I’m just about to go ‘all in’ on an on-line poker tournament (I’ll explain later) when my phone starts buzzin. “Ach Balix” I say and get up to see who it is. The theme tune to a fist full of dollars blasting out; poker mode. Don’t recognise the number and the usual processing kicks in and I think sod it if it’s important they’ll leave a message. The time out warning is beeping away; all in or fold. Hit the ‘fold’, pick up the phone and answer with a terse ‘yes’ as if it’s the other persons fault that I didn’t have the courage to go on a Queen Nine.
“Hello Michael? It’s me Alex (not real name for obvious reasons).” My mental tone changes immediately and hastily turn off the music and hit the ‘sit out’ button on the poker.
“Sorry mate, I’m blasting fist full of dollars music whilst playing poker on-line” I say as as I take my seat back on the sofa. This is met with a guffaw of Alex laughter.
“Be careful” he says.
We soon get to it and I find out where he is and what he’s doing or more appropriately what he’s not doing. What follows will make some people in the system squirm but as I’ve always said “My only aim is to create awareness both in the public eye and in the Criminal Justice System of the craziness that goes on in it.” Alex is in a private nick in England. We met in this same nick round about this time in March 2008. Alex is also a Belfast fella who got three years more than me. Back in 2008 we read a newspaper article about this brand new drug free restorative based wing at HMP Magilligan. We both put in for transfers’ and in March 2009 Alex shouted at me from an upstairs window as I was on my way to a visit in HMP Maghaberry. Met him at the church service the following week and we subsequently ended up in Halward House, Drug free wing HMP Magilligan around the summer of 2009.
I don’t have the time or the patience to got into the ins and outs of how the system works but in a brief summary. Halward House is now a committal wing, all cells are now doubled up, there is no such thing as a drug free wing and Alex is back in the same nick we started in back in 2008. However, Alex is now, as per yesterdays phone call awaiting a transfer back to Northern Ireland. There are a plethora of contributory factors to this but the main one is that he should be a ‘D’ cat and down in a resettlement unit where he could get home a couple of days a month to see his very elderly parents. He didn’t get his ‘D’ cat and was sent back from whenst he came because it was ‘assumed’ he’d been a bad boy; as this was ‘normally’ the only reason a body got transferred back. Nobody had read the file and he is now in the middle of a shit storm of denial by the authorities that any wrongdoing has occurred. Whether he makes it back or not is anybody’s guess and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. I told him he could apply for accumulated visits etc. The trouble is, for Alex, he has lost any concept of what’s going on. He believes what people tell him and he follows their advice. Mine included! I thought he’d get back to England, they’d look at his file, bump him off to a ‘D’ cat, he’d get into the resettlement system and he’d fly home once a month for five days; as many others do. The best laid plans of mice and men eh.
Once our call had finished I sat on the sofa shaking my head. Felt like shit. Alex is OK, he’ll be OK and talking to me obviously helps, it always has; for both of us. During the call I could hear the shouts, the bangs, the noises which transcended into smells, memories and emotions. God I miss that place sometimes. I mean that most sincerely. I miss the idea of it. The order through disorder, the vegetative trance, the non existence and the fugue of daily life without the use of drugs. I felt bad for Alex but glad that he was able to say how the place was worse than when we had been there and that he couldn’t wait to get out. It was then that a notion hit me. People like myself who are institutionalised should be allowed to go back when they want. Or at least to talk to other guys who are still there. We need to remember how shit it actually is instead of developing a psychological longing for fugue-ness/institutionalisation. The noises in the background during our call touched me deeply. I now know what my parents heard, my Aunt, my Cousins. God, their imaginations must have run a muck. Not me.
Oh, before I forget. The reason I’m playing poker is because I’m now officially on ‘zero income’. No rent being paid, no money for heating or food; small stuff like that. My father gives me pocket money to survive and maintain my studies. Full time education = zero finance = full time employment. How can both these Goverenment led sytems have the words ‘full time’ in them. You must be in full time employment to be in full time education. I play for ‘play money’ which allows me to get buy ins to satellite tournaments which can get me twenty or thirty dollars. Are Universities elitist? Hmm. How can it be elitist if your not meant to be there in the first place
It was strange being on the other end of the phone. Used to dream of being on the sofa, listening to music, playing poker, speaking to mates, getting visits from friends once every couple of months, studying every couple of hours on a daily basis. Where am I now? At home or in prison?