Thursday, 2 January 2014

1--250 Hours Community Payback Order

The following is a fictional story and any resemblance to any person either living or dead is entirely coincidental. In any case, all names have been changed to protect the guilty.

My name is Larry Jones and I have been ordered by the Courts to complete 250 hours of Unpaid, Supervised Work in Dundee, Scotland. This is my story ...

250 hours Community Payback Order--Day 1--Hogmanay

I slept fitfully that night and was wide-awake hours before my phone alarm set my heart fluttering at 7.39. I'd probably been waiting more than an hour for it to go, eyes open and staring into the dark, expecting it any second, every second, and yet the second it went, panic swooped through me like ice in my veins. Sometimes panic slowly rises, like you can feel it's progress through your body, through your chest, the dread creeping slowly down your arms into the tips of your fingers, your breath quickens and you just want it to stop. Other times it's like an instant terror that fills you immediately, explosively and overwhelmingly. Terror, not like you've felt at the movies, but real, life-threatening I'm going to die in the most horrible way in the next few seconds terror.

 I had some porridge (please resist the pun Ian) and arrived at Bell Street car park with 5 quid in change. It's been a while since I parked in Bell Street car park and I was dismayed to find it cost £6.50 for seven hours stay. I paid £4.50 which left me 1 hour short. Okay, so along with the ignominy of my first day of Community Payback Order I'd suffer a £60 parking charge on top, sigh.

It was overcast and still dark as I walked to Fairfield House and I was glad the streets were quiet as I was keenly aware that every stranger who passed knew of my shame and forced penance. When I arrived at 8.25 at the doors of the "workshop." I nervously shook the doors but they were locked. On the other side of the street stood a man brooding in the shadows. In his 50's, shaved head, scarf, stocky, jeans and donkey jacket and an old-fashioned haversack. He stood motionless and emotionless in the shadows and stared straight ahead paying me no attention. Surely, if you had looked out your window of an evening to see this guy dimly-lit by lamplight in the street you would  immediately phone the police. The only thing missing to add menace was a dank Victorian mist. Instantly I knew him as the lead character from the movie Despicable Me. Only he wasn't a cartoon. And didn't look quite so cuddly. I swear I'm not making this up.

So I crossed the street and asked impertinently  "Are you waiting here for the doors to open?" "Yeah" he said, "but they don't open till exactly 8.30. Is this your first day?" He gave me a few introductory bits and pieces of how things worked before the doors opened and we crossed the street and went inside.

At the office just inside the door was a girl with a clipboard who took my name. I told her it was my first day. She told me to get my steel toe-capped boots and overalls from a guy at the stores. The guy asked me my shoe-size and handed me my boots and boiler-suit. These were almost the last words spoken directly to me by any official that day.

I followed Despicable-Me to a chaotic back-room with chairs and tables and furniture at random angles and bric-a-brac strewn everywhere. I chose a chair and changed into my boots. I laid my own shoes and boiler suit on a table and sat back in my chair and waited. Presently, others trickled to the room. Eight in all appeared. And we waited. We waited in silence. Not another word was muttered, not a syllable was uttered but for more than an hour we commonly gazed at the floor, all avoiding the possibility of eye-contact. My mood, already low, began to sink.

Around 9.45 a council support worker (henceforth known as a screw) breezed through the area with an edict: "Okay guys, everyone on the bus."

I followed the others and mounted the bus. Again we sat in complete, in total, in ... in ... cut-the-atmosphere-with-a-knife ... silence. I stared through the rain-streaked window at the dismal damp tenements of  Lochee Road and contemplated this grim, ungainly, ghast and ominous adventure I was forced to endure. Never have I shirked the responsibility of my actions. For sure, punishment and humiliation shall be heaped upon an offender. It's the modern-day equivalent of the stocks. My thoughts turned to Karen and I could see her in my mind, flitting through a dandelion-filled field with wicker basket and singing like a Disney Princess, sun ablaze amid blue skies, indifferent to the torture put upon me. Surely, in that moment, I was Jean-val-Jean.

Willing every traffic-light to red and unnaturally but silently applauding every minor traffic hold-up such that it might shave another few seconds from my 250 hours, we arrived, after about 15 minutes, at a large care-home for the elderly. The screws asked us to wait in an outhouse while they surveyed our tasks for the day. We gathered in the outhouse protected from the drizzle and someone switched on two massive and very bright electric heaters. I sat down in a chair in front of one of the heaters and stretched out my hands, embraced the warmth and stared into the light as one would with a real coal fire. I doubted Jean-val-Jean ever sat in front of an electric fire. That's progress. Still the silence was unbroken.

