01 Jul Day 1
Part 1 – Armley Gaol
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Wednesday 1st July 2015
Today was the day. My sentencing was at 2pm where I would finally know what my fate would be. Mum, Dad, Colin and I travelled to Leeds by train and as I sat staring out of the window it dawned on me that this could be the last time I could have so much freedom outdoors. This set the mood for the rest of the journey as every moment felt like time was slipping through my fingers. Mark, the Pastor from church, greeted me with a reassuring smile by the doors of the court and we continued to walk inside.
We were sitting in the court waiting room filled with so many other people nervously waiting what felt like an eternity until 4pm at which point we were called in to court. The time had finally arrived and I was directed to the dock by the usher. I could vaguely see my family through the tinted glass though I think it was clearer on their side; I wondered how I looked to them. Did I look brave? Did they see me shaking as I impatiently waited for them to just get on with it? I kept glancing over in their direction and they were so still. I could see them looking at each other and then over at me but not for too long because they didn’t want me to see the fear that was in their eyes. I could see them fighting to stay strong which was more for my benefit than anything else.
I was arrested 11 months ago but to me it only felt like yesterday when my life significantly changed. This was an overwhelming feeling as the court room went quiet and the prosecution began their opening statement. They categorically listed all my offences and it was still hard for me to hear being described as some form of a tyrant; how awful I must have been in that moment of time. I watched as Ben, my barrister, confidently stood up and gave the closing statement. I knew he believed in me and understood me as a person which he demonstrated as he described my character which was evidenced with 32 glowing references. There was nothing more that could have been said or done however I knew that I had given my all and in the end I knew it was time to just accept my fate.
Although I couldn’t have asked any more of Ben, I still nervously gazed at the Judge who was sat there silently deliberating my future. It was strange knowing that one person had so much power and control over my future. He asked me to stand which was difficult since my legs were weak, my palms were sweating and my stomach was in knots. I could not still myself. My stomach then started to rumble, was I seriously hungry at this moment in time? I’m always hungry but this really wasn’t the best time. My hands started to shake and my eyes started to fill, this was it…
Ben said in his closing statement, ‘Your Honor, every now and again, there is an exceptional case and the guidelines suggest anywhere up to four and a half years, I ask that we see them as just that, guidelines and that Mr. Hill made a regrettable mistake.’
The Judge then asked Ben if he was available on Friday morning and immediately I felt a new knot of dread. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle going through the process of taking the same train home, unpacking for a few days, repacking and then saying my goodbyes again. It was difficult this morning but knowing it would happen again made me feel sick. I glanced over at Ben where he then stated that he was unavailable however a fellow barrister could be. The judge held eye contact for an uncomfortable amount of time and I was still thinking about how horrible it would be to repeat this morning. Thankfully the judge saved me from that. He said, ‘I will sentence you on Friday Mr. Hill but I am going to remand you in between.’
I couldn’t bear to look at my family because of everything that I have put them through over the last 11 months. I have brought a lot of shame to them when they have spent their life putting people away and now they are watching their son be held. I picked up my ‘overnight’ bag, turned around and went towards the back of the room towards the holding room where I would wait for the bus to transport me to Armley prison. I felt numb and all I could think about what the fact that I would be putting my family through another two days of not knowing what my fate would be.
I was truly alone for the first time in a long time, not only physically but also in terms of my journey. Since being arrested, everyone has been physically with me and understood that there would be the possibility of me being sentenced to prison; however, I have felt that they couldn’t truly understand the concept of having to serve a sentence in prison and what it would be like. This is something that I have been thinking about for a long time because I feel like I deserve it and it’s my only way of paying of my debt while the rest of my family and friends still maintained a glimmer of hope. No one out there could understand or help me now. My eyes started filling with tears and I refused to cry so I opened my card from Mark and read it with a smile. The message was exactly what I needed at that moment in time and it gave me the strength to not reduce to tears but to focus on what was happening now and what I need to do.
Suddenly, I heard the rattling of keys on a chain and the loud unlocking of a door which engulfed the room that was previously quiet where I only heard the sound of my heavy breathing and the neon light. The holding room is not what you would expect. It was tiled with scratching marks and graffiti with the names of people who had been there and what they have been sentenced. There is also a strong odour of piss that reminded me of being in an underpass. Brian, the bailiff came in to the room. He was a humoring fellow, answering my questions and trying to get me to crack a laugh about it all. He asked if I was strong? My anxiety went through the roof. Immediately scenes of fighting men off in prison flew through my head, why would he ask such a thing? OMG I’m getting beaten up tonight. He then said, ‘Because you have to carry your hold-all with these on.’ Then he cuffed me.
We walked downstairs and headed towards the check in desk which was not quite like the Marriot check-in desk. They bagged and logged all my personal belongings. I thought I would be wearing handcuffs from now till I entered Armley but they were taken off at the desk which seemed like a very short time to be wearing them, but apparently it was to prevent me from running out the emergency exit at the bottom of the stairs. Did they not know that me trying to run contributed to me being here? As if I would make that mistake again! Brian mentioned that the barrister spoke of how I received support off Branson. The staff had a good giggle about how he couldn’t help me here. All I could do was uncomfortably laugh along with them – I couldn’t exactly walk away!
Before the trial, Emily and Mark gave me small notes of reassurance which Brian let me keep saying how I will need them later. He also handed me my list of contact numbers of people that I wanted to call if I got sentenced. I feel my preparation is what gave me a lot of my strength that day. I knew what to expect.
