This is a free-form poem written to describe the horror of it all.
It formed part of a collection of poems that won a Koestler award and that this will be part of my attempt to draw attention to the plight of prisoners in UK prisons. The prison service goes on and on about understaffing, yet the real problem, and the evidence shows it when compared to other reasonable countries, is that we are sending too many people to these terrible “B Cat” prisons for too long.
Public policy seems more influenced by the gutter press than by economic reality. Why spend £35K a year or more keeping a prisoner in inhuman conditions and risking his total alienation when he could be generating £35K a year working for a living? Even if you only applied that logic to the 20% of inmates who pose no threat to the public and who show no recidivist tendencies, the prison problem could be solved and public debt or taxes reduced.
For how long do we have to incarcerate reasonable people in disgusting conditions in order for their punishment to be a deterrent? Is there not a more productive way for them to repay their debt to society? There are a hundred more questions we should ask ourselves before we call for stiffer sentences for non-violent criminals.
From Southwark to Wandsworth
Convicted at Southwark, taken down to the cells
By Serco, the servants of servitude
Cells devoid of all objects, save a bench too shallow to lie on
Then the terrifying trauma of travel
Handcuffed, we board the bus of abuse
Crammed into cuboid cells
Containing nothing, not even a seat belt
Noisy, noxious, nastiness
Mindless music makes me mute
Plastic seats, too small for comfort
Plastic windows, showing only the colour red
The streets of London, a Martian maze
Perception of the prisoners’ planet
Desperate or defiant, we dismount
The unworthy welcomed to Wandsworth
Wandsworth the wastepipe of the Western World
Naked in mind, now clothed in prison
Designed by prison, made in prison
Deprived of private property
Distribution of first night essentials
Introductions to, and from, ‘Insiders’
Explanations of the inexplicable to the inexperienced
Kafka’s castle in crisis
The black insider’s teeth, white as snow
Shine a sympathetic smile
Seeking only reciprocation
His shiny, shaven head reflects the steel and stone
Food put before us on a communal bench
The first supper, the Last Supper shared
‘Shaven head’ knows what awaits me
Humanity’s humiliation hidden
Behind the great, grey walls of Hades
The wrath of justice wreaks its revenge
Bedlam beyond belief!
Long life to the linoleum-lined labyrinth!
This prison punishment is perversion
Single cells shared by strangers
Sanitation suitable solely for sewage
Rooms with a view of human waste
Humanity wasted; humanity humiliated!
Telephones ringing; never answered
Cells’ bells beeping; emergencies ignored
Inmates banging on metal cell doors
Shouting obscure obscenities into the obscurity
Jailers joking! Chains rattling, keys jangling!
Open wide the gates of hell
Let me just enter my cell!
My smoking cellmate’s mind is missing
His soul lost somewhere in South London
Abandoned by his newly-formed family
‘Shaved head’ warned me of his manic depression
He maintains a miserable mentality
Addiction to nicotine overrides all his senses
He even smokes the tea from my ‘welcome’ pack
Television taints and twists our trivial talk
Television; the tool of tyranny!
Television; time’s arbiter!
Reading and writing rendered redundant
Reality shows, showing the shameful
The sordid shaming the shabby
Sleep escapes me through the scent of smoked tea
Mingled with matured urine and faeces
Crazy celebrity sounds; flickering screen images
Creaking bunk beds; banging on doors
Booming voices through the window bars
Morning finally does arrive
What surprise! I’m still alive
Now I know I will survive
O! Wandsworth the weary and wasted
Another day begins
In the linoleum-lined labyrinth