Eventually, the screws returned and led us into the dank, drizzling, dripping, dismal winter garden of discontent. The sky was as heavy with rain as my heart with despair. Can I fall any further? We were asked to split to two teams of four. I stuck with Despicable-Me and two younger guys joined. We were told to clear a border of weeds, 4 feet in breadth and 70 yards long. The weeds were many years established and I could see they were deep into the soil. The time was now around 10.15 am. We set to work and Despicable-Me dug like a demon. I was impressed with the younger guys too. They worked conscientiously and continuously and I think I did too. I was well aware, having had my own garden and some experience, that we were removing the top surface of weeds but not their roots. Within a few weeks of Spring those weeds will be back with a vengeance. Fine, I thought, I don't really care, this is about time, not substance. After about 20 minutes one of the screws came by and exclaimed we should slow down as we were clearing the border too fast and they didn't have enough work for us. I knew at that moment this was a game to be played. I dug just to keep warm. After 40 minutes the screws announced it was time for a t-break. Most of the cons stood outside the outhouse smoking while I again embraced the electric fire. The silence still unbroken.

Around 11.30 we were set back to work, I was using a garden fork with 4 prongs, none of which pointed in the same direction. I repeatedly and vainly tried to straighten them. I thought back to an earlier appearance in Court where I was surrounded by diminutive, unfit, and in most cases hugely overweight guards, dripping with keys on chains and handcuffs, physically restraining me in case I should run amok among them like Gulliver with his Lilliputians. Now, another day but still the same person and I'm handed a lethal pitchfork. What a show this is. What a pantomime. After 20 minutes it was lunchtime. Back on the bus and after a short time it stopped in the Hilltown. I asked the guy sitting next to me what was happening. He said we could all go buy something for lunch. I stayed on the bus while the others went to the shops. We parked for about 15 minutes while the guy who had been sitting next to me managed to buy a New Year's steak pie from the butchers, top-up his electricity card and get some hot food for his lunch. This guy's definitely playing, and winning the game I thought. Unfortunately, as he was climbing back on the bus his steak pie fell from his arms into the footwell with a ruinous shplat. He scooped it all back into the bag. I expect it'll be just as tasty but imagined, with a chuckle, his wife's face. Somehow, somewhere I'll find humour in all of this.

Back at the workshop we sat in the kitchen and Mr Steak Pie asked my name and how many hours I'd got. He was very surprised at my lengthy sentence but seemed hugely pleased and possibly relieved that I was there for assaulting someone ... It seemed to earn me some respect among the rest of the cons too. I remarked, somewhat petulantly, that I was thinking prison was maybe a better option than this. The others strongly disagreed. Mr Steak Pie said he'd been to prison and didn't ever want to go back. Soon another 4 guys noisily and robustly entered the kitchen and sat round the table wolfing down their hot food. They dominated the room from that point. All my fellow cons fell silent and I closed my eyes and listened to the Four. Their lazy diction and strangled speech sometimes made it difficult to understand what they were saying but they talked of drugs busts, armed response units and fuckin' killin' lots of people. Soon the Four went outside for a smoke, Mr Steak Pie waited till they were out of earshot and said, sincerely, to me, "That's why you don't want to go to prison Larry, everyone there is exactly like them and you will have to deal with that every day." I was convinced. I asked Mr Steak Pie why none of the Four were in our team. "Is it just coincidence?" I asked. Mr Steak Pie said "No, these guys start at 10 am instead of 8.30 am as they have to first get their methadone."

At 1.45 we were back on the bus and arriving at the nursing home. It was raining hard so yet again we sat around the fire in the outhouse. I put on my headphones  and sat listening to music. I put my hood up over my head so the screws wouldn't see, closed my eyes and thought of better times. I think I was dozing when one of the cons roused me and said the rain was off. We went back to digging. This time we leaned on our shovels and rakes and began to chat about our situations. I seemed to have the highest number of hours by far. Most are 50, maybe 100 or 150 hours. Stories of leniency and remission for pleading guilty or for handing oneself to the police were common. I did both, but no quarter was given to me. We pottered around for about 25 minutes when the screws announced a t-break. Back to the outhouse. After a lengthy t-break we were back on the bus and back to the workshop. There, a friendly screw asked me how my first day had been. I said I guess I wasn't supposed to enjoy it and in fact, didn't. He kindly told me it would pass quicker than I thought and that not to despair. Anyone, of any walk of life could, and often does, find themselves in my position. I appreciated his words. He made a quick check to see no social workers were around and said since it was Hogmanay we could all leave (5 minutes early). I hurried out the door as quick as I could and didn't look back. 243 hours to go and my car didn't even have a parking ticket. Happy New Year!

Please Note: This blog continues on and there are 9 other parts. Some people seem to miss that fact. I guess you have to click somewhere to find them ....

1 comment:

  1. Good luck Larry. Hope the hours soon pass! Will resist all possible puns.
    Veeeeery well written by the way!