I wasn’t sorry to wave goodbye to Wandsworth, even if it was from the cramped compartment in the back of a Securicor meatwagon. Two months there had been more than enough time to reflect on and recover from my recent delinquency. Ahead of me lay a four-and a-half-hour journey to the south-west of England. The allocations department told me I was fortunate to have been tagged for drop off at the Weare, which for the last four years has formed the third part of a triumvirate of prisons on the rock solid isle of Portland. Also known as “The Boat,” “The Hulk” and, intriguingly, “The Love Tug,” HMP Weare is Britain’s only floating nick.
As our meatwagon eventually crossed the causeway onto the island proper, a flotilla of small yachts bobbed about carelessly in the bay, their flags and pennants fluttering gaily in the February sun. And there stood Portland. At the beginning of the last century, the best military engineers of their day had been dispatched here to work their wonders on the maritime defences. Above and around me now rose the not inconsiderable fruits of their labour. Crowning a high and jagged outcrop of rock was what looked like the palisade of a stone citadel, as imperious as the Bernini colonnades in Rome.
We tumbled out onto the quay aching and exhausted-myself, Tonks and Boyes (a pair of swarthy Romany gypsies), Baz (a loquacious scouse with the only box of matches in our contingent), Sal (a Dutchman with more English than the vindictive guard in the van), and a north London hard man called Gooner, muscles bulging out of his vest.
Moored beside us was one of the most unlikely and bizarre vessels I have ever set eyes on. It might have been designed by Rogers or Grimshaw, such was its austere high-tech functionalism. Service pipes and conduits wrapped themselves around the infrastructure, creating a sort of hybrid Lego/Meccano set criss-crossed with coils of deadly razor wire. Incongruous. Immense. Immobile. The only feature which even vaguely suggested a life on the ocean wave was a slim aftward funnel upon which had been riveted the logo “HM Prison Service: Investor in People.”
Two screws eventually arrived and escorted us, two by two, up the ship’s gangplank. Safely inside our new home, handcuffs now removed, we were led into a spartan room plastered with “No Smoking” signs and told…