August was early release month. At Stocken prison it took an unexpected formby Peter Wayne / October 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
The minister of Finkin Street Methodist Chapel, Grantham, is a truly Victorian character in the grand oratorical mode. One morning, early in August, he was waxing as long as ever. I was sitting at the organ console wondering whether my choice of Sullivan’s Brightly Gleams Our Wedding Morn as an introductory voluntary had been the most appropriate start to the day’s proceedings. Still, there were always the coffee and biscuits to come.
As the prayers came to a close, the back doors of the prison chapel flew open. “All inmates back to the wings immediately,” a security screw announced to the startled congregation. The long awaited biscuits lay uneaten on their plates in the vestry while we were marched back along the corridor for an emergency roll check. Interruptions of this kind on a Sunday morning mean only one thing. Someone had, as they say, “had it away.”
There had been no escapes from Stocken this year. With fences recently metal clad and doubly razor-wired, prison security seemed assured. But as the grim-faced officer who locked me in my cell told me that not one but three prisoners had taken leave of their sentences, it became apparent that the copy book had just been blotted.
“Looks as though they had outside help. Someone must have been up in the middle of the night and cut an ‘ole in the fence out on the field.”
Seconds later I heard the sound of helicopter rotor blades. Earlier in the week, I had watched spellbound as the television programme, Police, Camera, Action had revealed the secrets of airborne thermal imaging capacity, and indeed Leicestershire was, I believe, the first police force in the country to deploy these heat seeking devices in pursuit of fugitives. The errant rogue does not stand a hope in hell’s chance once those beams are pointed in his direction. Yet somehow, the ex-inmates eluded their pursuers.
According to a local news bulletin, Lady Willoughby de Eresby, hosting the Grimsthorpe castle game fair only a stone’s throw away from Stocken, might have unwittingly provided the perfect cover for the three on the run. At any rate, they vanished without trace, possibly into the throngs of people crowded into the grounds of Vanbrugh’s baroque masterpiece.
At least the incident put paid to the rest of the day’s internal drug trafficking. Frustrated to the point of explosion, the 397 prisoners left behind spent the rest of the long hot Sunday confined to their wings, while the governor in charge of works supervised a hasty repair operation to the fence. I telephoned my girlfriend Susan shortly after lunch. Having heard the one o’clock news herself, she asked me where I was speaking from-such is her unswerving faith in my continued good behaviour.
Among the inmates, there is always an unspoken feeling of having got one over on the system whenever anything like this happens. Staff turned tetchy during the claustrophobic afternoon.
That evening, the weekly bingo session was held as normal. Seventy men concentrated intently on their cards as they competed for the prize Mars bars. “Two and seven, twenty-seven. Six and eight, sixty-eight,” the screw calling out the numbers droned on without much enthusiasm. Then he pulled a single number out of his bag.
“On its own number three…”
“…through the fence!” A wag called out. As the prisoners fell about, the Three Away remained, for the time being at least, embarrassingly at large.
On a more sombre note, at the end of August death came close to Stocken again. After tea one night, a frail lad in a cell opposite Duffy’s failed to appear to collect his canteen. Pay day is always a frenzy of activity as inmates collect their wages and settle their weekly bills in a flush of tobacco and telephone cards. Noel, poor lad, owed out more than he had coming in. When a pair of burly debt collectors arrived at his door, they found entry barred.
Noel had barricaded himself in and was answering no calls. His spyhole was blocked. The screws could not see him. A crowd of onlookers gathered. His tally of debt had by this time been calculated at about 25 phone cards.
Duffy suddenly remembered that earlier in the afternoon, Noel had complained of a headache and asked for some paracetamol.
“I gave him two I ‘ad in the back of the locker.”
“Shit. He asked me too,” another man piped up.
It soon became obvious why there was no answer at his door. The screws brought in the door jack. Almost two hours after he had first been brought to everybody’s attention, an unconscious Noel was rescued, thankfully revived, and as I write this dispatch is shakily convalescing in the segregation unit.
His creditors still simmer, and it seems that, after he had been brought round, he blurted out the whole sorry story to the authorities. Duffy (who had actually been the hero of the piece, alerting those in charge in the first place) received an interrogatory late night visit from the governor wanting to know exactly what Noel had ingested, why had Duffy given him them, was there anything else inside Noel that they should know about…?
The summer is behind us. We are counting the days to Christmas.