Southwark to Wandsworth

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