Having been inside for a week or so, I think I was right to keep most of my personal details and issues to myself while I continued to work out the politics of prison life more precisely. In this microcosm of criminality and emotional excess, with everything being peculiarly focused, I was finding some areas more difficult to manage than others. The most challenging was to switch off how I felt about people in general and why I felt so pretentiously different to most, if not all of them. Were these all reasonable expectations under the circumstances or was it a personality flaw magnified by extreme circumstances? Knowing I was not your typical criminal, if there was such a thing, on the one hand it was difficult to accept that I must be, on the other I knew precisely why I was here. Having been arrested accused and now locked away it must be true; it didn’t help?
Despite knowing I wasn’t a sexual predator, as in crimes involving actual contact, the activity I had indulged in was just bad, according to the rules of a modal society. Here I was, banged to rights and to a greater degree, accepting it. Although I could see all sides of the arguments, it was nothing new in my world, for once it was getting hard to handle the brain storming. For once I couldn’t come up with the answers I needed just to function in my insular world.
Was I just a sad lonely old queen? Was I thankfully cowardly? Would I ever do anything bad to anyone? Could I have resisted temptation? Had I resisted my desires? Was I lying to myself? Had I done things that even I couldn’t admit to? Were my actions reasonable? Was society wrong? Could the public trust me? Could I trust myself? Of course, I know I never could; not anymore. Eventually I managed to force a few of my mental boxes to close but I could never manage to shut them all off my divergence continued.
Hopefully I was saving myself, from myself, not that it have worked all that well before. Although I knew everything in here was heightened to such a degree, all it took was a look, a stare, a glimpse of an elegant or artistic tattoo, a well-crafted muscle, another prisoner’s questionable reputation, overt pomposity, perfectly preened natural beauty, even just a well turned out prison guard; my mind was constantly running riot with all the possibilities which could never be allowed to happen.
In the same crowded mental space, another part of my brain was telling me to just stop being so obtuse and look at myself honestly for once. Why was I thinking these things? Why such a focus on sexual matters? Who was it you thought you were? Had you just been hiding your true feelings away all this time? Wouldn’t it have been better if you just conformed to normality? Why be miserable? Can you stay out of trouble? Weren’t things bad enough already? Are you not just getting your just reward? Why are you getting so flustered? Weren’t you the ‘Mr Fix it’? You just cope with things so why are you being like this? Why can’t you just have a good wank and get over yourself? Isn’t that what you’ve done for nearly forty years?
I wanted to put my head through the wall to stop whatever was going on inside it continuing.
If it was possible, deeper concerns were growing because the more sensible, capable side of me didn’t seem to be giving me any help at all. It was far from winning many of the arguments which I had been used to.
These self-indulgent discussions with myself were nothing new, they used to happen with almost everything in my life. For even the simplest thing I would analyse every minute detail just to be sure, sometimes even for buying a tin of beans, that is how bad it was. If it was for something more important, the process could immerse me in seemingly endlessly protracted internal discourse before reaching a decision or more often a compromise. Despite developing all this careful and confident logic, I usually managed to convince myself that I was right, even for the times when I clearly knew I wasn’t.
Keeping all this inside my head I was safe of course and with all the new experiences of prison life seemed to exaggerate and distort my already desperate need for self-justification. To maintain the safe if boring caricature I had carefully created for myself, there was no self-delusion that I was being anything but a fraud but I somehow felt even more isolated than I would normally. The excess and perversion I had managed to use in order to convince myself that I had led a good life was slowly crushing me mentally and no doubt very soon physically; I couldn’t see a safe way out of it. Having almost given up using my gut instinct, I had accepted it was far too imprecise in these extremes and was unlikely to help anyone, especially me, some chink of clarity started to open.
In the confines of the cell and wing, I thought I was slowly starting to understand the real me. Although it was not a pretty picture forming, I was realising or perhaps just acknowledging I was an incredibly selfish person who was very good at delusion and manipulation. It also seemed to highlight the fact that even on the outside I had created a painfully contorted façade for myself which hid a desperately sad and lonely life. The mental box I created for these extremes of cerebral anguish must have had extremely thick walls and a very large lock as it was obviously the only way I had managed to cope but what was going to happen now it was ripped open?
