My self-imposed exclusion from day-to-day life seemed to be working well, in as much as I was getting through each of those days without any major problems. The fact that I was absolutely hiding away is probably not the obvious definition of the term ‘working well’ but it was what I felt would be better for everyone; in the short-term that is. I was doing my best to keep those closest to me as up to date with meaningful information as I could, that which I thought was relevant or reasonable anyway given that I was now, allegedly, a pervert. My definition of people who were ‘close’ was anyone who had decided that there was more to me as a person than the label that I had been unceremoniously, if rightly, given. For too many other people, my situation would be classed as extreme although in an odd way I could only see it as just one more state but I couldn’t count as being ‘everyday’. Strangely, for me anyway, there was no real sense of panic or danger; perhaps this was a symptom of a much deeper problem; who could know.
Most of my time was spent time doing all the normal everyday things, eating, sleeping, watching television but consciously going out of my way to avoid anything else as much as I could. This was not very difficult to achieve as I had never been the most gregarious of people but there were several organisations that I was involved with, although that should probably be changed to a past tense, that would find my disappearance hard to explain. The police had warned me not to have any contact with any of them for both investigative and safety reasons. From this cautionary note I had expected some reprisals but either the police had done a good job at being discrete or none of my former contacts seemed to want to make any unsolicited approaches. Either situation was fine by me for the time being.
The factory was one of the biggest concerns as it was what had filled most of my time for the past twelve years; plus, it paid the bills. With this, any decision was taken out of my hands. By the time the police had finished with me in that first instance, the staff had already decided that it would be best if I stayed away unless anything cropped up that only I could really deal with. Apparently, there were very mixed feeling and opinions amongst the people who I employed and although I understood that they were fully entitled to have them, nothing I could do or say for the time being was going to change things and I complied with their wishes.
Being at home in my solitary companionship I was quite happy keeping up the façade or normality as I had done most of my life. It was a well-practised thing to keep the many different elements of my life well away from each other and I took what comfort I could from it. The dividing lines were based on my perception of both other people’s expectations and their tolerance for misunderstood elements of my persona. Most of my more public faces had been moulded and tempered to maintain whatever pretence was needed to give me as much personal acceptance as I could engineer. Throughout all of this effort, although I fully understood that I was not being at all honest, it was something that I had always felt the need to do, just to allow me to feel included in life’s many treacherous convolutions.
Some of these efforts had inevitably backfired on me. As a prime example and the most obvious had been my coming out of the metaphorical sexual closet. ‘Out and proud’ was the phrase of the day but at the time, announcing to the world that I was gay didn’t seem very much like it. My choice to declare my sexuality had of course ended my nine-year marriage and meant me partially abandoning my two young children. It was never going to be a good time but I honestly thought that I had calculated the inevitable damage that I would be doing. Ideological as ever, I hoped that the public realisation of my sexual preference would not be judged too harshly and that everything would be fine in the end; it didn’t work out like that, obviously.
The wonderful woman to whom I was married certainly didn’t deserve being abandoned by her duplicitous husband at all let alone quite so dramatically. She should never have married me in the first place which was certainly all my fault despite shamefully trying to mitigate my actions afterwards.
We had both worked at the same factory at the time and had been seeing each other for a while. I thought it was because I had a car and could give her a lift home, the very fact that anyone wanted to spend time with me at all was a revelation. Anyway, it was quite some time after the strike had finished and we had finished work at lunch time as we did on Fridays and we, well I, had been enjoying an encounter of let’s call it a personal nature in front of a warm electric fire I was quietly recovering my breath. It had only been the second sexual experience with the opposite sex, both being with her. The fact that I was aged 23 at this point will become more relevant as my story unravels. Ever the practical idiot that I was back then, I couldn’t just accept the experience for what it was, sex, love, who knew what but no, I had to think about it, around it, over it, through it and for some inexplicable reason I was compelled to ask what for me, was a serious and practical question.
“Would you marry me if you were to get pregnant?”
Safe sex was not something that I had considered at the time; just the sex part was proving difficult enough. Anyway, logic was not a strong point, bless her and ‘Would you marry me….,’ was all that she heard and the proverbial ‘go’ button had been well and truly pressed.
That one tiny event, although not so small in so many ways, quickly become a roller coaster that I should never had gotten myself onto in the first place and definitely off well before it started its hair-raising journey; I didn’t and soon found that I couldn’t.
The general fog of confusion in which I lived my life, as far as feelings went, just couldn’t cope with letting people down. The consequences were that I lived my life in a haze of impressions of life rather than in life itself. Some or all this I put down to a lack of life skills most people learn early on although for me it was far too late by. It was really no one’s fault just a few crossed wires somewhere; in or outside my brain I still don’t understand. As with many other things in my life, the result of not resolving or sometimes not even recognising issues when they arose meant that I would inevitably end up hurting people around me as they passed along or across my rather tortuous way.
