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My Time

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My Time

I looked down at the jangling bracelets adorning my wrists. It wasn’t the first time I’d worn handcuffs. As an early exercise in my police career, we’d had to ‘put ourselves in the position of a prisoner.’ The event had obviously had little effect on me. It hadn’t ever stopped me slapping irons on suspects left right and centre with no thought to their comfort or sensibilities. It certainly never prepared me for how I was feeling now.

The chap sitting opposite me wasn’t cuffed. Perhaps they didn’t think he was as dangerous as me? Perhaps they thought him less of a security risk? Perhaps they thought he might not actually be guilty? I’d give them that one, at least above all else, I knew that I was guilty. I tried, unsuccessfully, to clear my mind of thoughts and the van rumbled on.

HMP Hale was to be my new home for the foreseeable future however long or short that might be. It was almost a relief to escape the stress of my trial even if I could replay nearly every word of it in my head. Let me tell you, however resigned you are to the outcome, however much you’ve been warned, nothing can prepare you for that guilty verdict, nothing. You might feel guilty, you might look guilty but the moment that twelve good men and true confirm that yes indeed son, you are guilty as sin, you know then that the nightmare will never be over.

In truth, my life had changed forever some two years before. I’ll never forget the knock at the door that was to be the beginning of the end. Now twenty four months later, that innocuous knock had cost me my friends, Mr Cowley and ultimately, Bodie. Losing my liberty seemed like a simple afterthought after that.

In my head I had almost come to terms with the death of Paul Coogan, though in my heart that would never be so. Cowley had nursed me through much of it but it was Bodie that helped me carry on through that awful time. When the scales fell from my eyes and I saw how much Bodie cared, really cared for me, it was only a matter of time before we fell into bed. A love affair that had been brewing for years was finally realised and at last I had all that I had ever really wanted. Being deeply in love with someone who cared for me above all others freed me from the guilt I had been carrying. The excitement of a new relationship allowed me to let go of the torturous shame that engulfed me every time I thought about Paulie.

We never did get John Coogan. In a way I was glad. I had robbed him of his brother, surely no sentence could match the pain that that must have entailed? But life went on and with Bodie’s love, I gradually started to forgive myself and was able to enjoy life again. That knock at the door changed all that.

Cowley nearly burst a blood vessel when he learned that a private prosecution wanted to try me for Involuntary Manslaughter as a result of Criminal Negligence. There were lots of incredulous noises made but they all came to nothing in the end. The rule of double jeopardy couldn’t apply to a crime that I had never been tried for before. The fact that I was working as a Government agent when Paul died was ignored and before I knew it, I was answerable to a crime that in my heart I knew I had committed.

It was Cowley himself that encouraged me to use Government appointed lawyers. There was no way that I could have afforded anyone of their calibre myself so I went with them. I never trusted them however. They were used to even higher profile cases than mine and were uninterested in pulling me out of my black moods and preparing me properly for court. Bodie and Cowley both tried to help me but in my selfishness, I pushed them away.

Geraldine Mather had no such feelings of inadequacy however, she was out for vengeance. The press coverage of her kangaroo court Open Enquiry into CI5’s practices had left her open to ridicule and subsequently lost her work. She had an image to recover and as her attack on CI5 had failed so dismally, she made sure that she was completely prepared when she came after me. Her new allegiances with David Merlin and Harold McKay made short work of turning me from a Government agent working above the law to an ordinary man answerable to his own crimes.

My defence team rarely filled me with confidence. When I outright refused to deny hitting Paulie, they mentioned the term ‘custodial sentence’ with more and more regularity. At one point they suggested that pleading guilty could drastically reduce my sentence. Though I didn’t seriously consider the possibility, the sheer mention of it to Cowley was my biggest downfall. All I'd said was, ‘They think I should plead guilty.’ Those six little words which should never ever have left my mouth smashed everything apart. Cowley had looked at me disbelievingly. With those six ill-chosen words, I had shunned his care. I had insulted the organisation that he had founded and built up and I had caused him irrecoverable pain. He first turned green and then almost white. He clutched viciously at his chest as he collapsed against his desk. He paled and died in front of me in what seemed like mere seconds. I’d attempted first aid of course, screaming for help, all the while knowing that both were futile.

How any of us got through those dreadful weeks, I can’t now imagine. Most of the time I acted like a deer caught in the headlights fleeing from any sort of care or concern. Officials visited headquarters with alarming frequency, sadly shaking their heads at the sorry state that CI5 had become without its legendary leader. Most made sure to catch my eye with condescending looks that spoke of their distaste of me. I couldn’t spare a thought for them however. The only thing that overshadowed the fact that I now had another death on my conscious was that Bodie was distancing himself from me.

The only things I really needed to survive were water, oxygen and Bodie’s love. Bodie had always given himself freely to me. Even in our early days as wary opponents, he still gave his whole self. In our latter days as lovers he had given me more than I could have ever asked for. His withdrawal cut like a knife. At times I felt sorry for myself wondering what the hell I had done wrong, but in other more contemplative moments, I knew just how Bodie must have been feeling. Cowley had been a lifeline for Bodie. There were few people that he’d respected more and now his boss, his real mentor, was dead, probably as a direct result of my arrest.

I’d carried on as best I could. Murphy had been temporarily drafted to take over the day to day running of CI5 and I was pleased for him. He was a level headed bloke who soon became as adept at dealing with officials as he did with the criminal element. Murph became a saviour to me. He sent me to nurses, doctors and counsellors as often as he could make his budget stretch. He never judged me, never expected me to do a minutes work throughout the entirety of my trial and never once treated me as anything else than the friend I’d felt I’d become many years before. A judicial trial certainly shows you who your real friends are. Throughout the years after, I’d come to find that Stephen Murphy was one of the best people that I’d ever know. He is a very special man and I will treasure knowing him always.

So the trial went ahead. I had no idea that when I stood in the dock I was by that time suffering from clinical depression. I was in all probability, unfit for court but I found some of the revelations so fascinating that I probably appeared rather lucid. Someone had obviously done their homework on me. Every death that I had caused within my CI5 career was documented. Though none of these losses were admissible, they all served to show the jury what an out and out thug I was. By the end of the prosecution speeches I was ready to throw away the key myself.

So here I was, in the back of a prison van, within a small cage and handcuffed to boot. My thoughts were in disarray, swimming between the trial, Bodie, Cowley’s heart attack, Bodie, what might await me in jail and of course, more Bodie. The judge’s words will always echo through my mind.

“Raymond Doyle you have been found guilty…”

So you shall hang till you are dead…’

The imagined phrase plagued my head but the truth was even more brutal. Somehow I had to find a way to survive if I possibly could. As a CI5 agent and former police officer to boot, I somehow had to live through the regime that awaited me, the hell that life was to become. I won’t ever mind admitting that as the vans wheels rumbled on beneath me, I was truly, absolutely and completely terrified.

HMP Hale

Before my sentencing, Murphy and I had done some research. It had been painstaking and I’ll forever thank ‘The Smurf’ for giving his precious time to me, but by the time I was sent down, I had a reasonable idea of where my former ‘collars’ were now residing. Nobody I had arrested was in Hale. That was unsurprising as Hale is what is known as a ‘dispersal’ prison. A dispersal prison is a holding place for inmates awaiting their next, more permanent destination and is usually close to the court in which a trial is held. Nobody expects to stay in a dispersal prison for long, but that means little, as often, prison procedures can take literally years. Hale was to be my new home and like it or lump it, there I was staying until I was told otherwise. The van drew to a halt and gates drew behind us. I had visited a few jails in my time, always with the cocky knowledge that I would be leaving them as soon as the fancy took me. This was very different. The clanging gates thundered though my brain and woke my slumbering companion. He raised his eyebrows at me and I ignored him. It was time to put the mask in place and Raymond Doyle, prisoner at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, was born.

I was hustled into the receiving area where my meagre possessions seemed to receive far more attention than myself. I scrawled my name on many bits of paper not having a clue what I was signing before being taken away. To my distress, my bag of things was not returned to me and many of the items inside it have never been seen since. It was late at night when I made my admittance which seemed to mean that I was undue to the normal procedures of welcome at Hale. I was shaken down, had my belt and shoes removed and then taken still wearing my own clothes.

I’ll always blame Hale Prison for my condition which many years later was to be termed ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’. The reception area had been as grotty and stale as any municipal department, but beyond its doors lie pure hell. Still strapped to a guard, I was pulled from the relative haven of reception into the gaping teeth of the jail itself. The smell hit me immediately. The odour of nearly six hundred men hit my senses like a rapier. Our ghostly foot falls were echoed by cries and shouts that seemed to be aimed at the devil himself. As I looked downwards, dirt seemed to be everywhere. That filth assaulted my whole being. As I walked, my socked feet crunched and squelched on God knows what. It was with relief that we finally halted at a cell that I was offered into. I almost ran into that tiny cell in an effort to escape from the dire world around it. I ached with physical and emotional tiredness and dived towards the only bunk. The first reality of jail soon hit home, beds in prison are a punishment in themselves. I lay down on the thin plastic mattress and began to survey my surroundings. It didn’t take me very long but was easy enough to do as the stark overhead strip light remained resolutely on. Unbeknown to me then, this was to be the worst cell I would ever be housed in. It was simply a holding place in which I had been dumped as the scant night staff lacked either the resources or inclination to process me properly. This lack of basic information did nothing for my mental state and I looked round the minute cell with mounting dread. Apart from the metal bunk, there was a tiny cracked sink in the corner. Under the sink were a metal tooth mug, a bucket and a box of scratchy toilet paper. At the end of the bunk was a folded threadbare sheet and a worn hospital blanket. Apart from the fly bitten strip light and a red button on the wall the cell contained nothing else. There was no towel, no pillow, no soap, no windows. A tiny grill near the ceiling seemed to provide the only ventilation and there seemed to be no method of heating whatsoever.

My mouth was dry and I longed to brush my teeth but without my things and with nothing provided was unable to. The sink was so small that the mug wouldn’t fit properly beneath the push taps but I somehow managed to half fill it with water and I drank deeply. The water was freezing and tasted vile but it went a little way to clearing my fuzzy head.

I lay back on the bed as there didn’t really seem to be anything else to do. As I mentally tried to calm my hammering heart, a sudden loud buzzing noise preceded a metallic sounding snap and the cell was plunged into darkness. I fiddled around in the pitch black trying to sort the awful bed into some sort of order. Finally I had the sheet flattened over the slippery mattress. I rolled up my jacket and used it as a makeshift pillow keeping the rest of my clothes on. I could hardly bear to think about the state of my socks, but the cell was growing steadily colder and I needed them for warmth.

I hadn’t really contemplated sleep. This had been my last day of freedom and I desperately wanted to cling on to it, dreading waking in the morning to the harsh reality of the hateful cell. I shut my eyes and thought of Bodie. I hadn’t seen him in weeks. He’d been called a few times to give evidence which he did with unemotional precision, but apart from that he’d kept completely away from the trial. I’d desperately scanned the public gallery on my sentencing day hoping to get a glimpse of him, but I’d been disappointed. I wondered if I could ever forgive him the pain that his abandonment had caused. I wondered how much I must have hurt him to make him act in that way. The last thing I wondered before I fell into a fitful sleep, was whether I would ever see him again.

I was woken early the next morning. I’d been allowed to keep the cheap watch that I’d bought with prison in mind and it informed me that it was six thirty. The guard ushered me from the cell onto the landing. The whole place was blissfully quiet, which after the cacophony that had greeted me upon my arrival, surprised me. I was led to a room back near the reception area. Three people were already in attendance, a prison officer accompanying my travelling companion from the night before and another man dressed in what I was to later learn was the typical garb of the prisoner. All looked as though they had all just been pulled out of bed.

Me and my opposite number were lead before a long table where the guards ordered us to shed our clothes. Though a slither of unease went through me, I did as I was bid. It was not last strip search I would have to endure by a long way, but it was quick, efficient and less intimidating than I had been expecting. We were then issued our ‘uniforms’. I was given five pairs of pants and socks apiece, five white undershirts, two grey over shirts, grey trousers and a grey sweatshirt. To my sheer joy, after consulting a list, the inmate searched around the shelves behind him for a minute or two before producing the battered old trainers I had put into my ‘prison bag’. Though prison does provide footwear, it could never be described as practical, comfortable or durable and is rarely, ever new. The stores inmate wasn’t exactly a talker but he did provide me with the knowledge that stores were provided like for like and if I lost any of my clothing it was my own hard luck and not to be so careless a second time. We were each given a bar of carbolic, a tiny tube of unbranded toothpaste together with a near hairless brush, a safety razor, a plastic comb, a small towel and a single toilet roll. We were then required to sign for our dubious treasures before being turned back to the guards who issued us with our prison numbers.

Throughout my career, I’d met a few prisoner officers. I was used to the fact that they’d often puff their chests with an inflated sense of self-importance especially when faced with a CI5 agent (which was often a pre cursor to ruffled feathers). The particular example which accompanied my travelling companion exemplified everything that is ever mad, bad or downright rotten in the profession and forever after I learned to term their like as ‘screws’ the same as every other inmate always had and probably always would. As he addressed us I could feel the venom in his voice, the hatred and disgust he felt for us, mere men whom he’d previously never even met. I wouldn’t forget his message however and stored it for future reference.

“Right, Doyle and Hennessey, you can forget your names from now on, you’ve got your numbers now. You will address me and my colleagues as ‘Sir’ or ‘Guv’nor’ if you know what’s good for you and if you ever, ever let it be known that you weren’t processed till this morning, you be spending an extended time in the seg.”

The man’s words didn’t frighten me. Somewhere the system must have fucked up meaning that someone was liable. Only guilty people try to cover their tracks and this bloke was trying it by the bucket load. I’d read reports on crime and punishment for years, but theories can only go so far. The fact that two men were admitted without a thorough check for incoming drugs or weapons was negligible and this idiot knew that full well. I’d have this man in my sights for all my time at Hale. It wasn’t his fault that I’d had far superior training on the human psyche than himself, but it was his fault for being a complete arsehole.

As we turned to leave the stores room, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the screw surreptitiously drive his fist into my companion’s right kidney. A slight grunt came from the hapless Hennessey. Flabbergasted, I raised my gaze in disgust. The screw turned his attention to me but must have seen the challenge in my eyes as he urged us back out onto the landing without further comment. We hurried along, desperately juggling our new possessions, passing my previous cell and leaving it behind.

We were finally stopped abruptly outside a door which the screw opened. He looked as though he was considering throwing us bodily into the cell until the warning glare I flashed him promised certain retribution if he tried it. We shuffled into our new home still precariously balancing our goods.

‘Breakfast’s ‘till eight but the hotplate will probably be empty by now. Serves you right for not getting processed ‘till this morning. I run a tight ship on this wing and have no time for slackers. If you haven’t got work or education, make sure you’re back for eight thirty bang-up. Late back for bang-up means time in the seg.”

With that, the bullying bastard took himself off to no doubt spoil someone else’s day. With a sigh of relief, Hennessey wearily dropped his heavy burden onto one of the bunks in the small room. I glanced around to take in my new surroundings. Although this cell was undoubtedly bigger than my last, it had to be to accommodate the four bunks housed within it. I’d been under no illusions that I would be lucky enough to get a cell to myself, but the thought of sharing with three others in such close proximity filled me with trepidation.

There was a grimy, non-opening window with a sliding fanlight at the top for ventilation and a large water pipe running along the back wall which seemed to provide heat. In addition to the metal bunks, there was a bigger, more usable sink, currently scattered with toiletry items similar to the ones I had just been issued. The lavatories, to my revulsion, still seemed to consist of buckets stashed beneath the bunks. There was a small, scabbed metal desk in one corner with a matching chair both of which were firmly anchored to the floor. This cell had the dubious addition of pillows, all of which were currently placed on the two bunks obviously already being used.

“You don’t mind taking the top bunk, do you pal?” my fellow inmate asked.

“No you go right ahead.”

The more space I could put between myself and the buckets the better.

“Thornton’s right though, they’ll be bugger all left on the hotplate by now, hope you weren’t feeling too hungry. Name’s Dave Hennessey by the way.”

“Doyle, Ray Doyle. You’ve been in here before then, Dave?”

“Did my remand in here, didn’t I?”

“What’s it like?”

“Not the best I’ve been in but not the worst either, not too many nonces in here if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“What’s the deal with that Thornton?”

“Thornton? Oh he’s just a wanker, mate. You shouldn’t have too much aggro with ‘im, I saw you give ‘im the eye. His favourite targets are the youngsters, the first timers like. You’re not a first timer are you, Ray?”

“Well it’s certainly not the first time I’ve seen the inside of a jail but it is my first long stretch.”

“How long you in for?”

This was a question I would be asked many times throughout my prison career. The one thing I was rarely asked was what I’d done to get there. There’s an unwritten code behind bars that you never ask unless you want people to become instantly suspicious of you. It wasn’t a question I ever asked anyone else. It didn’t really matter. In many ways we were all equals whatever we'd done to get put away.  I replied to Hennessey’s question, the reality of the answer still stabbing me with sudden shock as it would do for quite a time to come.

“I got seven years.”

“Oh that’s tough. Out in four you recon?”

“Hope so. S’pose it depends where I end up and how well I behave when I get there.”

“Best you get categorised as soon as possible and get out of this dump then, mate cos it aint that easy staying well behaved in here if you know what I mean?”

I’d been livid about being sent to a Category A prison even if was to be a temporary arrangement. This implied that any escape attempt I might make would prove highly dangerous to the general public. I had been found guilty of killing a man - however unintentionally and much had been made of the fact that it was done in self-defence. The court and its jury had all seen my records with the police and CI5 and George Cowley himself had given me an exemplary character reference. I had expressed remorse at every level and accepted that the punishment had to fit the crime, but sending me to an A Cat, in my opinion, (which counted for nothing), was a step too far. In the next few days, I would be officially categorised and hopefully sent onto somewhere more permanent. The most I had been told to hope for however, was Category B status which still indicated that I was a huge risk to the public at large.

The entire sentencing had been a nightmare. Mine was an unusual charge and the forfeit was entirely left to the judge’s discretion. I’d prayed for understanding and leniency. Though I was happy to take my punishment, being sent down meant that I’d be unable to express the heartfelt thanks and the desperate apologies to those I owed. Building my bridges would have to wait for anything up to seven years. Two and a half thousand days, any of which could see my shaky foundations crumble and fall. If I ever needed any encouragement to play the part of the angry, disillusioned jailbird, I only had to think of my unwarranted sentence and I could take to the boards like a seasoned thespian.

I was pulled from my thoughts by the creaking of the door and got my first look at my new cell mates.

“Well what have we here, Boyo, some more lambs to the slaughter is it?”

It didn’t take Einstein to work out that the first of my new associates was Welsh. He was small and weasel like with fast, darting eyes, a swarthy complexion and a rather unpleasant aroma. He was followed in by a young Chinese man.

“The name’s Gareth Williams, but you can call me Taff. This here is Fu. Fu Manchu see?”

“My name is Jin.” said the Chinese man quietly.

“When did you two get here then, you’ve missed the hotplate you know, not that you missed much did they, Fu?”

“We were processed this morning, I think Thornton held us back deliberately so we’d go hungry. I’m Dave Hennessey and this is Ray Doyle.”

“Oh you know that twat Thornton, do you, Boyo? You must have spent some time in here before then. What about you, Curly, you been on this wing before?”

“Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure and you can call me Ray.” I replied meaningfully.

“Well welcome to our humble abode, gentlemen. I’m sure we’ll all get along famous like as long as you follow the cell rules, you know? First rule is the last man in gets to do the slopping out. Fu’s done it up to now and he’s done a fine job of it too. Now it’s your turn boyo’s.”

Suddenly, meeting other prisoners felt far less intimidating. I’d dealt with pricks like Williams most of my adult life. It was time to tell him what was what.

“Well rules are there to be broken, Taff and if you think that I or anyone else in this cell will be shovelling your shit from now on, then you’re going to be very disappointed. Oh and by the way, assuming that it’s one pillow per man, I think that you two must have ours. Boyo.”

“Er yes, Ray I think you could be right there, we were er, just keeping them warm for you, see? Hand over the spare pillow, Fu.”

Jin dutifully handed over the pillow with a shy smile. Just as Williams was handing his to Hennessey, a barked command came from beyond the door.

“AH6477, work detail! Get your slimy Welsh arse over to the workshops now!”

“Well that’s me, ladies, have a pleasant morning won’t you.”

As soon as Williams left, Jin sank to the lower bunk with a relieved sigh and I felt for him.

“Have you shared a cell with him long, Jin?”

“Too long, Ray. He doesn’t like me much. Before you and David came there were two young men but they’ve moved prisons now. It was okay for me when they were here, they became my friends you know, but we were all a bit scared of Taff. He made us do all the slopping out and I’m sure he stole burn from the young men. They went last week and I’ve been on my own with him since then. I don’t think he likes the Chinese people.”

At that time I’d never smoked in my life so was completely unconcerned by people stealing ‘burn’ from me. I would of course eventually learn that tobacco was the most highly prized of all valued commodities. I would also try smoking for the first time and quickly learn to depend on it to combat boredom, stress, sadness and hunger.

“If it’s any conciliation, Jin you speak the English language better than he does. Don’t worry about him though, he’s just an idiot. You’ll be okay all the time that me and Dave are here.”

I’d subconsciously decided that Dave Hennessey was to be an ally. Christ knows why, as I’d already seen him beaten by a guard so could never depend on him as backup in a fight, but I was already seeing that mental strength was going to be as valuable to me as physical. Hennessey seemed rather pumped by the praise and shook Jin’s hand warmly.

Jin was more than happy to tell his sorry tale. His extended family was one of the first in London to open a Chinese restaurant, but those poor people had suffered racial hatred ever since. Many of the same people that bought takeaways after an afternoon session in the pub, bricked his windows after last orders. Jin had been found guilty of attacking a man with a meat cleaver. The fact that the drunken man had been raping his sister in an alleyway at the time had not swayed the jury. Jin’s confession brought about Dave’s. The mastermind of a gang of robbers, Dave was no stranger to doing time though I could tell he was no killer. They both looked at me expectantly hoping that I would also share.

Admitting my crime to other inmates would always be awkward for me and require certain embellishment. Geraldine Mather had regained her credibility when the press were able to print that she had successfully prosecuted a Government agent for manslaughter. Praise be to God that Cowley had slapped D notices over the finer details. Though I could possibly be recognised in prison by the old hands, my name, photograph and the identity of CI5 were never mentioned in the news articles.

“I was done for manslaughter. Okay, I did it, I don’t deny that, but there are complications. I can’t say much more as it could affect my case.”

It was all bollocks of course but it was a common enough response as I would learn, men giving little detail away and claiming legal reasons for not doing so. It was a very fine line that I would have to tread, to surreptitiously glean precious information from others without giving away anything of myself. Strewth if anyone in Hale knew that I was a former copper stroke Government agent, stroke active homosexual, I might never have tasted my first meal from the hotplate. We all had our secrets however. We all had our demons, our bogeymen, our fear of the dark. My cover story and all its pretty little lies saw me rather well throughout my whole prison term.

We chatted inconsequentially for a few more minutes before there was a bash on the door from a guard’s nightstick and the call,

“Bang-up in ten minutes!”

“Do you guys need the toilet, we’ll be shut up in here till lunchtime.” Jin informed us.

I hadn’t consumed anything except the cold water in the last twenty hours but the thought of having to use the bucket in front of my cellmates was abhorrent so I readily jumped down from my bunk and asked Jin if he would show me the way.

Till my dying day I’ll never forget my first look at the washroom facilities in HMP Hale. To the left were the showers which we ignored through lack of time. To the right were the toilet stalls. Before you reached them however, you had to pass the ‘slopping out’ area. This was a long narrow hall that can only be likened to the sheer bowels of hell. It consisted of four shallow steel tanks, two on either side, where buckets of human waste were slung with as much force as needed to rid the carrier of his filthy burden. There were hoses at the end of the tanks for each inmate to rinse his bucket and there were queues for each. The smell took my breath away and I don’t mind admitting that I very nearly ran out of the place screaming. How the hell the whole prison wasn’t completely rife with sickness, I’ll never know. There was no way for my feet to avoid the back splash from the tanks and I just about made it to the toilet cubicles without throwing up. The toilets themselves were filthy but at least had three quarter sized wooden doors attached to offer at least some privacy. I thanked God for Jin who had encouraged me to take toilet paper along with me. There was none in the stalls and after the horrors I had seen, my bowels reacted furiously. As I sat panting and sweating, I knew that if I survived the next ten minutes, I could survive anything.

Finished, I turned to pull the chain only to find it completely missing. I stood on tiptoe and could just about reach the flush lever which I sharply yanked with my little finger. The lavatory roared into life thankfully washing away the evidence of my discomfort. I raced from the stall to the sink area and was unsurprised to find no soap. Jin was stood smiling at me so I quickly followed him back to the cell. I walked with my head held high. I had been nervous about mixing with other inmates but after the terror of the toilets I let them all sail past me, completely ignoring them as if in a dream.

We entered the cell with seconds to spare before the door was slammed and firmly locked behind us. I grabbed my soap and started to scrub my hands viciously. Soon the heavenly coal tar smell of carbolic scented the air.

“You get used to it, Ray, really.” Said Jin, a smile in his voice.

“First time in a shithole like this then, Ray?” asked Hennessey.

For once I didn’t care how much I exposed. Both men had seen the reaction that I simply couldn’t hide.

“How the fuck could anyone ever get used to that?”

“Jin’s right, you do get used to it, you just have to don’t you? You can see why men want out of here as soon as possible though. It’s different on the lifers wings of course. Most of them have got proper bogs in their cells and all sorts.”

Like many dispersal prisons, Hale still had its fair share of ‘lifers’. To a certain extent, a prisoner has a say over where he resides and many inmates serving life sentences chose to be at Hale because it was near their families or simply where their mates were. Many jails have different tiers within them. Though Hale was Cat A, there were still Cat C prisoners housed there simply because they wanted to be. The facilities differed vastly between the tiers however. Lifers frequently occupied single cells with proper working toilets, windows which looked over gardens and jobs which brought fulfilment as well as financial gain. These were benefits that any prisoner in Hale could work towards as long as he could stand the regime in the meantime.

I washed my hands again and then brushed my teeth. Finally, I sank down onto Taff’s bed with a sigh of relief. Both Jin and Hennessey were smirking at me and I smiled at them broadly. I had survived the last ten minutes. I could do this.

My embarrassed relief broke the ice between us. The most bizarre conversation followed with us each discussing our toilet habits. It seemed that every inmate (except the extremely depraved) was shameful about having to do his business in front of other people. Everyone hated slopping out but as there was no choice, you just got on with it. Hennessey told me I had to liken it to the 'Camping Trip in Hell'. By twelve thirty I was actually laughing for what seemed like the first time in two years.

The doors were once again unlocked and we were freed to go to lunch. The refectory was a large looming Victorian hall. It smelt of every tower block stairwell I have ever been in.

I tried my best to blend in, using my comrades to disguise my newness. The queue for the hotplate seemed endless but we arrived at it surprisingly quickly. The servers dealt out the tiny rations like automated assembly workers. I looked at the mess that had been deposited on my meal tray.

“What is it?” I dared to ask.

“Lasagne!” replied the server as if the answer was plainly obvious. I just about held in the laugh I felt about to burst out. Although I’m not terribly cosmopolitan in my tastes, even I knew that no lasagne was ever designed to look like this thing did. Fortunately I wasn’t hungry. I can never actually claim to feeling hungry throughout my entire prison years, but that was more due to a lack of appetite than from ever being too well fed. I shuffled along the line to receive pudding. Pudding included a choice. There was a hard brown thing which ominously resembled a ship’s biscuit or a vast pot of sloppy looking stuff that vaguely resembled the lasagne. Not wanting too much of a good thing, I opted for the brown thing. I was then thrust a cup of tea so weak that I could see the stains at the bottom of the tooth mug it was served in. We had found ourselves at the end of the hotplate. I had done it, I had acquired my first meal in Hale. Go forth gentlemen, eat drink and be merry!

I followed Hennessey and Jin to a long trestle table they seemed to favour and out of nowhere, Taff appeared sporting a black eye. I couldn’t help but comment.

“Had a spot of bother then, Taff?”

“Ran into a screws fist, didn’t I, Boyo?”

Taff seemed subdued and upset and I suddenly saw him in a new light. Loud mouth Welsh bully boy he might well appear to be but I was gradually seeing how the bullying went down through the ranks. Screws beat on Taff, so Taff beat on gentle men like Jin. I would be needing to have a quiet word with Taff. In the meantime, I applied my attention to my food.

I soon learned that the ‘food’ in HMP Hale was completely inedible. The cooling slop that was slithering about on my tray was as far away from lasagne as Hale was from the moon. I chased it unsuccessfully around with my fork before giving up completely and turning my attention to the brown thing.

The brown thing threatened to crack my teeth and tasted of nothing that I could easily recognise. I’ve never (unlike Bodie) been ruled by my stomach. I rarely feel hungry and have often needed to be reminded to eat. This situation was to prove a problem however. I had no intention of letting my fitness levels drop, but even an idiot knows that you have to fuel your body before it can work properly for you. The rubbish that Hale were serving couldn’t have fuelled a slow worm. The whole place stank of over boiled cabbage even though I’d yet to see a single vegetable.

Amazingly, Taff seemed to read my thoughts.

“You need a job, Boyo. The more money you earn, the more you can buy from the canteen.”

‘Canteen’ in prison can be a lifeline. For those that happily deal with the in-house food, it can bring treats such as chocolate, chewing gum and Coca Cola. For the studious, it can bring ample pens, pencils and reams of paper. For people like me who just couldn’t face the diet, it could provide fresh fruit, small tubs of sea food and tiny packets of Fruit ‘n’ Nut. I felt rather proud that for my first three months in HMP Hale I lived as Bodie had claimed to do so many times, just eating to survive.

I looked at my companions to see with astonishment that they had all cleared their trays. It was almost embarrassing to see them bicker over my leftovers. We left the refectory, some of us to return to our cell and Taff to return to his work detail. I felt strangely full even though I had eaten virtually nothing and climbed to my bunk where I flopped. I dozed on my bunk thinking thoughts that I would usually think such as ‘I wonder what Bodie’s doing? I wonder if we’re gonna get called out? I wonder what wine I should buy …’

I must have dozed into sleep as the next thing I knew was Taff arriving back and the nightstick alerting us that it was time for tea. The evening meal consisted of grill shrunken pork chops, over boiled potatoes and some hard little things that I assumed could have once been peas. Pudding once again looked like the lasagne so I gave it a miss. I ate as well as I was able before returning to my cell. I could have stayed out another two hours as now it was ‘evening association’. I was exhausted however and had nobody I wished to associate with. I collapsed once again on my bunk and slept for six hours.

I unfixed my eyes to darkness and the sound of weeping. I drew myself to the source of the tears. My nose told me instantly that it was Taff. Though the man repelled me, I held out my arms to him in the darkness and he fell into them like a sobbing baby.

“I’m sorry, Ray, I really am.”

“What are you sorry for, Taff?” I said quietly.

“For not being the man that I really want to be. For being a fuckin’ useless Welsh wanker. For not being a real man like you are!”

“What man do you really want to be then, Taff, what’s so good about me?”

“You’re not scared, Ray are you? Me? I’m scared shitless me.”

I know when a bloke is playing me. This one wasn’t.

“Taff, if truth be told I’m fucking terrified. That doesn’t mean that I have to bully or belittle other people to make me feel better and if I hear of you doing it again, I’ll come after you, you Welsh cunt.”

“I’m no hard man, Ray I was just a getaway driver. I’ve done a bit of time in places but this is my first Cat A. I just don’t know if I can stand it, Ray!”

I had just seen my first true prison victim. He was an insidious little man who had fibbed and bullied his way to his current position. When push came to shove however, he was just as scared as the rest of us and I held him through his tears for the rest of the night.