One might have expected all these internal confabulations would have been sated. by the lack of thinking either allowed or required in this prison environment. The problem now was, on one hand I was in the testosterone fuelled surroundings of an extreme personal fantasy but on the other was a powder keg of pent-up emotions and character waiting to be vented. On yet another hand, I had no idea how to recognise or respond to any of it.
Any seriously minded person would have been focusing on the very weighty matters which had gotten them in here in the first place and not the madness I was managing to conjure up in the confines of my tortured mind. That is one of the problems with being incarcerated and having few constructive distractions, I just couldn’t switch off the self-seeking part of my psychological make-up.
Despite all the arguments against my wealth of illicit activity plus the less compelling ones for it, I could still manage to resolve matters to fall on either side of the law as I saw fit. This to a greater degree was worrying me more than anything. The darker side of my mind was nose-diving into its old tricks of rationalising things it clearly knew were wrong, doggedly holding onto peculiar and often ridiculous pleasures as being wholly acceptable. While the light of rational thought was slowly being extinguished and the attractions of the mercurial arts were becoming stronger by the day. The only difference now was, they had to be confined to my head and reliant on my memory.
As if this relatively safe internalising wasn’t enough and, living as a concentrated group wasn’t difficult, I just couldn’t stop myself trying to work out where I could outwardly expand upon the obvious, inappropriate, or simply titillating opportunities to lighten my day or was it to replace my previous activities. The perfect example would involve the telephones, especially once I had progressed to the workshops and had the evening association out on the wing. Personally, the only calls I made were to keep in touch with the few people who I felt were important, although mainly for their benefit rather than mine. Having quickly worked out queuing to make calls had the potential for other tantalising benefits. By chance, the telephones were right next to the frequently oversubscribed shower facilities. It meant deliberately timing my calls within the half hour so that the queue for both facilities gave a valid excuse to just stand around without looking suspicious. If you were very brave you could sneak an upward glance to the showers on the floor above and see under the half-door arrangements. As there is no privacy in prison just a token gesture towards modesty, often all you would get was a glimpse of nothing very much at all; maybe nothing but always the hope of something was my justification. Split seconds of naught became an unhealthy, unexciting, and ultimately fruitless game of chance. The point was that for this, as well as other strange situations, I could tell myself it was OK, while deliberately ignoring the more important question of why?
The questions kept on coming. Why did I think I needed to participate in the first place? Why it was so difficult to accept I was just trying to replace the daily sexual fixation of collecting my ineffectual imagery? Was it just another protracted argument that I couldn’t win?
Unfortunately, I was unable to stop myself both looking and arguing with myself. Rather disingenuously I found I would regularly decry other addicts, while I found it impossible to fully admit to having my own. Appreciation of this and the disappointed with myself would become a regular juxtaposed issue.
While on the subject of disappointment, another myth which the general public may hold is, there are ample opportunities for shared sexual relief between prisoners. Perhaps it was just me, but such things either didn’t happen, my ignorance of procedure allowed it to pass me by or, I was just not good-looking enough. Having already accepted that I was now officially a pervert I somehow expected I would get some sort of free entry to the ‘club’. This is what we people did; didn’t we? Prayed on the vulnerable, exploited the weak, and devoured the helpless to get our depraved pleasures? Looking around me, Lord knows there were plenty of potential targets in here. My brain would often remind me I would never go through with ‘it’ even if ‘it’ was on offer; although I knew I was right, for some unacknowledged reason, I still needed the possibility linger that it could to somewhere in my perversion. Underneath all the self-doubt I knew the reality of the matter was that I was terrified about actually instigating or participating in anything at all; which didn’t help me in any way.