Back in the present, having lots of time on my hands I tried very hard not to get into too much deep thought. Inevitably, exploring the whys and wherefores of how I had arrived at this point took over and I couldn’t help but drift back and forth on the ill winds that blew around me. These were mainly at night when sleep seemed to be totally disqualified. The black silence and cold inactivity gaped into chasms of self-loathing, hollow concern, and darkening fears; the morning chorus was sweet music to my mind as well as my ears.
The self-imposed minimalist lifestyle stumbled along for almost two weeks until eventually I summoned up the courage to go outside but only when I found that I really had to. Even then it was only for bits of shopping and carefully calculated to minimise the chances of contact with people who I might know or anyone that might know me. Despite the warnings from the police I had fortunately not received any adverse reactions to the events thus far and wanted to keep it that way.
The police had made me aware that the ongoing investigations they had planned would be extensive. Apparently, they would be in contact almost everyone that I had been associated with in recent times and because of this or was it despite all this, they could not be held responsible for any action or reaction that might happen. In other words, once the ‘word’ was on the street and I could be faced with anything. Having received the standard duty of care speech while I was being released on bail, I didn’t fancy testing that pool of rather muddy water. There was apparently a ‘rapid response flag’ against my details on their computer systems and if I was ever faced with an angry pitch-fork wheeling mob, I would be rescued by what they described as ‘immediate attention’. Having had pictured such an event in my mind one night it wasn’t at all pleasant nor was the promise of help comforting.
Of course, I knew there was only a limited amount of relevant information that was pertinent to the case and it all concerned the images that I had been collecting on my computers over many years. Unfortunately, and sadly logically, I could see the stronger case for the wider interest by the police and so was not surprised by the lines of enquiries that it was said or implied that police would be making. They were obviously thinking that there must be far more to the matter than just my collecting pictures although, in my own defence, I defiantly had never had any thoughts of advancing to actual physical interest in the type of people pictured in my head.
Despite many popular definitions, I did have some sense of right and wrong even if the decency aspect was questionable, I could easily appreciate any negativity that would overshadow the sense of the person that many people may have been induced into thinking. I was surer by the day that the police activity would have introduced feelings of revulsion, fear, anger, revenge all tumbling over each other, and my being overwhelmed by them. There was nothing that I could do to dilute or prevent any of it.
During one of the more tedious days, as I was returning from a short shopping trip for just a few basics which had been as uneventful as the others, despite my hypersensitivity, there was something not quite right as I walked onto the small private estate where I lived. The difference was the unusual number of cars parked around the flats for that time of day. There were people too. The dress code was recognisable and the number of police officers, as I instantly knew them to be, meant that they were not here for a neighbourhood watch meeting; they were here for me.
Immediately I had been seen, a plan of some sort swung into action just as it had the last time. Both they and I were formally identified to each other although they obviously knew who I was, I didn’t note who they were. As before, I went quietly. Once escorted inside the building, I was relieved of my shopping bags which received a cursory search; oddly I wondered if the toilet rolls and frozen vegetables might be classed as incriminating evidence but the digression passed quickly. There had been no-one at homes that morning which I was pleased about but disappointed that the officers had seen fit to break into both the flat and the bedroom inside it. The bedroom was only locked as it was counted as my son’s space and I afforded him the privacy of being able to lock it; all that was long gone now. My suggestion that if they had only waited until I got back it would have saved them the trouble of a forced entry but this was easily and minimally brushed aside; surprise had been part of the plan from the outset.
Inside, I could see that there had been yet another extensive search of most of the rooms. I was only allowed to stand in the small hall with officers watching my every move, not that I made any but I could see enough disruption to know what they had been up to. There was less to look through this time as I had not replaced anything or added to the already small inventory from their last clear-out. The use of seven officers was a little of an over-kill I thought but kept it to myself for the time being. Some of them were just milling about; some were intently keeping me where I was albeit without any visible force, I didn’t think it was a good idea to question or test anything that they were doing for the moment. From my earlier bail conditions, I had understood that I had another week at least before having to answer to the station and my curiosity was pricked as to what had prompted this early intervention. The looks on the officers’ faces, some of them nice faces, didn’t invite comment.
It was not just the looks that concerned me although they probably couldn’t help themselves, the tone of voice that the lead officer adopted was rather harsher and more intense than the chatty style he had used in my offices. Eventually I was formally instructed as to what was going to happen next, no explanations, just instructions.
