Prison is a difficult place to give up drugs and tell the truthby Peter Wayne / July 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
We might have been waiting for Godot. Eight men in a cell, seated on white cardboard chairs, side by side, four of us along each opposite wall. Our ears prick up. Out of the early morning silence comes a chilling scream which echoes down the corridor outside. A man under close restraint. “Bent up,” as they say. And whoever they’ve got is putting up a struggle. “You’ll do as you’re fuckin’ told,” a screw threatens. “On your knees in the corner. Hands behind your back. Don’t turn round till you hear the door lock behind you.” The scream again. This time muffled. A cell door bangs firmly shut. “Bastards,” the man sitting next to me murmurs sotto voce.
Although the governor never arrives for adjudication before ten o’clock, regulations state that all prisoners on report must arrive at the segregation unit at eight sharp. That’s what we were doing there in the first place-“nicked” pending confirmation of our first random mandatory drugs test.
While we waited, I tried my best to concentrate on a book review I was writing for the Spectator. The first prisoner was called in. He returned long-faced and positive for opiates. Thirty-five days remission. The second man was luckier. Negative for cannabis. Case dismissed. The third went in… Positive opiates. Another 35 days. Fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh went in and and came out. By the time I was called to be told (God be praised) that I had tested negative for both cannabis and opiates, a full total of 22 and a half weeks’ remission had been forfeited.
It costs an average of ?453 per week to keep a man in prison, so the governor’s “awards” that morning cost the taxpayer just under ?10,000. Even supposing there are no more than six similar adjudications a week, Stocken’s bill at the end of the year comes to ?520,000. Nationally, that multiplies up to a staggering ?62.5m-or about the same as it’s going to cost to build the proposed new “control” prison for disruptive inmates. Couldn’t money have been more usefully apportioned, especially when the Home Office is demanding a 13.5 per cent cut in the prison budget?
Back in rural Stocken, the drugs “rehabilitation” unit is fighting for its financial life. One of the group, Darren, (about whose exploits regular readers of this column have already learnt) is in desperate need of counselling. “They just won’t give us the money we need,” the senior officer tells me regretfully when I challenge him about the lack of professional expertise.
At the beginning of May, Dar- ren was in big trouble. The telltale signs of his addiction (eyes reduced to microdots and continual scratching) had manifested themselves during the weekly wing bingo session. Although the rehabilitation lads are housed in cells ostensibly away from the busy prison trading malls, they could hardly believe their “luck” when a known dealer was transferred from the block (“Shortage of space down there. Sorry, lads”) and allocated a cell right next door to Darren. The man hadn’t been on the wing half an hour before his stall was set up and the “devil’s dandruff” began changing hands. Inevitably, Darren bought a deal (the dealer was even offering credit). Equally inevitably, the screw calling out the bingo numbers noticed the effect.
The following morning, he was dragged off for a non-random drugs test, then, a week later, appeared on adjudication where he threw himself on the mercy of the governor and admitted still using heroin (thus saving the prison, inter alia, the cost of expensive re-testing procedure). Yes, he still had a habit, but consumption had been cut by three quarters, and progress was slowly but surely being made.
When Darren minus his 35 days remission returned to the wing, the senior officer was there to greet him. “We’ve ‘ad enough of you runnin’ around the wing as ‘igh as a kite. You’ve been on this course 12 weeks now. That’s long enough to be off the Class A’s.” Darren had a ?400-500 a day crack and heroin habit outside. At Grendon Underwood (the only prison in the country to offer a fully integrated professionally supervised therapeutic regime), they allow 12-18 months as the optimum period for any significant improvement through therapy. “There’ve even been complaints from other cons,” the senior officer continued. “Suppose you thought you was bein’ clever pleadin’ guilty? Well I’ve got a surprise for you. You’re not getting away with it that easy. You’re confined to your cell for 21 days. Let’s see what a bit of cold turkey does for you.”
They escorted him to his cell and locked the door. Sens Interdit fluorescent orange “gaffer” tape was stuck along the corridor six feet either side. The works department were called in to screw a wooden block to the gap at the bottom of the door. Outside, a great sheet of perspex was battened over his window. Without air, without exercise, without counsel or companionship, Darren sweated it out for a full three weeks. This morning, like the colonel in The Bridge on the River Kwai, he was released, a little off balance, from his hole.
White, gaunt, and startled by all the activity, he ate his cornflakes sitting on the bed next to me. “How are you doing?” I asked quietly. “Achin’.” He smiled. “I’ll tell you somethin’, though, Pete. That’s the last time I’ll admit to fuck-all again.”