There were few people on the wing that I felt I could be specifically attracted to let alone anyone who might have similar propensities which overall, helped keep the disappointment depressed to a relatively safe level. There was initially one boy who sort of fitted my normal criteria and whose reputation probably fuelled my interest more than anything else about him. To use the appropriate vernacular, it seemed he was well-known for ‘putting out’ for an appropriate exchange of goods or services and he certainly went out of his way to ingratiate himself with the wing ‘elders’. The obvious attraction of his rather ‘cute’ physical form and rumours abounded but I couldn’t see a way of getting into that inner sanctum without other dangers ripping me to pieces. Replacing this option with fiction I often pictured myself taking a ‘favour’ or two in the heat and sweat of a dark cramped bunk space; picturing it was all it would ever be after all.
It was rather a shock when his pretty face, although not very accurately represented, appeared on the national news one night. The featured story was his conviction for the senseless murder of a baby boy who had been in his and his girlfriend’s care. As children were a very special and sensitive subject in prison society, even within the VP family, surely this would require him to ask for some sort of extra protective status. The event bought home rather too well the reality of where I was, what I was and who I was living with. As far as I could tell there were no direct reprisals as there could often be but, he was not quite so much the wing sweetheart from them on. His sentencing followed quickly and he was moved to another prison although I doubt that his anonymity would be re-established. Such a waste.
For quite a while I kept my thoughts away from the world of physical pleasure ‘prison style’ and even moderated my already timid behaviour out on the wing. However bizarre it might seem, my offences might easily have been tallied heavily against me if anyone ever found out. In the harsh reality of the prison system I had no idea if I might be a marked man and the incident was just too close to some sort of sick home truth.
With a wing of up to 70 prisoners at any one time there are bound to be regular incidents and events. Thankfully most of them passed right by me. With only a few exceptions, no-one could honestly or realistically hold any sort of moral high ground but just occasionally there would be something to rock whatever boat you used to get along your stretch of the river of life. My first moment of real panic came on one indifferent morning.
Being still on daytime association as I didn’t have a job, one of the officers on duty seemed to have something to share; I say on duty he was just sitting down reading the paper but at least he was on the wing.
“Anyone we recognise?”
He had said it rather too loudly to be just a passing comment. The question wasn’t posed to anyone, but it was said just as I wandered past him on one of my regular walking up and down the length of the wing attempts at exercise. Glancing at the paper I hoped I didn’t seem too interested in either him or the article; perhaps him yes, the article less so. My heart sank as my own distorted image stared back at me. It was the one, the only one as far as I knew, who had come from the magistrate’s court. The implications knocked any trite thoughts I might have had right out of the frame. The article was in the popular local newspaper that no-one on the wing would normally get hold of which made it worse once the realisation had processed itself. Because of the potential for problems, prisoners could purchase national newspapers through the library but not these local ones and the officer had obviously taken this opportunity for pure mischief; I was only glad that I hadn’t been worthy of national coverage.
The warders normally rather attractive face had an unflattering glaze as he waited for some sort of reaction. He would get none from me. As his ruse hadn’t seemed to work, he continued to read out some of the more salient points in the article; rather over dramatically I thought. It managed to give the added effect he had originally sought. Luckily for me perhaps, only the aged, infirm or the mentally challenged prisoners were on association during the day. As I was off the radar of their interest, to most of them I was just another quiet guy in for something they weren’t really interested in. Fortunately for me, despite the best if short-lived efforts of the prison staff, it stayed that way. If any of the workers had been around, the fact that they constituted most of the real ‘characters’ of the wing, I doubt I would have had such an easy ride. It was a close at least, helped by the fact that there would have been serious consequences if the paper had been left out on the wing call but I hoped I was safe for now. The offending item disappeared after association.
Somehow, I knew Dave must have heard about the incident, even though he never went out of the cell. When we were locked up again he was more curious than usual and seemed to watch me if only covertly for the rest of the day; perhaps it was just me being over sensitive. His curiosity levels ramped up as I had my strip wash that night but didn’t fully strip. He was only pretending to sleep but I caught him peeking out from the shadows. Despite the situation being one of my obtuse fantasies, I felt uneasy, threatened even. The whole incident set off yet another episode of internal conflict. Part of me felt like stripping completely naked and deliberately confronting him, scaring him more like. Overall I didn’t want anyone to know my business unless I told them, was it too much to ask? Once I had stopped the rather vigorous drying inside my boxer shorts I did wonder if, now that there had been confirmation I was a proper criminal, I might have gained some sort of additional caché.