Because of the seriousness of the situation I was to be taken to the police station for further questioning. To do this I was required to be handcuffed although they would be as discreet and sensitive as they could be, unless I gave them any reason to think that I might not co-operate. It was all a bit ‘TV drama’ I thought but I took the instructions seriously and did as I was told to do; such was my nature. As we left I wondered about the damaged doors that were obviously not going to lock any more but I was rather distracted by a loud conversation going on out in the communal hall. A terrified young man was being quizzed by officers and I recognised him as a friend of my son which I could confirm for him. He had just popped round to visit and had now been embroiled in a matter that I had hoped would stay rather more discrete. Although I was not allowed to speak to him directly it was suggested that now the search had been completed he might take some responsibility for security until the flat could be better made safe; how and by who didn’t enter the conversation as far as I could hear. Curiously, the one thing on my mind was that I hoped that my once frozen vegetables wouldn’t be allowed to defrost much further.
There were three of us squeezed into the back of the car and three cars in the convoy as it made its way this time through the city centre to a different station, larger and perhaps more befitting the greater seriousness of the case. Talking in the car was minimal and none of it included me. Information was passed over the radio that I was now on route and that there were no complications left behind; the damage obviously didn’t seem to figure as a complication. All I could do was sit and wait for whatever was going to happen next.
It was plain to understand that there were significant new circumstances that had warranted this up-scaling of the operation but there was nothing obvious that I could think of or extrapolate from my musings over the days and nights. The extent of my activity in collecting pictures had always been a very personal and jealously guarded interest; unless you count the one rash exchange of just a few select pictures only a few weeks ago. With nothing to distract me, not even a good haircut this time, I watched the city pass us by until we arrived.
The cars pulled round to the back of the station and into a secure area, high walls and wire befitting the level of security. The general decamping routine was the same except for the inclusion of the handcuffs. Once through the two sets of doors and into the custody suite proper, these were thankfully removed. There was a more formal identification procedure, body searches, handing over of the contents of my pockets and emptying the small ‘man bag’ I sported at the time. My important documents were with me most of the time, driving licence, passport, bank cards, cheque books, cash money; at least it had saved the bother of having to search for them during my arrest. They were logged onto a form, bagged, tagged, and put away. Again, I was relieved of items with which I could do myself harm and was read the formal rights and expectations of a suspect in custody. Legal representation would be found for me, it didn’t seem to be an option this time and so I accepted the duty solicitor without question. I had no idea how this more advanced business worked but as long as they did, that would have to be good enough. Following a crisp handsome uniform to the cells and removing my shoes almost before I was asked to do so, I entered a now vaguely familiar cold space. The cell door banged noisily behind me; that was that then.
This holding cell was rather more damaged than the last one. Almost every surface was encrusted with meaningless scratching; even the many layers of gloss paint couldn’t hide the scrawl and graffiti, not that it took much longer to decipher and decode this lot than it had in the last place. The standard of education that deemed so and so ‘woz ere’ seemed a sadly fitting note on the previous occupancy. The rest of the routine was as before, sitting, waiting, pacing, waiting, sitting some more, even lying down, none of it made any difference. The coffee was better, hot at least as were the three standard issue food packs, the pepper in the chilli con carni helped but they were still rather nebulous and unappetising. You may surmise from the number of meals offered and eaten that I was spending longer in custody this time; you would not be wrong.
The arrival of the duty solicitor broke the monotony and matters started to slowly get clearer. He had already been briefed by the case investigation officers before I was taken to join him in one of the small interview rooms; windowless, faceless, functional, the room that is not the man. My first impression of him was that he was very young for the job but I put that down to being just a sign of me getting older; or did that just apply to policemen? He was very pleasant and personable from the start and asked about my treatment and well-being; standard questions I thought but his friendly manner and cheerful face were welcome, whatever he was going to ask me about later.
After the short introduction was out of the way he laid out clearly what was going to happen. His positive approach to things was quite refreshing and I realised that he may well be on my side, despite what he knew of the allegations that had been outlined to him so far. Buoyed somewhat by all of this I couldn’t argue against any of his assertions or plans, not so far anyway. Formal interviews would be taking place, when he was ready, and I was going to have to be very careful in what was said. He was most insistent that I did exactly as he told me, whatever my opinion. Conversely, I was to be as open and honest with him here, now, so that he could protect me from the inevitable traps and unnecessary convolutions that the interviewing officers were bound to attempt during their interviews; I noted the plural with unease.
“I have to know everything,” he insisted, “you’ll not be able to shock me I can assure you so please, don’t feel that you need spare my blushes.”
This amused me but I was still cautious as I had no idea what he had been told so far. Feeling that I could trust him based on nothing but intuition, I could only comply with his wishes; in a way, I had no other option but to trust him or hang.
After some qualification of what parts of ‘everything’ he wanted, we settled on working backwards from that moment and he would steer me along the path between relevant and less irrelevant items. Page after page of notes later each taken over a period that I couldn’t begin to measure accurately, he decided that he had enough to be going on with; enough to be ahead of the investigation teams’ findings anyway as far as he could tell. Admittedly, once the flood gates had been opened I had left out very little, for once relishing an opportunity to share even just a small part my secret life. We took a moment to breathe.
