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Solitary Confinement

2 May

solitary confinement

Except I wasn’t concentrating on what he was saying because I was reading this article on the internet about a kid in New York who had been arrested on suspicion of stealing somebody’s rucksack, just 16 years old he was, and they stuck him in jail to await his trial, except his trial never came up, so he spent three years in this prison, three years! waiting for the opportunity to defend himself, his day in court, but it never came and in the end all charges were dropped as there wasn’t enough evidence to even prove he had committed the crime. So they just said sorry and opened his door. Like that kind of thing was alright. There’s no way they said sorry. And I couldn’t stop imagining that happening to me as a 16-year old. All the firsts I experienced between the ages of 16 and 19. First smoke, first pill, first sex, first job, first holiday without supervision. Exciting years; the world in front of you; free from school; young, able-bodied and full of energy, often misplaced, but full of energy all the same. A good time to be walking around the streets. This kid wasn’t afforded that luxury. But even worse, this kid’s time inside was horrific. He decided not to join any of the gangs that operated in the prison. Then one day a gang leader spat in this kid’s face in the canteen and this kid knew that if he didn’t stand up for himself then his face would be spat in every day, so he punched this gang bloke on the nose, bang, and within a couple of seconds this kid was having his head kicked in by like 50 gang members, and the wardens basically stood and watched. The attack went on for ages, this kid was beaten senseless.

The reason the story was being reported now was that CCTV footage of the incident had been released, showing the brutality of the attack, and this video accompanied the article I was reading, so I saw it. I’m not just going on hearsay. And after that day life in the prison wasn’t safe for that kid so the guards moved him to solitary confinement. And that’s where this kid spent three years for a crime that he was never convicted of. But the thing I found most interesting was that the person who had written the article seemed as outraged by the fact that this kid had had to endure solitary confinement as he or she was at the violence he’d been subjected to. I found this curious because to me solitary confinement seems like the perfect scenario to hope for if you ever get caught doing something naughty and have to go away for a bit. I always assumed everybody else was with me on this. This isn’t just something I think now. I have always had it in my mind. You remember how I was always in trouble when we were at school? Hardly a day went by that I wasn’t sat outside Miss Bleatley’s office on detention. Usually for fighting. Nah, it was for everything, come to think of it. Stuff that I had done and stuff that I hadn’t. How many times was I suspended from school! I felt like I couldn’t avoid trouble even if I tried, which on rare occasion I did, unsuccessfully. So my natural fear during those years was that authority would continue to pick on me after I left school, and that detention would be replaced by prison. It genuinely occurred to me. And so I had this plan ready. The first night of my stint behind bars I would do something fucked up, like do a shit on the dinner table, inside a Yorkshire pudding or something, and then vow to squeeze out a shit every time someone said the word sausage. Or cigarette. Or bird. Or another word. Some really messed up shit like that. Just to get stuck in solitary. Because the last thing I want to do in prison, just the same as on the outside world, is socialise with other humans. I wouldn’t want to know my fellow inmates, I wouldn’t even want to know what their faces looked like. I imagine the prison social club is an alright place to hang out if you’re like a natural criminal or something, they say that when you come out you’ve learnt from all the other criminals in there and you’ve honed your skills, ready to go back to your life and start doing naughty stuff again but only better than you did it before. But the thing is I’m just not a natural criminal. I don’t want to learn how to blow open a safe or nick a car without detection. I can’t drive. So I wouldn’t fancy it. I’m a disobedient little bastard, but not a criminal. Not a real one. I suppose this is obvious enough already for the fact that this prison story of mine is hypothetical. But what I planned to do in prison once I’d got myself sectioned off to solitary confinement was to spend all my time reading literature, teaching myself a foreign language or two, if they’d let me get the books from the library, and if not I would just meditate facing the wall. In peace. Not getting in any more trouble. Not having to talk to anyone. Not having to listen to anyone. I always thought that would be alright, actually. No one boring me. Just send the guard along twice a day to push my little bit of food through the flap in the door, I’d be sorted thank you very much. And I’d exercise a load, too. Push-ups round the clock. Healthy body, healthy mind. One thing my environment during adolescence taught me was that prison gave you muscles. Every single one of the kids from my year that did end up going down after we left school together went in there the same size as me and came out a couple of years later a gorilla. Seriously, arms like Popeye, every one of them. But this kid’s experience of solitary confinement didn’t play out like that. Another released CCTV tape showed the morning that one of the guards came to escort the kid to the shower. The guard had had a row with his wife or something before coming to work, had the right ‘ump, and so when he opened the door to the kid’s cell and the kid stepped outside, the guard just laid into him, slamming his head repeatedly against the floor. You don’t need that when you’re serving time without trial for a crime that you’re never going to be convicted of. All of a sudden solitary confinement didn’t seem like the paradise I had conjured it up to be in my mind. What’s the point of not having to worry about other prisoners if you still get kicked around by the guards? That’s even worse, cos you can’t really fight back. Well, you can, but you can’t win. I really felt bad for this kid, it moved me, made me angry and sad at the same time. And yea, I really couldn’t get out of my imagination that this could have happened to me. Only, it wouldn’t happen to me. Because I’m not black and I’m not in America, and what happened to that kid wouldn’t ever have happened to a white kid, of this I am positive. The system wouldn’t let it get that far. There would be press outrage for a start, and from the beginning, not just some article published more than three years after I was arrested. And that actually made me feel even sadder and even more angry. Anyway that kid’s out now.