The following morning I woke to the familiar feelings of dread. I didn’t feel particularly rested. Though I had eventually slept, dreams had brought recurring images of Bodie walking away from me, smirking knowingly as he did so.

An overcrowded cell is no place to expose your deepest terrors however and when the jangling keys and the night stick announced that were being let out, I was first out of the door and headed for the hotplate.

Breakfast was a choice between porridge and scrambled eggs though there was little discernible difference between the two. I mentioned this to Taff who looked at me like I was an idiot, completely missing the irony. My next intention after the awful breakfast was to somehow get a shower. I had a visitor to look forward to in the afternoon and was feeling decidedly grubby. On my way back to the cell I was thwarted in my mission by a guard trying to get my attention. I heard the call,

“AH7287!”

Thinking little of it I carried on until I heard the roar of “DOYLE!” thunder along the landing. I stopped dead in my tracks cursing having forgotten my new prison identity already.

I turned to see a mountain of a man with a penchant for fingering his keys and a face like a slapped arse.

“Doyle when your name or number is called by an officer, you STOP! You do not bloody well carry on walking along like you haven’t got a care in the world! Is that understood?” he bellowed.

“Um, yes.” I replied somewhat timidly.

“Yes WHAT, Doyle?” he almost screamed, turning purple.

“Um yes, Sir?” I replied desperately trying to keep the hint of sarcasm from my voice.

“Good!” he said consulting his clipboard. “You’re down for your medical, now follow me.”

“But, Sir I was just off to shower, I’ve got a visitor this afternoo …”

“DOYLE! You do realise that you’ve got a face that I would never get tired of hitting? Now if I say you’ve got your medical, then you’ve got your fucking medical, alright?”

I almost giggled at that. Our tête-à-tête was starting to attract a little attention and I knew that if I was to catch the eye of another grinning inmate, I was in severe danger of laughing out loud. For all his bluster, I never saw Officer Wilkins lay a finger on the men in all my time at Hale. Shouting was his weapon of choice and though he intimidated many, he never caused me any more than mild amusement.

The thought of forgoing my shower in order to undertake the medical was a much more important issue than the stuffed shirt. In the past twenty four hours, I’d been exposed to extreme filth, unspeakable food and cramped conditions alongside others who were harbouring God knows what. If anything, I should have been sicker than before I’d arrived. Like most things in Hale (as I was to learn), the ‘medical’ was a complete waste of time, a box ticking exercise that just had to be adhered to. Reports on me that would never be read by anyone ever, had to be made and filed ending any notions that I’d had about getting washed.

The reality of the medical itself depressed me even further. After a wait of nearly forty minutes I was called into the infirmary. An ancient doctor who smelled of stale whiskey and cigars ordered me to strip and bend over. He spend an unwarranted amount of time looking at me from behind before letting me stand up again. He got me to cough and then physically examined me to determine that I really wasn’t Jewish. He prodded me here and there but I easily guessed that nothing he wrote down would ever be of use to anyone. Over the years, I’d spent many hours stressing over Police and CI5 medical examinations so was somewhat used to such close scrutiny. Those checks though, had all had valid reasons behind them and the thought that this dirty old sod had complete unwarranted access to young and vulnerable men sickened me.

I left the medical wing, my skin crawling. The chance of a shower had long since fled and as I returned to the wing a chancy screw put me on my first report for being late back after bang-up. I complained bitterly to Jin, explaining how the bastards had reported me for being late due to the pervy old doctor who had summoned me in the first place. I then complained about my lack of showering to confused Chinese eyes.

“Why were you upset about not getting a shower, Ray? Today’s not a Monday is it?”

I was still furious and ready to rant on further until what Jin had said filtered through to me.

“What do you mean, ‘today’s not a Monday?’ ”

“Well Monday’s our wash day, today’s Wednesday isn’t it?”

“Well don’t we get to shower every day then?”

“Sadly not, Ray. Taff and I had our showers on the day you would have been brought in, that’s why we still don’t smell too bad. Taff’s a cleaner however. By the time Monday comes around, he’ll be stinking the whole place out.”

In horrified astonishment, I looked to Dave for confirmation.

“It’s true, Ray. Each wing has its own wash day. Lots of men don’t care after a while as showering eats into your association time. The worst day is Friday as that’s E wing’s day so the rest of us get extra lock down to protect those bastards. Due to reduced staff, nobody gets to shower on Saturdays or Sundays and we get banged up earlier on those days too.”

This was all beyond my comprehension and I said so.

“But that’s just … it’s just fucking draconian! How the hell this place isn’t crawling with disease, I’ll never know! How the bloody hell am I supposed to go without a shower for another five days?”

“Well you can put yourself on the list to use the gym, Ray,” Jin said kindly.

“There are separate showers there and many men use to gym simply to get access to them. The waiting list is very long however and you’ll probably be out of here before you ever get to use it.”

“Or you could always apply for E wing,” supplied Dave. "Word is they’ve got their own small gym over there with showers and everything.”

In truth, I had been offered the protective custody of ‘E wing’. The infamous unit housed the most vulnerable of Hale’s inmates, namely ex-policemen, ex-prison guards and most notably, sex offenders. Whilst I might have remained relatively safe within its walls, I would have been a prime target anywhere else in the prison by those who saw me as one of the ‘nonces’. Having no wish to mix with their like in any case, I had steadfastly refused, choosing instead to take my chances with the rest of the prison population.

After another disastrous offering from the hotplate, instead of being banged up, I was called for my visit. Every prisoner is entitled to a visit soon after their incarceration. Thereafter it is at the particular prisons discretion as to how many visits you may receive. At Hale we were entitled to two, one hour visits per month.

Most prisoners wanted to speak to their nearest and dearest for their first visit and asked for their parents or wives and girlfriends. Few men at that vulnerable time requested to see their children. Though I had hopefully listed Bodie on the visiting order, it was Murphy who I really needed to see. It was unfair to ask my mother to make the three hour trip from Derby for a one hour visit. She had attended the last day of my trial and I could see from the dock the dreadful strain it had all put on her. I had vowed to write to her often to put her troubled mind at rest as much as I was able. For all my love for her however, it was Murphy who was to be my vital contact with the outside world and his was the primary name that I put on the VO.

I needn’t have worried that my increasing body odour would have reached Murphy’s nose, as there was to be a half inch sheet of toughened glass between us. For Murph’s own protection against recognition as the acting head of CI5, I had requested a ‘closed’ visit. A closed visit was a private one held in a secure cell away from prying eyes and only also attended by a lone prison officer. For the next three and a half years, I would only see my friend Murphy from the other side of a pane of toughened glass.

If Murphy noticed my dishevelled appearance he was kind enough not to remark upon it. He didn’t look great himself, but tired and strained to my eyes. The first thing I noticed about him of course was the fact that he had arrived alone. Though I had not for a minute expected Bodie to turn up, his absence was still a knife through my heart.

“Hi, Ray, how are you? Sorry stupid question. Any news on an appeal?”

“No, Murph. Unless any further evidence turns up, I haven’t really got any grounds to ask for one.”

“What not even against the length of sentence?”

“Not really. More straightforward manslaughter cases get mandatory life sentences, so I’m counting myself lucky.”

“Strewth that’s tough, mate. Anyway, to practical matters. I’ve been onto Lloyds for you and apart from yourself, I also now have access to and control over your current and savings accounts. There’s been a direct debit set up to the prison to cover your expenses in here. I’ve also set up a small transaction from the savings account to the current one to make sure that it stays open. If at any time, you need extra funds for anything at all, all you have to do is let me know, Ray.”

It was a relief to know that there was someone I could trust with my financial matters and I thanked Murphy profusely.

“Now I’ve been onto communications and they’ve set up a new hotline number. That number will either reach me or my answering machine. It’s been routed to my flat, office and ‘The Works’ switchboard. If I’m anywhere in the building except in my office, your call will be sent to me. I can only imagine what the phone queues are like in here and this way you can at least get a message to me even if I’m unavailable to take a call. Only you, I and the prison have access to that number. Now I’ve talked at length with your mother …”

“How is she, Murph?” I interjected.

“She’s fine, Ray, really. She’s still shocked at the sentence of course just as we all are, but I’ve assured her that we’ll help her in any way we she needs, whenever she needs. She’s still listed as your next of kin, but has agreed that my hotline number should be the first point of contact for the prison.”

I appreciated this. If I was to be murdered in my bed or raped to within an inch of my life, it was probably best that Murphy got to hear about it first. Aware that we only had an hour, I let him continue.

“Now for obvious reasons I can’t give you the ‘red’ phone number but as that changes so frequently it would be of little use to you in here anyway. Rest assured, the rest of the ‘workforce’ will still have the same private numbers that you already know. If those numbers ever need to be changed, you’ll be informed immediately and you can let the prison update your verified numbers list. The ‘workers’ all now have answering machines attached to both of their lines whether they like it or not. Therefore, even if they don’t want to answer the phone to you, you can still leave them a message for them if you want to.”

Assuming that nearby screw didn’t know anything about me, he must have thought that I had worked for some sort of top secret agency!

“There won’t be many that wouldn’t want to hear from you however, Ray. Everyone’s gutted by what’s happened.”

“How is Bodie, Murph?” I asked not being able to hold the question in any longer.

“He’s very quiet.”

“Does he know his name was on the visiting order?”

“Oh yes, he got one of his very own which I presented to him and which he opened up in front of me.”

“What was his reaction to it?”

“Again, quiet, though he did take it with him at least. Look I’ll continue to work on him for you, Ray but I can’t make any promises. He’s in a very dark place at the moment and I have to consider his welfare too. Please continue to include his name on any VO’s you send to me, but don’t waste any on him alone, as I think you’ll be disappointed.”

I decided to leave the subject be. Bodie’s absence could tell me more than Murphy’s knowledge ever could.

“Was there much publicity about the sentencing?”

“Not unduly. The measures our ‘old boss’ put in place stood fast, Ray.”

After that day, I never even saw the officer that had accompanied me on that first visit from Murphy. I often wondered if he ever discovered who I actually was. Murphy had played the part of the CI5 head like a well-tuned fiddle. We had spoken of Government procedures under a screws nose without him even noticing and I sorely hoped that Murph would be offered to do the job full time. (After several disastrous others were appointed then discarded, he was, and he did.)

“Okay Murph. I should be categorised soon, hopefully, which will determine my future residence. If you’d keep an ear to the ground on its present incumbents, I would be eternally grateful.”

“Yep, keep me posted on that, Ray we wouldn’t want you mixing with any ‘undesirables’ would we old chap?”

We concluded our meeting and it was with a pang that I saw Murphy escorted from the room. My accompanying screw knew that he had missed out on something important and was probably too low down in the pecking order to ever find out what. As a result he tried to take out his frustrations by escorting me from the visiting cell with my hand forced behind my back. His grip and strength were all wrong for this, his bullying lessons obviously having been a waste of time. I shook his hold off easily, resisting the temptation to break his wrist in the process. I was already on report after all. I was escorted back to my landing without further incident – straight into the first ‘kick off’.

Violence in Hale was rife. I will forever entirely blame the screws for this disgusting fact. Often their negligence in providing prisoners with their basic rights such as exercise and association time caused tensions to become problematic. Frequently their presence and reactions inflamed situations and most worrying of all, they themselves were often the cause of the reactive violence in the first place. The screws were in either one of two camps. Those that made a lot of noise then ran away cowering behind their mates or those that beat on prisoners mercilessly simply because they could. I hated those despicable people with all of my being. They were quick and careful in discovering who could and would fight back and tended to leave those men alone, unless of course they were hunting in their ‘packs’.

On this occasion, an inmate was closing in on another, a handmade ‘shiv’ in his hand. I instantly threw myself in front of the guard my arms outstretched to shield him from the danger. Realising that I had probably just marked myself as a ‘screw lover’ I now needed to do something to quickly regain my credibility. The prisoner with the homemade knife hadn’t seen me so I simply jumped into action the way I'd been trained to do. I leapt on him from behind, applying a neck lock at the same time as forcing his knife hand down by his side. Pressure on his hand forced him to drop his weapon and softly spoken words into his ear started to calm him down.

“Come on, Son, you don’t need to be doing this, do you, not in front of the screws at least.”

“But that cunt stole my junk!”

“Well we’ll get it back then won’t we but you don’t really need to be put on report because of it do you?”

My heart sank. I could feel the racing pulse of the man in my grip and knew that he was flying as high as a kite. By ‘junk’, he probably meant heroin which was one of the newer substances that Government reports were cataloguing as being regularly discovered in Britain’s prisons. It wasn’t my reasoning that was calming him but his own depleting body condition. He was coming down from a dangerous high and in half an hour would be either asleep or dead. I lessened my grip on him and his intended victim was rushed away by his own comrades. I turned my head back to the screw to be faced by five of them, one of them being my nemesis, Thornton. In the next few seconds, they swarmed on me. Junky man and I were dragged off without a ‘By Your Leave.’ Thornton attempted a couple of totally unnecessary body blows upon me which I fielded with ease.

“Just fucking watch him, he’s taken too much!” I cried out to the other officers hustling away the drugged guy. To my later knowledge, the dropped shiv which was either missed or totally ignored by the screws was later used to kill a thieving Chartered Accountant from Slough.

And so, I spent my first evening in ‘the seg’. To be honest, after what I had recently heard and seen in Hale, segregation wasn’t actually that bad. The cell had its own metal toilet which I could use without onlookers. Supper was provided on a plastic tray and though most of it was completely processed, I ate it not knowing where my next meal would be coming from.

At eight that evening I was surprisingly ‘sprung’ from my latest residence, not by a guard but by the ‘Top Dog’ of the wing.

“Hello, Raydoyle, I’m Tre.”

I assumed ‘Tre’ was short for Trevor (though the man preferred ‘Tre’ to sound like Milk ‘Tray’). Quite unbeknown to me then I was meeting one of the greatest friends I ever would make even though the first sight of him did scare me shitless.

“You’re going home, Raydoyle, well back to your proper cell that is. You did good today, Son. Addy would be dead if it weren’t for you. He was flying too high and you saw that. The screws would have dumped him in seg and just left him if not for your warning. Where’d you get your training from?”

“I just saw a man in trouble.” I replied somewhat pathetically.

“Don’t you ever give me shit, Raydoyle, I saw your actions, you’re trained. What are you, Police, CI5, Special Forces? If it cuts the backchat you’ve got my respect for not opting for E wing. I’ve got no time for those cunts.”

I was snookered. This towering man had guessed more about me than the Prison Service would ever even ask. I knew that fobbing him off would never be an option.

“What does it mean if I tell you, Tre? I’ll never betray anyone, I’ll die first if even by my own hand!”

“Oh, Raydoyle! I’m a lifer, son! I’ll die in here and I quite accept that. I did the crime, gotta do the time see? I got no quarrels with the outside world, no axes to grind with the pigs or the intelligence nor even those wankers in the army! What I do need to know however is who exactly is residing on my wing. Now I take it that Raydoyle is your real name otherwise you’d be huddled up with those protected nonces on E. It could take me less than a day to find out who you are, Raydoyle, but I’d much prefer to hear it from you.”

This bloke was the real deal. I either admitted to him who I was or I could end up dead with no questions asked in a very short space of time. He was as well trained as I was, there was no way I could bullshit him.

“I was CI5.” I admitted.

“Oh shit, Raydoyle, you’re not that poor bastard that Geraldine Mather tucked up are you?”

“I am, the very same.”

“Oh you poor sod!”

“I’m not proud of my achievements.”

“Dead bloke was Paul Coogan wasn’t it? Fucking scared little prick. You did the world a favour, Raydoyle.”

“I didn’t kill him on purpose!”

“Doesn’t matter, just a shame you didn’t take out his wanker of a brother at the same time.”

My mind was whirling. For all the closed security surrounding my sentencing and incarceration, within forty eight hours I had come across a man who knew all about me.

“Like I said, Raydoyle, I won’t judge you on what you were, I prefer to judge you on what you are now. You weren’t to know that Addy was a useless waste of space but you still tried to look out for him. What got you into CI5, Police?”

“I was head hunted after shopping bent coppers to my seniors.”

“Don’t tell me, you worked for the drugs squad, right?”

“How did you know that?”

“Oh for God’s sake, I saw how you dealt with Addy didn’t I?”

“Look, Tre, I hate drugs. I can’t possibly hide them or transport them or get people to bring then in for you. I’ve seen so many times what they do for people and I just hate all that that. You can beat on me or threaten me as much as you need to, but I’ll die before I give up those principles. To be honest, I don’t fancy my chances much in here anyway so if you’re gonna off me, could you make it sooner rather than later, my demise might save the tax payer some money!”

“I like you, Raydoyle, I really do! We never get CI5 here usually, they cover their tracks too well. Bad luck on you for getting Mather, you poor bugger! We sometimes get drugs squad, but they cover their tracks VERY well and normally get sent straight to E. They’re normally done for dealing …”

“Do I owe you now, Tre?”

“I dunno, Raydoyle, do you?”

I kept quiet, not knowing the correct answer.

“Are you watching anyone in here?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Are you working undercover?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Are you gonna tell me all I’d like to know about CI5?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Why aren’t you on E wing?”

“Because I don’t want to be seen as a fucking nonce.”

“Would you be prepared to be my right hand man, letting me know of everything that’s going on that I might want to hear about?”

I paused for a second before replying.

“Absolutely not.”

“Oh and why’s that then, Raydoyle, why doesn’t that little prospect appeal to you?”

“Because it’s up to me to ride my own jail time. I have to serve it in my own way, not to someone else’s whim. I’ll try my best to keep the peace and see it kept but I can’t be ruled in here by anyone else but the screws, Tre. If you wanna bash me then do it now, but I won’t change my mind. I killed a man and I have to live with that even if and when I ever get out of here.”

“How long did you get?”

“Seven years.”

“You know I can check that, don’t you?”

“I didn’t, but you go right ahead. I’m doing time, Tre, this is no undercover mission, I only wish it was. You know more than most of the screws in here now as to who I am, so I should be scared of you but I’m not. If death in here is my destiny, then so be it, but I won’t grass to you or anyone else, ever.”

I spoke lucidly and meant every word. Tre was obviously a very important man in here but I would never fetch and carry for him to make my life easier. I had punched Paul Coogan, me alone. Nobody else would pay for that sin but me and with tears starting to well, I told Tre as much.

Something I must have said rang true with him and he helped me up before escorting me back to my landing. Bang up time was well past and I feared getting put on report again. I was shaking like a leaf as I neared my cell. Suddenly, Tre stopped us and enveloped me within his huge arms. He hugged me until I calmed and eventually, I was panting in relief. Tre let out a shrill whistle and a guard appeared from nowhere. I was let into my cell without any problems, leapt onto my top bunk like a seasoned pro and slept for seven hours.

The next morning my cellmates were astonished to see that I had returned and were full of questions particularly Jin and Dave who had never spent any time in the seg.

“Wow, Ray what was it like, is it as bad as they all say it is?” as Jin in awe.

“No,” I almost giggled, “It was fine. I mean it wasn’t spotlessly clean or anything, there were a few dubious stains on the walls, but it was quiet and there was a toilet and they served me a meal. I’ve seen worse sights up here to be honest. I really can’t see why the blokes are so scared about going in there.”

“You know why they got bogs in the cells, don’t you, Boyo?” Taff asked quietly.

“No not really.” I replied.

“No slopping out, see? And there’s no slopping out because they don’t let you out of the cell, except once a week to shower and you only get fifteen minutes to do that. So then they lock you up again in that lonely little cell and after a while you don’t know how long you’ve been in there and you certainly have no idea when you’ll be getting out. The only person you see is the screw who brings your meals and takes you to the shower, and he doesn’t talk to you. They don’t let you have any books or radios or visits, you just stay there slowly driving yourself crazy. That’s why the blokes are so scared of going in there.”

It was a sobering little speech which left us all very quiet.

Breakfast at the hotplate was a rather strange affair. More than one man caught my eye with a smile or patted me on the back. I felt a little bit like a minor celebrity. None of my cellmates had seen the altercation on the landing and an excitable Jin asked me to describe it again. I still had the nagging worry at the back of my mind that Tre knew far too much about me. I would have to get on to Murphy as soon as possible to let him know about my sudden change in circumstances. In all honesty, Murphy and the organisations security was still safe enough. I hadn’t worked on any active cases for a long time. Passwords, telephone numbers and security procedures where constantly updated within CI5 so there was little I could tell anyone even under duress. Tre had seemed genuine and a big part of me wanted to trust him, but I had no control over what he told his friends or what they might do with the revelation of my identity.

Later in the morning those that were still banged up were allowed out for exercise. This was a new experience for me and I said so. It transpired that exercise had been cancelled for the last two days due to rain. It had been raining solidly for two days and I hadn’t even noticed.

The exercise yard was a depressing, tarmacked area surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire. It was too small to be particularly useful for exercising in and the majority of the men simply shuffled around in a slow moving circle chatting to one another and smoking cigarettes. When we returned to the cells I didn’t feel notably invigorated, I actually felt rather cold and miserable. I had already put my name forward for gym membership, even if getting to use it was an unlikely prospect. The thought of doing other, more strenuous exercise was not a pleasant one when coupled with the fact that I was to only get one shower a week. From then on, I regularly practised my Yoga techniques in the privacy of my cell. It would never keep me CI5 fit, but it was at least something I could do which wouldn’t leave me hot and sweaty.

In the afternoon, I was summoned from lock up to meet with my probation officer. This was a meeting that I had been looking forward to as it would hopefully set the wheels in motion towards getting me out of Hale.

I was disappointed but unsurprised to discover that I had been listed as a category B prisoner. As I had really expected nothing better, I philosophically got my head down to study the options open to me.

There were two Northern prisons available which would have been within manageable travelling distance for my family. It was with a guilty pang that I discounted them however. I told myself that the real reason I had to stay in the Home Counties was the need to stay in close contact with Murphy. In truth, this was rubbish, I wanted to stay as close to Bodie as possible and that was all there was to it.

Though a prisoners wishes are not always taken into account, if your behaviour is reasonable, you do have a certain say over where you may be sent. If your choice is a popular one however, you may have to be prepared for a long wait.

I had certain special considerations such as who might be awaiting me in my new abode to think about, but if I was prepared stick life at Hale for a few more months, was assured that I would probably be accepted at HMP Shorecutt. The probation officer went away to make enquiries and I went back to the landing to make enquiries of my own. At evening association, Tre beckoned me over and introduced me to the group of friends he was with. I tried to cover the nerves I felt but they all put me at my ease quickly enough.

“Raydoyle, meet the boys. This is Stuart, Ted, Pin, Steve and Tock, oh and that bloke on the phone over there is Tock’s brother, Tick. Boys, this is Raydoyle who saved Addy’s sorry arse last night.”

“Tick and Tock?” I echoed.

“Yeah all they ever do is count down time, Raydoyle.”

Though we never all openly talked together about our offences, I learnt through the grapevine that some of these men had all been involved in violent crime which would categorise them into high security for the rest of their lives. They did however, choose to remain on our wing where they had their friends and had earned a certain amount of prominence.

When Tick finished his call, his brother alerted him to my presence. Tick was not an attractive man. He face was so pockmarked it almost looked fire damaged. His teeth looked beyond reasonable repair and he had a tear drop tattooed below his left eye.

“Hey, Tick, this is Raydoyle, he only got in a couple of nights ago.”

“Oh, righto mate, can I have a quick word, sorry what d’you say your name was?”

“Well most people just call me Ray to be honest …”

“Right a quick word in your shell like, Ray, I won’t keep you a minute, mate.”

I stared around for backup, a guard, anything, for I was convinced that I was about to be drafted into a gang or cult or worse. I'd been targeted and singled out by the hardest men in the prison on my third night here and God knows what they had in store for me. I had three choices, sell myself to the devil and join them, squeal to the screws and be marked as a grass forever or hang myself from my bedsheets. I followed Tick to a quiet corner like I was walking the plank towards a shark infested sea.

“Righto, Ray, as I said I won’t keep you a minute. I’m known as Tick and I’m this wings prison listener. To be honest we don’t carry that much clout, though we are go-betweens for the men and the screws and if we raise concerns then the screws are obliged to take notice. If you have any problems, day or night, even if your just feeling a bit depressed like, just you press that red button on the wall and ask to talk to a listener. If you’ve got bigger problems that need to be passed on higher up then we can help you do that too. No issue is too small, Ray and even if all we can sometimes do is listen, then often even that’s a help. Believe you me, I’ve had it all, mate from kids holding blades to their own throats, to blokes that have just lost their soap. We’ve all been trained and everything you tell us is in confidence. We’re not allowed to judge, so whatever you’ve done or whatever you are is of no consequence to us. Now am I right in believing that there’s another newcomer in your cell with you?”

“Um, yes, Dave, Dave Hennessey, though he did do his remand here.”

“Oh he’s probably heard all our spiel already then, though I’ll make sure to catch him anyway. Well that’s about it, Ray, just you remember, day or night. Oh! Well done by the way for helping out Addy, fucking drugs in this place they’re a bloody scourge!”

With that he took himself off and I stood there, astounded. I learned many things during my years in prison, some good, many bad. One of the most important things I would ever learn however, was not to judge a book by its cover. Not to let a man’s past dictate his future. Not to think that I was ever better or more special than anybody else. Though I will always believe that crime is intrinsically wrong, there are so often valid reasons behind why crimes are committed. Poverty, mental illness and desperation for drugs are all common reasons and though Hale was Cat A, there were plenty of men in there that hadn’t taken lives like me or Tick had. The prison listeners were a very valued service and the fact that men like them were prepared to be pulled from their beds in the small hours to hear out the problems of others, was highly commendable.

Though at that time, I still didn’t want to be seen to owe anything to Tre and his friends, I did ask them their opinions of HMP Shorecutt.

“Yeah Shorecutt’s not a bad nick, Raydoyle,” replied Tock.

“Look, you can call me just ‘Ray’ if it’s less of a mouthful for you,” I said feeling much more relaxed after my chat with Tick.

“You’ll always be ‘Raydoyle’ to me, Raydoyle,” said Tre authoritatively.

I looked up in sudden alarm but Tre gave me the same look that he had given before embracing me in comradeship the night before. He gave me the merest hint of a wink and I relaxed thoroughly.

Being seen within Tre’s inner circle seemed to open all sorts of doors for me socially. Within my first week, all sorts of people were starting to say ‘hello’ or simply shyly smile at me. I felt rather fraudulent about this not having done anything particularly noteworthy to earn such kindnesses. This was to slightly change one evening as I was walking back to my cell and experienced my first wing shutdown. Shutdowns are often shocking affairs as they happen very suddenly and can cause rapid panic throughout the wing. The screws trying to protect inmates from an incident or trying (more like) to stop a kick off from increasing in number, sling inmates into the nearest cell available before locking the doors fast. One minute you’re walking back from the hotplate, the next you find yourself in a stranger’s cell, shaking and disorientated.

The first time that this happened to me I found myself in a hellish situation. It was a four bed cell and two young Vietnamese men were huddled together on a top bunk crying manically and pointing at the lower bunk. I instantly saw the object of their distress. Their cellmate, a skinny young white guy was fitting. A fit is always disturbing to the observer especially for those that don’t know what to do. Fortunately I did. This guy was swallowing his tongue and starting to turn blue. I dragged him from the bunk and lowered him to the floor as gently as I was able. As soon as his head was turned towards the floor, his tongue released and his lungs drew a huge breath. The oxygen he inhaled started to calm his tremors, I cleared the area for objects that might hurt him before hitting the panic button. The disgruntled screw that threw the cell door open was stunned that there seemed to be a bigger problem in the cell than the one that had caused the shutdown in the first place and completely panicked himself rushing back to his crew for backup.

Though screws in prison can cause untold misery to their charges, they rarely want a death on their wing. Deaths mean investigations and investigations can appoint blame. I baulked at their lack of sensible training. This was simply a poor man suffering an epileptic fit. The screws should have been aware of his condition and well able to deal with it. Instead, they ran around like headless chickens deciding that the best course of action was naturally to storm the cell mob handed. I held them back with a look and stance that would have challenged the devil himself.

“Look, he’s had a fit but he’s coming out of it. Get the lights turned off to this cell and then get him to the infirmary.”

I was amazed that they followed my instructions and even more amazed that they didn’t know these very basic first aid measures for themselves. I later sought out Tick.

“Ello, Tick, I dunno what needs to be done, but there are two very freaked out Vietnamese in A27. They’ve possibly just seen their first shutdown, their first epileptic and their first cell raid all in one go. I’ll leave you with it, I’m off to bed.”

As I fell onto my bunk, completely shattered, I realised that I too had seen my first shutdown, epileptic and cell raid in Hale and survived to tell the tale. I could do this. I fell into sleep and dreamed of Bodie.

A few days later I was beckoned by the head guard on the wing, Officer Bolton. I approached his office with a certain amount of trepidation having no idea what he might want me for. The nasty little room was a pigsty and stank of cigarettes, coffee and doughnuts.

“Doyle, AH7287?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Right we’re moving your status up to enhanced.”

I was astonished. Every prisoner enters jail at the ‘basic’ level, gradually moving through to ‘standard’ and eventually - if he is very lucky to the revered ‘enhanced’ level. This achievement could take months however and was solely dependent on a prisoner’s behaviour. As I had already been put on report once I thought it highly likely that there was a case of mistaken identity going on, and looked at Bolton in bewilderment.

“Er, begging your pardon, but that can’t be right, Sir.”

“Doyle is not your place, nor ever will it be, to tell me whether I am right or not! Now if I say you’re going enhanced, then you’re bloody well going enhanced, got it?”

“Well, might I at least ask why, Sir? I mean I’ve only been here for five minutes after all.”

I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that this might all be Tre’s doing. Something for which I would owe him.

“Two words, Doyle. Randall and Courage.”

I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Sir?”

“Oh keep up, Doyle! Randall, pasty, junky waste of space and Courage, that lanky streak of piss that likes to throw himself all around his cell by all accounts. Word is that you played a big part in making them safe, Doyle. Well your efforts are to be rewarded and you shall be going enhanced. Now you’ll be wanting to change cells …”

“Change cells?”

“Yes, Doyle change cells, I know you heard me!”

“Do I have to, Sir?”

“Why don’t you want to, man?”

“Um well I don’t really know, Sir. Can I get back to you on that?”

“If you must, Doyle. There are spare places in the two man cells on B wing but, don’t hang about, they won’t be there forever.”

“Would I get the same food if I were on another wing, Sir?”

Bolton looked at me as if I was a lunatic.

“Of course you’d be getting the same food, Doyle, you’d moving to another cell not another bloody planet! As enhanced, you’ll now get increased visits, your application for gym use has been approved, one hour a week, your induction for that will be next Thursday and your work detail app has been fast tracked. I’ve got a job that you can start on Monday if you want it, morning yard cleaning duty. It’s part time but that’s all I can currently offer …”

“I can’t miss my shower, Sir, Monday’s shower day!”

Bolton sighed not particularly impressed at being interrupted.

“Oh very well, Doyle you can do your Monday shifts on Sundays if you wish, the yard isn’t open at weekends anyway so it will be clean enough for Monday exercise. Now if you’ll please allow me to finish, you’ll also get an extra half an hour’s association time every night. Now let me know about this cell business before the end of the day and remember, I’ve got no time for fannying about, Doyle!”

I returned to the landing, a thrill of excitement running through me. My achievements had been recognised and the payoff for helping to save two precious lives were a paid job, time in the gym and an extra shower! I felt like I’d just been given the moon.

The icing on the cake had to be getting out of a four man cell, however. Living so closely with three others was truly awful. Jin had certainly not underestimated Taff’s ability to stink out the whole cell after his daily shifts as a cleaning operative. Heaven only knows what he cleaned, animal pens by the smell of him.