He detailed what I was to do next, during the interview process. Perversely I was to restrict my answers to all the questions put to me to ‘No Comment’. Just how that was going to work I had no idea and said so quite plainly but my query was squashed flat with no obvious recourse, I just had to trust him; again. He did qualify this rational to me a little as he could see that I was sceptical.
“If they had any real information already then it doesn’t matter but why do any more of their job for them or even confirm any of it, which is what they’re paid to do. If they want anything else, they’ll have to work to find it first and prove it second. There’s no need to hand them anything on a plate at this stage.”
His tone was such that I felt confident to go along with his judgement, despite still having some underlying reticence about the whole thing.
Before having spoken with him I had decided that I was ready to roll over and give it all up and get the process over and done with; after all I was guilty of the crime. The consequences of this new strategy would have to be suffered; I had to; I wanted to; I needed to.
There was another brief rest period with me back in my cell and my solicitor dealing with another case while he was in the station. This time to calm down was appreciated and my mind and my thoughts settled again, after spilling themselves out so effortlessly I needed to reign in my enthusiasm for the next odious task.
Eventually I was escorted to yet another room, I had given up on re-tying my shoe laces each time we moved and just hoped that I wouldn’t trip over them in the process. This other room was larger but just as utilitarian. It was much as you might see on the television although it wasn’t quite as intimidating as they sometimes make out; it wasn’t so to me anyway. We were placed in the appropriate positions around the plain wooden table which had on it just the black boxed recording machine for now. Two of us faced up to two of them, one officer I recognised but the other was new and was busy unwrapping the three cassette tapes from their cellophane seals. She described what she was doing throughout, my rights and so on for their formal use and availability. Concentrating on the build-up, I didn’t take much notice of her, I would leave that to my solicitor to deal with. Note pads were laid out on both sides of the table, both had things jotted on them already but I couldn’t read anything without undue effort so I didn’t try. The session began.
Identification of all those in the room was made for the tape. The real questions started and I fell metaphorically headlong at the first hurdle. The question had seemed innocuous enough but I felt a sharp dig in my thigh from the slim leg but bony knee of my solicitor; I realised why he had sat so close to me, not that I minded. The silent rebuke was reinforced by a stern look and I nodded my apology feeling very hot. I tried my best to stick to the plan. It all seemed so pointless and even during those first minutes it grew increasingly frustrating; as it was plainly meant to be. It was obvious what they wanted to know and I could see just where their lines of questions were leading. As far as I could work out I wouldn’t have been telling any untruths if I had just answered them outright; it would have been much quicker and far less painful I was desperately beginning to think. But, for good or bad I stuck to the plan.
After about two hours of this pointless ping-pong, my strength of purpose in playing the game was starting to fail, markedly. Because it was so obvious, my solicitor requested that he had a ‘private word with his client’ which was code for, ‘give it a rest’. Tapes were addressed once more for the break and my inquisitors left the room disgruntled. Waiting for the door to spring closed before he spoke, he was kind enough to tell me how well I was doing and this was just a way of getting a break for a few moments and was to give me some breathing space as much as to break the flow of their tedious questioning. I tried to explain how difficult I was finding it to keep up the stone walling and he did his best to reassure me that it was still the right thing to be doing. Hoping that I might have been wrong, I got the feeling that he was getting some perverse pleasure from all this play-acting and annoying the officers and not for just being my advocate.
It was literally only a few minutes’ break and the process restarted, tapes and personnel reinstated, it was not to be the last time that they were interrupted and resumed over the next five or six hours.
During the performance, as it had become, it seemed that the whole gambit of tricks were being employed, not quite ‘good cop, bad cop’ but not far off. The questioner changed over, each rummaging through their notes as if they were looking for something new for me to answer or confirm; I had soon guessed that it was mostly a fishing expedition as did my council. For the greater part I managed to stay with the ‘no comment’ structure although frequently slipped into subtle variations of the phrase as much for my own sanity as anything else. It made my solicitor wince each time I changed the phrase as he had to re-analyse if what I was saying was suitable or not. Eventually it was obvious to all of us that there was nothing else to be gained from the process and I thought that it might be over; for now, at least. I was very wrong.
The questioner changed again and their tone with it. After a longer than usual visual exchange between the two officers, if they had been telepathic you could have said that they might have had a conversation, it seemed that it had been some sort of coded exchange. The questions were no longer about me and what I had or hadn’t done they now started on my family and what involvement they might have had in all this. The new tack was obviously designed to prick at the already strained nerves on my side of the table. Innuendos were made as to what else I might be involved in other than the image collecting. How could I not have been involving in exploiting other people with my activities? All those that lived with me, all those that I had regular association with, all those that I could easily involve and affect, nothing was further from the truth. The ploy was obviously a calculated one and in a way, it almost worked. Names were dropped into the mix and my obvious rise to their prodding was noted and so they continued against the now rather strained versions of my ‘no comment’ answers.
