My initial impression of Richard was he seemed to be a pleasant enough guy although he was no Fletcher to look at; but who was. We seemed to be about the same age, his organisation of the cell boded well although I got a small but unsettling feeling of being an intruder in the very concise world he had created for himself. We ate our first meal together in relative silence, his dominance over the table seemed to be more exaggerated by my having taken the second plastic chair which could only be tucked away at the end of the bunk by the door; I felt like a naughty child being removed to the other room, so they didn’t embarrass the visitors. Of course, there was no other room and I was just being over sensitive. A ritualistic and thorough cleaning up when we had finished eating did at least confirm my hope of a clean and tidy stay. With the trays collected, he asked me if the selection he had made for that evenings television would be OK, each programme was marked off in a TV Guide. Organisation, I liked it although I would have no choice in any selections.
Any reason for feeling Richard was being a bit ‘stand offish’ I couldn’t quite figure out other than us being complete strangers. He obviously kept himself to himself as I didn’t recall seeing him on or around the wing. He had played the odd game of pool during association but didn’t ever go outside that I could remember. On reflection, I decided I would give him the courtesy of having his own space and just wait for whatever conviviality might develop between us.
He certainly seemed to have his set routines. At this post dinner moment, the tea time quiz programmes were on the television. He offered an answer to all the questions which, to give him his due he did for the most part get right. My attempt to intervene with an answer of my own received a strange sideways look, it was nothing aggressive but enough to say, ‘this is my bit of fun and you don’t need to join in’. Thinking I didn’t need to try so hard, I took to my bunk and stretched out to get used to being on the more confined lower level. Getting along with new people was perhaps not always so easy. Maybe I had just been lucky so far. My musings didn’t seem to improve the atmosphere and I just lay there bemused.
While I had been in with Dave in those first days, it had been a case of taking charge of the running of the cell, Fletcher had his own organisation filled neatly in here, Richard had created a very personal ‘home’ for himself that I had somehow to fit into.
From where I was lying it wasn’t possible to see the television, the steps cum shelves arrangement blocked the view I just lay for a while and listened instead. Once the one programme had finished the sound was turned down and I tried to picture the schedule; I remembered there was a gap until the next pre-selected programme. The news was obviously not a favourite of his. The sound of movement made me open my eyes which I hadn’t realised had closed. Richard had turned on his chair although all I could see were his knees; he was obviously ready to talk to me now, although it turned out to be more of a speech than a conversation. He laid out his general story in what seemed to be a well-practised format and many of the questions which came up were answered without me having to ask them.
In a nut shell, he was four years into a long stretch; it seemed to be open-ended at this point. By piecing together many of the snippets of stories about his past and the series of events that had finally led to incarceration, it made complete sense for the charges, the conviction, and the length of time he was serving. We all have our past to deal with, but it was enough to say that not all sex offenders are the same as each other and we had nothing at all in common in our crimes or our personalities.
He went on to speak of his last pad mate, the perfect pad mate, according to him. He had gone off to hospital some two months before to have a hip replaced. Coming back to the prison soon after the operation he had been ensconced in the hospital wing where his recovery was to take about another month. Several times during the explanation he mentioned the perfect way they fitted together, the wonderful sense of humour, fascinating hobbies, and many other shared persona interests; some of which hinted at the reasons for both their convictions. I could tell I hadn’t a chance of filling the shoes; not that I really wanted to.
With me properly put in my place, suitable noises of indulgence seemed to assure him I would be no bother to him if I could help it. Having imagined the move from one cell to another could be a difficult time for everyone, in this instance I thought I had done relatively well; it could have been just luck of course. Dave was in his drug fuelled heaven, Fletcher and his new pal were a world away and there was no point in mooning over things which would never happen. Over the first days we, Richard and I did fit together quite well. Doing my best not to interrupt or upset his routines, he didn’t involve himself in my doings, not that I had many; perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.
In the outside world at this point my legal case was going on for longer than the initial legal advice had suggested but that was all part of my steep learning curve in this sort of situation. Although I would have regular updates from the outside world during my numerous visits, legal matters were limited to letters, video links or a very occasional face to face in the prison’s legal suite. These meetings with my solicitor were like the normal visits only a more formal version. They could happen at any time during the day and varied in length depending on the prisons various operational issues.