I had tried somewhat unsuccessfully to keep myself at least feeling clean throughout the week by use of the sink. My hands, face and armpits were simple enough though the addition of a flannel would have been a Godsend. My feet and privates were a different matter however. Dancing about like the sugar plum fairy trying to rinse my toes under the tap caused endless hilarity to my cellmates. Washing more intimately in front of other eyes, caused me pained embarrassment.

I’d heard it said that enhanced cells had much better facilities. The thought of possibly getting a cell with a flush toilet installed was on par to imagining staying a night at The Ritz to me. There were even some single cells on B according to rumour. If I played my cards well enough, I might even get one of those eventually.

It would be strange moving to B wing. I thought of Jin and how quiet and shy he’d been when I’d first turned up. Now it was all we could do to shut the bugger up! I thought of Dave who’d been with me from the very beginning even in the back of the ‘sweat box’ prison van. I thought of Taff whose mouth would always get him into trouble but was as scared of his jail ride as the rest of us. I bounced into my cell to greet my cellmates who were eager to know what Bolton had wanted with me.

“Bloody hell, you’ll never guess? He’s only gone and put me on enhanced!”

The reaction to this news was muted and I suddenly hoped that it hadn’t sounded as though I was gloating.

“You’ll be leaving us then, Boyo? Off to B wing for you, is it?” asked Taff quietly.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of pain cross Jin’s face as he tried to reapply himself to the book he was reading.

“Wonder who we’ll get next then?” asked Dave in a resigned voice.

I frowned to myself before I spoke.

“Well the thing is, I mean it’s my choice and all and just say if it’s not what you want, but I was … I was thinking of telling them that I’d rather stay on in here if that’s alright?”

“Oh, Ray!” cried Jin, “You’re really staying?”

“If you’ll have me.”

“Oh well, what do you think boyo’s? Should we let our boyo Ray stay?” laughed Taff sounding ecstatic.

“Abso-fucking-lutely!” agreed Dave, slapping me on the back.

All of a sudden, the morose feeling in the cell was lifted to a party atmosphere with all of us laughing and hugging and backslapping for all we were worth.

I was very very touched. Only a week before, I had dreaded even coming into contact with jailbirds and now I had three men who were actually pleased that I had chosen to stay with them. Would I forever dream of what a nice enhanced cell would have been like to live in? Possibly. Would I forever curse the lethal weapons that were Taff’s stinking feet on a Sunday morning? Probably. Would I ever make friends like this again, who’d welcomed me in and treated me as one of their own? I knew the answer to that. In the end it had been no great sacrifice. The Ritz would just have to wait.

On Sunday morning I was woken early, much to the amusement of my cellmates who simply turned in their bunks in the pursuit of more sleep.

I was led by a screw to meet ‘Daz’ who was to be my tutor for yard cleaning duty.

Daz was leaving the post in order to pursue education, though it was obvious that he took his cleaning chores very seriously. He showed me the little shed where I could find the tools of my new trade, making lots of noises about who I should collect the key from and who I should return it to. His diligently explained each of the tools and their usage and I refrained from telling him that I had actually used a broom before.

“Do we have to clear up all the leaves as well or just the rubbish, Daz?”

“Um, I dunno, really.”

“Well what do you do, Daz?”

“Well I do try and sweep up the leaves and put them in piles. The trouble is, if it’s windy like it is today, then by the time I’ve been round the whole yard, all the leaves are all blowing about again.”

“Oh dear, that’s not too good is it?”

“No it’s not, Ray! Most people don’t realise how hard this job can be, but I see that you’ve realised it straight away!”

It was a shame that Daz was leaving the job, he was obviously perfect for it.

“What are you going to be learning in Education, Daz?” I asked, (guessing that it wasn’t the application of nuclear physics).

“Oh, readin’ and all sorts, Ray!”

“Oh that’s great, I hope you enjoy it.” I said meaning it.

Daz’s method of tutoring was fascinating. As I swept, he kindly noted every object that we came across in an ongoing monologue. When our more intellectual conversation seemed to be over, his voice was a constant robotic presence reeling off every single thing that met my broom;

“Coke can, chicken leg, Twix wrapper …”

At one point, I fear I may have swept a little too fast for him as he couldn’t quite keep up his dialogue, so I slowed down and he gave a sigh of relief. I seemed to have a natural aptitude for the work as I was actually managing to recognise most of the objects before Daz could point them out to me.

“Bit of newspaper, Coke can, old chewing gum …”

Almost in the same trance like state that seemed to have affected Daz, I suddenly stopped dead as my broom met an unexpected object. A small news print wrapped package sat there accusingly looking for all the world like dumped drugs which could well be pinned on me. Noticing nothing amiss, Daz, whose repertoire had once again fallen a few beats behind my brush strokes, carried on his ongoing descriptions.

“Shandy Bass can, twig, shit parcel, another twig …”

“Hey, back up a sec, Daz, what was that?”

“Another twig…”

“No before that.”

“Shit parcel …”

“A WHAT?”

“Shit parcel.”

“Daz, stop a second mate, what in God’s name is a shit parcel?”

“Parcel of shit.”

“Can you explain that a bit more to me please? Such as where the hell it came from and why?”

“Blokes don’t like to take a shit in their pots and then keep it in the cells. So they wrap up the shit and throw it out their windows.”

“Oh dear God!” I exclaimed, wondering how I could possibly stop myself throwing up in front of the lad.

“Look, Daz shall we take a break for five minutes?”

 “Um, I dunno about that Ray. I don’t normally take any breaks. I’d never get the whole yard done if I took any breaks.”

“How long is this shift exactly?”

“Um, I dunno, really. I start it after I have my breakfast and I stop it again before I have my lunch.”

“So let’s say you start at say eight thirty and then you stop at about twelve thirty, that’s four hours then isn’t it?”

“Um, I dunno really. I start when the screws let me out here and I stop when they let me back in again.”

“I see. Well the thing is, Daz, today’s a bit special isn’t it because there are two of us today, aren’t there so we’ll be getting the work done a bit quicker won’t we? So a little break wouldn’t hurt would it?”

“Do you think, Ray?” Daz asked excitably as if I’d just suggested it would be a good idea to rob a bank.

“I do, Daz, come on, let’s take the weight off our feet for a few minutes.”

We sat down and I tried to calm my roiling stomach. Daz made himself a roll up and offered me one. Had I not felt quite so queasy, I might well have accepted in deference to his kindness. As he lit up, something occurred to me.

“Daz, there aren’t any dog ends on the ground.”

“No, no dog ends on the ground in the yard.”

“Why’s that then?”

“Blokes collect the dog ends and they pull the burn out and then they use it again to make new roll ups.”

“Oh, lovely! Oh heck you don’t ever find any needles do you?”

“No, no needles on the ground in the yard. Not many needles in the prison. If a bloke has a needle in the prison, he keeps it and then he uses it again.”

I wondered about Daz’s strange thought processes and whether anyone in education might find something previously untapped, exposing Daz as some sort of hidden genius. It didn’t seem highly likely. He was starting to shiver so I handed over the lone donkey jacket that was supplied with the job and put us back to work.

“Twig, Pepsi can, Rizla packet …”

Within half an hour, we had cleared the place of the human detritus and I made a concerted effort on the leaves. Putting the leaves in bags seemed a novel concept to Daz and within another hour, the yard was spotless. I looked at my watch. It was only half past ten.

“What do we do now then, Daz?”

“Um, I dunno really. I never normally get it done this quick. We start it all again I s’pose.”

There wasn’t a spec left to possibly sweep and Daz looked positively frozen so I decided to make an executive decision, hitting the call button causing Daz to gasp.

It was just my luck that Thornton was on duty on the wing but I wasn’t about to take any of his bollocks when it was obvious that Daz needed to be back in the warm.

“AH7287! What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing ringing that bloody bell?”

“Sorry, Sir but Daz here has taught me all he knows and thinks it’s high time that I see if I can cope all on my own. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s important I’m able to do the job to a high standard, and as you can see Daz could well use a nice hot cup of tea.”

I’m really rather good at giving looks and the one I gave Thornton, promised him that if he didn’t take care of Daz I would render him incapable of fathering more children. Daz looked confused before shedding the donkey jacket like it was on fire and desperately calling out instructions about the shed key. Thornton looked down at him before ushering him inside.

“It’s okay Daz, thanks for all your help today, now Mr Thornton is going to see that he gets you a nice cup of tea. Good luck with your lessons!” I called.

“Er yeah thanks”, replied Daz already distracted.

I looked back to an unsettled Thornton.

“Get some tea into him and get him warmed up, he’s perished,” I growled.

Thornton gave an almost imperceptible nod before shutting the door on me. I was reasonably confident that Daz would be looked after. Word was getting around the place that I was in with the top dog and even though I didn’t want to behold to Tre, I would happily use my association with him if it was to someone else’s benefit.

I stared around the pristine yard. It looked a lot bigger without sixty odd men shuffling around it. It was there for a purpose and as I had no intention of sitting and freezing my balls off for the next hour, I started up a gentle jog. At first my body protested the sudden abuse but as I settled into my regular rhythm was soon revelling in the pure joy of simple exercise.

My unofficial job title was the ‘Skip Rat’, meaning I had the dubious pleasure of first dibs on anything that went into the yard bins. Everything I ever shovelled into the skips had every right to be put there however. The real beauty of the job was that every day after an hours sweeping, I ran myself back to prime fitness in the in the privacy of my own empty yard. Whilst worrying about body odour and weekly showers would never save my life, being fit and quick on my feet well might. Bodie would have been proud of me.

With aching slowness, Monday eventually came into view like an oasis in a desert. Monday. Shower day.

If anyone had tried to get between me and that ablutions block, I would have felt first-hand what goes through the mind of a murderer.

Human nature and myth ensure that it’s natural to suffer nerves when first entering the shower block in a men’s prison. To be honest, everyone was so intent on getting clean, washing was the only thing on our minds. The most serious altercations occurred behind closed doors in Hale, and I never saw a single violent episode or sexual assault in the washrooms in all the time that I was held there.

Prison being prison however, it was wise to remember that I was surrounded by unscrupulous thieves who would think nothing of robbing me blind. Everything had a value inside, even the meagre supplies that stores had provided us with. With no lockers it was hard work keeping your earthly possessions safe, so with wile and cunning, (and by watching others do it) my cellmates and I hatched a plan. Two of us showered whilst the others stood guard over our prized things. Never mind that we fought like tigers over the smallest bit of soap within the privacy of our own cell. When we were on the landing, we showered as a team and we guarded as a team. From that very first week we were completely invincible.

There were two water temperatures at our disposal, scalding and freezing. The flow was controlled by a push button, the same as many things in prison, so the whole experience wasn’t quite the soothing, serene experience that we had been dreaming about for days. Seeing supposed hard men hopping about trying to avoid the shock of a cold water jet caused more than a little hidden amusement (though you had to be very careful who you laughed at in prison).

Having a partner also provided another advantage. If your mate was willing to hold the button for the duration of your session, the water temperature became more constant. It was tepid rather than warm, but at least with the removed threat of your skin being flailed off, you could concentrate on the serious business of scrubbing away your accumulated grime.

Getting dry again was nigh impossible in the steaming atmosphere, a small concern when compared to being put on report for tardiness. Therefore, unforgiving socks and pants were tugged into position over damp, pallid skin and we all tried to convince ourselves that we felt fantastic.

Communal showers had never really been my thing. I couldn’t stand all that ‘boys together’ stuff that Bodie seemed to think so character building and wondered if he had anyone new sharing his shower nowadays.

Since having my first proper wash and settling into a running regime, I had almost forgotten my up and coming gymnasium induction.  Alerted by the beating of the nightstick, I was somewhat loathed to leave Jin alone to the boredom of the cell. Dave was now on work detail and Jin was hoping that further employment might soon come his way. He had previously worked in the kitchens until ‘another man had been given the job instead’. Jin wouldn’t be drawn on the details, but I quickly guessed that another ‘scourge’ of the prison, latent racism, had been behind his dismissal.

The gym itself was a rather depressing affair. The ageing equipment was shabby and filth ridden and heavily centred around free weights for the hard men to bulk their physiques. There was not much here that could help me keep up my cardiovascular fitness. The testosterone pumping through the place was palpable and I earned rather a few raised eyebrows as I ran through a few yoga moves to warm my muscles. I did a desultory tour of the apparatus before taking a breather in Tre’s company.

“You got onto the gym rota alright then, Raydoyle?”

“Yeah, I got my status advanced.”

“I heard. You deserved to, well done.”

“Er, thanks.”

“You’re still not too sure about me yet, are you, Raydoyle?”

“I wouldn’t say that exactly. You’ve been good enough about keeping my identity quiet but I do wonder when I might have to start paying for that?”

“It’s not like that in here, Raydoyle. We just all have to look after each other. You’ve already proved yourself more than enough. There has to be a modicum of control over the men however. The screws appear to rule the roost but you’ve probably already realised how much of a shit they give about us. They tolerate my presence because without the top dogs on the wings, chaos would ensue.”

“In what way?”

“Gang warfare, Raydoyle. There are much harder men in here than the screws and when they start to turn on each other, carnage can ensue. I’ve done some bad things in my life, Raydoyle, but I’m paying for them in serving my time. My job in here now is to protect the main body of men from the carnage. I’ve been in jails before where it’s every man for himself and it’s sheer anarchy.”

“How did you get the job?”

“Came up through the ranks, Raydoyle. When the previous ‘Daddy’ died, it was up to me to step into his shoes. Albie was a fair man, though hard as nails. Even a few screws shed a tear when we lost him. He’d earned their respect you see and it was up to me to do the same. The bloke who beat Albie to death still resides on D wing.”

“Bloody hell, you’re joking?”

“Nope, Roger Abbott. You ever heard the name?”

I shook my head.

“He’s a nutter, Raydoyle and prison’s only made him worse. He’s been in most of the jails in Britain but he always ends up back here as nobody else wants the aggro of dealing with him. He can do seg time standing on his head and short of killing him the screws have little control over him. You’ll know him when you see him. His trademark are his two front teeth. His twenty two carat gold front teeth.”

“Christ, why should I ever see him, isn’t he in top security?”

“Most of the time yes, but he’s got rights the same as all of us. He’s also got a legal team that would equal the Queen’s. They can’t keep him in the seg indefinitely, it’s not humane and if they tried it, he’d sue the arse off them. He’s also got plenty of guards in his pocket so if he takes a fancy to a little wander about to dish out a little aggro he thinks is owed, he usually gets it. Avoid him at all costs, Raydoyle.”

“Jesus! What’s your stand with him?”

“Again, we put up with each other. We did go to school together after all. We’ve got a bit of history, even worked on the same heist once but he doesn’t owe me anything nor me him. He wouldn’t think twice about offing me if he felt just cause.”

“What’s he actually capable of?”

“Well last just last year I saw him throw off three guards easily. He was also responsible for a bloke getting ‘boiled’ in the kitchens.”

“Boiled?”

“Had a pan of boiling water thrown in his face? Water was sugared as well.”

“Sugared?”

“If they add sugar to the water, it sticks to the skin and carries on burning. It’s not a pretty sight, Raydoyle.”

I wondered if there was anything in this Godforsaken place that wouldn’t turn my stomach.

“Why in heaven’s name would the screws let a man like that have access to the kitchens?”

“I said he was responsible for it, not that he did it. He got one of his poor underlings to do it, probably under the same threat of having it done to themselves. He’s a very dangerous man, Raydoyle and he’s not the only one in here. That’s why you need a top dog on the wing. I’m not interested in individuals and what they’ve done or what they can do for me, I literally haven’t got the time. Knowing that men will follow and support me when push comes to shove however is different. I’ve got the support of men that couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. They’re still one of a number however, and with numbers, we have power and unity. Just think of me as your local trade union representative!”

I suddenly realised that I trusted Tre with my life and always would. We became firm friends from that very moment and I still correspond with him to this day.

I took the most heavenly shower that I would ever experience before returning to my landing, walking straight into a kick off.

Three screws were manhandling Tre’s friend ‘Pin’. He was generally a silent man who I never would have guessed had the violence in him that he had. There was a desperation about him that the warders just weren’t acknowledging however.

“Right, you thick bastard, are you gonna behave or would you rather learn how to in the seg?”

I could see that the fight was going out of Pin and so had the screws. They unceremoniously dumped him, to no doubt go in search of their doughnuts.

I approached Pin warily, knowing nothing about him but seeing a man in extreme distress all the same.

“Hey, Pin, I’m ‘Raydoyle’ do you remember me?”

“I’m stupid, not forgetful, Raydoyle. I also expect that you probably prefer to be known as Ray?”

“Is Pin your proper name?”

“No my real name is Pete. They call me ‘Pin’ because I’m a ‘bit of a prick’.”

Instinct told me that this poor, insecure man was at the end of his tether and really needed to talk to somebody.

“If you fancy a chat, Pete my cell should be free. I’ll have to warn you, it’s not The Astoria, but in my current circumstances, I can’t really offer anything better, sadly.”

Pin said nothing and for a moment I thought that he had brushed off my offer. Gradually though, he rose to his feet, a resigned look on his face. With Taff, Dave and poor old Jin seeking company in association, my accommodation was unoccupied and I beckoned Pete in.

“Why were the screws mobbing you?”

“Because I kicked off.”

“Why did you kick off?”

“Because they won’t let me do what I need to do, Ray.”

“Which is what?”

“Take a course which might get me get into a Cat C.”

Courses in prison can be heaven sent for some men. For young guys like Daz who had somehow eluded any sort of basic education, it might mean a new world opening up to them. In Cat C or D establishments, there could be opportunities of vocational training for ex-cons to learn a decent, honest trade such as brick laying or plumbing. There were also those that fell between the cracks however, like poor Pin, desperately trying to better themselves, but thwarted at every turn.

“I need to do another course to qualify for re -categorisation, Ray.”

“Which is what?”

“Competency in Literacy.”

“So why don’t you do the course?”

“Because I’m not qualified to.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t read or write, Ray.”

I was surprised that this quiet and seemingly eloquent man should have to admit to such a thing.

“Aren’t there more basic courses that you can take before you advance to ‘Competency in Literacy’?”

“Oh yes! There’s a simple ‘reading and writing’ workshop that if I attended would qualify me for the course. It’s only held in the mornings however and I work then. I haven’t got any other income, so I really need to work in here. It’s either work or learn for me, Ray.”

“So you have to do that workshop before you can get onto your course?”

“No, I could do the entry exam. No way could I manage that though, Ray. Not if I don’t know how to read or write.”

Suddenly, I knew what my extra association time was going to be spent doing …

“Does it matter exactly who teaches you to read and write, Pete?”

“No I don’t think so. I’ve got to be able to read a book from the list and be able to write a short letter to pass the entry exam for the Competency in Literacy course.”

“Are you enough willing to learn?”

“Of course I am, Ray! Not only could it mean me getting out of here, it would also be nice to be able to read books like other people do.”

“Would you be willing to give up an hours association time every day?”

“What to learn? Hell I’d give up ALL of my association time if I had to.”

“Well, I can’t promise you anything as I don’t know how long I’ll be in here myself just yet, I’m waiting on a transfer to Shorecutt. But I’m willing to try to teach you if you’re interested?”

“You serious?”

“Yeah why not? I’d probably have to cancel my subscription to the golf club and Christmas in New York would definitely be out, but apart from that, I think might be able to spare the time …”

“But … but I couldn’t pay you, Ray, I’ve precious little as it is!”

“Look, you can pay me by getting out of this joint. As I said, I could well be out of here by next week but if that proves to be the case, then between us, we’ll find someone else to teach you. There are over five hundred men in here, Pete I’m sure that there would be at least one who would be willing to help.”

“No one’s ever offered before.”

“Did you ever ask?”

“Well, no. Illiteracy is something you don’t tend to shout about too much, it’s shaming you know?”

“Oh, do me a favour! I think it’s very brave going through life the way that you must have had to, it must be a handicap to you?”

“It’s just something I’m used to I guess, I don’t really know any different. I do long to be able to read though sometimes. I spend so many hours watching other blokes doing it, so there must be something good about it.”

“Well that’s settled then, I’ll teach you if you’ll have me. We’ll start tomorrow evening if you like?”

Pete went away, bestowing every praise he could think of upon my head and I wondered what I had let myself in for. I had never taught anyone literacy before and wondered if I was giving the man false hope. Reading must be easy enough to learn however? After all, I had done it at just five years old.

The next night we met in Pete’s cell and he showed me one of the books that he was expected to be able to decipher. I was dumbfounded by its simplicity but reassured that my offer had been a wise one. In that first hour, I taught Pete his letters, getting him to try and write them all down and speak the sounds that they represented. The night after that Pete recited the alphabet perfectly announcing the sound that each letter represented. This massive achievement was far more due to Pete’s extreme intelligence than my teaching skills. I just hoped I would be able to stay long enough to be able to do him some more good …

My dubious wish was duly granted with bells on the following day when I met with my probation officer. Shorecutt would accept me happily enough if I was prepared to wait for anything up to six months. I was sorely tempted to look for alternative accommodation, but the very real chance of getting sucked in and ‘lost in the system’ stopped me. How Shorecutt could be certain that they would have an available place in six months’ time was anyone’s guess, but that’s the prison system all over …

Depression flooded through me, but philosophical thinking gradually dragged me back. This was the worst place I was to ever experience, so Shorecutt was something to work towards. At the end of day, I had killed a man. What right did I have to expect an easy ride? I decided to just get my head down and get on with it.

It was six months that I’ll never, ever forget. Routine began to mean absolutely everything to me. I would rise at seven after enduring two hours of harsh, mocking memories. I would go to the hotplate and push something slimy around a plate. I would clean my yard and then run until I felt my heart would burst. Halfway through association, after talking the same old crap to the same old blokes, I would meet with Pete and be constantly astounded by his astonishing progress. On Mondays I would go through the shower routine with my cellmates dreaming of the more private and efficient facilities to be had in the gym. On Thursdays I would inhale the acidic smell of male sweat, pouncing on the free weights as greedily as everyone else before my weekly catch up with Tre. I slopped out every day without turning a hair. If a turd presented itself on my journey to the cubicles, I kicked it away without a second thought. I became institutionalised without even noticing it. Though I still crossed off days on a calendar, it was simply a ritual that had become a habit.

When probation informed me that my move was imminent, I started to wonder about my friends. Dave Hennessey had settled into life at Hale like a seasoned pro. Taff had suffered two more blackened eyes but was gradually learning that the more he kept his mouth shut, the better off he’d be. Jin was making many friends and I was pleased for him. Confidence can make such a difference in life and the fact that Jin was now able to hold his head up high meant the world to me.

I’d never believed that any man was inherently evil until I met Roger Abbott. He was undoubtedly crazy. When he appeared on our wing his gold teeth glinting, I felt the atmosphere change dramatically and Abbott was baying for blood. I’d seem numerous assaults, beatings and bloodletting by now and had, to my shame, become rather immune to it all. Abbott’s presence however, changed everything and I just knew that someone was going to die.

Abbotts intended victim shrank back against the wall. There wasn’t a screw in sight. In desperation I looked around to see Tre searching for me. He nodded slightly and I launched myself on Abbot from behind. It was like throwing myself against a rock face. Tre defended Abbott from the front before three screws suddenly burst in onto the proceedings. They tentatively grabbed onto various bits of Abbott who realising that his hapless victim was now beyond reach, gave up without argument. I let out a huge sigh of relief … just as Jin bounced onto the landing. The trouble seemed to be contained but nobody had estimated Abbotts need to hurt, to purely destroy. As the guards around Abbott turned him ready to march him back to his rightful quarters, his arm struck out like an arrow.

Poor, smiling Jin had had no idea what he was walking in on. The hidden shiv which Abbott had been concealing slashed through Jin’s throat like a cleaver through chicken. Jin gave a look of sheer surprise before dropping to his knees. Suddenly, guards swarmed from everywhere. Everyone knew that the screws were trained in restraint techniques. Everyone also knew that the screws rarely employed their training in a crisis situation. I saw them viciously beat Abbott about the head with their night sticks. Some simply abandoned their sticks to retaliate with their fists and I sincerely hoped that they killed the bastard. I saw a golden tooth fly through the air which nobody dared to pick up, before I sank to my knees to tend to my cellmate.

It was hopeless of course. Abbott’s knife had nicked the carotid and Jin hadn’t stood a chance. I zoned out from the noise and horror around me and simply held my dying friend.

Taff appeared and helped me up, bland shock written all over his face.

“Rest in peace, Fu,” he murmured.

“His name was Jin.” I said under my breath.

“Yes, Boyo, his name was Jin.” Taff gently replied.

I pulled from his steadying hold and stormed from the landing towards the gym. Nobody seemed to care where I was going and nobody tried to stop me. I flung myself through the gym doors heading straight for the punch bag. I smacked that bag with all my might until my knuckles were split and bruised and bleeding. I only finally stopped hitting when Tre came up behind me enveloping me in one of his massive hugs. I collapsed in huge, sobbing gasps and he just stood there with me, gentling me though it until I was again calm enough to return to the landing.

I shut down in the weeks after Jin’s death. I still carried out my obsessive little routines, but I had little interest in anything that was going on around me and rarely talked to anybody. Even the news that Roger Abbott would never fully recover from his head injuries didn’t interest me. He was beyond hurting anyone ever again, but it was all too late, the damage was done.

I still listened to Pete’s recitals having no doubt that he could work towards A level English literature should he wish to, but I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm that I had promised to give him. Another man, a young Scot called Willie took Jin’s place in our cell but I hardly remember bothering to speak to him that much. I knew that people were worried about me but I shut my mind to their concerns.

I know that Tre was more than instrumental in urging the staff to hurry along my transfer. Everyone knew that I needed out of Hale as soon as possible if my sanity was to have any hope of being saved. Finally, I was called into Bolton’s office and told to pack, my transport to Shorecutt was due within the hour. I miserably signed for the return of my possessions before facing a short farewell to those I considered my friends. Tre was the only man left to wave me off as Taff, Dave, Pete, Tick and Tock, Stuart, Ted and Steve all sadly turned to go. I looked into Tre’s eyes, silently thanking him for his friendship. We embraced briefly, wished each other luck and then we were done. Thornton escorted me to the waiting van and HMP Hale closed its hateful doors on me forever.

HMP Shorecutt

I slept during most of the journey to my new abode. I honestly had no idea how exhausted I’d become. Eating like a bird, exercising like a body builder and completely ignoring my mental and emotional needs had taken its toll. So much so, that when the van rumbled to a halt, I longed to be safe within Shorecutt’s solid walls where I could rebuild my routines and rituals.

Looking back, I should probably have been in a hospital. I had no fear whatsoever of going into Shorecutt, I saw it simply as a ‘posher’ version of Hale. I knew the regime now. I knew what was expected of me, I knew what I was entitled to and I knew what I was likely to end up with. I had been through hell and survived it. It was up to the prison service to bring it on, I was ready for them now, there was nothing they could throw at me that hadn’t felt a thousand times worse the first time around.

Arriving in the early evening, unlike Hale, I was dutifully processed properly. I signed away my street clothes and received my stores with a faint sense of boredom. It was almost like living in a dream so completely out of it that I was. I noticed that reception in Shorecutt employed the services of guard dogs. They weren’t happy dogs, they were slavering and snarling and perfectly ready to snap my balls off on command. Quite unconcerned, I looked at the animals simply admiring their sleek beauty.

I was taken to my cell by a bored screw. It was a two man cell which contained of all magical things, a stainless steel flush toilet. It also contained a terrified looking old man who on my arrival, looked as though he might possibly shit himself. Unconcerned by any of it, I fell onto my unmade bunk, bade him goodnight and slept for twelve hours.

When I finally woke sometime before dawn, the old man was still sat in the same position rocking slightly. I could see in the half-light that he was studying me intently and was whispering some sort of incantation under his breath. I can smell a man’s fear as easily as I can smell a pickled onion and this old boy was oozing it. The sleep had been welcome and I although I was loathe to leave its clutches, I was awake and reluctantly ready to face my latest situation.

“Have you been awake all night?” I grumpily asked the old timer.

“Who … who … me?”

“Yes of course you, no one else in here is there?”

“I … yes. I didn’t sleep much.”

“Why?”

“Because, because they said another hard nut was going to be put in my cell with me.”

“Do you often get ‘hard nuts’ put in your cell?”

“Oh yes, all … all the time.”

“And they told you that I was one, did they?”

“They just told me a right hard man was coming in from Hale and that I had to be very careful around him …”

Suddenly, I heard the tinkling noise of dripping liquid and the cell was swamped with the smell of ammonia. The poor old man had pissed himself where he sat, such was his fear of me.

Pure shame kicked in, doing my head the power of good. I’d learned much whilst behind bars, experts had coached me and I would take their teachings to the grave. It wasn’t the old guy’s fault that Jin was dead and that Bodie had left me. Cursing my brusqueness, I went over and clasped the man’s hands with my own, silently willing him to be at peace. At first I think he feared being brutally murdered but as I loosened my grip and gentled him, his shudders gradually subsided. I still saw twelve hours’ worth of tear tracks on his face before I started to talk to him.

“I’m Ray. I don’t know who told you that I’m a ‘hard nut’ but I promise you that I’m not here to hurt you.”

“Please … please, I’m just an old man, Ray, please don’t hurt me …”

The man’s pleading voice reminded of Brownie’s cries years before whilst suspended on a swinging pallet. I gently started to talk to the old man.

“What’s your name?”

“Me? My name’s Alfie.”

“And how long have you been in here, Alfie?”

“Fifteen years next September.”

“My God, what the hell was your sentence?”

“I got a mandatory twenty five year sentence, Ray for killing a man.”

“He must have been a very important man?”

“He was a police man.”

“Ah, I see. Did you kill him?”

“Well that has always played on my mind, but they told me I did, so I must have done mustn’t I?”

“Yeah, I guess you must have.” I replied, noting Alfie’s answer for future reference.

“Come on then, Alfie, let’s get you cleaned up, mate, you can’t sit there in wet pants, can you?”

“I’m sorry, Ray, I’m a filthy old man! I didn’t mean to stink the cell out. I try to keep myself clean as a rule.”

“Course you do, Alfie and it’s not the end of the world is it? Come on, let’s get you towelled down and get some fresh gear on you, shall we? How often are we allowed to have showers in this place?”

“Well, we can have one every day, but we MUST have one at least three times a week. Some blokes say that rule is too harsh, though.”

“What that they have to wash at least three times a week?”

“Yeah they say it’s a fascist regime.”

“They should be sent to Hale, they’d probably quite like it there …”

Alfie seemed almost too ashamed to tend to himself so I gently flannelled him off and towelled him dry before finding him clean pants and trousers amongst his supplies. I rinsed his sodden pants and used them to swab the piss from the floor. I opened the fanlight to air the place noting that it was almost daylight, giving me the chance to appreciate my cell for the first time.

“Are all the cells in here two-man, Alfie?”

“Most of them, yes. They’re not all quite as good as this one, but this is enhanced.”

“Oh really?”

I was at a loss to see why I had been put in an enhanced cell. As far as I knew, your status didn’t follow you from jail to jail, you had to start from the bottom rung wherever you ended up. The cell itself was reasonable. There was plenty of space between the bunks, there was the opening fanlight and a radiator. There were two separate desks with movable chairs and storage lockers hung from the walls. The cake-icing of course were the large sink and the toilet and apart from the drying evidence of Alfie’s accident, the whole place seemed to be reasonably clean. I instantly decided not to get too used to my surroundings. Once the screws realised their mistake in misplacing me, I would probably be moved, quick sharp.

“You’re a kind, man, Ray, aren’t you? Lots of the blokes that have been put in with me wouldn’t have done what you’ve just done for me. Do I owe you now?”

“No of course you don’t, Alfie, whoever told you that I was a hard nut was just being an arsehole.”

Alfie didn’t look convinced.

“Look if you really feel that anything’s owed, then pay me back by showing me where the hotplate is and the showers are. In fact show me the whole shebang ‘cos I once they realise that they put me in the wrong cell, I’ll probably get shipped out of it so quick that you’ll forget I was ever here, so I’m bowing to your greater knowledge.”

