Prison Snow

SNOW STORM             

Last night snow fell. Inside it is warm; outside it is cold.  As temperatures dropped snow fell.

I watch the snow falling for nearly two hours while listening to ‘Classic FM’ with the headphones on.  One of those truly weird, fascinating moments, not easy to describe but as Wilbur Smith said sometimes you try to ‘describe what you see and to follow your heart.’  Here goes.

There’s a floodlight above my window: its yellow glow lights up the exercise yard as far as the outer wall.  There are a line of trees, birch and sycamore, on the freedom side of the wall. The trees are completely stripped of foliage; it’s the middle of winter.

I’m living on the “threes” (one, twos, threes and fours the number of landings on the block).  My suite, roughly level with the top of the wall, allows me, in the darkness of night, to only really see as far as the wall; because of the way the lights are set up there’s nothing but the darkness beyond creating an endless, black backdrop.

I lie on my cot, alone in the darkness watching what turns out to be a truly spectacular show as the snow begins to fall.  The snow flakes are illuminated by the spotlight in the night sky; sometimes an individual flake is defined, falling, drifting aimlessly – accompanied by the meandering notes from the piano of ‘Chopin’ which gently intrudes on the scene. 

The snowfall builds momentum, becomes thick, fast and furious; to my amazement the music becomes one with the developing storm.  The music begins to dictate, conducting the storm.  When ‘Rodrigo’ plays the snow flakes pluck the strings of his classical guitar.  When the orchestra reaches a crescendo, the fury and roll of the kettle drums are in conjunction with the gusts, flurries and swirls of the pirouetting flakes.  All of a sudden it will stop and luminescent flakes will float upwards, the music supporting the snowflakes like winged aviators, the snow floating on the thermals of violin, clarinet and flute.

In the blackness a strange thing happens.  White lines start to appear, ever so slowly in the blackness.  They are like veins snaking, twisting, reaching from nothingness; then they disappear deeper into the night.  It’s then that I realise this is the snow sitting on the branches of sycamore and birch – intertwining – and illuminated by the glow from the street lights on the freedom side of the wall.

I’m hypnotised, mesmerised. I am floating in my own little, warm cocoon.  I think to myself how cool this spectacle would be with the aid of chemicals or weed but I’m glad I no longer really feel the need for the artificial high; I’m tripping on nature’s purity – just watching, breathing, listening.

In the early hours when the storm has all but disappeared ‘Van Morrison’ accompanies the unspoiled postcard scene. This blanket of softness creates a false, muffled silence that drives me back to Belfast – Christmas Day, 2003.  My friend Noel and I walk back from the pub, heading home for dinner, feeling comfortable and merry.  The snow falls hard, fast and deep; a ten minute walk becomes an hour long epic.  Of course, when we arrive home we get an earful for being late.  I ask if anyone has bothered to look outside. My granny looks and says: “Oh, sorry son; we didn’t realise – thought you were having one or two for the road, didn’t appreciate the road was so long.”

Like last night and back then, with the two moments overlapping, I felt warm and at peace, content in my own clear-headed space.  Beautiful moments in time.  “Beautiful vision – stay with me all the time,” as Morrison puts it.

I slept like a baby.


By Michael Irwin

HMP Highdown Jan 2009           

Last night snow fell. Inside it’s warm; outside it’s cold. 

Fresh snow that’s new – not old.

‘Classic FM’ on headphones start.

Formless violins conducting snowflakes in your heart.

Above my window floodlights fall – a yellow glow

in the exercise yard but only stretching as far as birch

and sycamore on the freedom side of the wall.

Bare trees, completely stripped; mid-winter on the block. 

Darkness beyond the wall forming an endless, black backdrop.

Snow flakes in a spot-lit sky; individual flakes drifting aimlessly

Through Chopin’s notes – dissolving, going on their way.  

Snowfall builds; music conducts the storm;

Rodrigo plucks a snowflake: Outside it’s cold; inside it’s warm.

Fury, flurry, fast roll of kettle drums keeping time with each gust.

Snow thermals of violin, clarinet, flute – and needs must

Pierce the darkness where sinister white lines slowly appear

– as snow lies on the trees – there and there and here – here

Where I watch snow fall on the yellow yard in No-Man’s Land,

On the freedom side of the wall.

About micsirwin

I'm an Author with a BA in Criminology and Psychological Studies and an MSc in Criminology. I've studied prisons from the inside and out. Challenging prisons and societies attitudes toward them. Board member of charity helping people into work after prison.
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