The legal suite was made up of a series of glass walled rooms on the ground floor below the main visitor’s facilities. Although much smaller than the visitor’s room above, there were twelve semi private meeting spaces and the same separation of VP’s was enforced much to the annoyance of some of the officers who had more work to do in accommodating us. The ‘normal’ prisoners were often collected in a group from around the various wings before being put in a large holding cage where they noisily waited for their legal reps to show up. We ‘special’ ones always went straight into one of the rooms to wait for ours. The only disadvantage to this was you were very much like a fish in a bowl for everyone who passed by, staff, outsiders, and prisoners alike. It was not a comfortable place to sit for very long. After a few times of being stuck there, rather than look back at the potential antagonists, I got to know by heart all the notices and information sheets which were pinned to the walls; it was better than the inevitable verbal aggression from other prisoners
As well as the criminal issues, I also met with legal representatives of the liquidator for my company; sadly, that once daily confabulation seemed a whole world away now. Snippets of what was going on there came from my normal visitors, but I generally chose to switch off from them, there was nothing I could do or say to make it more than it was; a confounded mess. In a way, the removal of that responsibility had been a big relief although I doubt my employees saw it that way. While signing the various powers of attorney which were presented to me, I watched twelve years of my life and thousands of pounds of my money walk away in a nondescript, if expensive, legal briefcase. Knowing I had to close that door, it was difficult, not for my loss as much as the disruption I had showered on the heads of the seven people I had duped into thinking they had a good working life ahead of them.
When face to face or court attended meetings weren’t required, the use of the video link was almost the best thing within the legal system so far. The trauma of getting in and out to courts through the reception process was as much a problem to the prison system as it was to the prisoners. Although I was sure some officers had great fun and games at our expense, I might have been a little biased. Apart from that contentious point, the cost of prisoner transport and complicated man management outside the prison must have been considerable. As I had been a regular tax paying member of society, once at least, I still had some vested interest in how my money was being spent.
Video links were made to the courts for lesser elements of legal matters like the continuance of my remand conditions and other routine matters. Anything that had even the remotest possibility of you being released or meant your case was progressing significantly had to be done with there you in the court itself.
My first experience of going to court from the prison was for the transfer of my case to the crown court which although routine seemed to be such a waste of resources; for me it was another day out but certainly no picnic. Apparently, the severity and complexity of the charges against me meant the magistrates didn’t have enough sentencing powers to lock me away for long enough. My legal team had warned me to expect both the transfer and the long sentence but curiously, neither caused me too many sleepless nights. The prospect of years of confinement and exclusion should have been my main concern, but I don’t really think it ever was; perhaps it was just my coping mechanism working overtime for me. A term of ten years had been dropped into more than one conversation with my solicitor, but I had the feeling he was more concerned about that possibility than I seemed to be. In truth, I had already accepted the idea of a long custodial sentence, what my reaction would be to actually being given such might prove to be different. For my own sanity, I didn’t and couldn’t allow myself to consider it at that or any other time; denial, fear, acceptance, call it what you want; only time would tell.
Soon after the move to number 20, I started to go to the library each week. It had taken the standard two weeks that everything took to arrange for me to be on the list but, the hour-long outing was very welcome despite having to pass other wings and exercise yards and the verbal abuse it involved.
Having not read a book since I was about twenty-five, not in earnest anyway, I was surprised how quickly I got back into the habit. The last book I had read was on my honeymoon, I still smile. Here, I was soon to be up to about three a week. This was essentially to fill in the long hours but the choice of rather substantial ‘who done its’ had the added benefit of making a welcome addition to the height of the pillow which helped to make sleeping much better.
Richard’s own book had a mountain of research material to go with it and I would often collect or return several items for him while I was there. He would request them in writing through the library office but never wanted to collect them himself; I never did find out why perhaps he was just lazy. He also never seemed to go outside or have any visits of any sort, legal, personal, medical, perhaps after being away for that long it might be just the way things were; I quietly hoped it would be the same for me when my time came.
By managing to accommodate simple things like slotting my ablutions and personal care in around his routines, he cooperatively adjusted his use of the facilities and his writing obsessions. Further on from his original explanations, he didn’t bother me with questions and I didn’t ask him anything about his life in return. Peace and harmony was a state of mind which was well worth the small effort it took to accept other people’s idiosyncrasies. We never did have a crossed word or any other upset between us that I recall. However, after a while I could understand how that might not have been the case with the many past or for future pad mates. However, within our mutual acquiescence in most day-to-day things, Richard did have one annoying habit although even with this I chose to put up with for the sake of the bigger picture of concord.