Alfie was thrilled with the deal and when we were let out, he showed off my new home like a museum custodian.

Moving about the prison with Alfie was like being in the company of The Queen. Everyone seemed to know him and everyone, young and old had a word of greeting for him. Most of the time he replied with a one word answer or a nod in his subservient way and I marvelled at how humble he genuinely was.

Breakfast proved to provide the same menu as Hale, the difference being I could differentiate between the porridge and the eggs. I ate well, realising that I’d been shamefully neglecting my body’s needs due to my own unwarranted self-pity. If an old man like Alfie had survived the last fifteen years, what right had I to whinge and whine, a supposedly healthy, reasonably young and fit man like myself?

The night hours shook my new resolve somewhat. Surprised to still find myself in Alfie’s cell, I was tired after taking in all the new faces, sights and rules. I fell asleep to a theatre of nightmares. The main scene of course was the recent killing of Jin. For an incident that had happened in mere seconds, in my dreams, the slaying seemed to take hours and thereafter in my head, always would. There were other acts in play, people were leering at me from the wings with evil intent. Geraldine Mather was leading them all, pointing and mocking. George Cowley was clutching at his failing heart. Paul Coogan was repeatedly kidney punching me, taunting me to hit him back but sidestepping just out of my reach every time. Steve Murphy was looking me up and down before shaking his head sadly and turning his back. The whole macabre production was narrated by Bodie, loudly and proudly telling me how much he hated me. How I’d been such a let-down to him and how I fully deserved to be where I was now. I reached out for them all, begging them to giving me a second chance, but they smilingly, knowingly shook their heads and slowly turned away.

At four in the morning, I was gently roused by Alfie.

“Sorry to waken you, Ray, but I thought you could do with a break. Some nightmare, eh, Son, you get ‘em often?”

“No not too often, sorry for disturbing you, Alf,” I replied bleary and disorientated.

“Ah, don’t worry, Ray we all get ‘em. You fancy a nice cup of tea?”

All of a sudden, there was nothing I wanted more in the world. An inmate could store as much hot water as he wanted in his cell, provided he had something to keep it in and I thanked God for Alfie’s thermos, vowing to ask Murphy to get me one as soon as possible. Tea bags, coffee and milk powder sachets were freely available to take from the hotplate each morning, though the coffee tasted dire and the milk powder was little more than floating chalk dust. The serious coffee drinkers bought Maxwell House from their weekly canteen allowance and cell mates usually brought bottles of fresh milk for use between them, due to its tendency for spoiling quickly in the cells. Boiling water could be got from a geyser in the dining hall. Though I appreciated it’s availability, I marvelled that such a potentially dangerous weapon was so easily accessible to the men. It was still heavenly to be able to enjoy a cuppa whenever I felt like it however and I promised to redeem Alfie my half of the milk money as soon as I was able as we quietly talked during the small hours before sunrise.

Dawn had always been my preferred time of day inside, the prison population slumbering away and peace hailing all around. The pigeons outside were always the first to wake. They clung to the ledges outside with grim determination whatever the weather, knowing the hotplate routine almost as well as the men. When the hail of missiles that was stale bread, old biscuits and hard teacakes came flying out of the windows, they would soon become even fatter. As a skip rat, I had become used to their ilk at Hale. Vermin though they were, I preferred them to the raucous, battling seagulls and the pigeons gentle cooing as they greeted their mates, was not a bad alarm to be woken by.

The daily routine at Shorecutt was not terribly different from that at Hale, though we did get more allowed social time before morning lock up. I made short work of breakfast, intending to get a shower as soon as possible. Alfie wasn’t keen having had one the night before and I wondered quite how I was going to manage my shower time ‘security’ without the help of my former comrades. I took as little to the ablutions block as possible and was pleased when I got there to see my worries had been unfounded. The place was largely empty, I supposed because the facilities were so much more available to the men. I enjoyed a rather leisurely shower even if I did have to push my own button, but I was dried and dressed in less than fifteen minutes.

On my way back to the cell, I was stopped by a screw who beckoned me to the wing guvnor’s office. Either I had done something disastrously wrong, or they had discovered their mistake in putting me into an enhanced cell. Either way, I was about to have a good day ruined, therefore when the wing guvnor greeted me cordially, I nearly dropped down dead. Suspecting sarcasm, I heard him out, saying as little as I could get away with.

"Ah, AH7287, Doyle isn’t it?”

“Er, yes, Sir.”

“Good, good. I heard that you missed out on the guided tour yesterday. I’ll put a call through to Jackson and he’ll take you around. Now everyone here works or is in education. Have you a preference for either?”

“Er, work, Sir.”

“Work, I see. Well you’re on enhanced status and will remain so until such a time as your behaviour dictates otherwise if you understand me?”

“Yes, Sir.”

There was no way I was going to argue with the pompous bastard, if he considered me enhanced, then enhanced I would jolly well be.

“I’ll put your application through to work allocations and get them to sort something out for you. Right so you’re in with Stenning at the moment, I see. When a place comes up on B wing, you’ll be sent there so don’t worry, not too much longer with the old codger.”

I didn’t say much at all after that, getting the impression that this bloke just liked to hear the sound of his own voice. He certainly didn’t seem to invite any question or comment so I never gave him any. He also wasn’t thanked by me as I left. He'd insulted my friend so he didn’t deserve to be.

“Is he always that …?”

“Much of a dickhead? Jackson supplied, and I laughed in reply.

“Sorry, you’re not his personal gopher or anything, are you er, Jackson?”

“Mike, please, and no, I’m most definitely not.”

“Well, pleased to meet you, Mike. I’m Ray Doyle. What the hell was he going on about, a ‘guided tour’?”

“Oh he was quite serious. Everyone gets the guided tour, and I get a couple of extra quid a month to give it. I wouldn’t get too excited though, if you’re in with Alfie, you’ve probably seen all the good bits anyway.”

“Oh, there are ‘good bits’ are there, how exciting!”

“Your sarcasm will carry you far, Ray,” Mike grinned. “Truth is this shithole they call A wing is state of the art in prison terms. It was only rebuilt four years ago after a large part of it burnt down and it’s the wing guv’s pride and joy. By his reckoning if everyone gets shown around the place, then they know where they should be and where they most definitely shouldn’t. It’s a bit different when I take a group around, there are usually a couple of jolly screws alongside to cheer us all up. I’m doing their job really, but it saves them having to talk to any of the inmates.”

“How come there aren’t any screws with us now?”

“Well you’ll notice it has just turned lunchtime, so we’re entitled to be out of the cells anyway. That’s why the bastard got us to do this now so that we’d either be late for our lunch or miss it altogether.”

“You’re joking!”

“Oh no, that’s one of his favourites. Lovely little man, isn’t he?”

“Oh, absolutely charming.”

“Look, Ray, all you really need to see are the library and the chapel just so that the Guvnor can assure people that their taxes are being spent wisely. You’ve been to the hotplate and obviously used the shower block already. If you’re wanted for work, exercise or visits, you’ll be called for and accompanied anyway. Library day for your block is on Tuesday’s, an hour before association. If you want to go at any other time, put in an app. They’ll often grant that one. The prison Guvnor is tight is with the civvie workers that run it and he gets a bit narked if it’s seen to be underused. Put another app in for the gym, you’ll either get in or you won’t. Apart from that, there’s nothing the tour could tell you that Alfie can’t and it’s certainly not worth missing a hot meal for. If you need more help, come and see me any evening association, I’m in A31. Now I’m just gonna run back and get my flask, Ray but I suggest you start queuing up, if you’re hungry. ”

I thanked Mike profusely and made my way to the hotplate. I will never ever say that I missed Hale, but meeting a new bunch of blokes without my Alfie shaped protective shadow, did give me the slightest feeling of unease. After being served plentifully, I turned to face the room. I had never actually done this before, I’d always faced most new situations with the companionship of my cellmates. Now I was on my own and was feeling the distinctive itch that my presence was affecting the atmosphere. I looked around for an empty table but of course spotted none. The taking of another man’s established space at the dinner table had caused near riots in Hale and I was well aware that my next few moves would cause intense scrutiny. I was beckoned over to a spare seat at the nearest table. I could not afford the offence that refusal might cause though the term ‘smiling assassins’ went through my head as I sat down.

Instantly the men at the table started to introduce themselves and bemused, I greeted them back until I heard the fateful words:

“You’re Ray Doyle aren’t you?”

My heart started to race and it was only training which managed to hold my dumbfounded emotions in check. Panic clamoured to break out of me. I had been ‘outed’ on my second day here and had walked straight into a pack of lions. Trying to swallow my fear, I still managed to solemnly produce an answer,

“Who wants to know?”

To my surprise, the table erupted in laughter and outstretched hands and vocal introductions swamped me from every side.

“See, I told you he’d be cool!” came a youthful voice from somewhere, before a more authoritative voice told the boy to be more respectful in such renowned company. I highly doubted that my Police and CI5 career would have been held in such high esteem by a bunch of prison inmates and wondered how long it would be before they showed me their true colours. I looked around the room moodily, to be surprised by other encouraging glances being thrown my way. I tried to avoid all eye contact imagining these same faces laughing whilst they were beating me senseless.

“I heard you applied to come here, Mr Doyle?” piped up the enthusiastic youngster.

“Christian, mind your bleedin’ manners!” said his companion fondly.

“Sorry, Mr Doyle, he’s got a right gob on him this one, he just never knows when to shut up!”

I’d had enough of all this. I’d faced down blokes twice my size in the past without even thinking about it, but there was no way even I could take on a whole dining room full of them. If sarcasm was going to be my final gift to the world, then I was quite prepared to use it.

“Is there any particular reason I shouldn’t want to live in this salubrious establishment with its oh-so-charming residents?” I asked acidly.

Christian shrieked like a banshee and I wondered if he was some sort of halfwit.

“Well we don’t often get men with your rep’ actually choosing to come here.” replied the older man almost kindly.

It was time to cut the crap.

“And what rep is it you think I’ve got exactly? Come on tough guy, you tell me all I need to know about meself, ‘cos I’m all fucking ears!” I spat viciously.

The table was stunned into shocked silence and I almost felt that I’d been a little bit too sarcastic.

The older man quietly replied.

“Sorry, Mr Doyle. We’ll leave you alone if that’s what you’d prefer. Sorry we were a bit, er, forward like, it’s just not every day a bloke that’s prepared to take on Roger Abbott joins our ranks.”

Suddenly a very shiny penny dropped. My recognition had nothing to do with the upstanding Ray Doyle of previous Met and Government employ, but everything to do with the crazy bastard who had been mad enough to take on Roger Abbott. I was both intensely relieved and completely horrified in the same measure.

“Do you believe everything you hear?” I asked in all honesty.

The same man, (Bob I was later to learn), replied.

“Is it not true you took on Abbott then, Mr Doyle?”

“Oh I took him on alright, but I did it from behind. I was no hero, believe me. I probably stopped him from killing his mark, but after the screws got hold of him, he struck out and knifed my friend. My friend died.”

All of a sudden my recent emotions were insurmountable. Forgetting my surroundings I retreated to my secret place and let my senses shut down. Everything went black for a little while. As I slowly came back to reality I found myself surrounded by concerned faces looming in on me.

“It’s okay, Ray. Everyone in here knows what Abbott’s like. It’s a brave thing you did and we’re really sorry about your friend, but you did what you could.” Said Bob gently.

“How do you lot even know about it?” I asked him, confused.

“The screws in these places do talk to each other, Ray and their gossip usually filters down to us. The transport crew would have filled our lot in before you even got comfy in your cell. Now how about you getting some of those eggs down you?”

“Thanks, Bob. Look I’m sorry about before, to all you blokes. I’m didn’t mean to be so rude it’s just it’s all a bit raw you know, but none of that was your fault, so please accept my apologies.”

“Forget it, Ray. Alfie already told us you were alright and that’s enough for us.”

I was later to learn that A and B wings shared their lunch breaks from twelve until one with the ‘C’s and ‘D’s taking over the dining facilities from one until two. Nobody knew when or where the nonces on the ever present E wing took their meals and nobody cared. Therefore it was reasonable to assume that within time, my tablemates may well become my new neighbours or even cellmates in the future. Now that the shock of my revealed identity had been dealt with it was up to me to make a concerted effort to get along with these people. Strangely, I found it easier to make friends in prison than I ever had anywhere else. This was partially due to practical necessity and partly due to sheer loneliness. I’d never particularly craved a large social circle and the only visitor I’d had whilst jailed was Murphy, but prison changes your outlook and shows you how truly alone you really are.

In the next few days, the introductions to my new acquaintances deepened and though I was also welcomed at other tables, I usually sat with Bob and his crew. Perhaps the strangest character amongst them was Christian. He hardly looked old enough to be out of juvenile detention though he was actually reputed to be twenty four. Camp as Christmas, he stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the hard men of Shorecutt and I wondered how he’d never managed to get his face bashed in. He was almost jealously guarded however by Terry his cellmate who he appeared to adore, and I guessed they shared much more than simply a cell.

All the men were quick to give me every warning they could think of regarding the screws and with good reason. The screws in Shorecutt were different to those that had worked in Hale. Though they were more than ready to apply force during a kick off, they didn’t seem to want to dish out the unprovoked and undeserved violence that their counterparts in Hale had. These bastards had a different weapon in their arsenal, the use of psychological warfare. As an inmate, you were basically at the mercy of the screws every whim. These had to be the most uninspired, workshy group of layabouts I had ever come across and if they took a disliking to you, they had many ways of making your life difficult.

In Shorecutt, every prisoner was expected to either be in work or education. Most chose work as and when it was available, but others had a yearning for some of the learning courses available. These were a sensible option for the men who wanted to better themselves in order to work towards a better categorisation when simple ‘good behaviour’ was not enough to prove their worth. In theory, the courses at Shorecutt were a good idea and took lots of Government funds to be set up and run. In practice, they were a disaster. Virtually all courses were run by civilian teachers who were paid regardless of whether their charges learned anything or not. Some of the classes such as basic literacy and numeracy were oversubscribed and when inmates turned up to attend them, they were redirected to less well attended groups. Often was the case that a man that couldn’t read or write was sent to a class for poetry appreciation or advanced mathematics. It was pointless, demeaning and to my mind, wholly purposeful on behalf of the screws whose basic intentions seemed to be to undermine and demoralise the men as much as they possibly could. Often, teachers would get fed up with the jeering from the inmates and the bureaucracy from the staff and would walk out on their posts in search of something more refined. This would leave their pupils as unqualified as they had been when they’d started. All that would be achieved would be lost time, money and in many instances, dreams. I often thought of my old friend Pete who had put in such effort to learn his letters. A man like Pete would be pushed over the edge by the flagrant pettiness employed in Shorecutt as many of my current associates were being.

If you wanted anything in Shorecutt, you had to put in an ‘app’. An application with all its official sounding importance, was simply a request written down on a torn out page from an old exercise book, which would be looked at and then completely ignored by the screws. An app should have been able to get you anything from a new toilet roll to a place on a degree course. In reality it rarely got you either. The sentence ‘put in an app’ still rattles around in my head to this day. There were fortunately no courses I particularly fancied doing except perhaps, the remedial art class, but work came first for me and until I had that sorted out I couldn’t think about painting pictures.

In prison, you have a limited amount of access to your outside funds with which to purchase your ‘canteen’. With the slightly improved diet within Shorecutt’s walls, my canteen requirements changed a bit. I constantly ordered tobacco as a given. Far from being a regular smoker, I occasionally enjoyed the calming effects that smoking roll ups afforded me and there was never any harm in keeping a good supply of the highest prized commodity about my person. I also bought Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, Cusson’s Imperial Leather soap and letter writing supplies. I was well aware however that whilst I had my bank account to use funds from, there were no new monies being paid into it. Whilst I had few bills to be paid on the outside, using it to purchase overpriced goods from the prison canteen would only lead me towards financial ruin. I needed to work to pay my own way within this place, I needed a job. I was surprised when the wing guvnor presented me with my options. I was offered the post of ‘floor polisher’ or ‘pot washer’. A floor polishers post included taking a course which could lead to a vocational qualification. Many men left jail with good intentions of setting up their own businesses cleaning floors. It wasn’t really for me. I imagined myself waving about a floor polisher whilst mooning about Bodie and knew that it would only drive me crazy. Pot washer wouldn’t be my first choice to be honest, I would certainly have to add Vaseline to my canteen requests for my frazzled hands. The post of ‘Pot washer’ however was an introduction to the kitchens and the kitchen was a highly sought after place of work. The hours would also coincide well with the art course which was held every Friday afternoon. I put in an app to join the class as soon as possible, wondering if anything would ever come of it. Wandering back to my cell, I spotted the rarest of sights, an unused phone. I grabbed up the receiver and dialled the number I’d learned by heart, the direct line through to Murphy.

“Hey, mate, I’ve made it into Shorecutt and so far, everything’s quiet on the Western Front.”

“Good move, Ray, anything you need?”

“Yes please, a thermos flask and some information if you can get hold of it. Any Intel on an Alfred Stenning, given a twenty five stretch some fifteen years ago. He was the getaway driver in an armed robbery on a security van that was delivering wages to a ‘Hudson’s Brick Works’ in Bermondsey. He was the only one of the gang ever caught and that’s only because his getaway car broke down. There was a shootout before the others all scarpered and a copper was blasted and killed. Stenning was the only one left by all accounts, just sat there dazed and confused with no haul and an discharged sawn-off next to him. He wasn’t even tried for the attempted robbery, just for the dead cop.”

“And you think he’s innocent of the killing?”

“I dunno, Murph, it’s just a feeling I’ve got.”

Murphy laughed.

“Oh I know all about you and your ‘feelings’, Ray. I’ll see what I can find out for you.”

We chatted for a few more minutes, but I soon had to concede defeat as the phone queue had suddenly grown out of nowhere.

“Anything else, Ray?”

“Er, yes, mate, um, how’s Bodie?”

“Er, still quiet, Ray. He doesn’t say much to anyone. I don’t see that much of him to be perfectly honest with you.”

“Oh… ok, Murph, well when you do see him can you give him my … just give him my best, please?”

“‘Course, I will, Ray.”

We terminated the call and I thoughtfully returned to my cell. I’d spent nearly eight months in jail. Some days I hardly thought about Bodie at all whilst others I missed him so much the pain was almost unbearable. I wondered if he ever thought about me anymore. On reflection I sadly decided that he probably didn’t.

I was knocked up early on Monday morning for a screw to accompany me to the kitchens. All kitchen staff ate before the other inmates and as a consequence, the food was of a slightly better quality. Though the breakfasts were markedly better than those at Hale, the rest of the offerings left a lot to be desired. The servings were plentiful enough but the chief cook, Lionel had little idea when it came to cooking times or menu plans. Many of the dishes were completely inedible by the time his team had baked, boiled or roasted them to death for hours on end. Complainants tended to end up wearing the food rather than eating it for Lionel had a fearsome temper and tolerated no criticism whatsoever. The atmosphere in the kitchen was strained to say the least. Nobody ever came up to Lionel’s exacting standards even though he didn’t really know what he was doing most of the time. As pot washer, I somehow managed to keep beneath Lionel’s radar, but it was still a nasty little job. As feared, my hands soon resembled boiled hams and an app for rubber gloves was duly ignored. I did however seem to have plenty of leisure time available to me. I worked six hours a day which was less than the seven done by those labouring in the workshops, but as I worked a seven day week, I actually did more hours than other inmates. As an incentive to keep a pot washer in the job, we were allowed out of our cells plentifully during our down time. My treat for this incentive was to be able to mingle with women.

I’ve always liked the company of women. Though they’ve never been my preferred bed mates, I slept with plenty of them during my entire police career and through many of my formative years within CI5. It was only when Bodie snared me that I revelled once again in the love that I really craved. I still appreciated the presence of the female gender however and found it surprising that I had missed women little once banged up with nearly five hundred men. To see three ‘females’ in one week was almost a culture shock. The first was Stella.

Stella was a fifty-something civilian who ran the library. She had two cons working beneath her and the constant presence of a screw. To be perfectly honest, I actually felt rather sorry for the screw. Stella was one of the most self-important, officious and dislikeable women I had ever met or ever wished to. She detested the prisoners, tolerated the screws and didn’t even really seem to care much for the books. This was a pity as I liked the library. Most of the fiction available concentrated on crime and punishment with crime often coming out on top. On a more practical level, there were leaflets and booklets informing the inmate of his rights. There were also well-thumbed legal tomes which could be studied by those contesting their sentences, posters and flyers advertising upcoming social and sporting events and the most popular publications of all, a varied selection of comics.

I was lucky enough to enjoy plenty of time out of my cell and to Stella’s displeasure, spent much of it in the library. I really didn’t care what I read, it was just nice to be able to enjoy a change of scenery. I did however take a few notes which might be helpful for Alfie.

My next brush with the female form could not have been more different from my abrasive introduction to Stella. I was amazed that not only was I granted a place on the remedial art course but that when I turned up I was willingly beckoned in. My new art teacher, Rula, was the chalk to Stella’s cheese. She greeted her students like long lost loves and I soon got the impression that there was much more than art tuition on offer. Dressed in floaty, hippyish layers, adorned with beads of every colour and quite obviously shunning a brassiere, Rula was more than happy to give her individual time to any inmate that required it. Plenty it seemed, required it. I had to laugh to myself. The artistic efforts of other inmates that attended were minimal. It was quite obvious that it was only Rula’s dubious charms that attracted them. I think I rocked their world a little. On sight of me, Rula made a beeline, instantly singling me out for special attention. Leaning over my shoulder, her patchouli scented bust pressing suggestively into my back, she stared at my blank canvas.

“And what are you planning here, then Ray?” she asked me in a sultry voice.

“Er, nothing yet, I was rather hoping you might have some ideas, you being the teacher and all.”

“Oh but, Ray! You have to have your own ideas, art is a very personal thing you see! All you see now is a blank canvas, but if you paint what is in your heart then you could produce a masterpiece!”

“In that case, Miss, could I have a sketch pad instead, please?”

“Oh but, Ray of course you can!” she cried rushing about gathering pencils and paper whilst totally ignoring her other pupils.

“Draw what is in your heart, Ray. Art comes from ‘heart’ you see?”

All the time she was telling me this, she was rubbing herself suggestively against me and I desperately tried not to collapse in laughter.

“I’ll try my best, Miss, but I can only draw alone if that’s all the same to you. It’s a private thing, you know?”

“Oh, Ray of course it is! Well you have two hours, I’ll leave you in peace and we’ll see what you can come up with, my lovely, I’m sure it will be just wonderful!”

Rula floated off to tend to her other students which relieved me somewhat as I was starting to get some rather nasty looks.

I started to sketch non-committedly to warm up my hands. Rula had told me to work from the heart. It was ages since I’d last drawn, but I let my fingers guide me and before I knew it, Bodie’s image was emerging beneath me. It was far from the first time that I'd captured him. He’d posed for me once or twice and though he’d hated every minute, I could tell that he’d been moved by the results. I wondered what had happened to the nude studies I’d made of him, who had found them and ultimately laughed themselves hoarse.

After a hundred minutes, I collapsed in near exhaustion, staring at my drawing through streaming tears. I’ve always been my own harshest critic, but this was good, it was very good in fact. It was just like looking at a photograph. I’d shunned drawing for many years after learning that a good sketch was just a pre-cursor to a half decent painting. Given the time and with the merest of tools, I saw that drawing was everything and that I’d probably produced the work of a lifetime. Bodie sat before me, the slightest glint of amusement in his eyes. I was mad as hell at him for a minute wondering how he could ever forget the sheer fun that we’d always had. In frustration, I snapped a 4B pencil causing randy Rula to rush to my side.

Her inevitable body contact froze when her eyes dropped to my work.

“Oh, Ray. Is this what’s in your heart?”

“Yes, Miss. I don’t have to show anyone else though, do I?”

“Oh no of course you don’t if you don’t want to but this is … is simply amazing work!”

I slumped with relief that this wasn’t to be some sort of ‘show and tell’, but Rula wasn’t quite finished with me.

“Is he in your heart, Ray?”

Suddenly it seemed like we were the only two people in the room.

“Always, Miss.”

“I see. Are you in his heart, Ray?”

“Not anymore, Miss, too much water under the bridge and all that …”

“Well this is just outstanding. Have you ever heard of the Koestler Awards?”

“No, Miss, should I have done?”

“With your talent, most certainly! If you could produce further work of this quality which you’d be willing to display and possibly sell to the art buying public, you could well be up for a decent cash prize!”

From that moment, Rula refrained from seeing me as a sex object and only as a loyal subject of the remedial art class. The Koestler Project interested me if only as something to do and through its hoops, me and Rula joyfully jumped as firm and lifelong friends.

The third ‘lady’ I was to come across was sighted whilst performing my newest job. In the kitchens we were given plenty of time to do things. Most inmates were happy enough to make their tasks last as long as they possibly could but the sooner I could get my hands out of the filthy dishwater, the better. Lionel reckoned that I was the speediest pot washer he had ever seen though my efficiency brought me few rewards. To make up my time, I was required to help collect the food and tea trays from the various screws offices throughout the prison. Though a blatant liberty as this wasn’t part of my job description whatsoever, the task wasn’t without its perks. I now had the freedom to wander about in other areas of Shorecutt previously unseen to me. At first I couldn’t linger, the screws soon becoming suspicious if I did. After a while however, I decided I rather liked the job and found myself volunteering for it. Officers and prisoners alike soon became used to seeing my face around the place and I seemed to be readily accepted by both. It was an ideal position to be in for the drug runners, but Lionel had lost so many workers to the perils of being caught that he seemed rather pleased to have a runner who simply wanted to collect trays.

I was in my element. I was even quicker at tray collecting than I was at pot washing and the time I could make by being swift at my job, enabled me to talk to all sorts of interesting people. I rarely gave the screws anything to be concerned about and many of them started to address me as ‘Doyle’ rather than AH7287. I was out of my cell more than virtually any other inmate and able to observe prison life as few others could.

Nothing could prepare me for my first look at the French maid on C wing however. I was running late back to the kitchens, a cardinal sin in Lionel’s book. If the place wasn’t cleaned and shut down by eight at night, heads rolled but he couldn’t close down until all his staff were accounted for, patted down by a screw and dutifully escorted out. The screws on B had decided to be chatty. I often wondered if this happened because they were indeed, half human, or because they simply revelled in making me late, but I couldn’t argue with them thus putting my job in jeopardy.

As a result I tore down the landing of C, desperately trying to juggle the crockery on the tray I was carrying, all the time fearing Lionel’s wrath. The sudden sight which appeared in front of me made me gasp.

The slight, beautiful figure was dressed to perfection and I simply stared in amazement gazing at her from top to bottom. On the top of her head above her artfully painted face, was a tiny lace bow and beneath her graceful neck was a perfect bust wrapped in shining black satin. A tiny lace apron was tied over the skimpiest of skirts leading to endless legs encased in shimmering fishnet stockings. The ensemble was completed by the highest stilettos I had ever seen.

On sight of me, she winked suggestively and shook her tiny feather duster. The cell door was opened and she was pulled roughly out of my sight before it was slammed again. I stood there frozen to the spot. It had all been as corny as hell but I still felt an odd stirring in my loins.

Amazed I was still managing to hold the tray, I slowly made my way back to the kitchens, all thoughts of Lionel forgotten. As expected, on my late arrival he was furious, but something in my face must have told him that something had happened.

“What the hell’s up, Doyle, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“No … no, it wasn’t a ghost, it was a woman! A woman entering a cell and she was dressed like a … like a … Oh Christ, I think I’ve started seeing things, p’raps I’m going bananas …”

Lionel and his sous chef, Chris started to laugh knowingly.

“What did you see, Ray, the naughty nurse, the prim secretary or maybe the French maid?”

“Yes! Yes that was it, it was a bloody French maid, going into a cell. I knew I couldn’t be just seeing things!”

“Ray, you fucking idiot, you just saw that slimy little bastard Christian touting his arse is all, now get that tray sorted and get yourself patted down, some of us have cells to go to!”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but Lionel’s dismissal seemed final and I knew I was to learn no more from him. My lateness ensured that I had missed association and when I returned to my cell I’m sure that my quietness rattled Alfie.

In the morning, I chose to forego my early breakfast in favour of eating later with the other inmates. It would mean that I wouldn’t get to start soaking my pots so would end up scrubbing for most of the morning, but that was a small price to pay if it meant I could speak quietly to Bob. Christian was a little late in joining us at the table and looked somewhat haggard, but on seeing me lit up a smile and winked in exactly the same way I’d seen the night before. I forced my breakfast down me and caught Bob in his cell before he left for his work detail.

“Hi, Ray, what’s up?”

“What’s the deal with Christian?”

“Why, Ray what have you heard?”

“It’s not what I heard, it’s what I fucking saw!”

“Oh shit, look, I can’t talk about this now, Ray, I’ll be late for work …”

“Then be fucking late, just tell me what’s going on with that kid!”

“Look, Ray, we all know that you’re tipped as the new top dog and all, but there are still a few things that you might have to turn a blind eye to and Christian’s just one of them.”

I was absolutely astonished. News of my new status was completely new news to me but I quickly took advantage of it in order to glean the information that I wanted. I decided to try and add a little feigned authority for good measure feeling more and more angry by the minute.

“Just bloody well tell me what I want to know, Bob!”

“Okay, okay! Look, Ray there are over five hundred blokes in here, right?” Bob stuttered.

“Go on …”

“And Christian … well Christian, you’ve seen what he’s like, a bit well, a bit girly like? Well by rights, a kid like him should have had his head smacked in by now, Christ in other places he’d be dead, but he’s protected in here see and he pays for that protection.”

“And how does he pay exactly?” I snarled.

“Oh for God’s sake, Ray he’s the fucking village bike alright, surely you saw that for yourself? He’s hired out to blokes in their cells and he dresses like they want ‘im too and they shaft him rotten all night long. Their needs are taken care of, Terry’s paid off and Christian stays protected.”

“Are you actually telling me that Terry’s fucking well pimping Christian out?”

“Terry treats Christian like he’s made from spun gold, Ray and we’d have no idea how to protect the boy otherwise.”

“Oh yeah it sure looks like it! What does Christian have to say about it and the screws for that matter, how come they seem to be turning a blind eye?”

“The screws in here are all for a quiet life, Ray and besides …”

“Besides what, Bob, you fucker, what were you about to say?”

“Well some of the screws … some of the screws like to partake in Christian’s services themselves you see …”

I couldn’t believe my ears, stunned at the flagrant abuse of power from all sides.

“You are, joking me right?”

“How do you think it’s possible to get Christian into the cells and get him all his fancy clothes? Look, Ray this isn’t a bad thing, the boy’s looked after, the men keep their hormones under control and the screws get an easier life. We could probably get you a freebie if you wanted one?”

I counted to ten.

“Right. After my lunch shift tomorrow, I’m gonna attend a meeting that you will have set up. I want everyone that’s involved in this scam in attendance be they screws or inmates. Non-attendance is not an option. Ten minutes before that meeting, I want to talk to Christian. It there’s anything that he’s not happy with, then this stops now and I mean now. I’ll protect him myself if I have to and when I protect, I’m perfectly willing to die to do it. If I find out that people have been taking advantage of that boy then let them know they’re dead men walking, Terry especially included.”

The colour had drained from Bob’s face, but my blood was up so incensed that I was. A bash from a nightstick alerted us to our current situation. I stuck my head from the cell door and informed the screw that Bob was late for his work detail due to personal matters. Unbelievably, the screw nodded amiably and left us alone. I left the quaking Bob with a filthy look and returned to my own cell. Lionel would probably be doing his nut wondering where his pot washer had got to, but he could just go fuck himself. I dropped onto my bunk under Alfie’s knowing eyes.

“They’re saying I might be the new top dog, Alf.”

“Every wing needs one, Ray.”