————-

The narrative above is fiction and just an excerpt from a longer story that I am currently working on. However, the story about the kid in America, sadly, is a true one.

Enter Here. Exit Here. Thanks For Coming.

1 Dec

‘It’s like the film Being John Malkovich, innit?’ he said to the man standing over him. And then he remembered that the man didn’t speak his language. So he asked it again, this time in the man’s national tongue. The man’s response was ‘What?’ except it wasn’t exactly ‘What?’ because it wasn’t said in English. But it meant ‘What?’

‘You wouldn’t get it,’ he said, reaching down into the side pocket of his bag that sat between his feet and pulling out his ticket, which he handed to the man. The man took it, crossed it with a biro, handed it back, and carried on down the carriage. He turned his head to the left to stare out of the window, to lose himself on the distant horizon, to be taken there by the current and left to float over the edge, peacefully on his back, he imagined a bottomless waterfall, perpetual motion, the eternal drop. Would it be noisy, he wondered. What did it matter? He’d get used to it. That’s what you do; you get used to stuff. He had forgotten that it was past ten at night, that the sun had long since set, that the window at his side now only served as a mirror, revealing his surroundings, bright under the train’s lightbulbs, as it rolled along the tracks that hugged the shore line. He fought the temptation to check his reflection, he knew what he looked like; tired. And empty. But mostly tired. He didn’t need reminding. His eyes looked older than they were. As luck would have it, the rest of him didn’t. Not that it mattered. There were people, about eight in total, sharing the carriage with him. Eight other humans, possibly nine, and not a sound to be heard. Not a voice. Not a laugh. Not a sniff. Not a shuffling of papers. Not an itchy arse being scratched on a seat. Just faces looking at mobile screens. Or in the case of one lady, looking at the backs of eyelids. She was asleep. But she wasn’t resting her head on anything. She sat upright. And she dozed peacefully. He thought this must have taken training.

The woman sat opposite him was also surveying the scene via the reflection in the window. Their eyes met in the glass. She had nice hair, he thought, and pretty eyes, hooded, deep. No make-up. None needed. She didn’t smile, she wasn’t a smiler. He used to be. She just looked into his reflected eyes. The glass a bulldozer to the social No No wall that existed in the physical. Without the glass to act as a filter, this kind of behavior would not be acceptable. You do not stare at strangers on public transport. It’s bad form. She had started it, though.

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Attention to Detail

9 Nov

‘Don’t you eat?’ she meant nothing by it, but it cut. Of all the times he didn’t want to hear it, now, her wrapped round him, fingertips pulsating down his back, clothes discarded carelessly across the floor, humans glowing, sweat, saliva, now was definitely one of those times. Normally the next words to leave the offending female’s lips were, ‘I’ll have to cook for you.’ And he always clammed up. And he didn’t see that woman again. But tonight she didn’t say, ‘I’ll have to cook for you,’ in fact she made no unfounded assumptions about his future, she invited herself to no parties. Instead, as she felt the backward shift in his comfort, she said, ‘It’s just that you’re so thin!’

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Completely True Memories From My Birth

4 Jun

Allow me to reminisce briefly about a funny thing that happened to me one early morning thirty years ago. I was born! I climbed out of another human being’s body! Mental, right? Now I’m not going to claim that I remember any details from the day of my birth, because that would be an obvious lie, wouldn’t it? but I do clearly remember this: that when the midwife put me on the scales for the first time in that delivery room, she turned to my knackered looking mum and said, ‘Your son weighs 6 pounds and 2 ounces, which is quite tiny. Also – and I’ve never had to tell a new mother this before – half of that body weight is made up of thick, dark hair.’