Although I never asked him directly every now and again I was subjected to long and graphic stories of things he was interested in relating to his conviction and personal sexual preferences. These tales had not been retold just for my benefit either, several other people on the wing had commiserated with me once they knew who I was two’d up with and warned me of this immanent sharing. On this unfortunate basis and the pretence of asking for my opinion of something he might have written, I found that every now and again I had to sit through the tedium of his latest thoughts on the darker side of his interests. I was not sure that most other people would have just made their feelings clear and been spared it all, I was too nice for my own good. He didn’t ever want to hear any constructive criticism as I found out the first time I tried it so I just reverted to making noises of agreement at appropriate junctures and keeping the rest to myself. To make the situation slightly better, I tried to tell myself I hadn’t had to sit through the full 800 plus pages of fantasy he was writing and the same number again which were planned.
In between these sporadic episodes, just once or twice a week, he also felt the need to relate the content of what he claimed to be films or videos he had owned or watched. His stories were generally of a triple ‘X’ rated nature and nearly always involved or climaxed in some form of female ejaculation. It was a phenomenon I had never come across; unsurprisingly. Not wanting to go into it here, it is not for the faint hearted, even if you had as broad a mind as I do. It is enough to say, in the interests of pad-mate politics, I tried to get out of any direct eye line and have a book of my own to read, mostly covertly so as not to appear to be rude.
The advantages of sharing with an otherwise perfectly reasonable and personable pad mate were not worth spoiling for such an obviously much-needed outlet for whatever demons Richard had within him. There were times I wondered if I might share some of my stories, but I didn’t get the feeling such personal two-way traffic was welcome; it seemed to be a strictly one-way street. Despite my being of a different sexual persuasion, the extremes of my youth and other general preferences were not for public consumption at this stage in my proceedings. If he had been slightly interested, I could have told him about my experience in what was, for want of a better description, squatting in the cold empty council flat.
Not having exactly planned or even asked for it, the obscure location of the 13th floor flat made it easy to hide away from the world. Despite having no electricity, no furniture or in fact anything of a domestic nature, I was still very grateful for the bolt hole and the relative anonymity it afforded me.
Although not really moved in Steve had one if his bright ideas of us going off to ‘do something more exciting’ which meant he wanted to go out into town. I carefully to change his focus back to my minimal needs where thankfully he took it as his idea to collect the mattress and one of two other things from the house. Getting these to the flat was a purely selfish device on my part as I need to be more confident in my new solitary life style; however long or short-lived it might prove to be.
There were no problems collecting the items although a little hilarity ensued trying to get a double mattress into the back of a saloon car and I was glad of the falling twilight helped hide the strange activity. The lightening of spirits was welcome, but it was only a temporary mask on the reality of the situation. Somehow, we had managed to pick Paul up on the way back he was no use at all of course but decorated the proceeding in a very pleasing fashion. Along with the main bedding items there were all the de-constructed pieces for a shop style mobile clothes rail, a kettle with no plug and a toaster; both rather redundant given the lack of power but it gave me hope. Up in the still empty living room, once a piece of the floor had been swept clean, the single lonely mattress looked ridiculously out-of-place next to the rail that held my five items of clothing; they looked sadly pathetic now. Steve had picked off a poster from his bedroom wall but had forgotten anything to stick it up with so, despite his best intentions.
The harsh cold sodium yellow street lighting from below illuminated the ceiling and was cold and unforgiving which is how my mood was going and my change in humour must have been obvious; from being low it was near being in free fall. Someone suggested we went and got something to eat and go out into town. Feeling like a sad old man, it was obvious to me that I didn’t fit into the vivacious adventure they lived. This was just another working day for the two of them but as I had no other suggestion I agreed to finding something to eat; already knowing I wouldn’t be staying around for anything else that they had in mind.
With a variety of fast food options supplied, I told them of my alternative plans to go ‘home’ and sort out my things and thankfully, they seemed not to mind. Reluctantly leaving both at a convenient and safe corner in the ‘village’, I headed out-of-town again to taste the delights of squatting; cold and on my own.
Getting into the flat alone for the first time was difficult and nearly never happened. The security guy on the door was less helpful than I had been led to believe and took a deal of convincing that I wasn’t going to wreak havoc. But with my eventual entry to the amber lit room, the feelings of disorientation and loss swept over me in a dissolute wave I had absolutely no control over. What was I doing here? Could I have gone to my parents? Could I have gone to friends? Could I have gone home? Perhaps I should have chosen at least one of those options. Eventually, in the empty, chilled, solitary rooms which seemed less inviting than they had only an hour before, taking refuge on the mattress, facing the wall to dim the light from tired eyes which didn’t want to close, sleep must have slipped over me at some indefinable point.
