Abel Dixon has a massive voice: it cannons off the walls of the huge Victorian chapel at Wormwood Scrubs, losing all sense but amplifying as it goes, so what reaches you is just a long serried roar. He’s saying “Humbug ta rarse!”, because this is A Christmas Carol and Abel is playing a Yardie Scrooge. The chapel is decked with cobwebs, Scrooge is in top hat and gold chain, and his shotters—his petty dealers—wear hoodie tailcoats.
Abel has never been to jail before and I think he shouldn’t be there now. He’s big and black and he worked as a bouncer, and maybe the court knew what it thought before it heard what happened. What happened was a scuffle outside a nightclub where Abel was on duty. He was attacked and he fought back, and somehow a knife appeared and somehow Abel handled it.
Abel has worked all the years he’s been in Britain. He married an Irish girl, became a Londoner, steered clear of all the madness. So he didn’t know what was happening to him when he was arrested, charged, remanded. And he listened to what they told him.
They told him he had a choice: plead not guilty and he’d get eight years; plead guilty and he’d probably walk. So he pleaded guilty to a crime he didn’t do, and he got three years in Wormwood Scrubs, and he can’t appeal because he pleaded guilty, and he’s classed as a violent offender which means he can’t go to an open prison.
His daughter cries down the phone and their house got burgled twice while he wasn’t there and now the little girl can’t sleep at night. Then it turns out he never had valid papers to work in Britain and they say they’ll deport him when he’s released, which is next month. He’s told his daughter he’ll be out in time to take her to her school on her birthday, but it won’t happen, and what should he tell her now?
“All kinds a prison, Scrooge,” says the Ghost of Christmas Present. “On the out and on the in.” Beneath his Rasta beanie, Abel’s expressive face is creased with fear and confusion. Threatened with exile and the loss of his family, his career over and his home violated, he puts his trust in a system he doesn’t understand, and in us, weak agents in an unfair world.