Despite me knowing that there was nothing to find, however desperate they wanted to, having picked up this particular ball, they seemed determined to run with it. Because of the extra pressure being piled on, my control was slipping again and fortunately my solicitor was observant enough to jump right in and cut them off before I reached the edge of the cliff. He used his own well practised ploys of it ‘being a very long session’ and the ‘lateness of the hour’ as valid reasons for me to have a proper break. The frustration from the other side of the table was palpable and it didn’t take a genius to interpret the looks on their faces this time but, the validity of the interruption was reasonable enough and they had to give in.
The mood had been broken for now and the drip drip drip of the torture had been plugged with little damage done. Further negotiations between the officials agreed that I could have a longer rest this time but they may well want to continue the questioning later that night; my face must have fallen at the prospect as my brief took hold of my arm to get me out of the now very stuffy interrogation chamber. On the way back through the custody suite I overheard him have further negotiations with rather more senior officers about me and my state of mind, although I couldn’t quite work out what it was they were discussing in detail.
The solitude of the cell was a welcome relief and I had relieved my full bladder noisily into the stainless receptacle sitting in the corner and was trying to find a comfortable position on the hard wooden bench. The lock clattered, the door swung open and a friendly face beamed in.
“I think that I’ve convinced the custody sergeant that all this is going nowhere and other than what they already have on you, that is all they are going to get.”
It took a moment for me to catch up with my solicitor’s chain of thought and explanation.
“I know him quite well and you should be left alone for tonight. I can’t see what else they can find out from what you have told me so, as long as you have been straight with me?”
He paused but the question seemed to be rhetorical although I was in no state of mind to give much of an answer anyway. He continued.
“You should be OK until the morning now. You will be going to court at some point tomorrow but I hope that I will see you before that. If not, I will see you in there when I can tell you what is going to happen.”
Again, he didn’t seem to require an answer but I thanked him anyway for everything he had done so far. He waved away my comment with a smile. My impression that he enjoyed getting one over on the investigating team whenever he could, wasn’t shaken; I was glad for it in a way. He said that he would be around for a short while as he had other clients to deal with while he was there if I needed to ask anything. There was nothing that I could think of but I couldn’t really think straight at all. We wished each other a good night, his would be better than mine of that there was no doubt but I settled down with the last coffee of the night. It was night-time as the glow through the glass blocks of the window aperture was sodium yellow from the flood-lights in the car park.
After the cell light had been dimmed I managed to find a reasonably comfy spot to lie down. Despite all the noise and night-time comings and goings around the custody cells, the singing and swearing, the vomiting and general vulgarity it seemed that none of it could stop me falling into a dead dreamless, if relatively short sleep.
A subtle change in the activity outside my cell door must have helped wake me as much as the brightness of the daylight that had replaced the harsh illuminations. There was defiantly less shouting and banging going on but there was still plenty of movement. Morning drinks requests were taken along with the selection of breakfast fare. The choice was surprising and although still minimal it did include real and branded cereals in individual boxes of which I chose the one featuring a brightly coloured cockerel and with it fresh, not even long life, milk; the bright familiar packaging seemed incongruous in the oppressive, plain, shabby cell. After breakfast, washing was not possible and of course I had no change of clothes. The morning chorus of toilet flushing showed the cells to be well occupied from the night before. Only a few inmates felt the need to profess their innocence, question the parentage of the officers on duty or protest their disgust at their unfair incarceration, but that was only to be expected; I did none of these, it seemed too much effort for no actual gain.
After eating breakfast and finishing the almost hot drink there was not much else to do. With the limited choice at hand I decided on rediscovering the wall markings trying to make out what they might be about, if anything; the uncomfortable thought struck me that I was now one step closer to being one of the criminal classes myself. It hit me harder than I would have liked and took what little shine there had been off the morning. The door clanked open and a uniform strode in. He proceeded with yet another of the formal question and answer sessions regarding the state of my treatment while in the facility, there were no complaints from me, no point; I knew it was just more fodder for the Home Office statistics whatever good they might do. Having watched enough reality television to realise that with the police there were only two choices, their way, or no way and as there was no advantage in the latter, I did whatever was asked and enjoyed the perverse pantomime that was going on in and out of a number of the other cells; despite my curiosity those were their problems, I had enough of my own to be going on with.
It was just another day at the office for the custody staff and the process rolled along almost like clockwork with only the odd ‘spanner’ to spoil the procedures. Those of us that were down for the courts were dealt with first. There were I imagined, all sorts of deadlines to slot into with the ever-changing convocation of bodies and once identified, again, handcuffed to a uniformed wrist and cross checked, again, I was led out to the waiting transport. By this time, I had worked out that I was to be spared any further interrogation but also that my solicitor was not going to see me before leaving for court either. One I was glad of and only slightly concerned about the other. If I didn’t get to see him before being up in court itself that might be different.
