Prospect’s prisoner, Peter Wayne, is back inside after disappearing on the way to a drug rehabilitation centre, where he had been dispatched by a lenient judge. After nine months in London’s drug-soaked underworld he was caught stealing a first edition of Winnie the Pooh (worth ?2,750) and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.
“so, bearing in mind that so few of these men speak any English whatsoever, I was wondering whether it might be possible to acquire a few phrase books for the wing, maybe from education or the library, so that I could learn a few words of their language, just so they don’t feel quite so isolated…?”
The recently appointed governor of Wandsworth looked doubtful. He had come here from Gartree Prison with a reputation as a forward-looking, dynamic and liberal fellow, with a brief to drag this Victorian basilica of human discontent screaming into the 21st century. Given that he has already arranged for televisions to be placed in inmates’ cells, I had optimistically stopped him in his tracks during one of his daily tours of inspection.
“Phrase books? Dictionaries? For the asylum seekers you mean?”
He pondered the implications of my request with a sceptical raised eyebrow, trying to figure out my hidden agenda.
“One of the officers based on their landing said it’s like the Tower of Babel up there. And we all know what happened to that,” I offered. Ever since the sudden arrival of 50 or so detainees, our wing has been filled with the unintelligible cacophonies of the Balkans, eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent and equatorial Africa.
“Well it’s a jolly good idea,” he admitted opening up the little black book he always carries to jot down his observations. “The problem of course is money. You see, the prison service has been ordered by the Home Office to provide 500 places for these foreign nationals. Trouble is, nobody has seen fit to provide me with any extra budget to deal with their requirements…”
“But surely we could afford a couple of dictionaries, ” I argued, “I thought I might start with Russian. We already have lads from Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Belorussia.”
“Mmm. Leave it to me,” the governor said, rather non-commitally I thought, scribbling illegibly into his aide-m?moire. “I’m not promising anything though,” he repeated. “Don’t any of the officers speak Russian?” he asked. And on that risible note he bolted…