I was also invited to change out of my suit in to something more comfortable and ‘prison – appropriate’ as the woman behind the counter put it. They kindly told me that walking into prison would be dangerous and that wearing tracksuit bottoms would be more appropriate and I would fit in more likely. They handed me my clothes and I stood there for a good minute. ‘Well, come on then?’ said Brian. ‘What? Where’s the changing rooms?’ I asked. Another laugh ensued. Fuck sake. I suppose it’s a highlight of their day seeing someone like me who has no idea what’s going on and so uncomfortable disrobing in front of these four staff and slipping in to my trackies and plain top. I took nothing of value assuming I was just going to get it all stolen. Those staff let me change, it was a kind, simple act and I was so grateful. I even got to change my socks – talk about comfort.
Soon after, my solicitors Stacey and Ben visited me and assured me my family were okay but mum was a little upset. Hearing mum was upset was another blow reminder that I had put them into this position. Ben said the judge wants to do what he can to ensure I do not go to prison and perhaps he is putting me down here for a couple of days just to punish and scare me. I wanted to believe this. As much as I felt I deserved it it’s not something that I was happy about doing.
I was then put in to another holding cell that looked no different to the first one apart from it was a bit bigger. I was given a ‘GEOAMEY’ egg mayonnaise sandwich which tasted like it was made out of a ‘just add water’ packet. Brian peeked through the door and saw me striding backwards and forwards talking to the wall trying to make sense out of things so passed me a metro newspaper to read. Another act of kindness. Either that or I am developing Stockholm syndrome already.
Soon after, I was then loaded on to the bus or ‘sweatbox’ as they call it on this side of the fence and yes it was hot with no air con. The bus is very uncomfortable! For each prisoner there is a little cubicle with a plastic seat fastened into the wall and when stood up my nose could touch the wall in front of it where it was covered in scratchings and markings like the holding cell. On my left is the door and on my right is a one way window about ten inches long. The drive to Armley Goal must have only been 15 to 20 minutes but it felt like a lifetime. I couldn’t see forwards so I had no idea where I was going and there was something very lonely about looking out of the window which was tinted. The outside looked bleak and dark which is fitting to the place that I am heading towards.
Once I was there I was booked in where my head shape was described as… ‘oval’. They went back through my items like it was airport security (clear packaging and all) and I was able to keep most of them except: a hoody (no hoods), a black fleece (no black clothing due to staff uniform) and few toiletries, which had opaque packaging. Don’t they know how much Tesco charge for toiletries, even in the 3 for 2 offer?!?!
I was then escorted to the ‘First Night Centre’ (FNC) which is a separate wing to the prison where the staff give you a social assessment to get a feel of you as a prisoner and figure out if you are going to be a victim. After having my photo ID prepared, which is a plastic credit card with my prisoner number which I will keep forever (almost like an exclusive club member card), I sat with Caroline the nurse. She had a caring look in her eyes or maybe I just wanted her to? She asked me all the usual health questions and deemed it unnecessary for me to have to see a doctor, brilliant!
The centre is almost like one long conveyor belt where everything that happens to get you settled happens in an order. I gingerly walked up to a prisoner with a red band around his arm and asked him where I should go. His name is Stuart and he is a 26 year old electrician from Birmingham (most people call him Brummy). He is in for assault but only has a few months left. He works on this wing getting details off new inmates and helping them settle in. What a job that is! Maybe I could try get it when he goes? I asked him where I go next and he walked me down the corridor. He said, ‘You’re quite posh aren’t you? You stick out like a sore thumb.’ All with a smile in his voice. He had me figured out immediately and I straightaway felt comfortable with him but I just smiled back for fear that whatever I said could affect how other inmates took to me. We walked to the communal area for some food and he got me some plastic cutlery – its almost like camping I thought. We sat and chatted for a while. He couldn’t understand why I was so calm compared to his first night. He even laughed and said, ‘You won’t be so calm whilst getting bummed your cell mate,’ I put down the chicken leg I was munching on (not a bad first meal) then placed my plate of potato and veg on the side. I looked at him with a straight face as it to look worried, he cracked a smile and I had a good relieved laugh.
Stuart walked me to my cell and turned back to me and said, ‘Oh my god, you’re cell mate is massive, don’t say anything!’ I knew he was just messing about but I was still scared. I was then introduced to my cell mate, Stephen. He must be around 6ft and easily weighs 14-16 stone, covered in tattoos and short hair. He is serving the last 20 months of a 12 year sentence. He was transferred from Hull that day for ‘security reasons’. SHIT.
Moved to cell D-1-03
My first impression of my cell is that it is very basic. The brick wall is a flaky mint green paint and there is a tiny wooden window with three solid bars looking out onto a court yard. There is also a bunk bed and the kid in me was really excited to be getting the top bunk but not so excited about the toilet which has a metal divider shielding some form of my dignity. There is also a TV, plastic chair, clothes cabinet and a small table. In the corner there are loads of bags full of stuff which belong to Stephen.
Throughout the evening Stephen was generally quiet but was always happy to answer my ‘first time in prison questions’ in detail which made me feel a lot better. He has been here so long that he’s got nice bedding and a cup amongst other things. He has literally just cracked out a DVD player with the entire breaking bad box set. This just got a lot easier and nice to have a little bit of escapism. From seeing all of Stephen’s belongings I am now a bit more motivated to start forming my own plan for how to reach this point and have my own belongings so I know I now have to work hard for it.
I’ll eat four times a day (continental breakfast, lunch, dinner and then a supper bun) its all very carb heavy and I’m looking forward to getting some exercise. Oh I also get lots of cups of tea and a window looking right outside to the exercise yard. There’s a fresh breeze and lots of light.
I’m trying to remain positive and having the small notes of reassurance from Emily and Mark are definitely helping me to keep going. Its not all so bad is it?