Along with myself there were several others to be led outside onto the van. The fact that I was now part of a group was more disturbing than I cared for. We were kept separate from each other as we were loaded and this made me wonder if it was part of the same special treatment, like that which I had received the first-time I was arrested. Extraneous and unrelated thoughts were my stock in trade anyway but here I didn’t really know and certainly didn’t want to test any hypothesis. For now, I was just another cadaver being fed into the machinery of British justice.
The routine of getting put away in the van I thought was overly complex. With handcuffs to both wrists but held onto by the officer, onto the van, into one of the tiny single seat boxes, one cuff off but re-attached to the officer, sit down with your arm sticking out while the door was partially secured, second wrist cuff removed, arm in, door closed and finally, fully locked away; it was a routine I would be very familiar over time.
Each of the holding cubicles inside the van was only just large enough to accommodate one person, one average person that is and I had difficulty in folding my legs up to get comfortable; it was more like wedging myself in rather than sitting. I noted that there were no fixtures or fitting that you could do any harm on if you had a mind. The view from the small badly defaced window was thankfully limited. The thought flashed up that I could have been spotted by the public if they wanted and I tried to squirm out of any line of sight from the small much damaged window, paranoia might have been setting in at that point. My fears of paparazzi or angry mob were fanciful.
Now there were only my travelling companions to consider. It was both interesting and disturbing that so many of them seemed to know each other. There was liberal discussion on the cases that had bought them there that day; it was more like a game with various crimes scoring greater or lesser points. It was easy to work out that the more crimes you were involved in, plus the more serious they were deemed, the higher score you were awarded and the greater your status appeared to be. It was a company that I didn’t recognise myself as being part of and did my best to keep out of their sight and hopefully out of their mind. Although it was not possible to see a whole person in the cubicle opposite you, you could tell if it was occupied or not and several people tried to raise a response from the silent spaces as their own exploits became a bore; I managed to keep out of the game having heard the derision that someone else obviously new to it all got from mistakenly answering the call of the pack.
The familiarity of the route was presented from a curious perspective from the extreme confinement topped off with a glimpse of my flat through the trees as we passed it which forced a shudder to rattle through me. We eventually arrived at the magistrates’ courts prisoners’ entrance in the rear car park and I breathed a silent sigh of curious relief.
The journey had not seemed to take that long but the novelty of the transport and the banter that went with it could have been a valid distraction. The van manoeuvred into the designated position with some difficulty considering that it must have done the same thing every day that the court sat. We were all unloaded one by one by the reverse procedure of earlier; Despite my dire situation I found that I still tried to catch puerile glimpses of the others but didn’t want to be caught doing so. Who there were didn’t interest me it was more what they looked like although not enough to get myself into any verbal or physical confrontation. The process was smooth, safe, and well-practised and one by one we were deposited into individual cells within what passed for a custody block but was just a fortified set of porta cabins. It had the appearance of being only a temporary arrangement but the decay of time gave away the loss of its aspirations to be permanent.
Once inside and under a different custody team now, what seemed to be a more affable and simple regime took orders for drinks and suggested that there might be a newspaper to read if they could get one; they didn’t, not for me anyway. With my coffee came the observation that I was not down to go across the yard to court until the afternoon session so I would need to sit tight and hold on. A question about the chance of a paper renewed a promise that didn’t get fulfilled. All I could do was sit and wait.
It was still my ambition not get myself noticed by any of the traffic that was passing back and forth outside the cell door and so I was stuck with silently reading the graffiti. Again, it was all that I could think of doing other than fall back onto any detail of my predicament. There was lots to read with almost every surface of the windowless cube covered in several layers of it. Despite being relatively tall even I would have had trouble reaching the ceiling if I had a mind to add to it, which I hadn’t. Eventual my long-considered opinion of the outpourings, it must have been better to deface an inanimate object than take out whatever frustrations you had on yourself or other people. As I considered the thought, I decided that it sounded rather pompous and that I was in no position to form such opinions anymore. Even if it was just to keep my mind occupied I had lost the right to judge by being in here as I was. Thankfully this prompted my well-developed dual thought processes to argue against themselves and I managed to regain some degree of self-confidence which kept me going for another hour or two. That is how futile the waiting seemed to be.
The flow of human aggregation along the corridor appeared to be endless. Each person passed through the mill wheels of the many court rooms and from the little I could glean, most seemed to return straight back to the cells afterwards. Conversations between the accused from our transport was enhanced by other arrivals and even more commonality between them was discovered. There were also those that had gone to court through the front doors but had left from the back and into the splendid confines of the custody block. These unfortunates were even less happy than the rest of them; or should I say us. Even greater injustices were complained about and blasphemed over in rather liberal if limited language.