To which my mother responded chirpily from just above the rim of her cup of tea, ‘Yea, that’ll be the Indian in him.’

Everyone gathered round was just about to chuckle politely, when a moment of silence descended for them to quickly ask themselves whether my mum’s little quip had been politically correct or not, everyone coming to the same conclusion: that this was the early 80s and we were in South London, so who really gave a shit? Also my mum’s granddad had been an Indian immigrant to Britain, so she was allowed to make comments like that, alright? Also, she never really said it, did she? This whole scenario up until now has been, if I’m truthful, made up as I go along. Why? Who knows? So yea, once everybody in the room had realised all of these things, they each allowed themselves a grin, before stopping what they were doing for a moment to enjoy a biscuit, picked from an assortment atop a plate that a passing ambulance driver had carried in to the room just seconds earlier.

‘I was just on my way home with this tray of biscuits, when I heard the screams of a newborn and followed my instincts (and my ear) to deliver this celebratory selection to the welcoming party! Congratulations!’ the nice man said.

A hospital orderly then handed everyone a fresh cup of tea, for biscuits to be dipped in. My dad politely turned down his offering, however, preferring instead to dip a Custard Cream in his beer. Each to their own. And then the hairy newborn baby in the room (the hairy newborn baby that was me, remember) raised his tiny little finger into the air, cleared his tiny little throat, and asked in a voice that shocked people by how deep it was for a baby, ‘What about the welcomee? Doesn’t he get a biscuit, too? I could murder a Bourbon.’

Everyone looked at each other confusedly, saying nothing, before their minds were put to rest by the calming words of one of the doctors in the room, who said, ‘Don’t worry; he’ll grow into that voice one day.’

There was then a period of silence; a silence that was broken by my mum asking, ‘Can the same be said of the hair, doctor?’

The doctor’s words on this occasion were less reassuring: ‘Even if your son grew to the size of André the Giant, which he won’t, he will never grow into all that hair.’

This cultural reference worked better then that it would today because in 1983 everyone on the planet (mostly) knew who André the Giant was. Today, not so much. Today in a similar situation the doctor might say, ‘Even if your son grew to the size of Wikipedia, which he won’t, he will never grow into all that hair.’

Everyone just smiled silently at the doctor’s knowledgeable input; everyone except for the passing ambulance driver, that is, who broke the silence for the second time to say, ‘Hang on a minute! Is that what everyone thought was weird about the baby asking for a Bourbon – that he asked for it in a deep non-baby like voice? Not one of your confused expressions was brought on by the mere fact that the newborn baby just spoke? I thought we were all on the same page back then! Obviously not!’

My dad then uttered his first words of the occasion, saying, ‘Runs in the family, that. I been speaking since about three weeks before birth. Nothing weird about that.’

The ambulance driver was lost for words, literally, and so just shook everybody’s hand and left the scene.

‘I never knew that about you!’ my mum said to my dad, after the ambulance driver had shut the door behind him.

‘That’s because it’s not true!’ he replied, ‘How could I have been talking from before I was born? I can’t believe that worked!’

The midwife then tapped my dad on the shoulder and asked, ‘What was the point of making that up?’ to which my dad uttered his now infamous words, ‘I just said it without thinking first.’

‘Genius,’ said the hairy newborn baby, ‘Genius.’

The hospital orderly collected up everyone’s empty mugs on a tray – she also took my dad’s empty can and said she’d find a bin for it – and then the midwife picked up the hairy newborn baby (aka Me) and said, ‘Right you, you’re coming with me!’

‘Where’s he off to, then?’ my mum asked.

‘Remember I said that he weighed 6 pounds and 2 ounces, and that that was quite tiny? Well it’s very tiny; probably down to the fact that he wasn’t meant to be born for another three weeks,’ the midwife explained, whilst giving me a little beanie hat and telling me to put it on; which I did obediently.

‘Is that why he’s a bit blue?’ asked my dad from across the room.

‘It is, yes.’

‘Ah that’s alright then, for a while I was secretly wrestling with the suspicion that my wife had been having a Smurf round the house while I was at work,’ my dad said. ‘So where’s he going then? You still didn’t tell us.’

‘Oh yea, sorry, I’m a forgetful thing sometimes,’ said the midwife, giggling, ‘He’s going to live in an incubator for a while.’

‘Oh. Okay then,’ my mum said, ‘Can you turn the light off on your way out, please, I’m about ready to pass out.’

The midwife picked me up and we headed to the door together. Just before she switched off the light she said to me, ‘Wave goodbye to your mum, if you don’t die then you’ll see her in a little while.’