“Why me though? Come on, old man, you know how this place works inside out so why are they choosing me?”

“There are two ways a top dog comes into being, Ray. Either he works his way up through the ranks for years or he presents himself, putting all others aside. The second example needs to be put forward and then seconded. He needs to have a good working relationship with the screws, he needs to be level headed and he needs to be fair.”

“Oh and I’m all that am I? Christ, Alfie, I’ve been in the clink less than a year, what the hell would I know about being a ‘top dog’?”

“You’d be a fine top dog, Ray. You’re fair, you’re sensible and you’re not scared of anyone. Heck, as you said, I know this place better than almost anyone and I wouldn’t have forwarded you if I didn’t think you were worthy.”

“You? You forwarded me?”

“I did, Ray. Our last Daddy was a bit bigger than you. Dropped dead of a heart attack three months ago. Place has been going to rack and ruin ever since as he didn’t have a pup in training see, didn’t think he needed one at thirty six years old.”

“Shit I can’t do this Alfie! I mean I haven’t even got the slightest bloody clue!”

“What are you doing in here then?”

“Eh? How do you mean?”

“Well you’re in your cell when the clock tells me you should be on your kitchen detail. I rather think you’ve been paying more attention to the inmate’s troubles rather than pandering to that idiot Lionel’s issues?”

So many things I had worried about now paled. I was an ex-copper and once had risen to the leafy heights of a Government appointed agent. None of that really mattered any more. I was never going to get it back. The Police, the Government, The Crown Court, they’d all failed me. Alfie had never failed me. Tre and Pin and Tick and Christian, they had never failed me. Murphy was a treasured friend and I would never put him in danger, but Bodie had owned my heart and soul and he’d failed me in the worst way possible. I needed to change my thinking. I was a jailbird, the same as all those around me. Many of them were flailing, totally lost amongst a world of bullying, intimidation and pain. I had to help them. They were to be my new family for anything up to the next six years and I’d never turn my back on family.

“Meet your new top dog, Alfie,” I whispered, dropping to my knees and clasping his hands.

 “Well done, Son,” was all he said.

The next morning I was troubled. I’d slept badly, my new decisions warring with my confidence. The previous day, I’d been mad as hell at the way that Christian was being used, but on reflection what right did I have to come into a new place spouting moral outrage? I’d bullied Bob into calling a meeting and had no doubt that he would deliver me one. What the heck I expected to say during it was anyone’s guess. It was not my own self-inflicted discomfort that was causing the itch however. Something was wrong, I could almost smell it. As ever, I was up and about before any other inmate. Thankfully, Alfie could now sleep easily through my early starts and I’d quickly got used to rising and readying myself for work with the minimum of fuss. I walked along the landing the same as I always did. All was virtually silent as it always was. No people were about, just as there never were. Screws had accompanied me on my first few trips to the hotplate, but forever after, lazily watched me on their closed circuit TV system. Something was off however. My senses were on such high alert that my heart was pounding in anticipation. As I turned a corner on the landing, I saw that my requested meeting would probably be unnecessary.

A body was sprawled face down in the suicide nets. The tiny body was wearing a nurse’s uniform and my heart completely shattered.

“Christian!”

I couldn’t stop the anguished cry that tore from my throat any more than I could stop the tears springing from my eyes. I couldn’t bear another death, it was all too bloody awfully cruel, too raw, too soon.

I fell to my haunches my hands clasping my head trying desperately to block out yet another vision of fatality when my senses were once again pricked. My distressed cry had disturbed more than the early risers who were starting to bang their cell doors in enquiry. The body in the nets had started to fidget. I watched in wonder as the body started to squirm like a fly caught in a spider’s web. I raced to the nearest panic button as if my feet had sprouted wings. The blast of the siren raped the early morning quiet but its blissful tones were music to my ears. Screws suddenly started to swarm like ants, many of them looking half asleep. They approached me like I was the Devil Incarnate, the man that had dared to disturb the quietest time of their day. Before they mobbed me, I defiantly pointed downwards.

“Get those fucking nets down, he’s still alive!”

Suddenly, the whole place was in chaos. The nets were well covered by the camera system but the incident which had landed Christian in them had been completely missed by the night warders. In my experience, nobody moves as fast as a screw who knows he’s in the shit and the nets were lowered in minutes. I raced to the lower landing to see officers start to paw at the wriggling body.

“Get your fucking hands off him right now!” I bellowed. I’d seen the results of screws panicking before and had no confidence whatsoever that these ones would be any more proficient. They backed off immediately and I beckoned to one of their frightened number to help me. Christian was still wiggling like a maggot so I didn’t really think that he had a cerebral injury but I wasn’t about to take any chances. I zoned out the excitable noise around me and concentrated on the screw. He wasn’t one of the shameful night staff, this poor lad had just come into work to be faced with pure havoc. White faced, he applied my instructions diligently as I gently taught him how to log roll a patient.

The sight of Christian’s face took my breath away. Both his eyes were completely blackened and closed over, his nose had obviously been bleeding for hours and his skin looked clammy and pale. He was alive however and to my eyes, looked like the most beautiful thing in the world. I grabbed his hand before he was whisked away to the medical unit and he pulled me forward with a surprisingly strong grip, before whispering in my ear,

“Thank you, Ray, I owe you a freebie.”

“You don’t owe me anything, you little fucker, you just concentrate on making yourself look gorgeous again.”

He smiled at me and I gently dropped a chaste kiss to his forehead without giving a shit who was watching.

Satisfied that Christian would survive his savage beating, I stood up, completely exhausted. There was no way that normal procedure could carry on. Men had been roused from their beds, an alarm had sounded out of hours and I could instantly sense that more would be made if the lockdown continued. There were men who would be growing more and more desperate to know what had happened. There were other men that needed their morning medication. There were others still who had no interest in the kick off, but still sorely wanted their breakfast before they were required to work for eight hours. Let out time had elapsed by forty minutes.

The wing guvnor walked up to me with a slight swagger.

“Word is you’re to be the new top dog, Doyle? If that’s the case, Hotshot, what would you do next?”

“Well if you want a riot on your hands then I suggest you keep the place in lockdown. Bearing in mind though that there are blokes that need their meds and their food and their gossip, in my humble opinion, I would suggest that you let the fuckers out as soon as bloody possible!”

The wing guvnor smiled broadly at me. I would never make a friend of the pompous cunt, but I would at least make an ally.

When the doors were finally opened there was once again, near chaos. I suddenly found myself amongst the screws attempting to direct men here then and everywhere around the curious who were desperate to discover the cause of the lockdown. Christian had long been removed to a place of safety and the inmates were most put out at missing the action. Everyone it seemed, wanted a piece of me. Firstly Chris approached me with the news that Lionel was screaming blue murder at not being able to start on the breakfasts. It hadn’t occurred to me that my alarm call had prevented the other kitchen hands from making their way to work and I could see another catastrophe brewing. It took time to prepare the morning meal and the men would be perfectly justified in refusing to work on empty stomachs. In desperation, I searched out the wing guvnor who was starting to look a little perplexed himself.

“Look, you’ll have to put out an announcement, Lionel didn’t make it to the kitchens, breakfast hasn’t been started and the ranges won’t even be warm yet!”

“Fucking hell, Doyle, we’ll have a bloody riot on our hands if we’re not careful, they’re certainly in the right mood for it!”

“Look I’ll get to the kitchens and get Lionel sorted, you get just that announcement made!”

“Oh and just what do you suggest that I tell, ‘em then, tough guy, ‘Sorry gentlemen but the chef sends his deepest apologies that you’ll be missing the hors d'oeuvres today because that prick Doyle hit the alarm’?”

“No, think man! Give ‘em something they want. Cancel morning work and put ‘em on association. We can have breakfast ready for ten then they can have more association before lunch. They’ll all think they’re one up and will be in much better moods. Now for Christ’s sake, get that announcement made and then sort out the med heads, they’ll be hell to pay if they start kicking off!”

I could see the guv thinking furiously to himself before seeing the sense in my plan. If the drug dependant went much longer without their morning fixes, we could be in for real trouble.

“Okay, Doyle, you deal with that idiot Lionel, and we’ll oversee the wing. We need eggs ready to eat by ten on the dot however, not a minute later, now get to bloody work!”

“On it, Guv, just get someone to check on Alfie!” I shouted over my shoulder as I hotfooted it towards the kitchen. I just about heard the cheer that went up as it was announced that morning work details had been cancelled.

Lionel was in complete meltdown and I feared for his heart. It took two or three minutes before I could even get through to him, but I persevered.

“Lionel! For heaven’s sake, it’s okay there’s no problem, we’re serving breakfast at ten.”

“Who the fuck would do this to me, Doyle, I mean who the actual fuck?”

“Didn’t you hear me? There’s no panic, we haven’t got to have breakfast ready until ten o’clock.”

“We … we haven’t?”

“No! The guv’s cancelled morning work but said that grub needs to be on the table by ten, we can do that easily.”

“Oh right, well in that case, workstations everybody! I’d still like to know what bastard it was that tried to ruin my day by hitting that bloody bell however!”

“Well actually, Lionel it was me.”

“You? Doyle you prick, why the fuck did you do that?”

“Was just walking to work and I saw a body in the nets.”

“Oh my Christ, did you? Who was it?”

“Doesn’t matter, it’s sorted now and the bloke’s gonna be alright.”

“Sorry, Doyle. We didn’t know, I didn’t know. The lockdown happened before I got out.”

Bodies in the suicide nets were not unusual but were usually discovered in day time. With inmates being locked up at night, access to the nets was impossible, so my discovery meant a serious breach in prison security. Nobody, even the screws could criticize my action in raising the alarm, but I dreaded any investigation which might follow. Christian was one of our own and I didn’t trust the establishment to act in his best interests. When a panicked Bob found me in the kitchen followed by a near hysterical Terry, I tried to shut them down as quickly as possible.

“Ray, Christian hasn’t returned to his cell!”

“No and why the fuck do you think that might be, you pair of idiots?” I growled viciously under my breath.

“What do you know, tell me please, Ray!” gasped Terry.

“He didn’t return to his cell because he got beaten black and blue then thrown onto the nets. I found him on my way to work and raised the alarm. Who the hell did you palm him of on this time, Terry?”

“Oh Jesus! Oh heck, Ray is he gonna be alright?”

“Yes, no thanks to you, but at first I thought he was dead, now who the hell did you send him to?”

“Oh shit, it was this new guy. Never done any business with him before, he seemed alright when we did the deal.”

“Well now you know that you were wrong. I’ll leave you to give him whatever you think he deserves but you blokes mark my words, Christian is never going to put in this position ever, EVER again, right?”

Terry looked at me shamefaced then at Bob questioningly. Bob looked me in the eye before replying.

“No, Ray you have our word. Christian stays safe.”

“Good. Now fuck off the pair of you before Lionel comes after your bollocks with the meat cleaver.”

I sighed to myself as I started to help the other hands cook eggs. Heaven help Christian’s last client but in my opinion he deserved everything coming to him. Homophobia might be something I could never deny nor hope to fight, but there was no way that I would let one sick individuals views cause physical harm to another.

My sexuality wasn’t something that I’d closely pondered since being imprisoned. I loved Bodie, it was as simple as that. Nobody else knew that apart from me and him. Murphy may well have had an inkling and I’m sure that Cowley had had his suspicions, but it wasn’t something I needed to share even if Rula had seen it so clearly in my drawing.

I hadn’t even really thought about sex since my incarceration. Perhaps I hadn’t been banged up long enough, but it seemed a pointless frivolity to me with all the other aspects of prison life I had to face. I did have to admit however, that homosexual acts took place with far more regularity and tolerance than ever had at HMP Hale. I often wondered how many men were actually dreaming of their wives as they took to their cellmate’s beds.

It’s with great shame that I admit I never thought about Bodie at all the first time that Danny Wells caught my eye. Danny was the kind of bloke that could light up a room. New to hot plate duty, he even caused Lionel to smile on occasion. Whatever niggles and spats were going on, ten minutes of Danny’s input usually had a crowd laughing aloud. To top it all, he was sexy as hell, knew it and didn’t care. Like many, I was drawn to him as if by a magnet and somehow, magically, he seemed to be drawn to me too. Within weeks of working alongside each other, we became inseparable. Even Lionel who was highly irritated when our double act became so full on that all work ceased, had to laugh at our antics.

In the dead of night however, I had to check myself. On my lonely bunk, I realised I missed Danny and that was starting to really hurt. Completely dismayed, I realised I seemed to be falling in love. Bodie’s moody looks were starting to fade from my mind and Danny’s sparkling eyes and constant cheeky smile were starting to fill my head. Romance was something I’d never anticipated in prison and I later cursed my own stupidity.

My dreamy mood completely shrouded me from my suggested cell move. When the wing guv announced that I could move accommodations, I gave little thought to Alfie. I knew that as an old timer, he was a good introduction to prison life for new inmates and because of it was utilised by the prison staff accordingly. I had served my time with him to my own great advantage and now it was somebody else’s turn. Alfie had done well from our time together, he’d elected a new top dog for the wing and could sleep soundly in his bed at night. I on the other hand, was being purely lead by my libido. My application to be placed into A7, the cell currently occupied by Danny Wells was approved without question and Shaun Neil, the young man who had proved six months’ worth of good behaviour to become Danny’s cellmate was kicked unceremoniously out. I never concerned myself with Shaun’s destiny nor in fact, actually ever saw him again.

Looking back, I can hardly recognise the man I became that year. I’d gone from a terrified new prisoner grateful for any titbit of kindness or help thrown my way, to an arrogant arsehole who actually thought he held some sway in the establishment he inhabited.

 I knew as top dog I couldn’t run the wing single handily. I needed a strong crew behind me to back up my convictions and though I threw a few warning punches and gave a few backslaps to exemplify my authority I still knew that I could well be a marked man without useful types behind me. I approached people that I wouldn’t have even considered acknowledging before, men that others were frightened of. The first of those men was Duncan.

People like Duncan are detested in prison. Disgusting the fellow inmates and warders alike, a ‘dirty protester’ is an enigma that few wish to understand or associate with. Knowing that I had to be exposed to every trauma that prison life could offer in order to be able to learn every nuance of the top dog job, my relatively easy life gave me free reign to meet up with Duncan. Almost permanently resigned to segregation, Duncan was a lonely soul. I had to have a strong stomach the first time I saw him. Completely naked, he looked back at me from his cell totally unconcerned whilst sucking on a can of Coke. His nudeness didn’t affect me at all but the state of his cell certainly did. He was sitting in the only part of the small area not occupied by piles of his own shit, though streaks of it adorned his own body in ragged ribbons. Puddles of urine pooled on the floor around him though the stainless steel toilet in the corner looked completely spotless.

“I hear you wanted to see me, Mister Doyle! Tell me do you like what you see? Is this your kind of thing, seeing my shat plastered all over these walls?”

I tried not to let his casually thrown words intimidate me.

“Why do you do it?” I asked.

“You didn’t answer my question. Do you like it?”

He was almost preening though I wasn’t to be swayed by his laughter of me.

“No I don’t. Do you?”

“No of course I fucking well don’t but what else do I have?”

I had the answer I sought before I replied,

“Explain Yourself.”

“I revolt you, don’t I? Come on Mister Doyle, you don’t want to come any closer to me do you, you don’t want to smell me, touch me, breath the same air as me, not when I’m smeared in my own filth, eh? We’ll I’ve got news for you. Mister Doyle, neither do the screws! Do you know what havoc it causes a wing when someone performs a dirty protest? I’ve only got to literally sling some muck about and I can get cells shut down, wings shut down, inmates removed, screws taken to the infirmary. They’re all terrified you see of what I might give them, of what they could catch from me. They’re all stupid in their ignorance really, for I’m actually a very clean person. I have no serious diseases to give them. They don’t know that though and they never truly will. I’ve a potent weapon at my disposal, Mister Doyle and the good news for me is that I’ve got an endless supply of ammunition!”

There was no way that Duncan was crazy even though many might have thought it of him and his ilk. Others in his unfortunate position of defencelessness chose to put themselves on hunger strikes. These were all very well until the protester became too weak to resist force feeding. Duncan’s defences were so abhorred by onlookers that he could indeed make areas of the prison totally uninhabitable until they were industrially cleansed. Screws hated to be spat upon and the practice normally incited a reactionary punch from an outraged officer. Duncan’s actions prevented anybody wanting to even get near him to apply jurisdiction. He might be a bit smelly, but he definitely wasn’t crazy. I wanted him on my side.

Walking back from Duncan’s cell in segregation, I spotted a couple of guys waiting in the phone queue. It was fifteen minutes to eight and the blokes would at most have five minutes apiece to speak to their loved ones. They might well have been waiting there at the very end of a long queue since the beginning of evening association but I didn’t give them a second thought. Elbowing the man on the line aside I waved the waiters on their way, ignoring their desperate looks. Casually rolling and lighting a cigarette, I dialled Murphy’s number.

“Hey, Murph, how goes it?”

“Hi, Ray it goes well! I’ve got very good news for your Mr. Stenning. Someone held their hands up to that cop killing seven years ago.”

“What? Why the hell is Alfie still inside then?”

“I doubt you’ve enough telephone credit for me to try and work out the entire British justice system with you now, Ray but it looks pretty open and shut to me. If he wants me to proceed I’ll do all I can from this side but it shouldn’t take much. I reckon we could have him out in say three months? Two other suspected gang members are doing time on unrelated’s. I don’t think the Crown really wants your Alfred’s head on a plate anymore, but I should be able to sort it if there are any issues. Anyway, how are you, Ray?”

I was actually good. I felt really good, on top of the world in fact. There seemed no particular reason not to share this with Murphy, so I did. I just about heard the sigh of relief he expelled before he shared his final news.

“Ray, look I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’s Bodie. He …. he um, he quit CI5, Ray. He’s got himself a job in the private sector. Outward Bounds instructor or something like that. Old army mate of his poached him and Bodie went willingly. Sorry, Ray but he wasn’t going to be stopped. I’ve got no reason for any surveillance on him and from now on, I can’t tell you any more news of him, I’m sorry, mate.”

I looked at the telephone receiver as if I were about to smash it but none of this was Murphy’s fault.

“Thanks for letting me know, Pal. You take care.”

I wandered off to my new cell. Screws just coming onto the nightshift tried to give me dirty looks but I simply glared at them until they turned their faces. I was about to spend my first night with Danny Wells.

I hesitated outside the cell door, Danny and I had been dancing around each other for weeks but it was literally years since I’d been with anyone new and I had a distinct crisis of confidence. As I entered, Danny was changing his shirt and I just stood and stared. He was simply lovely and I suddenly desperately hoped that I hadn’t got everything terribly wrong. He looked up at my shyly and I realised I hadn’t. Heeling the cell door firmly shut I drifted over to him and took him in my arms. I’ll never forget our first kiss for as long as I live. It was such a wonderful feeling to be wanted by someone and Danny left me in no doubt that I was truly wanted. There should have been something sordid about making love with another man on a single prison bunk, but there really wasn’t. It was awkward at first, accommodating wayward limbs and trying not to fall off the bed completely, but we managed. We didn’t get very much rest that night. Danny proved to be completely versatile in every way imaginable and I managed to banish all the old ghosts from my head. We finally gave into sleep some time before dawn. We were both sticky and damp and the cell reeked of sex, but we snuggled together on the tiny bunk snug as a pair of nesting squirrels. I’d covered the spy hole against nosy screws, a cardinal sin for which I could easily be charged, and we slumbered on until morning let out. God knows what a sight we presented to the prison population that morning. No one let on that they knew what we’d been up to though I’m certain many guessed. Completely unconcerned, I felt invincible. I had a reasonably comfortable life, I had my growing crew around me and now I had Danny.

 

Victor Isadore Eugene Winston was a mountain of a man. Some wag who couldn’t be bothered using his rather pretentiously long name, decided to start calling him by his initials. VIEW was a rather fitting acronym for the man, as standing well over six foot seven, he actually commanded a rather fine one. ‘View Finder’ didn’t seem to mind his new nickname, but just to be on the safe side, I only ever called him Vic.

Built like a tank, each of his thighs were thicker than my waist. Black as a coal face, he often reminded me of an old vinyl settee I’d once thrown away. That thing had caused me a few feelings of discomfort as well. I could see why people might cross roads to avoid him.

Though intimidating in every way, Vic was actually a simple man who would do anything for anybody if asked, though you had to be careful what you asked him for. Problems could occur if you weren’t clear enough in your request to Vic. The club owner who’d employed him as a doorman had encouraged him to give the punter drunk enough to take him on, ‘a fucking good thump’. Vic had dutifully complied, but his boss unfortunately neglected to tell Vic to stop thumping. He carried on beating the man long after he’d killed him and was tried and convicted for first degree murder.

Though at first it seemed odd to me to be walking around in a permanent shadow, Vic had been the second in command to the previous top dog on A wing. He seemed more than happy to resume his position though I sometimes had to remind him to actually leave my side at all.

I made it my business to know of every deal, scam or crossed-sword going down in Shorecutt. It wasn’t easy with the sheer number of men, but it’s amazing what prisoners will do for a half ounce of burn. I had spies everywhere, and if something went on that I didn’t like, I simply put a stop to it. I started plenty of deals myself, money lending, procuring goods and providing protection. Once a scheme was in place, I’d select someone else to run it for me, simply casting a casual eye over my new employee every once in a while. It all made me a rather wealthy man within the confines of the prison, but I never did any of it for financial gain, I did it because it was expected of me. Had I not done it, there were plenty with even fewer scruples than myself who would gladly take my place.

Shorecutt ran on its rackets. A lot of the screws were as bent as the inmates and I often supplied them with cheaper tobacco than even the canteen could provide. It was strange to be doing business with people on the outside again. Those who had been my snouts and grasses for years were now providing many in HMP Shorecutt with their daily needs and wants. It was risky of course. I’d spent countless hours worrying over my CI5 identity being discovered but I’d started to build a very protective wall around myself. In fact, I was starting to mentally stick two fingers up at my past life. For all my supposed good works, I still hadn’t managed to keep myself out of jail. The Police and the Government had never helped me in the long run and I was starting to view both with similar contempt. I treated my workers well and showed no fear in the face of adversity. I gave grudging respect to the screws and the other wing leaders and they did the same to me. I could provide men with things they wanted whilst others looked on apathetically. The respect for me seemed to be growing every day. Men could try to have a pop if they wanted but I had ensured that they would face the full wrath of View Finder if they did.

The one thing I would never tolerate in my inner circle was the use of drugs. I refused to supply them and forbade any of my workers to use them. Drugs not only caused untold misery, they caused unpredictability amongst the men, a situation to be avoided at all costs. I would never help lessen the sheer amount of substances to be found inside, nothing on earth it seemed, ever could. Some men in fact were probably better off doped to the eyeballs all the time, keeping them quiet and malleable. Though I would willingly try to get help for any drug user who asked for it, the requests were few and far between. For many, the weekly fix was the only thing in life to look forward to. I pitied these men before condemning and forgetting them. They had made their own choices after all.

I was also careful whom I provided for. I certainly had no real wish to hurt people so if a man seemed unwilling or unlikely to pay for what I could provide, I simply shunned his business. I’m sure that refusal often hurt more than a beating would have done.

I had quite a social life, all things considered. I wouldn’t have touched many of my new acquaintances with a ten foot pole before my incarceration, but now we had new dependencies on each other. I still worked in the kitchens, though rarely as a pot washer. As respect for my position had started to grow, Lionel’s attitude towards me had softened considerably. He actually listened when I made suggestions about his cooking times and food choices, and before too long everyone found to their joy, that the meals in Shorecutt tasted a little better. It was nothing that a half decent housewife couldn’t have taught him but it raised me to Presidential status in Lionel’s eyes after complimentary things had been said to him.

On the whole I was affable and tolerant of people. I rarely lost my cool, trying to set an example of detached refinement. That all changed the morning the alarm sounded.

I still took my early walk to the kitchens every day.  I remained on Lionel’s staffing rota even though I did little to deserve to be, but the early breakfasts were simply too good to miss. On the fateful morning the alarm shrieked through the air, I was transported straight back to the day that I had discovered poor Christian and a sliver of unease ran through me. Cursing missing out on the new smoked bacon I had persuaded Lionel into buying, I turned tail and joined the screws who were starting to make for a cell. The route was becoming dreadfully familiar. Having walked it hundreds of times, my heart plummeted as it seemed that we were heading for my old cell. Alfie’s cell.

When we reached the opened door, I took in the scene. My lovely old cell mate was laid out on the floor, his eyes blackened and blood from his nose dripping into his mouth. A greasy looking young man was sat on the lower bunk trading shouts with a screw.

I rushed to Alfie’s side and gripped his hand. He seemed to relax at the contact and I gentled his tiny sobs.

“What the bloody hell have you done?” I growled at the punk on the bed.

“Hey ease up, mate, the fuckin’ dirty old bastard pissed all over the place alright? He was fuckin’ cryin’ and stinkin’ and I gave him a few wallops to shut him up, cos ‘e was doin’ me fuckin’ ‘ead in! I rang the bell for ‘em to come and get rid of ‘im so what’s yer problem?”

I looked Officer Bryce in the eye.

“Get Alfie to the infirmary and then close the door behind us.” I said quietly.

Bryce nodded once, Alfie was scooped up and I was left alone with my quarry. It was three weeks before Jason Michaels was able to leave the infirmary unaided.

I was furious at Murphy. He’d promised me months before that Alfie would get his reprieve.

“Sorry, Ray, Stenning’s release has been passed on for authorisation by the Home Secretary,” Murphy informed me sadly.

Though my heart sank, I wasn’t terribly surprised. The British judiciary hates to admit wrongdoing and being referred to the Home Office could have meant anything for Alf. Home Secretaries rarely got to hear the finer details of what they were expected to preside over, but depending on their own sense of self-importance, they often decreed an innocent inmates future misery. Though Alfie was totally innocent of his charge, there was little to stop the authorities reinvestigating the Bermondsey heist if it meant the Police and courts saving face. I knew there might be a battle ahead which I was more than ready for if it meant helping my old friend.

I tried my best to keep Danny completely apart from my other activities. Though I’m sure he could handle himself easily enough, Danny was a gentle soul who had no interest in prison politics and hated any sort of violence. He was terrified of View Finder even though I assured him he had nothing to worry about. Danny had earned his sentence through high end fraud and though it was sometimes impossible to imagine him ever being dishonest, the thousands that he had robbed from Lloyds of London proved that people were capable of anything if the price was right. I’d given Danny my bog standard spiel about having been a civil servant without really telling him anything. It was a real dilemma when he asked me straight out what I’d been sentenced for. On one hand, I didn’t want to lie to him or evade the question. On the other, I was crazy about him and didn’t want to lose him. Things came to a head one night as we were about to settle down to sleep. Danny had been troubled all day and I’d felt a chasm starting to open between us.

“Danny if something’s on your mind, just tell me, don’t lay there stewing on it all night.”

“I heard that it was you that beat up Michaels.”

“I can’t deny that, Danny.”

“Jesus, Ray, you do know his spleen was ruptured, that he had to be taken to a main line hospital? They’re also saying that he might not regain full sight in his left eye.”

“I’d heard that yes.”

“Look, Ray I like you, I really do but all that stuff scares me shitless. I know that some think I’m just hanging off your coat tails because you carry a bit of clout around here, but it’s not like that at all! To be honest I run away from trouble and I really don’t want to be involved with someone who seems all too ready to dish it out. It scares me, Ray. You scare me sometimes. I’d rather call it quits now than risk upsetting you later on down the line. I’m trying my upmost not to piss you off now just by telling you all this.”

I was dumbstruck. The last thing I wanted was for Danny to be frightened of me. If we stood any chance together at all, we needed to be equals. I looked him squarely in the eye and softly started to speak.

“Danny, I’m the first to admit that I’ve got a temper, but ever since I’ve been jailed, I’ve only directed it towards those that really deserved it. I beat Michaels because he terrorised and attacked a defenceless old man. That same old man really looked after me when I first got here and he did it for countless others before I came along. To top it all, the old guy’s not even guilty of what he was jailed for and he has to put up with scum like Michaels. It’s just not right, Danny.”

“Do you trust me, Ray?”

“Of course I do, well maybe not to sell me insurance perhaps, but yes I trust you, Danny, of course I do!”

“Then I need to know what you’re in here for. I’ve heard all sorts, Ray and I need to know if I can deal with the real truth.”

I sighed, knowing that we were in for another largely sleepless night. I closed my eyes in resignation and slowly started to speak.

I told Danny all about my history with the Police and with CI5. I told him about the people I had killed or beaten on and fully admitted my severe lack of judgement in hitting out at Paul Coogan. I told him about my dread of HMP Hale and some of the terrible things I had seen there. I told him all about Tre, Jin and my good friend Pete the budding reader. I finally told him all about my old mate Bodie. I think my tales about him spoke most loudly of all. Though it was hard, I think I finally managed to get Danny to understand Bodie and therefore understand me. I told of how a man who had come from nothing had made a life for himself fighting other people’s wars before donating his skills to the side of the angels. How a man who had been trained and required to kill with his bare hands could still cry over a soppy film. How a man who had seen so much pointless bloodshed in his life could still find beauty in the smallest verse of poetry. How a man who had known so little love in his life had loved me with such unquestioning depth. How I had hurt that man so very badly that he had eventually been forced to leave me to my fate in order to save his own heart.

Danny and I were both crying by dawn. I’d told him more than I’d ever told anyone, including my great friend Tre. It was up to Danny what he made of it all. I had no wish to lead him into any sort of violence, in fact I was aware that he needed all the protection I could afford to keep him away from it. As all of us however, Danny needed to ride his own jail time and if he thought I was too dangerous a prospect to be around then so be it. Nobody in Shorecutt knew more about me now than Danny Wells, so I gave him a simple choice.

“I won’t make it into the kitchens today, Danny, though I’ll be back here by evening bang up. If I’m not welcome here anymore then keep the spyhole covered and I’ll understand.”

I busied myself all morning collecting trays which I unceremoniously dumped outside the kitchen doors. I spent the afternoon in my art class scratching vicious strokes into undeserving sheets of paper. I eventually wandered slowly back to A7 with a sinking feeling just before bang up. My heart was thumping as I leant towards the spyhole. To my complete joy, I spied Danny though the hole, sat on his bunk smiling back at me. We had done it. I had shared and Danny had accepted. We were equals at last.

Sometimes in Shorecutt, I wondered how I’d ever had time to work for a living on the outside. I spent as little time in the kitchens as I could get away with, doing little more than chatting with Lionel when I was there. If I needed to collect monies, issue warnings, deliver goods or simply catch up on gossip, I did it all under the guise of collecting tea trays. I used the gym almost daily except for Fridays when I attended art class.

I had three works on the go with the Koestler Awards in mind. The first was a gouache portrait of Rula. Though she was more than happy to sit for me, our sessions were always rather rushed as I was taking her away from her other teaching duties. Also, my subject didn’t fire enough passion in me to do any real justice to the painting. It was never going to be a winner and both Rula and I knew it. She was keener on my dramatic charcoal city scape, though I found it a rather depressing piece. It reminded me of so many God awful places that I chased miscreants around in and the more I worked on it, the more I disliked what I was seeing. My hopes for the awards lay with my ballerina. It had taken some doing to persuade the screws to let Christian pose for me but the results he produced made all the haggling worth it as his pose simply took my breath away.

There were plenty of protesting squeaks from behind the dressing screen as Rula prepared my model for me on the first day of sketching. Christian looked a little self-conscious draped in the frothy tutu skirt and skittered about somewhat in the tiny satin slippers. As Rula gently positioned him into a graceful pose, with one arm extended and a leg trailing behind him, he fell into his part completely and my heart melted. It was a travesty that the boy was spending his time in a category B prison rather than a stage school. Only oil paint would capture the sheer beauty of the vision in front of me and gradually, my beautiful ballerina started to emerge beneath my fingers as if of her own accord.