Despite all their short comings, the levels of camaraderie and community that there seemed to be between so many people never stopped amazing me. Conversations took place through steel walls for the whole block to hear and although I was no prude, the language was more disparaging and depressing than I could ever have imagined. Along with the volume of people’s voices, which was astonishing, it seemed to be the sort of talk that you could imagine they had over a pint of snakebite at the local pub or perhaps that was how they always spoke. What did I know, I was only glad to hang onto a little of my own dignity through all of this.
My hopes for staying anonymous were going well but as the novelty of other people’s court appearances eventually wore off and social ties were exhausted, only then did the identity of the occupant of other cells become the question of the moment. It was obvious that someone was in the one where I sat as the occasional drink had been arriving. There was certainly no shyness about shouting things out.
“What you up for mate, you gone in yet, what you got?” It was a female voice; well I thought it so anyway.
Having no ideas of what might be appropriate but also knowing that I couldn’t bluff my way through any conversation, however trivial or simplistic it might turn out to be, I decided that it was best to stick to the plan. With the only things that we had in common were our current situations, it certainly wasn’t enough to become BFFs; best friends for ever. Sensibly I decided on staying quiet hoping that I could out last the obvious short attention span of the people who I had been listening to. My pomposity struck me as ridiculous but I kept quiet. Unfortunately, the inquisitor didn’t give up that easily and became rather more intimidating. At some point in the proceedings I would probably have to come face to face with some of them and their annoyance might manifest itself in some other way; the picture that formed in my head wasn’t very nice. Rescue came in the form of some new meat being brought through from what seemed to have been yet another very unsatisfactory court appearance; according to their standards anyway.
The length of time that I had been there, plus the relative coolness of the cell block was starting to influence my bladder. Having worked out that there was only a communal toilet here, if it hadn’t been for the cat calling and regular attempts to peek through the spy hole in the door by passing patronage, I might have asked to be taken to it. The temptation to satisfy a curiosity in my fellow felons was challenged by the fear of recognition by any of them; the terror of an encounter steeled my sphincter a little longer. It didn’t have to wait long. A sweep of cool fresher air rushed around the small cell as the door lock clanked and the hinges creaked open. I was summons to the door with a wave of one half of a handcuff. It was my time.
The malodorous traffic and colourful banter had disappeared; from inside my head anyway. The immediate matter in hand was my singular point of focus now. Guessing that it was now mid-afternoon although I didn’t think that I needed to raise such trivia with the very large uniform smiling in at me, arm extended. The machine worked smoothly, handcuffing one of my wrists to one of his, ticking of lists, verbal identification, a quick jog down two steps and smartly across the small concreted yard; it had started to rain. The steps on the other side were narrow and not easily negotiated at speed especially while attached to my warder but we just about managed the steep flight without accident or incident; my rather large appendage was out of breath which was not unexpected despite this presumably regular exercise for him. Once back in the dry he led me down an equally tight corridor and into a small room furnished with just a table and two chairs. It was obviously not the court but my observation was distracted by the smiling, friendly and familiar face that looked up from the paperwork spread out on the table. My solicitor, just as promised.
The handcuff was removed from my wrist and the door closed silently. He was just as buoyant as he had been only those few hours before although it seemed so much longer. He explained efficiently what was going to happen next. Thankfully I would not be required to say anything unless asked by the clerk, only be to confirm my name for identification purposes. Nothing to worry about then, they had the right man. The main business would be conducted by himself and the prosecution team. He would do his best to try to get bail for me which he didn’t see a problem under the circumstances and he would see me again after the hearing before I left where we could go through some more of the case building against me in greater depth. I thanked him. Another smile and he stood to knock the door and signal the end of our intimate exchange. He left and I was re-attached to the waiting porky wrist and led off in the other direction to another blank door only a few paces along the corridor; I did wonder if the handcuffs were necessary. My minder peeked through the brass rimmed spy hole in the door before opening it outwards.
“Sit in the front there ’till I tell you.”
It was the first time he had spoken to me and I noted his rather dull functional tone but he just might have been fed up with the monotony of the job.
As I slowly took in the tiny room it was obviously the dock. There were only three chairs, one at the front that I took as instructed, the two set out behind were occupied by my companion and once he had detached himself from me, he settled his ample frame awkwardly across both. As I looked through what was obviously thick bullet proof glass, there was just a narrow gap in the middle to allow some feeling of inclusion in the drama that was quietly playing out in front of me. I also noticed that this, the dock, was tucked away in what seemed to be one corner of the court as if rather an afterthought. Once I had taken stock of the rest of the room it was obvious that it was designed to keep its occupants out of the line of sight of all but the officers of the court and the working legal teams; any members of the public that might have been there were thankfully unable to gawk at me, the accused.