‘Wait! What?’ said the hairy baby.

I didn’t die, and a week later I was taken home to meet the family dog.

me baby

Remember That Time We Contacted The Dead?

24 Mar

Do you remember that time when we was about ten or eleven years old, it was the spring time, and that kid that everyone was a bit afraid spent the morning telling us about how he was able to speak to the dead? And do you remember how he told us it definitely worked, cos he’d done it at home the night before, so he knew? Remember the looks on our faces? I definitely remember the look on yours. And then when he told us that we could do it too. All we needed was this thing called a Ouija board, even if we never woulda known then that that’s how it was spelt, if forced to hazard a guess we would’ve probably spelt it weedgie board, and a coin. That was all we needed, he told us, to talk to the dead! Man, I remember the look on your face. But wait, shit, we haven’t got a weedgie board. What’s that? It doesn’t matter, you say, because we can make one ourselves on a piece of A4 paper? And it just so happens that we’ve got a photocopier in our classroom with a tray full of A4 paper. Remember the excitment when he told us that? Breaktime couldn’t come soon enough that day, could it? Even if deep down inside we knew that what that weird kid was telling us couldn’t possibly be true, we knew that we’d make our weedgie board, form a circle around it, put our fingers on the coin and nothing whatsoever would happen, even if we knew all that really, we still couldn’t fucking wait for breaktime, could we? What if it was true? It couldn’t be though, could it? Why we were even entertaining the idea? Roll on breaktime!

We didn’t have to wait til breaktime though for our juices to really get flowing, did we, cos remember how fifteen minutes before break that kid told the teacher he was going to the toilet and when he returned five minutes later he only produced a weedgie board from his pocket, that he had made in the cloakroom! Yes! Remember that? Course you do! You don’t forget those days. Ever. Everytime the teacher went over the other side of the classroom he whipped it out on the table for us to marvel at. Remember how big he had written the words ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ up in the corners? And remember the alphabet and numbers written in the circle? And remember how that weedgie board looked absolutely fuck all like any Ouija board you’ve ever seen since? But it was the only weedgie board we’d ever seen, so it had to be proper, and besides, this kid had done it at home the night before and he knew what he was talking about, alright?

Remember how at the time the obvious question never crossed our minds, ‘What sort of weird home life has this kid got if he’s conducting séances at night?’ And that kid didn’t even have any brothers or sisters, man! So I wanna know who the fuck was introducing him to this stuff? His parents? ‘Hello, Childline?’

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The Wrong Man

6 Dec

He stepped out from under the bus shelter and stood in the middle of the pavement, illuminated by the streetlight above  his head, his features shadowed by his oversized baseball cap, which he wore under his hood. His full pockets were testament to the productive evening  he’d had, moving around the borough on his bike, which now leant against the glass of the shelter. He was blocking the path of who he planned to be his last mark of the evening, who was pacing meaningfully towards him.

Charlie walked briskly, his full attention on the text message that he was reading for the umpteenth time on his iPhone. No matter how many times he read it, it never changed. She’d gone to stay with her sister for a bit up north. She didn’t want him to call her. She needed some time to evaluate things. Charlie was going home to an empty flat. This was the last thing he needed just a week before he fought the biggest fight of his life, to become regional welterweight champion. He stopped in his tracks and looked up to see who was stood in his way.

‘Nice phone, Blud. Give it to me. And your wallet, yea?’

A broad smile came across Charlie’s face, as he looked his accoster square in the eye.

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Bad Girls

22 Nov

“Take his head off of his fucking shoulders! Kill the bastard!” Leanne shouted, through the huffing and puffing brought on by booting seven shades of shit out of the boy who lay lying on the ground, battered and bleeding. She also smoked too much.

The four girls, all with matching peroxide ends and dark roots, their school ties hanging loosely around their necks, let their black shoes rain down on the poor kid, seemingly completely unconcerned about the damage they might be inflicting. Like wild animals, the sense was that they wouldn’t cease the beating until the victim was dead.

“Grass on me, you little muppet! Get me put in detention! How did you think I would just ignore a liberty like that?” Leanne continued to shout at the bag of bones that lay at her feet. “If you even think for a second about telling anyone who did this to you, I swear I will read your mind and I will kill you! Do you understand me? I will kill you.”

Three of the four girls, including Leanne, were growing more hysterical with rage and emotion as the assault went on. But not so Claire, who although she went along with the rest of the gang, was emotionally unattached, and even made sure that her feet landed every kick to the top of the boy’s arm rather than his head or neck.

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