prior to their release to an establishment close to the probation area where they will be released. This avoids the necessity of Offender Managers having to travel long distances to make arrangements with prisoners and the provision of travel warrants for released prisoners to travel home. The term local can be misleading as the prison service seems to think that “local” means within fifty miles.
Lockdown — A state within a prison where all prisoners are locked in their cells. If there is any requirement to let prisoners out of their cells, for example to collect their lunch, this is done a few prisoners at a time.
Offender manager — A member of the probation service who has responsibility for the supervision of an offender who has been released on licence.
Pad — originally one's cell in prison, now general usage to mean the place you live in.
Property card / prop card — A record on which all property owned by the prisoner is listed. This includes property held by the prisoner, property that is stored at the prison for the prisoner, and a record of property that has been sent for long term storage in a warehouse.
Reception — The area of a prison dedicated to the processing of prisoners arriving at the prison or departing from it.
Rollcheck — A count done by prison officers of the number of prisoners in a unit or on a wing at a specific point in time, and the checking of this count against the list of prisoners who should be in the unit or on the wing. (See also the numbers.)
Screw — prison slang for a prison officer, which comes from the days of the treadmill when an officer would be in charge of tightening the screw to make the working of the treadmill harder.
The numbers — The count of the prisoners held in each unit or wing of a prison, phoned into security at roll check and checked against the total number of prisoners who should be in the prison.
Training prison — A prison which holds convicted prisoners on sentences of over twelve months, intended to provide training and rehabilitation for the prisoners.
My thanks to Alien Son for editing this for me, though we had some disagreements, so the mistakes are mine.
Copyright © 2015 Nigel Gordon