The prescribed codes of justice proceeded as explained. After being asked to stand, I confirm my identity to the clerk. Sitting, again as instructed, all I could to do was strain to hear what was being said about me through the narrow slot in the impenetrable green tinged wall. From the angle of my head it might have looked as if I was too interested in the proceedings, but it was just to keep my ear in the line of sound. My pose may have looked overly dramatic but no-one seemed to be taking any notice of me as far as I could tell. The events as they unfolded were not actually all that interesting, even though it all sounded so much worse than I thought it was. Despite this, the effect that the proceedings could, or most likely would have on the rest of my life, started to become rather more real.
To the court, the details such as they were, were most likely just another set of charges in a day full of such matters however serious; or simple. The drama rolled along until the matter of bail was presented for discussion. My solicitor, to give him his due fought valiantly and even I was impressed at how good a citizen I was made out to be; obviously. The police representative had other ideas. In a well-practised diatribe, the ‘public safety and protection’ trump card was played and this, when combined with a liberal smattering of well-chosen words, ‘children’, ‘extreme’, ‘extensive’, it was enough for the magistrate to err on the side of practical caution and he pronounced that I would be remanded in custody. The rest of my short stay in the dock went unnoticed.
A degree of shock had taken over me and I physically jumped when a head popped up from below, but on the other side of the glass. Only the general gist of what my solicitor was saying to me filtered through, partly because I couldn’t focus and partly because I couldn’t hear him. I got ‘don’t worry too much’ and ‘I’ll see you very soon’ but that was about it. His mouth was moving but the words weren’t sounding out; even the focus of my attraction to him failed me. He popped down out of sight as quickly as he had appeared and it was over. My companion re-attached my arm back to him once more but I just didn’t feel part of any of it anymore; remote, disconnected, lost. This sort of shock must have been something he was used to and he removed me back to the cells rather more calmly but just as quickly. I do remember a cheery ‘keep your chin up’ which I think was the same thing that my smiling advocate had said but neither afforded me any real comfort in the now overtly oppressive and defiantly dismal steel box; I thought how much harder the bench seemed now. Keep my chin up, that was OK but up and out of what, that was the problem now.
The hubbub outside in the cell block corridor began to register again and it slowly gained momentum. The day’s work of the courts was drawing to a close and the husbandry of our bodies was gearing itself up to move us all from one confinement to another. The chaos began, juggling names and places, routes, and routines to get us out of their metaphorical hair ready for the next batch tomorrow. The movements seemed to be as effective as before.
Allowing for my natural fascination of how things worked, thankfully my thoughts were otherwise occupied as I also wanted to know what and where I was going to be taken. Names of different penal facilities were being reeled off as arrangements were organised for which of the transports was going to where and in what order and when. Many of the places sounded familiar and I tried to picture how the process fitted together despite the underlying and rather desperate fact that I was now inside the custodial process. It did put a very different sheen on the matter.
The lack of any personal control was starting to unsettle me again. I remembered something that my portly warder had said on the way back from the court, ‘you’ll be going to the green then?’ but even now it didn’t fit into anything that I could appreciate. There was the place-name again along with ‘he’ll have to be the last one on’; once more it didn’t make proper sense.
Still locked in the custody box, it was getting progressively quieter out in the corridor and, without ceremony it was my turn. Handcuffed by one wrist again to another very large, unshaven guy who was obviously used to and relatively efficient at his job I guessed that I was the last by the rather more relaxed disposition of the remaining uniformed staff. We passed through the small reception area, I was identified yet again and ticked off another list and we headed for the door to the car park.
“You were up on the sex charges weren’t you?” I didn’t get the opportunity to answer. “When you get to the other reception remember to ask to be put on the rule, rule 42. Don’t forget or you will have it rough,” disturbingly he had emphasised the word ‘will’.
I had heard the phrase before from the television, obviously, and it made some sense not that I ever thought that it would apply to me. There wasn’t time to visualise the consequences as we now arrived at the threshold of the porta cabin. We had stopped abruptly for some reason but that was cleared up by a very firm if still garbled instruction.
“Keep close to me, keep your head down, don’t look up and keep moving.”
The words were thrown back at me and it was all I could do to assimilate them without time to consider any significance before we were moving forward again. Well he was moving I just lurched behind him at the end of the very short chain locked between us. Trying desperately to play out the vague instructions it was all too fast and the whole event turned into a very short-lived farce. There was no time to appreciate the helpful intent of what he had told me, it was over in a flash and now too late.
The unhelpful consequence of the event was as yet unknown to any of us, but an outcome there certainly was which I would only find out much later. A press photographer had been waiting at the very top of the car park some one hundred yards away or more but I somehow managed to look right down the large telephoto lens to give the one piece of information that the courts had denied him. What good was a sex and perversity story if there was no face to satisfy any morbid interest and no-doubt increase the paper’s readership. For now, it was ‘in the can’ while I was still reacquainting myself with the tiny cramped cubicle on my way to ‘The Green’.