This state was only recognised when I woke with a start having hit the bottom of the vast well I often fell into the depths of sleep. Throwing my hand out to stop my fall, it hit the wall and I felt the sharp pain shoot up my arm. Consciousness seeped back only slowly and the disorientation my brain was struggling to decipher became all too real. A chill on my cheek and neck matched a damp patch on the mattress where my face had laid. Soreness in my eyes bought together the two elements to be the tearful reality which I hoped had just been in my dreams. With the cold and only sparse support underneath me, I struggled to turn to find a more comfortable way to lie. Rolling to one side I was met with a grunt and something more resilient taking up the rest of the bed.
“How much room do you actually want?”
I recognised the voice, but my confusion was not much clearer for hearing it.
“Sorry I, sorry, what…” I fell back to my previous position.
A warm hand touched my cold shoulder, it felt accommodating and gentle, but I still didn’t move.
“You make a hell of a noise when you’re asleep, I don’t know what was going on in there.”
The observation was well-meant unlike the tapping on my head, but I still couldn’t summon up a reply.
“Are you OK?” The tone had become one of concern.
“Yes, I suppose so, sorry,” I somehow managed to be civil at least, “what time is it, what’s happening?”
“Don’t worry about anything, it’s still early, I just came in to see if you had topped yourself or something, you didn’t seem to be very happy last night?”
Steve’s concern although obviously well-meant had an inflection that didn’t sound quite as sincere as I thought it might.
“Thanks,” mine probably didn’t either.
Although I had put my coat over my legs and added another layer of jumpers to my upper body, combined with the inadequate support from the second-hand mattress, the rest of me ached, literally from head to toe. Sitting up against the wall for support, Steve just lay there and stared at me. Even in such dire circumstances, he was staggeringly beautiful even the dark circles around his eyes were starting to make his otherwise flawless face even more fascinating. How much more ridiculous could this get. How low could I sink? How much had I lost? Even if he had plied his practised trade right there and then I don’t think I could have lifted my battered spirits off the hard, lifeless floor where they lay sprawled, naked, limp, and lifeless.
Eventually, needing to use the bathroom, I struggled to stand up. He tried to give me a push, but it was not the welcome touch which it could have been despite my involuntary and obvious morning erection, the situation was far from the idyll I hoped for under such circumstances.
Bladder empty and my brain slowly catching up with the rest of my body, I was surprised to find a proprietary container of coffee lidded and waiting on the window sill in the living room.
“I got you a drink on the way up but it might be cold by now,” peeling the lid off I found it was, “did you sleep OK…,” his rolling cheery banter was a strange counterpoint to the actual situation.
With most of his other questions going unanswered he was getting either cross or bored, I couldn’t tell which. Knowing I should be more thankful for his help I tried to pull myself together. It probably looked and sounded more artificial than I had hoped for and in the end, we both realised that any reasonable show of gratitude was now a bit of a lost cause in the morning.
“I’m going to go home and get some proper sleep, what are you going to do?”
Steve’s ability to just carry on was something I had to somehow again in myself.
“I don’t know, I didn’t have work for a while, I should just think about things I guess.”
I wanted to talk about the abandoned part of my life, but it didn’t seem appropriate to involve my host, he had done his best for which I was more than grateful, but I was sure he didn’t want to be involved in that side of things anyway.
“You do what you need to, I’ll either come back here later or you come around to mine? There’ll be no one in ‘till about four when the schools kick out, see how you feel.”
His cheery nature still seemed a little incongruous but, he was right, lives went on regardless.
“Fine. Good. OK let’s just see what happens,” I didn’t think I sounded too convincing, “do you want a lift back, I probably need to get outside.”
“No, you’re OK,” from what I remembered it was only a short walk.
As he pressed against me to say good-bye in a more suitable manner, the lingering smell of a night out was more prominent than I had noticed earlier. As it oozed out of his clothing it was pleasant, but nothing you would have bought from a perfume counter. However, it was a pungent reminder that he had been out, which delivered images of what he would have been up to, to the front of my mind. With the all too impersonal hug, and a soft peck on the cheek, he was gone.