Association time became just that. A7 was a magnet for other inmates to come and lounge in and we’d all sit around smoking and drinking from each other’s coffee supplies. Duncan was always under strict instruction to treat our cell like a palace and was always made to wash his hands before being allowed entry. I tried to find things for View Finder to busy himself with elsewhere as he had a tendency to fill a cell all by himself. He was just happy enough to be out and about after a supposed escape attempt had landed him in segregation for a fortnight. He hadn’t been trying to escape at all of course, but digging over rose beds as instructed whilst on gardening detail. The screw in charge had simply forgotten to tell him to stop digging.

I had a huge circle of people that I actually considered friends. I still regularly ate with Bob and his crew and got to laugh at Christian’s camp antics. I knew that Christian still visited the odd cell late at night but it was something he did through choice rather than for payment and I turned a blind eye.

My travels took me onto other wings and though I never encroached on other leader’s territories, I knew their business as well as I knew my own. On occasion, I travelled to the ghetto that was E wing. I spoke with rapists and paedophiles trying to afford them the same understanding that I had with other criminals, but I never really could. They all had reasons and excuses for their behaviour, none of which I could ever accept. The ex-cops and screws I left alone. They’d all known what sort of life they could expect if collared for their wrongdoings. The fact that they hid themselves away in the protective custody of the nonce wing showed how truly pathetic they really were. They could never be of any help to me, nor indeed, me to them.

It was always a pleasurable relief to get back to ‘A’ after my excursions. It felt like home, my beloved A wing and its occupants felt like family. Admittedly many of the family had to be treated like petulant teenagers but we all rubbed along well enough.

At the end of the day, I’d be reunited with Danny who would shower me with love making me feel completely wonderful. At night we’d kiss and fuck and sweat and snuggle and if anyone else cared, they certainly never had the balls to let us know. Though we still had plenty of fun moments, Danny had a serious side which meant plenty of heavy conversations. We’d brace ourselves for such occasions, sighing with relief when they were finally over, but they all came down to the same thing, Danny was thinking towards the future.

Having lost the better part of my past, the future held little interest for me. Seven years seemed like such an unsurmountable term that I simply couldn’t see beyond it. Danny was due out a year earlier than I was. The future to Danny was all important.

“I’ll wait for you, Ray if you’d like me to? I could try and get a place for us? I mean it might not be much at first, but somewhere that we could just be together? What do you say, do you think we could make a go of it, on the outside I mean?”

In truth there was nothing I would have liked to look forward to more but I still couldn’t quite see life through the rose tinted view that Danny had.

“What the hell would we live on, Danny?”

“What does it matter? We’d have to live somehow whether we were together or not!”

“Yeah but we’re never gonna be able to get good jobs now are we? It’s okay all the time we’re in here, we get fed and we’re kept warm and dry. If you and I were scratching around trying to make a living, we might well end up hating each other.”

“Even if I was penniless I could never hate you, Ray and I must admit to having a few notes squirreled away. I can’t offer you the world, but I’ll try for the moon and stars if you’ll let me?”

Danny was my first pull towards the future. I’d never even considered such a thing after my sentencing, everything had all seemed so bleak back then. If Danny was willing to take a punt on me then I would happily go with it and I actually blessed my incarceration for allowing me to have met him.

It was after breakfast one morning that Alfie rushed to my side, a look of sheer terror on his face.

“Ray, oh my goodness, Ray I’ve been sent a letter from the Home Office!”

“Oh yeah, what have they got to say for themselves then?”

“I don’t really understand it all, they say I have to attend a meeting, something about my appeal. Ray I’ve never made any appeal! I don’t know what to do about all of this, Ray I really don’t!”

“Well at least it seems they’re willing to grant you an appeal. Calm yourself old man, come on lets go to your cell where we can talk.”

I lead the confused Alfie back to his residence, plonked him on the bed and started to brew tea for us both.

“Look, Alf, I can’t really tell you how I came by this information, but somebody else held up his hands to killing the copper they jailed you for. They arrested him and sentenced him seven years ago.”

“Someone … someone else, Ray?”

“Yeah, bloke called Brian Baxter. He won’t be getting out in any sort of hurry but his ex-bird was trying to pin a rape on him for the same timeframe and it seemed he was happier to go down for the cop. He offered up two more members of the gang and that got him a few years knocked from his sentence. The point is, Alf you shouldn’t be in here, not for the copper at least.”

“Baxter. Yes Baxter was with us that day, Ray. I tried to avoid him most of the time, he frightened me a bit. He used to get all the guns though heaven knows where he got them from. His old girlfriend - that would have been Sheila. She wasn’t a very nice lady, Ray. She frightened me more than Baxter did to be honest with you.”

“Look Alf, I’m not telling you this to just to take a trip down memory lane, the point is, you could get out. Someone else has been done for shooting that policeman and you should have been pardoned as soon as that happened, don’t you see?”

“Get out? Get out you say?”

“Yes, Alf get out! You shouldn’t bloody well have been here in the first place!” I replied somewhat gruffly, getting frustrated.

“But what would I do if I got out, Ray?”

“Anything you wanted to, old man, don’t you see, you’d be free just like should be already if only the bloody Home Office weren’t being arses about it.”

“You …you knew about this, Ray? Is that why they sent me that letter because of something you knew?”

“Yeah look sorry, Alfie, I couldn’t say much until I’d made some enquiries. I didn’t want to get your hopes up and the Home Office can be tenacious bastards if you get their backs up, but you’ve got a real chance of getting out of here, Alfie. It might not be easy, old fella, but you’ve got a real chance and you’re not alone, I’m right here with you.”

“You’d … you’d do that for me, Ray? You’d help me try to get out like that? Why would you do that, Ray?”

“Hey, I’m your top boy aren’t I? That’s my job isn’t it, looking after all you blokes? Come on, I know you’re nervous, but we can do this, or at least we can bloody well try can’t we?”

“Yes, Ray, if you think that’s the right thing to do, then I suppose that’s what we should do.”

I shook my head at the old man’s subservience before shaking his hand and leaving for my own cell.

It was a difficult month. As the summer temperatures rose, tempers started to fray and altercations became all the more common. I spent so much time defusing arguments and meting out small justices of my own that the screws should have added me to their pay roll.

I was unsurprised to be called to the wing guv’s office, having a long list of things that he could want to bollock me for. His actual reason for wanting to see me nearly blew me away.

“Ah, Doyle, start to have a few thoughts on where you might like to move on to next.”

“Move on to, Sir? I don’t want to move cells again, I’m happy where I am, thanks.”

“No not cells, Doyle, jailhouses. You’re being re-categorised, being put down to a C. We haven’t got much room for the like of ‘C’s in here, so I’d advise you to make the choice before it’s made for you.”

“What, I’m being put down to a C? That’s a bit quick isn’t it? Who made that decision?”

“Home Office requested a report on you. You’ve got a clean record and we see no reason why you shouldn’t go.”

I highly doubted that I had a clean record, but that didn’t matter, as I suddenly realised what this was all about.

“They’re trying to get me away from Alfie Stenning aren’t they? He’s only got to get through his court appearance and then he could be out. They know that I’ve been instrumental in his appeal and are probably hoping that he’ll drop the case completely if I’m out of the picture.”

“Who knows, Doyle? All I know is if you’re a C Cat I can’t keep you here.”

“You can if you don’t turn such a blind eye to my next offence.”

“Oh thinking of committing one then are you, Doyle, what might that be?”

“I’ll think of something, Sir!”

“Well just try not to kill anyone, Doyle otherwise you might find yourself back in an A Cat with another ten years tacked on for good measure.”

“I try my hardest not to, Sir.”

It was bittersweet being re-categorized. I was in no doubt that I’d been fast tracked which certainly wouldn’t boost my popularity. In reality it was a move that I should have been working towards, one step nearer to my eventual freedom. In practise however, Shorecutt had become home. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the friends I’d made, of leaving Alfie at the eleventh hour and above all, leaving Danny. The following afternoon, I threw a tea tray at a screw. He fielded the plastic plates and cups with ease and I was assured that I wouldn’t be considered for re-categorisation again for another six months.

On the last day of August I finally finished the ballerina. As I stared at the canvas before me, I could hardly believe I had created the picture myself. Rula and Christian both professed to being glad that the long hours of posing were finally over but we all knew that we would miss the intimate sessions. Christian cried when he saw the painting. If I’d had the money and he’d had somewhere to hang it, I would have happily bought it for him. I named the piece ‘Christiana’ and watched with fond sadness as Rula packed and prepared it for transport to the offices of the Koestler Trust. It was a bit of a wrench leaving the painting behind, a bit like saying farewell to a good friend, but I had plenty to keep my mind occupied and on the whole, I was happy.

I’ll never forgot the sunny afternoon that I bounced back from the gym to find an uninvited stranger in our cell. Up until that moment, I’d been feeling rather pleased with myself. I’d broken a personal best on the bench press before sparring with Bob and managing to land him a punch to the nose. Lionel was planning Chile con carne for supper, one of his better dishes and after a bracing shower I was feeling good. I had a good hour to get up close and personal with Danny before we were let out and it all looked to have the beginnings of a rather fine evening.

I threw my kit onto the bunk and turned to the lockers to see a strange man rifling through Danny’s. How I never punched the bloke on sight was I’ll never know, but I just about managed to control my fists before screaming at him,

“What the fucking hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Eh? Calm down, mate I’m just putting me gear away if it’s all the same to you?”

“You’ve got the wrong locker, ‘mate’ in the wrong fucking cell!”

“Look, Doyle this is where I was sent and this is where I’m staying. You got a problem, you’d better take it up with the wing guv. I’ve been working all day, I just wanna lay down for an hour, get some grub and then get some kip.”

“But where the hell’s Danny, he’s my bloody cell mate, not you!”

“Oh I don’t sodding know, Doyle, apparently he shipped out sometime this afternoon, ask a screw, don’t ask me, I really haven’t got the slightest idea!”

I rushed out on the landing almost colliding with officer Stroud. He was a mean little man who had few cares for the inmates but I didn’t have time for any of his bollocks, I needed answers.

“Stroud, where the hell’s Danny?”

“It’s Mr Stroud or Sir to you, Doyle, you fucking little shit!”

I mentally counted to ten.

“Sorry, Mr Stroud, Sir. But Danny, Danny Wells, where the fu … I mean do you know where he might be, Sir?”

“You missed him, Doyle. He cleared out this afternoon, didn’t he?” Stroud replied almost gleefully.

“What do you mean ‘he cleared out’? Where did he ‘clear out’ to?”

“Got his transfer, didn’t he? Looks like your gonna have to find yourself a new piece of arse now doesn’t it, Doyle? Never mind eh?”

With that, the sneering fool took himself off laughing to himself as he went. I just stood there poleaxed. When my feet finally remembered how to work, I tore down the landing to the wing guv’s office. He didn’t seem surprised to see me even if he wasn’t particularly pleased about it.

“Guv, Danny! Danny Wells. Stroud says he got transferred?”

“He didn’t tell you then, Doyle? Oh dear! Wells put in for transfer to HMP Lyd at the start of the year. His move was approved last week and today was the first day we could get any transport for him.”

“He … he’s gone to Lyd? Why the hell …?”

“He said he wanted to be nearer the wife and kiddies, Doyle. It’s a popular clink, Lyd and it’s taken them all this time to accept him.”

“The wife and … the wife and kiddies?”

I could hardly get the words out.

“Yeah they couldn’t visit him all the time he was here, too far for them to come. He’s been offered other prisons up North ever since he’s been in but it’s Lyd he really wanted. Apparently it’s only a bus ride away for his Missus. Anyway, I’ve put Robins in with you, he seems a good enough sort.”

“Thank you, Sir.” I said shakily, falling from his office suddenly desperate to be on my own. My whole world seemed to collapse. I couldn’t comprehend the fact that Danny had gone. Danny who had told me he loved me and asked if I wanted to get a place with him. Danny who had laid beneath me and on top of me and promised me the world.

I hoped against hope that the guards were trying to fool me. That maybe Danny had been moved against his will in order to split us up though I could see little reason why. Danny had been a model prisoner and I had been happy with him. Though the guards could be petty and facetious at times, prisoners were much easier to manage if they had nothing to complain about. I had to face the fact that not only had Danny moved willingly, but had lied to me for months.

The news of Danny’s departure spread through Shorecutt like wildfire. At a time when I could have done with my friends around me, most did their best to avoid me if they possibly could. I guess I wasn’t at my most approachable, wearing my filthy mood around me like a ragged cloak. By day, I stamped and sneered and bitched and bit, taking out my frustrations on my unfortunate comrades. The nights were by far the worst however, when I finally faced my bitter loneliness. As a teenager, my sister had told me that all men were pigs. I was beginning to see her point. For all my distress, I couldn’t vent my feelings however, certainly not in front of my new pad mate who was a relative stranger to me. Instead, I put my back into Alfie’s appeal taking my wrath out on the Home Office, the probation officers, the screws and anyone else even remotely connected with Alf’s case. Though the relentless battle took my mind off my own troubles, sadness was never far from my heart.

I longed for someone to talk to, someone just to understand why I felt so very lost and alone and I cursed the fact that the screws in Shorecutt rejected the idea of a listening service such as the one employed in Hale. Finally, it was companions both old and new that actually listened. I was making my final trip of the day back from the kitchens when a loud hiss beckoned me to cell A39. I didn’t know the occupant Ron Wade particularly well. He kept himself very much to himself, didn’t seem to have any problems and I wondered what he could want with me.

“My friend thought you could use a cuppa and a chat, Mr Doyle. You certainly look as though you need one!”

I peered into the cell and was warmed when I saw my beloved Christian lounging on Wade’s bed.

“Ah, there are certain perks to this single cell lark then I see!” I smiled.

“We get together when we can,” replied Wade.

Christian rose and I embraced him, kissing his forehead softly.

“How are you, my darling Ray?” he breathed into my ear.

“Chris told me about that bastard Wells, Mr Doyle. We feel for you, really we do.”

“Please, call me Ray and yes, it has all been a bit of a shock.”

Suddenly the hours of pent up pain were all too much for me and I actually started to cry in front of Christian and Wade. Christian rushed to comfort me, throwing his arms about me dramatically whilst Wade just looked on sadly.

“You broke the golden rule, Ray, you trusted someone in this joint and now you’re paying the price.”

“He was always so damn plausible though, Ron! It was always him and me against the world. He never got any visitors but then neither do I so I never thought anything of it. I wasn’t even really looking for anything serious but I wouldn’t have touched him with a barge pole if I’d known he was married and had a family waiting for him.”

“Which he probably knew all too well, Ray. Look mate, it goes on all the time in here. I mean we’re away from reality aren’t we? Stuck here in our own little bubble of indifference away from all those we love and care about. Some blokes will do anything for a little bit of comfort even if it means them lying their heads off in order to get it.”

“Christ I’ve been lied to by people all my darn life but I really thought that he was genuine! He even asked if I wanted to get a place together when we got out. Why on earth would he ask me that if he was planning on just up and leaving? I mean p’raps he’s actually lying to his wife and he intends to contact me when we’re on the outside?”

“He hid the truth from her yes, but it’s her he moved to be near, Ray. You can excuse him as much as you like if that makes you happy, but I doubt it really will.”

“Well you two seem happy enough, how have you managed it?”

“Chris and I haven’t promised each other anything, Ray. I know that he sees other blokes sometimes and that Terry likes to think that Christian is his own personal property, but as I said, we meet when we can and I just have to settle for that.”

“You’ve hidden it well, Ron, I didn’t have a clue about you and I’m supposed to know everything that goes on around here.”

“Well no point shouting it from the rooftops is there? I’ve been seeing Chris for months but I’m under no illusions that we’ve got any sort of future together.”

“Whereas I’d love to think Ron will hang around for me when he gets out, but he’s right though, honey, the only person you can ever really trust is yourself. I should know, it’s trusting someone I loved that landed me in this joint in the first place!” said Christian pointedly.

I tilted my head at him, hoping he might go on.

“There was this bloke … my parents kicked me out when they found out I liked boys you see. I mean literally kicked me out, out the door, no clothes, no money, no nothing just out onto our street before slamming the door behind me. I cried a bit then shivered a bit, then I pointed myself towards bright lights and the smell of food. I touted my arse all over London before Anthony found me. He was wonderful at first. He bought me my meals and clothes and let me live in his swanky flat. He made sure I’d fallen properly in love with him before he put me back to work on the streets.”

“My God, your boyfriend turned out to be a fucking pimp?” I asked, scandalised.

“He didn’t make it seem like that at first. I would have done anything for him and he knew it. He gradually got nastier towards me though. The gifts all dried up and the threats began. He gave me a knife and told me that if ever a punter refused to pay up, I was to use it. I was scared by that but much more terrified of Anthony’s reaction to me coming back empty handed. One day, a trick turned on me, tried to beat me up. The knife was my only protection and I did like Anthony had told me, I used it. When I got sent down, Anthony was nowhere to be seen and I haven’t heard from him since. I’m not after sympathy, Ray, I’m just saying that the only person you should ever really trust is yourself. Look after number one, people will only try and hurt you otherwise.”

I considered Christian’s words carefully. I’d had a reasonable time in Shorecutt and made some good friends but remaining wouldn’t further my journey to eventual release. I contacted the wing guv and asked to be considered for a move to the C Cat jail HMP Redhill.

“Put in an app, Doyle,” was all he said.

The night before Alfred Stenning’s release was one filled with bonhomie on A Wing. Lionel prepared a special tea and inmates from other wings were permitted onto our block to pay their respects to the old man.

I had also had recent confirmation of an imminent transfer myself so it was possibly the last time that I would be meeting a lot of the men.

At seven thirty, Alfie started to look tired, so I accompanied him back to his cell, the same one I had shared with him so very long ago. He was rather quiet, but I brewed tea for us both hoping to get one last conversation out of him whilst I still could.

“I’ll never forget all that you’ve done for me, Ray, I’m so grateful that you’ve put yourself out for me, please don’t ever think that I’m not grateful.”

“Oh hush, old man. I only did what the probation officers should have been doing all along, it’s shameful the way you’ve been treated.”

He carried on as if he hadn’t heard me, so I lay back on his bunk and let him talk.

“I never meant to find myself on the wrong side of the law, Ray. Don’t get me wrong, I was never an angel as a younger man, but it was only when I was laid off that I was tempted into really serious crime.”

“What did you do when you were working?”

“I was a foreman … yes a foreman at Hudson’s Brick Works.”

“My god, were you the brains of the outfit then, Alf?”

“Oh no, Ray, that would have been Bob Thomas, he worked at Hudson’s too. We both joined at fourteen when we left school and we both got laid off together, too old to be useful anymore, Hudson’s said. It was Bob that knew the rest of the chaps, him that introduced me to them and him that talked me into the raid in the first place. I never would have done it all, Ray I swear, but they were taking our pensions away and I needed my pension. My wife, my dear Maisie, she was sickly you see? Without my wages and with no pension we were facing eviction and she was far too poorly to move house. It was her liver the doctors said, not much they could really do for her except to see that she was kept comfortable. She never judged me though, Ray, never blamed me for getting caught nor even taking part in the robbery in the first place. She knew I was only trying to help us, Ray and she stood by me till her dying day.”

“Oh Alfie, I’m so sorry, I never knew you lost your wife!”

“She slipped away the day after I was sent down, Ray. It was a relief to me that she wouldn’t be left on her own. That had been my biggest worry of all, Maisie being left all alone with no one to look after her. She had a sister who lived in Colchester, but they’d never been close and the sister wasn’t a well woman herself. We were never blessed with kiddies, Ray, though Maisie had always wanted a big family. There was just us two at the end of it all. The house went of course. I’ve no idea what happened to all our bits and pieces, not that we had that much, you understand. Prison wasn’t so bad. They told me what I had to do and I did it. I got a hot meal once a day. That’s more than Maisie and I had sometimes when times were at their worst.”

“I’m so sorry, Alf. God things have been crap for you! I hope things are better from now on.”

“But I don’t know what to do next, Ray you see? I know how to get on in here but I’ve no idea what to do when they let me out?”

“There are people on the outside that will help you, Alfie. You won’t be alone, I haven’t done this all on my own, old timer, I had people on the outside that helped me and they in turn helped you! There’s a halfway house that you can go to and people there that will help you get yourself back on your feet. There are groups and clubs that you can join and lots of people that you can talk to. This is the start of the rest of your life, Alf, the life that was robbed from you fifteen years ago.”

Alfie looked exhausted so I didn’t push him for any more talk. He had a big day ahead of him and he needed a good night’s sleep. I saw that he was cosily bedded down and he grasped my hand before I left.

“I’m sorry about the Wells lad, Ray, he was a fool. Never give your heart away again to someone who doesn’t deserve it. I’m proud to have been your friend, Ray. I really appreciate all you did for me …”

With that, the old man sank into sleep and I made my way back to my cell feeling happier than I had in ages. If I had achieved one single decent thing in this place it had been acquiring justice for Alfie Stenning.

The following morning we were all feeling a little hung over for all our lack of any actual alcohol. I was dragged from my bed by the relentless bash of a night stick and cursing everyone and everything, I haphazardly washed and dressed before facing the world.

A screw quickly ferried me to the wing guv’s office and I tried my best to stand up straight before him.

“Ah, Doyle! Your old mate Stenning hasn’t surfaced yet. We thought you might like to go down for him seeing as you were the one instrumental in getting him out? Be quick though, Doyle, I won’t have the breakfast’s interrupted!”

Feeling lighter hearted, I walked to my old friend’s cell for the very last time. When I arrived at the door, I knocked politely before entering. There was no sign of Alfie though his meagre possessions were neatly parcelled and placed on his bunk. I mentally thought out the places that he might be. A quick tour of the ablutions block revealed nothing and there were few other places that Alfie ever ventured to. There was no real reason for Alfie to visit the laundry, but I went there regardless.

Even now I don’t know if I knew or not. If that familiar itch of foreboding came over me or if it was just blind shock that hit me when I found the old man hanging there lifeless. I remember the screaming. I remember screeching so damn loud that I didn’t need to hit any alarm bells. Within minutes the area was flooded with people though by that time I was oblivious. They cut him down and tried to revive him of course, but it was so obviously too late. The blood in Alfie’s old veins had ceased its many journeys a long time before.

I don’t remember much more about that morning, but apparently I was incoherent. For some reason someone deemed it fit to take me to the library where it was quiet. Throughout the day, I was comforted by Stella, Rula and finally Christian but I couldn’t bring myself to react to their kindnesses.

I locked myself inside my own head from then on. Talking confused me, even thinking bewildered me, but if I tried to concentrate on anything for longer than five minutes at a time it all took me back to the same place. I hadn’t listened to my old friend. I’d pushed him somewhere that he’d never wanted to go thinking that I knew what was best for him. Unable to see the future I’d arrogantly mapped out for him and not wishing to leave the four walls that he knew and trusted, Alfie had taken his life. I’d never felt more wretched.

I was referred to the medics from then on but I responded to nothing. I was pumped with drugs and visited by well-wishers, even including the prison chaplain once or twice. I received letters and calls from my mother, Murphy and Tre but nothing roused me back to my normal level of consciousness. It was finally decided that staying in Shorecutt was doing me no favours and them even less. Not wishing to take responsibility for my rapidly declining mental health any longer, the guvnors approved my transfer.

Without farewells or fanfare, I left Shorecutt in the early hours. I was weeping as I left. A tear for Christian, a tear for Alfie and a tear for Danny’s poor deluded wife. No tears for me, though. No tears whatsoever for know-it-all Ray Doyle. He had never less deserved them.

HMP Redhill

HMP Redhill was a horrible place. Previously, it had been Redhill HMP/YOI but during budgetary cuts, the Government had incorporated the Youth Offender Institution into the prison main. As a result, the general prison population was a lot younger than that I had been used to associating with.

Testosterone laced the landings like a stinking blanket. A constant battle for domination ensued, though I doubted many of the young men involved in the relentless violence had any idea of the ideals they should be fighting for. Nobody seemed to understand what the idea of a top dog should be other than ruling a wing through sheer terror, gaining as much kudos and personal gain as possible in the process.

The whole place was a paradox. Many of the inmates were too immature to have yet committed crimes which might have landed them in higher category establishments. Others had worked their way down through the Cats on their journey towards eventual release. It didn’t really seem to me at least, that Redhill could particularly help either. Bearing in mind that at any one time, the majority of British prisoners are housed in Category C prisons, Redhill was a truly depressing reality. Though I was only one step away from ‘open’ prison, I still experienced as many locks, bars and rattling chains as I ever had. The warders were reasonable, seeming to play fair as long as their charges did, but it was obvious that they were hopelessly underfunded. I’d actually seen less shutdowns, kick-offs and fights in Hale than I did in Redhill.

Though once again, my reputation proceeded me into Redhill, my status certainly did not. I quickly became a target for any would-be leader to take a pop at to prove his worth in front of his contemporary’s. I started to mingle with the older inmates, rarely venturing very far on my own. I wasn’t scared. The last time I had been truly scared was when I first entered Hale, but I was cautious. I certainly brushed off my completely useless depression. Survival instinct suddenly kicked in during my first few weeks in Redhill. Moping about would never save my life in there and I realised that all of a sudden, I wanted to be saved, I wanted to live. A sudden, unexpected and rather lovely dream about Bodie shook my resolve somewhat, but all in all, my head was together and I forced myself to look to my future.

As a new prisoner, I was firstly housed in a single cell. It was a luxury that I had been aiming towards for years but the reality wasn’t that great. My thoughts became too loud in my own head without someone to share them with and I quickly volunteered for shared accommodations. Turnover in Redhill was surprisingly high and I had many pad mates during my time there.

It was a reality check to me that I could be housed with a person who might be guilty of fraud or theft when I was a convicted killer. Welcoming conversation, I never again tried to immerse myself in other’s problems. I heard time and time again supposed miscarriages of justice, sob stories and tales of woe. I ignored them all in the end. I was sociable without being over familiar. I never let anyone become close to me. I did various jobs without complaint. Occasionally, I had to show a young inmate what was what with my fists before he took my head off and largely, I was left alone.

The normal rules of imprisonment as I had learned them, didn’t seem to apply so much in Redhill. I therefore chose to break a few and started to earnestly talk to some screws. I had by now, detested screws for more than three years. In my previous life, I had tolerated them and even liked a few but never actually thought of them as real people. When I heard about the working conditions they endured and the wages they earned, I saw a few of them in a different light. I would never again earn the same relationship with the screws that I had in Shorecutt as the top dog, but I knew how to keep my nose clean, and allowed myself to view at least some of them with a little respect.

My only goal in life became getting out of prison. I had only served three months in Redhill before being called before the Governor. I had served nearly half of my sentence. Pending good behaviour, I could apply for parole under licence.

Buoyed by the prospect of release, I hit the books, knocked on doors and thoroughly annoyed people. I had never before given much credence towards my assigned probation officers. As far as I was concerned, they had been allotted to help me whenever I should have needed them. Up until my pending release, I had never needed them much. It was not until such a time I realised how truly useless they really were.

I had only once met one of my probation officers face to face. The pug-like Douglas Platt seemed more frightened by me than useful. In that case, this was helpful. You rarely kept the same officer when you moved prisons. Their workload was phenomenal, far too great to do individuals much real good. Even though I’m sure there were caring and concerned people amongst their ranks, even dedicated probation officers rarely helped much in the greater scheme of things. I’m sure certain officers faced as many shattered dreams as did prison inmates. I’m also as certain that inept probation officers caused more problems than they were sent to solve.

Douglas Platt was the last male probation officer I would ever be associated with. It seemed to be a predominantly female occupation. I had no issue with that whatsoever. In CI5, I had worked alongside women who could kill with little more than their bare hands, albeit with glossily painted fingernails.

The probation officer assigned to my parole case was one Edith Swinn. I was also appointed a solicitor granted by legal aid. I had long lost confidence in the briefs provided during my trial and refused to deal with them. If I was ever to get out, then be it under the same jurisdiction that any other prisoner got out, not because of any special treatment via the Government.

I was walking back from the hotplate one evening reflecting on all that I had seen in the last three years. For all its ‘C’ Cat status, Redhill was the oldest building I had been imprisoned in. Decades before, men had hanged to their deaths within its walls. For all the chaos of Hale and Shorecutt, inmates were at least able to eat together and form relationships. In Redhill, men collected their meal trays before being herded back to their cells and locked in. Association time was rarely short of trouble, but most meal times usually passed without incident as everyone was hungry. I only heard the tell tail noise because I was close by. It’s a chilling noise, a throat being slit, a slithering noise like silk over ice. Most carried on not realising the trouble. I had little choice as the victim fell right in front of me. I gave up the hold on my tray when I literally became coated in sprays of blood, which distinctly quashed my appetite. I held up my hands to claim my innocence, but needn’t have bothered. The knifeman looked down in pure horror at seeing the dying young buck before him. He hadn’t even recognised his own son, freshly released onto the wing, full of bravado, bluster and bollocks. The lag sank to his knees knowing that his extended sentence was the least of his worries. He had unwittingly killed his own. He would never sleep easily again. I knew without question, that I had to get out of this dreadful place.

Working with Edith Swinn was never easy, in fact on most occasions it was simply downright unpleasant. Every time we met, I had to constantly remind her who I was and what I had done. She always arrived with reams of paperwork, much of it often having little to do with my case. She outright refused to start work until she was given coffee, (though none was ever offered to me) and when she did start, she huffed and puffed her way through unrelentingly disorganised pages seeming to get nowhere fast.

I got more information from other the inmates and the prison library than I ever did from Swinn. Basically, I knew that I was unlikely to be released from Redhill much before spring as I needed three years or less remaining on my sentence before parole could be decreed. I had filled in all the forms required of me and hoped against hope that Swinn was doing something similar. There was a vague possibility that as long as I met the criteria for release on license, I could be simply let go. Unfortunately, there was also the very real probability that I would have to stand before a parole board. Having to stand before a board made my odds look bleaker. It was just as likely that I might be transferred to open conditions or even refused parole at all if my mental health records were too deeply scrutinised. However, I had to be positive. I had been offered the chance of parole and I had to grab that chance wholeheartedly.

The letter came surprisingly quickly. My hands were shaking as I fingered the official looking envelope, making my cell mate chuckle. Rod was a rather genial armed robber from Basildon. Except perhaps for undercooked sausages, he rarely took much in life seriously, and had faced more than one parole hearing in his time.

“It’s not going to open itself, Doyle!”

“I know that, Rod it’s just … well why the hell has it got here so quickly, I thought this sort of thing took ages?”

“Well if you take much longer before opening it you might find you’ve actually served your whole sentence, mate!”

Sourly acknowledging him, I bit the bullet, ripped open the envelope and started to hurriedly read.

Two minutes later, I was sat on the bunk sweating and shaking.

“That bloody, bloody useless old bitch! What the fuck else has she got to do all day but work on our cases? I mean what do they fucking pay her for, Rod?”

My worst fears had been confirmed. I had been called before a parole board and all because my case notes, the ones that Edith Swinn should have been dutifully collecting and cataloguing were ‘incomplete or insufficient’.

“Calm down, Ray, it happens all the time, man, welcome to the Probation Service! Look, the good news is you’ve got a really quick hearing. Some blokes wait months to get one, so you probably got a cancellation. The bad news is that you’ve only got a month to get your shit together. You’ve already seen how hopeless your PO is, so if you really wanna get it right, get off your arse and do it your bloody self, mate!”

“Eh, I thought that what she was there for?”

“Well she is, but she didn’t come through, did she? If you’re preparing a case, son, you’re entitled to copies of all your paperwork from all of your old establishments, your medical records, psyche reports, behaviour stats, the whole shebang. You don’t have to depend on the likes of her to get it all for you. Trouble is, you need it all before the tenth of December and if you turn up to a hearing and it’s still incomplete, you might find yourself waiting another six months before being offered the chance of parole again.”

“Is there no chance of getting another probation officer, a better one perhaps?”