Telling myself how preposterous the idea was, I still couldn’t stop trying to convince myself that, just because I was locked up in a room with another man twenty-two hours a day, we would have a need to share more than the morning cups of tea. My counter argument was, everyone had needs and I, in my head anyway, could provide discrete and excellent services of a personal nature. What was I thinking? Could I really see dull Dave as some sort of ‘gangster’s moll’ or me a domineering ‘fuck buddy’? He didn’t even go for men, or did he? Was he as desperate as I must be and go with almost anything? What would happen if I just tested the water? What could he do if I did try anything? All these nonsensical thoughts ran through me in a maelstrom of fear bouncing back and forth repeatedly.
Somewhere in the darkness of that night I realised I was losing my grip on reality and I didn’t understand why. Having restored myself to the sanctity of my bunk space, the thoughts seemed to soften, but only a little. Grabbing hold of my mind instead of my still semi erect penis, I tried to get back to a state of calm, stand back mentally and take a hard look at the fundamentals. It had only been about three weeks since being deprived of my previous life. I hadn’t had a successful physical relationship for years. Why did I feel so desperate? What did I expect to find here in prison? Knowing what’s right and what’s acceptable is what this is all about. I am still a sexual being but what did any of that matter now? My life choices will be the same in here as they were in any previous life; too scared to do anything without someone else taking the lead; too scared of finding out the truth about myself.
Reality faced me now and I had to get a grip on it or change would elude me forever. These were all things I didn’t want to face but there they were. Challenged but still confused I settled myself on the hard and grossly uncomfortable bunk to try to get through another night of isolation knowing none of this mental torment was anything new or resolvable in the near future. The prisons nightly drama and counter drama echoed around the walls, thankfully on the other side of the steel door. On this side, my chaotic thoughts gradually settled to their more normal level. The dark side briefly hovered over the idea of masturbation; just to help a little, as you do. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, this perhaps inappropriate thought received almost instantaneous condemnation and any remains of an erection evaporated into the semi darkness. It left me torn, I didn’t want to think about the present, the past or the future so, where to go from there? It was going to be just another long and tedious night. There would be many more just like it over the months; euphemistically I preferred to think of it as a sort of holiday and call it my being ‘away’.
The newspaper article still irked me somewhat as, up to that point I had managed to hang onto a degree of comfort through my shallow anonymity. My mind had accepted the facts of my actions and even my fate but, I had stopped short of openly admitting the charges levelled against me; albeit with the help of my capable if overzealous solicitor. The problem now was a case of other people knowing my business rather than the actual business itself. If I had not been guilty in the first place, I guessed I might have taken a different stance although even, I wasn’t sure about that anymore.
My minds desultory meandering sometimes found it hard to accept that being locked away was a good thing. Perhaps I hadn’t deliberately started the ball rolling with the police but perhaps I had subconsciously stopped being so careful in my activities. Having managed to live a secret life perfectly well for so many years, why now, why so sloppy, why allow it to happen?
Any balanced person should have felt fear at the prospect of years moving from one cramped cell to another but I didn’t really. This was going to be it; this was now my life; there was nothing left; I had accepted it as fact. A noisy expulsion of gas burbled from the bunk below me and a strangled groan of satisfaction followed. The tangled chains of my thoughts had been thankfully broken; for the time being anyway.
Trying to get more comfortable with the hope of getting some sleep, I turned over to face the cold shiny wall. Both my head and my back ached and as I slid about on the almost non-existent mattress, my boxers twisted around my genitals which made me wince silently. Disentangling them seemed only to make it worse as they responded autonomously. The fear of falling back into the roller coaster of thought was diminished somewhat by the obvious protrusion in my groin, as if to deliberately emphasise another degree of frustration, despite the inappropriate situation. I had to admit it was just what I was looking for and was one of the few things I still had control over any more. With my comforting member gently taken in hand like an adult dummy, I returned to reflecting on the formative years which young people must endure. In my case, it was more how I had managed to skewed many of my views and expectations against reality in my relentless march through puberty.