The next two weeks were like moving to a new country, not being able to speak much of the language and knowing very little of either the culture or life style. Despite it being a destination, I had never thought I would visit it was not exactly unpleasant but not a holiday; this was more like a disaster zone.
Like well-meaning relief agencies, both Steve and Paul kept me occupied which helped my mood and bouts of madness. Between the three of us we collected several items to make living in the still lifeless flat just a little less like the legal squat that it was. There were more pieces of bedding, towels, this and that which he would have the use of anyway when Steve finally made the move from his mother’s. What would happen to me at that point we all seemed to avoid talking about; which, for now anyway, I was glad. The electricity was due to be put on at the end of the second week but, I had gotten used to washing in cold water each morning and most nights. There were of course many ways of finding hot water in the daytime, Steve’s house during family absence, McDonald’s wash-room although you get very funny looks from other customers as you wash more than your hands. Clothes which had become dirty, or more often just rank, disappeared, and reappeared, clean; which one of the two was responsible I never did properly acknowledge. It all seemed to be part of a barter system where I helped with transport and other little things for either or both of the boys and they did these other things for me. Whatever it was, it was only small recompense for their overall kindness in my hours of need.
Quite often they both wanted me to go out socially, but I rarely felt in the mood or fit for public display. Eventually though I had to give way before I caused offence and lost what support I had. It was a disaster. Having changed into the best of my clothes, I still didn’t feel very clean underneath. Having perhaps made too much fuss, I took the suggestion of using the bars facilities if I felt that bad. It was still early and there didn’t seem to be many people about but washing one’s privates and other diverse body parts in a gay men’s facility tends to get you noticed, for all the wrong reasons. Despite several generous offers of help which came my way, I was soon out of there; despite being the right place, it was certainly the wrong time.
One of the more important things I was aware of through all the difficulties, was the need to watch my expenses and I did my best to limit my outgoings. Not feeling like food much, I only bought one hot meal a day. Not feeling like socialising, I let the boys pay their way and mine when I felt I could. The rest was very frugal living off sliced white bread, rather soft unrefrigerated margarine, and a large bottle of tomato ketchup. I might have still been somewhat shell-shocked, but I didn’t miss the simplicity of what you could call normal living. Food and clothing were just unimportant ‘things’ while on the whole day-to-day living was just a blur. Any specific day’s mood would vary wildly from being relative stability to devastating misery. How or why my companions kept giving me in their company was a mystery. None of this was their problem but it was hard to be sensitive to that all the time.
Just very occasionally, and more out of pity I’m sure, I would have some company at night. While not in the frame of mind for anything overtly sexual, the lack of material things didn’t exactly make it the love nest that would have been nice. It was enough to just share the mattress with someone warm and comfortable, it was if nothing else warmer. Strangely it was Paul who stayed rather than my obvious preference. While neither approving, nor disapproving, but understanding that I was just part of a much bigger picture, at the same time I felt I needed more; more of them or at least their kind.
My limited ability to relax meant that when someone did stay with me, I could have the pleasure of watching their sleeping beauty. If it was Paul mostly who I had helped him drift off to dream land by gently stoking circles or figures of eight on his perfectly formed, blissfully smooth chest. Once deeper in repose and if my mood would allow, my hand might drift these slow soft shapes further down taking in well-defined although relaxed abdominal muscles and on down round his neat naval which stuck out slightly in a tight curl. If he hadn’t reacted at this point, further down there could be the warm comfort of his normally hidden but easily animated delights to caress. Although many things had changed that part which had been so wonderful on paper or in my head, was still the one thing that never quite happened as I had hoped again; with hindsight, it was just so ridiculous it was laughable. At the time, though the possibility of something dramatic happening, despite it always ending up as nothing, it was that one small hope which I had to hang onto and did at every possible opportunity.
To add a little perspective here, normal life went on inexorably around me despite my meandering difficulties. After two weeks of hiding away at the high-rise, I did eventually make the call to my now estranged and as it turned out, panicking wife. Having decided that just turning up at the house would have made things worse, but timing it to be able to speak to the children if I was allowed, I made the call. Following the awkward and short encounter I spoke to my parents, my mother anyway and it was as horrible as I had tried to convince myself it wouldn’t be. They all thought I had done something stupid, not just losing my mind but all my other faculties and possibly even my life. It was however not the time to tell any of them the why or the wherefore of any truth of the matter. Any explanation would have to be put into a format which I could first accept myself and hopefully put into words which everyone else might understand. It was going to be difficult.