“Um, well could possibly get another one if you’re really lucky, but a better one is highly debateable, old son. They’re all the same shower of shit in my book, Ray. They’ll still get paid and then they go home to stuff themselves with Milk Tray, watch Crossroads and stroke their fuckin’ fluffy cats. They won’t mind you taking on your own paperwork, Ray, saves ‘em a job, dunnit, but don’t rock the boat too much with ‘em because it can affect your record you know.”

“But they’re supposed to be there to help me!”

“Ray, mate you’re preaching to the converted! Course they’re there to help you, but they’re a bunch of fucking lezzies most of ‘em! They bloody hate us cons, they hate coming in here to see us and they hate having to do the paperwork. Fuck me, I’m sure when they ever actually manage to get a bloke out on parole they must hold a big old lezzie party amongst ‘emselves, all patting each other on the back and telling themselves how wonderful they all are. You wanna get through that hearing, Ray, you gotta make sure your papers are spot bollock, mate, that nothing’s missing and that you’re ready for any questions they might have up their sleeves.”

Whilst I couldn’t quite agree with Rod’s homophobia, I was too livid with the Probation Service to argue with him. That night, I had a hideous dream. Edith Swinn repeatedly swallowed chocolates until they spilled out of her mouth and engulfed her bloated body like some repulsive sugary volcano. By her side, a fluffy white cat started to lap at the bilious, syrupy lava.

I had a month, as Rod put it, to ‘get my shit together’. When I got copies of the paperwork that Swinn had submitted to the parole board, I was horrified at the sheer amount of omissions. There was very little information about the time I had spent in Hale or Shorecutt. There was a detailed psyche report about my arrival in Redhill, painting me in a very bad light. There was nothing about my work records, the reasons for me being moved to enhanced status or my involvement with the Koestler Awards. There were no character references apart from those given by the screws in Redhill. Though those weren’t bad, they were generalised and really rather ordinary.

I started to work manically. I wrote letters left right and centre calling in favours that I probably had no right to. I wrote to Tre warning him that I was applying to Hale for records and to hurry them along if he possibly could. I also asked him if Pete was able to write me a character reference. I wrote to Christian, Rula and my wing guvnor in Shorecutt hoping that they might share some kind words of me. I called Murphy until he must have been thoroughly fed up with me. I relentlessly questioned every con I could find that had gone before a parole board, probably meeting some very dangerous characters in the process, but neither noticing nor caring. I ate when I could, socialised only when it was of benefit to me and burned the midnight oil constantly.

The results of my labours when they came in, both astounded and touched me deeply. From HMP Hale, I received detailed reports of first aid I had performed on an epileptic man and my helpful attempts at defusing two violent situations firstly concerning a drug addict and then a crazed knifeman. I also received a beautifully drafted letter from one Peter Harris who had described how I had taught him how to read and write.

From Shorecutt, I received a flurry of letters. The most treasured was from Christian which was far too personal to include in my resume, though he did send a more usable one to help boost my case. I got work records from Lionel telling what a great pot washer I had been. I heard from Rula that my ballerina hadn’t yet won any prizes but had been thought ‘highly commendable’ by the Koestler Trust. Nothing was said about my ‘Top Dog’ status nor my attempts in helping Alfie Stenning. I silently thanked the wing guv for the omissions, not wishing to draw unwanted political attention towards myself.

Murphy was able to supply every typed letter of my sentencing. Granted parole is particularly sensitive to victim impact. None of the Coogan estate reacted when presented with my parole request. It seemed they had had their pound of flesh. The remainder of the family were free and no longer had George Cowley snapping at their heels. Pettily sniping at me might well have brought them unwanted attention for no real gain. As I read through my last page of paperwork two nights before my parole hearing, I mentally buried Paulie Coogan forever.

I looked through my assembled papers with some pride. In my limited position as a prisoner, I had, against all the odds, gained myself a glowing presentation to put towards the parole board. I could do no more which was certainly more than my probation officer had done.

I allowed myself one day to clear my mind and relax before the hearing. I secretly started to wish that the next two days would be over quickly as the growing pains in my stomach were starting to become troublesome. I hadn’t eaten well for days, yet I felt first nauseous and then properly sick. I put it down to nerves and tried to sleep, but my aching muscles made it impossible for me to find comfort whichever way I lay. The following morning, thirty hours before my hearing, I rose from my bunk before collapsing again onto the tiled floor. Rod found me and gallantly scooped me back onto my bunk with real concern.

“Christ, Doyle, what’s up with you?”

“Nothing, just get me The Pharmacist!”

“Um, I dunno if he does house calls, Ray, you normally have to go to him.”

“Fucking get him, Rod, no screws, just him, please!

Stephen Theodore Jennings was an odd prisoner. Otherwise known as ‘The Pharmacist’, he could provide any prescription medication to anyone who asked for it, providing they could pay. His payment was taken either in cold hard cash or more prescribed drugs. I guessed he was very well medically qualified as his ‘prescriptions’ never caused any harm that I ever saw. Christ knows how he managed to hoard medicines that the ordinary man on the street would never have access to, but no one really cared for the finer details. Rod was right though, I would owe The Pharmacist dearly for a private consultation. The chance of my hearing being voided by a screw declaring that I had ‘flu was unthinkable however. I would pay The Pharmacist whatever he wanted. I lay back on my bunk in sweaty relief as I awaited Jennings. On sight of me, he looked at Rod, stunned.

“Hit the alarm, man he needs to be taken to the infirmary now!”

“No, no, Jennings, it’s just flu! I’ve got my hearing tomorrow and I’m all ready for it. I’m not missing it because of fucking ‘flu!”

“Doyle I won’t charge you a prescription fee on this occasion, but you are going to the infirmary. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re a rather fetching shade of yellow!”

The following morning, instead of nervously fiddling with my paperwork in front of the parole board, I was propped up in bed pulling the loose threads of a blanket, under the scrutiny of Doctor Thorpe. Without having the slightest idea why, I got the impression that Thorpe found me contemptable which was unsettling seeing as I’d never met the man before. If it was any consolation to him, I wanted to be in the infirmary even less than he seemed to want me there, but I thought a decent bedside manner wasn’t really too much to ask for.

After a troubled night, plagued by dreams and night sweats, I had finally been deemed well enough to question. I had been gearing myself for a morning full of questions for weeks, but certainly not the ones that Doctor Thorpe seemed to want to ask.

He peered down at me as if studying some sort of repellent insect before he started to speak. After confirming my name and prison number, he started with his cross examination.

“Have you been using intravenous drugs, Doyle?”

I looked up at him flabbergasted, aware of the suddenly alerted broken legged and chest infected inmates that flanked either side of my bed. All too late, Thorpe reclaimed a glimmer of professionalism by drawing the curtain around the cubicle. How he expected that to mask our private business from my now slavering neighbours however, I’ve no idea. I certainly didn’t raise my voice as he carried on with this checklist of questions.

“Any injected drugs, shared needles? Penetrative blows to the body with a sharpened or bladed instrument either as result of being under attack or self-inflicted?”

I shook my head to them all having no idea what he was driving at.

“Any recently applied tattoos or piercings to any area of the body, blood rituals performed that sort of thing?”

It seemed the good doctor was becoming as impatient as I had already started to feel.

“Any sexual contact involving either oral or anal intercourse?”

All of a sudden, I think my falling face gave him the answer he must have been striving for. He stopped with the questions and started with the lecture as I gamely asked him what he thought was wrong with me.

“For Heaven’s sake, you’ve contracted hepatitis, man! Wholly avoidable in this day and age, too, yet you chaps will still persist in putting your organs at risk. You only get one liver you know!”

For the first time in weeks, my parole hearing was completely forgotten, pushed aside by something infinitely more terrifying. I had liver disease and apparently, Danny Wells had very kindly given it to me. I hardly heard the rest of Thorpe’s speech. It sounded like one he might have given many times before, so I’m sure he would be happy to repeat the most salient points, should I ask him to. I was beyond listening at that point, and let his words race over my head like unwelcome thunder clouds. When the doctor eventually stopped babbling, I jerked myself enough to pant out a thank you and a farewell. Shaking his head disgustedly, he finally, mercifully took himself away.

As Pam, the rather kindly nurse, started to prep me for blood tests, I suddenly realised I had no idea how I was going to face my very immediate future.

“Pam, what the hell am I going to do? The doctor, he said it was my liver! My old cellmate, he said his wife died from her liver, oh God, it’s not gonna kill me is it, Pam? Not after all this, please don’t say it’s gonna kill me?”

“Oh, Ray you big baby, of course it’s not going to kill you, we’re not living in the dark ages you know!”

 “What do I have to do now then, ‘cos I’m in the dark here, Pam? I don’t know anything about livers except that Alfie’s wife died from hers and my mother always said that my Great Uncle Mick drank so much whiskey that his must have been pickled!”

“Look, Ray, I know Doctor Thorpe can be a cantankerous old sod sometimes, but don’t let him worry you. You really weren’t listening to a word he said were you?”

“No,” I admitted sadly.

“Don’t worry, we don’t listen to him that much either. Well if you had been listening, you would have heard that you have all the symptoms of having hepatitis which is simply the inflammation of your liver. There are several different types which all have differing causes and are all treated slightly differently. Now I’m going to take some blood samples from you which we’ll send to the hospital lab and in a day or so, we’ll should know what type you’ve got. After that we’ll know what treatment to give you and if you need it get you started on a course of meds. In the meantime, if you feel well enough to go back to the wing, you can do so if you wish, or if you still feel a bit sick and want to stay here in the peace and quiet for a day or so then that’s fine as well. Doctor Hardy is on the afternoon shifts this week, you’ll like him.”

I still felt pretty dreadful and elected for more sleep on the hospital wing as it seemed allowed. I spent most of the time drifting in and out of a light doze, the reality of my situation on waking hurriedly urging me close my eyes again. For supper and then breakfast I was given bland meals which I struggled to touch, though I did manage a few cups of weak tea throughout the day. Further slumber eluded me giving me far too much time to think. I wanted to hate Danny Wells with all my being. I had trusted him, even loved him a bit. I had certainly given him my heart to play around with and not content with breaking that it seemed he had now buggered up my liver as well. Deep down, I couldn’t blame Danny however. I was responsible for my own health and welfare, not him and not anyone else, just me and me alone. Once again, I had to face up to the consequences of another of my disastrous decisions and hopefully, live with the outcome.

At five thirty on the third day in the privacy of the examination room, I got my first real introduction to Doctor Hardy. He was as jovial as Thorpe was morose.

“Ah, it’s Doyle AH7287 isn’t it?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Well, hello, Doyle AH7287, let’s be having a look at you then. Got some test results around here for you somewhere, take it nobodies given you them yet?”

“Er, no Sir.”

“I get to be the bearer of the good news then, hurrah! Right, Doyle AH7287, it’s a nice little case of Hepatovirus A for you, nothing a strong lad of your age should find too troublesome, though the jaundice certainly got you didn’t it!”

The man chuckled, obviously amused at himself and I looked at him blankly.

“Oh don’t tell me nobodies given you a mirror, Mr Doyle? Heavens you’d a give a bunch of bananas a run for their money! They were right to bring you in here but don’t worry, the yellowing will fade quickly enough just like the nausea has done.”

The doctor passed me a prison issue mirror tile and I stared at my sickly reflection in horror. As if suddenly noticing my worry, the doctor sat himself down on the examination table and started to talk to me more gently.

“No one’s really explained anything to you, have they? Have you not seen any of our leaflets about hepatitis, been told about all the different types?”

“Doctor Thorpe asked me lots of questions and the nurse told that I probably wouldn’t die from it even though I told her my old mate’s missus did when her liver went bad.”

“Oh you’re a treasure aren’t you?” exclaimed the doctor joyfully. His twinkling eyes suddenly made me wonder about his sexual preferences.

“Look, I know old Jeffrey Thorpe’s a bit of a stick in the mud, but if you saw as many Hep B and C cases as he does on a daily basis, you might get a bit po-faced as well. Some of the inmates only have to sneeze or get a bit of gut-rot and they’re banging on the doors demanding a nice cosy weeks stay in here saying their hepatitis has flared up. Do you really not know much about the condition you’ve got?”

“Only what I just told you.”

“Oh, my dear chap, let me give you a brief outline and try and put to your mind at rest. There are many different types of hepatitis and the UK mainly deals with four of those types. It can be a serious lifelong condition which has to be carefully managed, though I’m glad to say that’s not the case for you. The main cases we deal with in prisons are Hep B and C which are typically caused though usage of infected blades and needles and spread further through the practise of unprotected sex. The type you have, Mr Doyle is Hepatitis A. It’s a niggly little thing, but we don’t need to treat it as it will get better all on its own, soon enough. It’s caused by ingestion so basically, you can put it down to something you ate!”

“Something I ate?” I echoed.

“Yes, Mr Doyle, something you ate. It’s a bit rarer in this country, though as the world is becoming a smaller place, we are seeing its increase. It’s all down to ingesting faecal matter from an infected party so its cause is usually down to a lack of basic cleanliness.”

“I did do a spell of shifts cleaning the municipal toilets last week, but I scrubbed my hands ‘til they were nearly raw afterwards.” I said, grimacing.

“Well it might have been down to that, but I doubt it. Had you not washed your hands and then bitten your nails, I’d say likely, but basic hygiene normally defeats it. Most of the food in here is cooked to death, so tell me, do you regularly buy fresh fruit from your canteen?”

“Yes, Sir as much as I can get my hands on.”

“Ah that’ll probably be it then. One of our foreign friends comes over here, finds himself in a bit of bother and ends up in Redhill. Behaves himself, gets enhanced and ends up with a great little job on canteen duty. Takes himself off to the toilet where he fails to wash his hands then leaves his jolly little hep A virus all over Mr Doyle’s nice shiny apple.”

“Oh, my good God, that’s just … just revolting!” I replied horrified.

“Ah, maybe so, but it happens. Not all countries and cultures enjoy or observe our levels of hygiene, Mr Doyle and often an active hep A sufferer won’t even know he’s got it, the symptoms can be that mild. Once it goes, its gone for good, no more worries no more check ups, you’ll be completely fine, Mr Doyle.”

“So are you saying that there was nothing I could have done to prevent this, Doctor, that it wasn’t my fault?”

“Oh there’s always something you can do, Mr Doyle. Next time make sure that you wash your apple! I know the water tastes pretty vile in this place but that’s because much of the water in Greater London is recycled anything up to eight times but it’s certainly good enough to wash your soft fruit with.”

“So this wasn’t … it wasn’t caused by sex?” I shyly muttered.

“When do you think you might have been put at risk, Mr Doyle?” the doctor asked quietly.

“Oh God, not for months and not even in this prison, it would have been say, July maybe August?”

“Not a chance then, in that case. Hepatitis A has an incubation period of fifteen to fifty days. All the same, it was still a risk you took, Mr Doyle. There are far more serious diseases to worry about than hepatitis if you don’t keep yourself protected. Safe sex is important. You’re important. I know what it’s like for chaps in prison, some want a little bit of comfort, closeness perhaps. Others are so desperate for a fuck they’d take it from anyone.”

I was shocked at the doctor’s sudden, ribald statement.

“Oh, I’ve seen it all, Ray and it breaks my heart, it really does. There are diseases out there that can make you blind, turn you mad or ultimately kill you, but at your tender age, people just seem to see VD as an embarrassing incident which you might be unlucky enough to befall. There are a few tentative reports from ‘The Lancet’ which are suggesting that sexually transmitted infections might well become epidemics which could kill people in catastrophic numbers in the future. It’s unthinkable in many ways but certainly not impossible. If you need to protect yourself in Redhill, Ray, just ask. The medical wing offers more than just a quiet bed you know.”

“Oh don’t worry, I won’t be going down that road again, Doc, there’s fuck all love to be found behind bars.”

“Is it love that you’re looking for then, Ray?”

“Is this still a consultation?”

I looked straight into Dennis Hardy’s clear grey eyes. He had a good fifteen years on me but was still extremely attractive and above all, made me feel safe and cared for.

“Our consultation actually finished ten minutes ago, Ray. I just find that I like talking with you.”

“Doctor, are you hitting on me?”

“Why that would be wholly unethical, Ray. I took the oath and I believe in it. There are plenty of doctors within prisons who take advantage of vulnerable young men, but I’m not one of them.”

I suddenly remembered my unsavoury experience with the filthy old quack in Hale. Hardy was a world away from that hideous man and I recklessly tried my luck.

“That’s a shame in a way as I rather appreciate your bedside manner, Doctor.”

“Ray Doyle, you really are so very lovely. I’m a lonely man and would welcome your company at any time once you are free to give it. For now though, you are my patient and I am your doctor. Get yourself out of here, make a good life for yourself and keep yourself well. If you ever find yourself at a loose end that needs tying, here’s my card.”

I took it gratefully, a smile in my eyes.

I remained on the hospital wing for a further day as my symptoms eased. Thorpe did the morning rounds and though he didn’t seem inclined to talk to me I somewhat forced him into doing so.

“Hey, Doctor Thorpe!”

“Er, yes, who said that?”

“It was me, Doctor, Doyle AH7827. I’ve got hepatitis A, Doctor!”

Thorpe rushed over to me as if for once, worried about being overheard.

“I’m sorry for your diagnosis, Doyle. I hope you’re starting to recover?”

“Oh yes, I’m much better, Sir, but I was wondering?”

“Yes, Doyle you were wondering?”

“Well I had a hearing in front of the parole board booked before I contracted a disease that in my opinion was caused by the conditions in this prison. I really wanted to attend that meeting and wondered what my rights were now?”

“I can certainly write you a sick note, Doyle to explain your non-attendance, but I wouldn’t take the matter any further if I were you.”

“Why, I really needed to be at that meeting!”

“Doyle if you kick off, they’ll take one look at your sick note, see hepatitis and draw the same wrong conclusions that I did. There are too many in here all wanting the same thing for any one person to listen to the truth. Don’t be seen as a trouble maker, look after your health and bide your time. You’ll get your meeting soon enough. In the meantime, the very best of luck, Mr Doyle.”

I would never have the rather splendid dreams about Thorpe that I had about Doctor Hardy, but the man had given me sound advice. I had lost my first chance of parole through illness and there was nothing to be done. As long as the reaching tendrils of depression didn’t snare me I’d try all I could to carry on. I wasn’t sad to leave the infirmary. On my exit, I was given a large brown envelope which I later opened in my cell. It contained a myriad of leaflets about safe sex and the diseases I might encounter should I not practice it. It also contained a short typed set of results from further tests that had been performed on my blood.

I had reasons to be proud. Not only had I passed a few Police exams after getting myself a couple of ‘O’ levels, I was also clear of any of the known sexually transmitted diseases in the UK. It was a lesson for life I would never forget. I had dodged a bullet. I might have to prepare once again for parole, but at least I would be alive to do so.

I was escorted back to the wing by my personal officer, Mr Faulkner. Personal officers were a relatively new invention, designed to lessen the ‘us and them’ mentality, speed up requests and solve problems more quickly. It was a practice which worked in theory as long as the inmate was teamed with a reasonable officer and not a useless layabout. Mr Faulkner was a pussy cat on the surface. On the wrong side of fifty, he enjoyed a laugh with the inmates all the time they towed the line. It was foolish to cross him however and those that ever kicked off in front of him soon saw the skills that he had learned during his National Service training. I had a good relationship with him and though we never talked of it, I wondered how much he actually knew about me.

I hadn’t really noticed the antiseptic smells of the infirmary, but I knew the odour of the wing as soon as I stepped onto it. A mixture of dust, sweat and boiled cabbage assailed my nostrils reminding me of my school days. It was a sensation I’d become used to over the years and one that I’d been happy to think of as home not so very long ago. Now however, I needed to be out. I longed to be out and dreamed of being out. I could see no further benefit to my incarceration. I had served nearly half my sentence and paid for my mistakes time and time again with untold misery. I could foresee nothing but heartbreak ahead all the time I remained locked up.

The following morning, I was granted a thirty minute courtesy meeting with my new probation officer. Nobody ever explained what had happened to Edith Swinn and I never bothered to ask. The frequent change of probation officers was a common occurrence which could be a nightmare if you happened to find yourself with a good one who took a real interest in your case. Penny Bradley was a meek little thing with a tendency to apologise for everything. Still in her twenties, I actually wondered if Penny had ever taken on a case such as mine, but though she was rather green, she was willing enough.

I soon learned that I would have to start right from the beginning with Penny as none of Swinn’s notes had been passed onto her. It was good in a way to go back to basics. None of Edith’s ideas or opinions were available to sway Penny and after a tentative start, her interest in my case grew and she started to knuckle down to her job. She was thrilled with the references that I had managed to amass, though I was adamant that the whole lot was copied in triplicate before I ever let one of my precious papers out of my sight. Five days before Christmas, Penny surprised me with a personal visit to present me with a new parole hearing date. On the fourteenth of February, I would get another chance before the board.

On Christmas day as the officers were trying to provide some festive cheer to the other inmates, I sat alone in my cell leafing through an old Yellow Pages. Each prisoner had a limited list of authorised numbers he was allowed to call, so a telephone directory was a largely useless item inside a prison, but I studied the little adverts closely. One of the biggest obstacles between me and freedom was what I intended to do with my future. As I now had experience of working in a large kitchen, it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that I might be able to blag myself a job within the catering trade.

Murphy had promised me for years that he could provide me with some sort of basic accommodation following my release. I dearly hoped that his budget still allowed him to follow through with his promise as my future heavily depended on it. Though I’d heard nothing to the contrary, I was a little reluctant to phone Murph after bombarding him will so many calls the month before. As far as I knew however, a tiny CI5 owned flat was still available to me for at least six months after my release. It was near to a probation office and I knew it’s postcode as well I knew my own name.

I studied all of the restaurants, fast food joints and burger vans within half a mile of the CI5 flat. I particularly liked the look of a Government run soup kitchen. It was a voluntarily staffed establishment so unable to pay me a wage but would look still marvellous on my CV. How the homeless would ever have the money to call for its directions however, I didn’t know, but it was a large advert so I’m sure someone was making money from it somehow. There was very little I could do throughout the rest of the Christmas period. All normal activities seemed to cease except for the relentless trudge of prison life. Whilst families up and down the country celebrated the season of goodwill, us inmates, the forgotten ones, rode our jail time the only way we knew how.

Tears were always a hidden shame within Redhill. You never ever cried in front of men you didn’t know, you did in in secret, silent sobs wetting your hard unforgiving pillow. Masturbation was tolerated more than crying, though we all did plenty of both. Christmas however let me hear the tears that others had tried so hard to hide throughout the year. I couldn’t sleep much at night due to my racing mind. In my enhanced cell, I wasn’t exposed to the ‘window warriors’ who screamed threats to each other all night long, nor the oversized radios whose constant bassline beat out the rhythm of the day on lesser wings. The relative silence of an enhanced cell brought to me the sounds of the weeping. It broke my heart the echoes of so many tears. Men who had done some dreadful things perhaps saw the error of their ways. Boys missed their mothers however awful she might have been. I felt for all of them. They all had a story to tell, a reason for going bad. I was no better than them, I was after all in the same place, but at least I had a parole hearing to look forward to.

On Boxing Day, I treated myself to some of the leftover dried turkey offered from the hotplate. Depression was clawing at me. Even though I had a hearing date, I was struggling with my mood. I could do no more to further my case and I was starting to really to depend on Penny Bradley.

On the second of January I was taken aback when Mr Faulkner banged me up for a solicitor’s visit. My last brief had been the legal aid chap and nothing had happened in the interim to warrant his return. Confused, I let myself be led to a room where the accompaniment of screws gladly ceased. I was completely stunned, amazed and truly pleased to see my old colleague Ruth Pettifer.

“Well, Ray Doyle, as I live and breathe!”

Her hair was shorter and she was dressed more conservatively, but it was certainly the same old Ruth.

“Oh my God, Ruth! It’s so good to see you! What the hell are you doing here, did Murphy send you?”

“No he didn’t, Ray, I’m afraid I don’t work for that lot any more. Following your sentencing, I returned to my old profession.”

“Which was what?”

“I’m a barrister, Ray.”

“What! You’re kidding, I never knew that! How the hell did you end up in CI5 if you’d studied law?”

“CI5 agents weren’t all ex-cops and Captains, Ray. George Cowley was an old mate of my father. They’d served together years before and George always took an interest in my career. He said that if I ever wanted a place in his establishment it was mine for the taking. One day I lost a case that I should have won and I thought ‘bollocks to this!’ I undertook the training and joined CI5. Don’t get me wrong, Steve Murphy is a top man but it wasn’t the same for me once George died. I returned to my roots and now I’m here offering you my services.”

“Wow that’s great and I’d be glad to have you but sadly I’ve no real money to pay you with.”

“Ray, I’ll take payment as a double gin and tonic if you’ll take me on as your brief?”

“I don’t really know how much I actually need a brief now, Ruth, I’ve got a parole hearing in two months and my probation officer seems to think I’ve got a good case.”

“That’s why I’m here, Ray, I’m asking to give up on that case.”

“Eh, why would you do tha… no no I can’t give up my case, Ruthie…”

“Ray listen to me. We only have an hour, though they’ll grant us more time in the future. I’ll take you on and get you out but you’ll have to forego your parole quest.”

I was torn. I was talking to an old, so very attractive friend, such a pleasure in the greyness of my life but she was trying to talk me out of my hearts dearest need.

“I can’t, Ruth. I can’t give up on this, it’s all I’ve got left. Why would you even ask it of me?”

“Look, Ray, I knew it would be hard dealing with all this in just an hour, but if you trust me I can make it work for you, I really can, you just have to be willing to give up your appeal.”

I babbled through sudden tears having no real idea what I was saying or thinking. A good and trusted friend was stamping on all my plans and wishes and though I liked Ruth, I hated her for doing it to me.

“Look, Ray I know that this is a lot to take in, but I need you to trust me. I know what you’ve put into your parole request, but things have changed. There are things that you don’t know.”

“I can’t give up this chance, Ruth, I’ve worked so hard for it, I…”

“Ray will just shut up and listen, man! Geraldine Mather has been arrested.”

I stared at Ruth, my mouth gaping, not quite able to decide if I’d heard correctly.

“Arrested you say? Geraldine Mather was arrested, what the hell for?”

“Oh contempt of court is just the first of her concerns, the judge she was serving under wants to throw whole book at her. There was talk about her becoming a QC and now she could be up for having brought the Crown Court into disrepute.”

“What the hell did she do, Ruthie?”

“Well, I haven’t got time to discuss all the finer details, as I’d rather talk about you, but after her success with your trial, Mather only took on high profile cases, Government officials and the like. Earlier this year, she tried an Army Colonel. He was the ultimate responsible body for an English barracks where some suicides had occurred. Extensive investigations exposed that there was a high level of bullying and intimidation going on within the establishment which might have contributed to the deaths. The Colonel was held responsible and tried for Involuntary Manslaughter as a result of Criminal Negligence.”

“The same as I was …”

“Indeed, Ray.”

“But I hit Paul Coogan, I was guilty of that for heaven’s sake!”

“Ray, please! Will you just listen, we only have an hour!”

“Sorry, Ruth, carry on, love.”

“Thankyou! Well I was on the defence team, and Geraldine had a cast iron case in my opinion. If she’d only shown a bit of patience, the Colonel would have been jailed and the families of the soldiers might have seen some justice for their loved ones. Trouble is, another case was coming up in July, a junior Minister accused of fraud and Mather wanted that case desperately, lots of prosecution barristers did. Unfortunately, it was due to run alongside Mather’s Army case and she couldn’t do both, so she tried to hurry things up a bit.”

“How did she do that, Ruth?”

“She paid witnesses to make statements.”

“She what? On my God, she never…”

“She did I’m afraid. I’ve no idea if those bought statements would have been true or not and neither did the court. If only she’d have waited she would have had plenty of evidence to convict but the case wasn’t moving along quickly enough for her liking.”

“How was she found out?”

“She asked for one too many statements. One of the young privates who was approached had a bit of a gambling debt that he was hoping to pay off. When he was told that Mather didn’t need his statement after all and therefore he wasn’t going to be paid, he blew the whistle. A further investigation ensued which exposed three of Mather’s witnesses as being paid informants.”

“Oh shit, those poor families! God, Ruth, if you can’t trust the courts, who can you bloody trust?”

“The families will get their justice eventually, Ray, though it means so much publically wasted time and money and more pain for the relatives of course. The reason I’m here however, is for how all this affects you.”

“I don’t see how it can? I was guilty. I pleaded guilty and as far as I know, Geraldine Mather didn’t need to pay anyone for statements.”

“Ray, the Court is shitting itself over this. When Mather gets sent down, and they’re already talking custodial time for her, it’s expected there will be claims left right and centre for wrongful imprisonment, compensation payments, official pardons the whole damn lot! I was lucky and I got in early. I was in the court and I know the judge. He was an old friend of my…”

“Yeah I know, he was an old friend of your fathers?”

“Yes, Ray, but he’s a great judge and a reasonable man. I took your case to him straight away to beat the queue as it were. It was no accident that I made sure I was a defence barrister on most of Geraldine Mathers’ cases you know.”

“My god, Ruth, are you saying it was my case that made you go back to the bar? I was guilty. I pleaded guilty!”

“Well that was never actually physically proven, Ray, and I sadly can’t stop the guilt that happens inside your own head. I might not be in CI5 anymore, but we always looked after our own didn’t we? I might well have done it for you, but I also got to see Mather taken down. I’m certainly not complaining, Ray. Your guilty plea will prevent you immediately claiming any due compensation from wrongful imprisonment due to Geraldine Mathers’ involvement in your case. However, the judge is willing to see you released without parole conditions as long as you’re willing to state that you won’t later kick up a right royal stink.”

“Does that mean I’d be pardoned? I could never be pardoned, Ruth, I did it! I hit Coogan and he died. I could never live the rest of my life as a lie!”

“No, Ray, you wouldn’t be necessarily pardoned if that makes you any happier. You’d be released on the fact that you were originally sentenced based on information supplied by a brief of now very dubious character."

“And this judge, how good is his word?”

“I wasn’t going to come to you until I was sure, Ray. Your charge was exactly the same as the Colonels. A good brief could argue that you’d been set up by Mather or that maybe lies had been bought, nobody could now prove otherwise. Heck the whole lot could go stratospheric and it will in some cases, believe you me. It’s up to you, Ray, my lovely. You would be freed without any parole conditions. That means your remaining term gets wiped out, as long as you give up the parole appeal. The judge won’t have a bar of you all the time you have a parole request in place, that implies guilt and this judge really doesn’t want to be dealing with your guilt, Ray.”

“I really don’t understand, Ruth? Can you explain it on the most basic level?”

“Okay, Ray. You pled guilty, you feel guilty and you were jailed for being guilty. The issue is that you were sentenced wrongly. You could serve the rest of your sentence if you wished and then go after compensation following Geraldine Mathers’ trial, but be prepared to be one in a long line by then. You could pursue your parole and serve the rest of your prison sentence as a prisoner on the outside. Or, you could take this judges offer. You’d be a free man with no written criminal record. It’s up to you, Ray and if you choose the last option, I’ll be behind you all the way. If chose either of the first two, I can’t be of much help to you, I’m sorry.”

Penny Bradley was almost in tears when I told her I was dropping my parole case. It seemed odd to be comforting someone else when I was feeling so shaky myself, but she was a bright young thing whose confidence should only be encouraged.

Before my release, I was permanently moved to a single cell for my own sanity and protection. It would be all so easy for me to lose my mind during the last seventy two hours of imprisonment and all too simple for another unscrupulous inmate to take advantage of the fact.

Changing back into my street clothes was an oddity. I couldn’t believe how stiff blue jeans felt, though I thanked God I could still fit into mine. My battered old leather jacket smelt slightly musty after being held in storage for so long but putting it on was like donning an old skin and I cuddled into it gratefully.

In my final few hours, Mr Faulkner talked to me as his friend.

“I’ve learned my lesson, Mr Faulkner, prison’s done its job on me.”

“If it were up to me you would have never been put away in the first place, lad.”

“You know about me, Sir?”

“I always did, lad. There’s more to a being personal officer than just getting your boys to toe the line.”

I nodded to my warder understandingly.

“Is there a chance I might blag a favour, Officer Faulkner?”

“As long as you don’t try to take the piss, Doyle, what is it you want?”

“Could you escort me to the infirmary, please?”

“Are you feeling ill, lad, do you need a doctor or a counsellor even?”

“No, no, I’m fine, Sir, I’d just like to say a farewell if I may?”

The warder smiled gently and led me onto my final walk along a prison landing.

At the medical wing I was met by a smiling nurse Pam.

“Mr Doyle! Well look at you, you’re looking rather swish, certainly better than the last time I saw you, anyway!”

“Hi, Pam. I’m out of here today.”

“I heard, Ray! Congratulations and good luck, my love.”

“Thanks for all you did for me and the things you said.”

“All part of the service, Ray, you’re very welcome.”

“Pam … I know it’s still early but I don’t suppose Doctor Hardy is on duty yet, I’d like to thank him too?”

“Oh, Ray … Oh, my love you wouldn’t have heard, no reason you should have done of course. Doctor Hardy … he … he died, Ray. There was an accident you see, Doctor Hardy came off his motorbike. Late on Christmas Eve it was. The police said he must have hit black ice or something, though it wasn’t really that cold that I can remember. There were no other vehicles involved, he just ran out of road the police said. Poor man, he was so well liked. It’s hit everyone hard here, but we can’t tell inmates that sort of thing. You’re the first person not on the staff to have asked after him, Ray.”

I gently stepped forward and embraced the trembling woman before taking my leave.

I took one last look back over my shoulder. Stood casually against a doorway was Doctor Dennis Hardy. He eyes were twinkling at me as he nodded his head and winked at me. I nodded back and smiled softly as his image started to fade and die. So many ghosts I would be leaving in these awful places. So many souls who had touched my life and pierced my heart. May those who were still among us finally find some peace and those who were departed, gently rest in theirs. Briefly closing my eyes, I slowly turned to go.

 

Freedom

My heart was going nine to the dozen as Mr Faulkner walked me down the last metal stair case. The huge doors loomed in front of us and it was almost an anti-climax to step through the ordinary man-sized door that had been cut into the ancient wood work.

I looked Mr Faulkner in the eye, almost his equal now. He was a good man and I would miss him. It was an emotional moment but only one worthy of briefly shaking his hand, no way was I going to hug a screw! He patted me once on the back and escorted me through the yard. Again, the large metal gates seemed excessive for a C Cat jail and I was assisted through the modest side gate and finally allowed out into the world beyond.

The words ‘you’ll be missed, Ray but don’t let us see you back in here again eh?’ floated behind me. It was a kind sentiment and possibly one which Mr Faulkner offered to all his ex-charges. The sound of a screw calling me by my first name however was strange to my ears. I stopped for a moment and turned my face towards the watery sun of a chilly spring morning.

The prison entrance wasn’t set on a through road and as staff and visitors used the carpark to the rear, there were few vehicles about. I chastised myself for not asking Murphy what he was driving nowadays. There was only one car nearby, a slightly battered blue Volvo estate and a man who wasn’t Murph was getting out of it. I started to wander noncommittedly towards it until the sudden recognition of the driver stopped me dead.

Bodie stood there looking at me uncertainly. I had never consciously thought out this scenario, it’s sheer unlikeliness being too painful to. I couldn’t however stop my taunting dreams which had shown me this moment so many times, before cruelly letting me wake up to my hated reality. Nevertheless, this actuality was beyond nightmarish to my shocked brain. There were no words in my head. My mouth was dry. I had to remind myself to breathe. I wondered if I ran back and rattled on the gates and bashed on the door whether the guards would let me back in so that I could hide from the world and Bodie with it. All I could do was try to hold my head up, wait and listen.

Bodie continued to warily approach me almost as if he was cornering some kind of dislikeable wild animal. Finally he stopped a few feet away and slowly fixed his eyes onto mine. I raised my eyebrows in invitation to let him speak. There was nothing that I had to say. He studied me for a few seconds and when he spoke his voice seemed very small.

“I abandoned you.”

“I noticed.”

“Can we ever get past that? Ray?”

Suddenly, I became the wild beast that Bodie must have been half expecting. I was absolutely livid. I had always accepted my crime and punishment, even though I had found prison hard. I would live with the guilt for the rest of my life. I had served half my sentence, so in many eyes got off lightly, but today was mine, dammit! Bodie had had thirteen hundred odd days in which he could have approached me and he hadn’t bothered to do so on any single one of them. On this day though, this very day that I had worked and hoped and prayed towards, he had chosen to make his move. This beautiful, terrible man who had taken my heart, had come back for more when I had nothing left to give.

“Why the hell are you here, Bodie, where’s Murphy, I wanted Murphy!”

“I had to see you, Ray.”

“Why, wanted to remind yourself what a convicted killer looked like did you?” I spat.

“No, no of course not!”

“Well talk about timing,” I said talking over him, “you’ve had three and a half years to put the boot in and you just had to choose today, didn’t you? I KNOW what I did, Bodie, I know how much you cared for Cowley but don’t think I haven’t paid the price for putting him in his grave. Blame me all you like, but robbing me of this one day just isn’t bloody fair!”

“Ray, I never blamed you for Cowley’s death, I never even blamed you for Coogan’s! Oh dear God is that what you thought?”

I could feel myself growing more and more angry.

Bodie looked at me with alarm in his eyes, seemingly struggling for the right words to say. I certainly wasn’t going to help him out. You could have knocked me down with a feather by what he did actually come out with,

“I’m here because I still love you.”

I couldn’t believe my ears and was absolutely incensed. I hated him for saying the words that I’d wished and dreamed and longed to hear for such a long time, because now I simply couldn’t believe them. Devastatingly hurt and wanting to hurt back even more, I went for the jugular.

“Well you’ve missed the boat there, Sunshine, by at least a year. You showed me exactly what you thought of me, Bodie so I went elsewhere. Ah yes you can look at me like that, you can look as shocked and disgusted as you like, but I went to someone who wasn’t ashamed of me. Someone who didn’t care what I’d done and didn’t judge me because of it. Someone that actually wanted me, ‘cos God knows you didn’t, did you?”

Bodie gasped.

“He was there for me, Bodie” I growled viciously.

Bodie stared at me his eyes wide open. There was no anger there, just what appeared to be stunned shock. I stared him down daring him to retaliate but he didn’t even try.

Instead, something horrible happened.

Bodie crumpled, just collapsed in on himself. He staggered back and fell against the car then seemed to deflate like a punctured balloon. I felt the first flicker of fear. Oh my aim had been true alright, but I realised that I’d punched far far too hard. I took a step towards him, but he pressed further back against the car, dropping to his haunches his head in his hands. I was feeling real fright now. I had never expected this reaction, Bodie looked as though I had picked him up then smashed him on the ground and broken him.

The fight had gone out of me and all I was left with was mounting dread. With more concern than I’d thought possible, I loomed over Bodie and quietly spoke his name. He looked up at me with the same expression of pain that I had seen so many times on so many faces over the last three and a half years. I instantly recognised the devastating impact that my hateful words had had on him. I took another step closer and placed a hand gently on his shoulder but he shrugged it away before rapidly searching his pockets and pulling out a set of keys.

“Here these are yours, take them. Hell, Ray take the bloody car as well. Just go, go and be happy, please. God knows you deserve to be. Just promise me something … don’t ever let anyone else treat you the way that I treated you. I’m so very sorry. I really never meant this to happen.”

I’d seen Bodie upset before, I suppose I’d seen all of his dark emotions over the years, sadness, anger, frustration and regret. This was something quite different however. He was completely shattered and it was me that had done it to him by taking three years of frustrations out on him without even bothering to hear his side of the story.

“Please, Ray just take the car. The paperwork’s in there which will help you find the flat. Go on, Ray, just go. Just leave me here and go, please.”

I suddenly realised that something was very very wrong. There was no way I could just leave Bodie here and said so.

“Shit I’m sorry, Bodie, there’s no excuse for the way I just spoke to you, whatever’s happened. Come on, let’s just get in the car and get out of here, find somewhere quiet where we can talk eh?”

“No just leave me, Ray, please. I’ll be alright, just be sure he makes you happy, that’s all I ask. I can never do that for you, not after the way I treated you. Not after leaving you like I did. Always remember though, I’ll always love you, I always did.”

In a precious moment of blinding clarity, I realised I felt just the same. I loved Bodie from the bottom of my heart. And I always would.

Ignoring his protestations, I slowly helped the man to his feet, bundled him into the passenger side of the car and plucked the keys from his shaking fingers. I positioned myself, inserted the key into the ignition and prepared myself to drive a car for the first time in three and a half years.

I had no idea of our destination, relying on my instincts to get me as far away from prison as possible. It was all out here, the stuff I had missed, the birds, the trees, the endless skies. The everyday signs of normal life were all around, the shoppers, the traffic, the dug up roads. But the treasures I had tried so hard to spot from the back of a sweatbox would all have to wait. The only important thing now was getting the man next to me somewhere quiet where he could talk to me honestly and lucidly. I took a B road and soon we were leaving the town behind. I glanced at the fuel gauge and ignored the road signs. Still relying on instinct I knew the very place would appear sooner or later and sure enough after about twenty minutes further driving, it did. I swept the surprisingly responsive car into the gravelled drive of a sleepy country pub. First orders couldn’t have been called long before and there were few other vehicles around. I sidestepped the building itself, leading Bodie through the side gate to the rural garden which edged upon rolling fields. I placed him at the furthest table with a warning.

“Stay there. If you run, I’ll find you, so just you stay right there.”

Bodie didn’t seem capable or inclined to run anywhere but I still hurried through to the bar from the rear entrance, desperately trying to look like I hadn’t just spent the last three years in prison. As casually as possible, I ordered a pint of orange squash and a double brandy. The beer I had spent thirteen hundred days longing for would just have to wait.

I returned to the chilly garden finding Bodie just where I’d left him. Some chickens scratched in a nearby run and far off, a dog barked but apart from that, we were left alone.

“Okay, Bodie, I’ve had my say. You went there to tell me something and I never let you. I’m letting you now, so please tell me.”

Bodie looked hardly capable of stringing a sentence together but I could see him thinking furiously to himself and I waited patiently for him to speak.

“Ray I’m so sorry but I hardly know where to begin. It sounds so stupid and pathetic to my own ears now and I’m so very ashamed that I can hardly believe it myself. I’m not telling you this to get your sympathy, that’s the last thing I want, all that I ask is for to you listen, even if you don’t understand.”

I encouraged him to go on.

“Please don’t ever ever think that I blamed you for Cowley. The trouble was, when he did die, it brought it all home to me. I suddenly knew exactly what was going to happen, that they were going to take you away from me and I was terrified and horrified all in the same measure. There was nothing I could do about it. For once I couldn’t protect you, I couldn’t save you and keep you by my side and that’s all I’d ever wanted to do. I was so scared, Ray that every time anyone was to mention you or the trial or Coogan, I started to shut down. I couldn’t even breathe properly. I had no idea what was happening to me as nothing like it had ever happened before. I felt so guilty because God knows you must have been feeling a hundred times worse, but I was doing nothing to help you even though everyone else was bending over backwards to. Eventually, I couldn’t even bear seeing you any more. I was getting so confused and I had no idea why. Finally, I went to see Doctor Ross.”

“My, God you must have felt rough if you went to see her, I didn’t think you could stand the woman?”

“I coudn’t but I was starting to get really scared, Ray. I expected to be a bit down what with your trial and all, but something really wasn’t right. It was suddenly like I didn’t have control over my own brain any more. I’d started to have all these crazy thoughts. I thought that you wanted to go to jail just to get away from me. That you’d actually prefer be in there rather than have to see me anymore.”

“What? Why the hell would you have ever thought that, Bodie, that’s just ridiculous!”

“Oh that was just the start of it, Ray. Doctor Ross gave me some mild anti-depressants to help me get through your trial. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, stand there and give evidence like I did. It was half way through me talking in front of that jury that the voices started.”

“The voices?”

“Oh, God, the bloody voices. I think they were the worst part as I couldn’t ever escape from them. They never let me sleep, they never agreed with me over anything, Ray, they just told me over and over again what a terrible person I was. It was a living nightmare attending your trial. I knew what I was meant to say but I literally had to force those words out of my mouth before the voices started screaming at me telling me that I was nothing more than a filthy liar.”

“God, Bodie, did you tell Kate Ross all this?”

“Not at first. I’d go home every day after attending court and just collapse. I was no good to Murphy whatsoever. I couldn’t trust my own thoughts enough to even do my job properly. I was constantly off sick citing everything from ‘flu to back pain. It was all bollocks of course. I was okay physically, it’s just my mind that was going down the toilet.”

“Christ what happened then, Bodie?”

“Well thankfully, our diligent Doctor Ross was rather scrupulous with her follow-ups. You don’t get to report a medical issue to her without expecting her to keep a close eye on you afterwards. I missed a consultation she’d asked me to attend. She turned up at my flat and when I wouldn’t let her in she used a key that Murphy had kindly provided her with. She found me totally raving, Ray.”

“Jesus, Bodie!”

“That was probably one of the lower times. The hallucinations were coming thick and fast by then, bombarding me. I’d make a cup of coffee and then suddenly get a strong smell of roses, really sickly and sweet making me want to chuck the drink away. I’d make a sandwich for myself and when I’d try to eat it, all I could taste was blood. Daylight terrified me. It tried to poke and prod me from every direction, hurting my eyes. It was all pretty dreadful, Ray but it was my normality by then. When Kate Ross found me, I wasn’t that far from death, according to her.”

“Oh my, Lordy, Bodie, I just can’t believe I’m hearing this!”

“Ross had me admitted to Repton immediately. At first they treated me for malnutrition and dehydration as apparently I hadn’t eaten or drunk properly for weeks. After that, they started to try to find out why.”

I studied my old friend as he talked, hardly recognising him. Bodie had never talked much about himself and he had blurted out more in the last hour than he had told within the last ten years. He was different somehow. It was as if his mask had been scraped away. His new persona was like an open sore, raw and exposed with none of the bluff and humour there to hide his deeply held secrets. I suddenly realised that my last few years were probably mere chicken feed compared to what Bodie might have gone through.

“Please, Bodie, what did Repton find?”

“Well that’s the whole point, Ray. For two years, they didn’t actually find anything. They treated me for schizophrenia which I didn’t have. It can be a dangerous business treating a mental illness with the wrong drugs. Don’t ever get me wrong, I was extremely lucky to be in Repton. Ordinary civilian people who weren’t lucky enough to be under the protective care of CI5 might have ended up in institutions, asylums even and that’s if they were lucky enough to get treatment at all. Repton knew what they were doing, but finding a suitable treatment for my kind of condition is a tricky and time consuming process. They’d try me on one type of tablet or another and I’d get better for a while. At one point I was only attending Repton as an outpatient. Everyone thought I was okay again except me.”

“You didn’t think you were getting better?”

“I knew I wasn’t, Ray. The hallucinations had stopped and the voices were quieter but all I could see was that it was the beginning of the end.”

I steeled myself, knowing that I was about to hear the worst. I didn’t want to hear it, but I knew that Bodie needed it told. Wishing I’d also bought some brandy for myself, I beckoned him to carry on.

“I was sitting in our old office one afternoon looking over cold cases. Kate had been brilliant about sorting out my sick record for me and I was back regularly working in HQ on a part time basis. One moment I was looking over reams of old paperwork and the next I was popping my pills, one after the other. There was no logic behind it, but I just couldn’t seem to stop myself. All of a sudden it was if a lightbulb went on in my head. This is what I was meant to do. This is what I should have done months and months before rather than suffering all the tests and trials and putting the doctors to so much trouble.”

“You tried … oh, Bodie you tried to …”

“It wasn’t even really a conscious decision, Ray. It certainly wasn’t something I was upset about doing, in fact it was somewhat of a relief.”

“You were found, obviously. What happened then?”

“To be honest, that’s the only part of the last few years that I don’t clearly remember. Anti-psychotic drugs aren’t Smarties and I passed out quickly enough. I was ambulanced to hospital, pumped out, brought round and shipped straight back to Repton. Being back in there was probably the lowest point as I just didn’t think they could help me anymore. There was only one more drug the doctors could try and I certainly wasn’t in the mood to be genial with them. Three days into the new program however and it was like someone suddenly turned the world back on for me. It was honestly like being born again. Suddenly I could see colours again and things started to smell like they should. I became hungry and started to enjoy eating and drinking. I could hold normal conversations and remember the things that people had said to me. I finally got my diagnosis and a suitable treatment a year ago today.”

“So what was the diagnosis, Bodie?”

“Psychotic depression, Ray. It’s looks remarkably similar to schizophrenia all the time the patient is displaying episodes but it can react violently to anti-schizophrenic medications which can make the condition considerably worse. Much of the time that Repton were trying to help me, they were actually poisoning me.”

“God are you saying they were culpable?”

“Oh no, no not at all, that’s just the way diagnosing these things go. All the time you’re in a catatonic state, it’s hard to tell doctors how you’re actually feeling because you honestly don’t really know. Discovering what I had and prescribing the right treatment for it was akin to them finding a needle in a haystack, Ray.”

“So are you cured now, then, Bodie?”

“Oh I’ll never be cured, but all the time I take the pills I’m okay, Ray, really I am. I had to give up the squad of course. An old mate of mine came along with a job offer at just the right time and I bit his hand off. Murphy was great but I couldn’t risk being on the squad with this condition. I’d only need to be separated from my pills for a few nights and heaven knows what could happen. That’s not good enough to pass a CI5 medical.”

“Why the hell didn’t Murphy ever tell me? I was stuck in those places thinking you’d just forgotten about me, Bodie!”

“He didn’t know a lot of it. Even a Government agent has a certain amount of patient confidentiality afforded to him and when I eventually left the squad I asked him not to tell you anything.”

“But why? Did you not think I deserved to know, at least some of it? Oh, God, was it my trial that caused this, Bodie? Was it because of me that you became ill?”

“Your trial might have triggered things, Ray but they said it was something that was always going to happen to me sooner or later. You’re not to blame in any way. I didn’t want you to know because I guess I thought you had enough to deal with. I’d left you after all and I didn’t feel I had the right to burden you after all that time. I begged Murphy to promise to let me know when you were coming out, however. He told me your release was largely in Ruth’s hands and I’ve been in close contact with her for weeks.”

Listening to Bodie speak like this was a revelation. We’d been as close as two people could have ever been but I’d never before been exposed to this very open version of him. It was disconcerting but not unpleasant and talking seemed to have brought him out of his shocky state.

“Well you certainly talk more than you used to, Bodie, for once I’ve hardly managed to get a word in!”

“Oh, Ray, I’m sorry. I’ve haven’t even asked how you are, have I? It was just so important to me that I managed to give you some sort of explanation before you sent me away for good. I’ve also had to get used to a lot of talking therapy. Turns out I got quite good at it in the end.”

Bodie gave me the merest hint of one of his old grins which warmed my heart inside.

“Look, Bodie, we’ve been here two hours and I want to talk more but I could use a real drink myself. It’s miles to the flat would you mind if we made a move?”

“No of course not but it’s not that far, Ray.”

“It’ll take us a least an hour from here and to be honest, Bodie, I’m not used to being outside for this long, I’m kind of getting a bit agoraphobic.”

“Oh shit, Ray I’m so sorry, I never even thought, but the flat’s only twenty minutes away.”

“Bodie I’ve got the postcode imprinted in my head, I think I know where the bloody flat is!”

“Oh! Oh Ray you were thinking about the South London bedsit? Oh God! Well we can go there if you really want but I haven’t got the keys to that I’m afraid, we’d have to break in!”

“Well where the hell were you thinking of taking us then?”

“Do you remember Safehouse Nineteen, Ray?”

“Er yeah just about I think, why?”

“Because when estates had a sell off last year, I bought it for you.”

It was certainly a day for surprises.

“You … you bought me a flat?”

“Sorry, please don’t feel too flattered, Ray, Murphy felt you were owed and all but gave it to me when he knew what I wanted it for. I got a bit of a payoff when I came out of the service and I took some of that payoff in property. I got it cheap, Murphy was saved the headache of selling the place and you’ve got somewhere to live. I didn’t buy it to win favours though, Ray, I got it because I owe you too. I’ve stayed there a few times when I’ve needed to be around here and so has my boss on a few occasions, but it’s yours now, Ray. Keep it, sell it, burn it down if you want, but until you get back on your feet it’s yours and yours alone.”

The drive to the flat indeed took no more than twenty minutes with Bodie’s quietly spoken directions. I’d only been in Safehouse Nineteen once and it was now far better than I remembered. The whole place had obviously had a recent redecoration and I stared around my new surroundings with some wonder. I was so used to spartan conditions that the normal comforts of a home seemed rather alien to me. For days afterwards I absently left taps running expecting them to cease their flow after thirty seconds. I couldn’t even contemplate sleep if a door was left open. I’d closely gather my possessions around me before taking a shower, looking over my shoulder constantly as I washed in case someone should wish to steal them.

Bodie stayed with me for four days. It was only a one bedroom flat but had a pull-out futon in the lounge which I favoured. We laid on that mattress together talking late into each night. We never attempted to touch each other, I honestly don’t think it really occurred to us to do so. On the third night, Bodie asked me about Danny and I told him the whole sorry tale. On the fourth, I asked Bodie about his new job and he told me the story behind that.

“I met Martin Winters again one day in the pharmacy of a London hospital. He’d been my commanding officer on many an occasion. I respected him as a soldier and liked him as a man. Too young thinking to just sit back and retire, with a stonking great pension and some old family land behind him, he went about setting up his own business down in Cornwall with his wife Avril. It’s part holiday park, part activity centre but basically people can do as much or as little as they like when they get there. There are forty lodges for hire and as much caravan and camping land as you could ever need. There are a range of outdoor activities, orienteering, nature trailing, archery, clay pigeon shooting, fitness camps, you name it, we do it. Anyway, Martin asked me what I was up to and I kind of hinted that I was between jobs. He originally took me on as an outdoor instructor but things have since gotten a little more involved.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well things had being going great for them until Avril became ill. Poor lady it’s such a shame, they eventually found out she had Parkinson’s disease.”

“Oh, God how awful, Bodie!”

“It was. Avril’s such an outdoorsy person, and they’d just about got retired life just the way they wanted it. Martin considered selling the place, but Avril wouldn’t hear of it after all the work they’d put in so she offered to sell me her share. That’s where the rest of my CI5 payoff went. I pay myself a modest sum out of my earnings and the rest goes back into the business. In a couple of years, I’ll hopefully be the major share holder.”

“Wow, it sounds as though you fell on your feet, Bodie, I’m pleased for you.”

“It just worked out for us all, Ray. I was honest with Martin about my own illness which he had no problems with. Avril gets certain relief from a warm climate, so they spend much of their year now at their place in Spain. Cornwall though, it did my head the power of good. Getting out of London, in fact getting out of Government employ made a big difference to me. Life isn’t quite perfect yet, but I’m working on it.”

“What would make life perfect then, Bodie? What do you secretly dream for?”

“You coming to work alongside me.”

I spluttered, almost spitting out the tea I was drinking.

“There’s plenty of work there, Ray. Many of the staff are on short term contracts but I’ve got one permanent vacancy that I do need to fill.”

“Thanks, but I think Cornwall has probably got its Action Man quota just having you in it.”

“Well just say you’ll think about it, Ray? I need someone to manage the stables. Horse riding was Avril’s baby. The stables are all built and Avril had visions of hiring them out to people to bring their own horses for trekking holidays. She sadly fell ill before her dream was ever realised. I also had a little idea of my own, but I don’t really know how practical it would be.”

“What was that then, Mr Entrepreneur?” I ventured, interested despite myself.

“Well I’ve had a lot of help through various agencies over the last few years and I was wondering how hard it might be to set a Riding for the Disabled group? Trouble is I’ve never quite seen eye to eye with horses.”

I was almost swung by Bodies last suggestion. Adversity had certainly changed him. I didn’t know how much it was due to his medication, but he was more mellow and accepting than I had ever known him to be.

The job offer had been great. What better way of closure could I get than living and working in the countryside alongside the man I loved? After all, it wasn’t as if I was likely to be swamped with employment offers anytime soon.

It was all just too perfect however, looked far too much like we were trying to paper over the wide open cracks. Not for us, the happy endings, walking into the sunset. I had no doubt that I loved Bodie, I knew that I always would but did I need him anymore and more importantly, did he need me?

Things could never be the same between us, there had just been too much pain. Though I had been so desperate to see Bodie or even just hear a few words from him in the last few years, that hadn’t stopped me forgetting his face. It hadn’t stopped me running into the arms of another and then missing him when he left. We hadn’t been loves young dream, we had just been two blokes with too many hormones, in the right place at the right time. Our jobs of protecting each other had gone too far and we’d blurred the lines of our professional relationship. We’d known and trusted each other so much that perhaps an affair was inevitable, but I wondered if I’d never laid a finger on Paul Coogan, whether we’d still even be together or if we would have fizzled out long ago?

I had no wish to hurt Bodie. After all, he’d been seriously ill and I still really had no idea what he’d actually gone through. He’d still had a year’s recovery under his belt however and could have responded to any one of my visiting orders in that time but had chosen not to. Instead he’d taken it upon himself to find me accommodation, work and then that elusive happy after. Though thinking of it made me desperately sad, I needed to do something that I had neglected to do throughout my entire incarceration. I had to start living for myself. I’d spent far too long doing what other people wanted or expected or needed from me but they weren’t the ones who had to live my life, I was. Even Bodie with his rose tinted views on life couldn’t live my life for me, however much he might want to, because at the end of the day, I had survived without him. It had been lonely and confusing and downright heart breaking at times, but I had done it, and terrifying though the prospect was, I knew I could do it again.

Bodie sensed my mood as soon as he walked into the kitchen.

“Ray? Ray, what’s wrong?”

I slightly shook my head, unwilling to have to tell him but he was on high alert and attempted lies would have only prolonged the agony.

“Is there somewhere you can go to if I asked you to leave tonight?”

“Yes,” he whispered his eyes immediately starting to water.

“We’ve gone about this all wrong, Bodie. I’ve just got out of prison for Christ’s sake. If I was an alcoholic who’d just been let back into the boozer after all that time, you’d worry about me drinking myself to death. Well that’s what’s happening to me right now, I’m drowning. It’s all too much to take in, I need room to take stock, time to sit still and just breathe. Bodie, I just need, for a little while, to be on my own.”

“Is this you leaving me, Ray? Please, don’t keep my hanging, if you’re through with me then just tell me, please … Oh God! Is this how you felt, when I did exactly the same thing to you years ago?”

“What, lost, lonely and scared? Yes, Bodie, that’s exactly how I felt but that’s not why I’m doing this now. You withdrew from me because you had to and now I’m doing the same. I’ve no idea what I really want or what’s best for me, no idea at all. So making big decisions, however appealing they might be, is a bad idea right now.”

It nearly broke my heart watching Bodie leave me again, but I had to take control of my own feelings. I almost lost my resolve as he turned to me at the door, a look of pure misery painted over his face.

“Don’t go too far, Bodie. Don’t go somewhere that I can’t reach you again.”

He clearly understood my meaning and I knew then that the worst was over. If we had to part, then Bodie would survive. We both would.

I looked around the lovely bedroom and prepared to sleep in a bed that seemed far too large. I knew that I’d done the right thing, but that didn’t make it any the less painful. When the tears came, they soon became a torrent and then a flood and I cried my heart out until exhaustion finally dragged me down into sleep.

 

Epilogue

Danny casually wandered round the corner seemingly without a care in the world. I smiled to myself appreciating him and he once again stole my heart like he always would. He walked straight up to me without a by-your-leave and started to nuzzle my neck. I gazed into his lovely brown eyes and gently touched his beautiful face. He was looking good and he knew it.

Suddenly a female voice ripped the air.

“Danny, where the bloody hell are you?”

I smiled knowingly at the voice before replying,

“Sorry, love but you do know he prefers the company of men …”

I cherished Danny’s company for a minute longer, anticipating the chaos that was about to ensue. It wasn’t long in coming.

“Doyle that bloody horse has got out again!”

Bodie tore around the corner looking flushed. Danny’s owner shot me a guilty look and we both tried not to laugh. Though visitor’s horses brought in a healthy income, they could also bring their fair share of problems, especially inquisitive animals like Danny Boy who regularly enjoyed escaping from his stable. Completely oblivious to poor Bodie’s distress, Danny got his head down to the serious matter of munching grass.

In the end, it hadn’t been a difficult decision. I’d spent the remaining money from my discharge grant on a ticket to Derby and visited my ecstatic family. Though it was wonderful meeting the new nieces and nephews that had been born during my long absence, I was itching to travel south westwards before the week was even out. My dear mother who knew my moods as well as her own, took me to one side after witnessing my skittishness.

“Ray my love, the rest of your life is only a step away. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other. Your heart will tell you the direction your feet need to take.”

I’d kissed her gently, as always marvelling at her wisdom and bought a new train ticket within the hour. I’d burst into Bodie’s paper strewn office, taking the briefest look at him before proceeding to try and kiss him senseless. Life on the outside started for me again from that moment.

I sold the CI5 flat reaping a healthy profit which I immediately put into the business partnership. Martin and Avril had finally decided to sell though were in no hurry to do so. Bodie and I owned seventy five percent and if we continued to work hard, would eventually own the place outright.

We were cautious however, Bodie and I. We were getting older and had no intentions of working ourselves into early graves. Paperwork had never been Bodie’s forte and my insistence on taking on an office manager paid us back tenfold. Martin had been slightly dubious at first about taking on ex-offenders as employees, but every one we ever had worked out. Our first however, the heaven sent Peter Harris was the best office manager we could have wished for. Occasionally, as I watched him balancing books and doing all those fancy things on that computer of his, I thought back to the days that I had taught him how to read and write.

A few days before Christmas, Pete was sorting through the mail.

“Here, Ray, couple of cards for your mantelpiece!”

The first had a very recognisable postmark. As I opened it, a crumpled note fell out which I read, amused.

‘Dear Raydoyle. Happy Christmas to you and yours! The lads all thank you for the parcel. Two of the CDs have gone missing already but we can hear the cell that’s playing them so we know where to look eh? The books are all being passed around as I speak. Thanks for the photos, all those that are ever gonna get out of here say they’re gonna make your place their first call! Give our love to Pin and tell him he’s still a prick from us (only joking!) Hope to see you sometime next year, mate, I’ll send you a VO. Take care, Raydoyle, all the best, your friend, Tre xx’

The second card which looked like it had been written during a hurricane, had a briefer message.

‘Hi Ray and Bodie, Yep would LUV to see you sometime in Jan when this run is over. I’ll bell you okay? Love you both, HAPPY CHRISTMAS!  Kristian (note now with a K!) xxxxxxxx'

After somehow blagging himself a summer season at Butlins, Christian was now appearing in a pantomime in Guildford. I had no doubts whatsoever that he would eventually become one of the biggest stars the country had seen in a long while.

When the business of the day was finally over, Bodie and I wandered back to our beloved cottage. I still occasionally felt slightly exposed in wide open spaces but Bodie was always quick to recognise the fact. Sweeping me up, he’d bundle me into his comforting embrace where he knew I felt safe and loved.

I’d never get my time again. There were so many regrets. So much that had been lost by so many. I’d always have the ghosts who would occasionally cry to me and I would always acknowledge them, desperately trying to will away their silent tears.

Life was for living however. Unlike so many, I’d got my second chance. I had my place alongside the one I loved and who so dearly loved me in return. I couldn’t ask for any more, I didn’t need to. My time was here and my time was now.

Fin