Wednesday, 29 January 2014

9--My Release from the Cells

After another long night in the cells with only my dark thoughts for company things began to bustle along. My door was opened and I was given my coat and glasses. I was handcuffed to a guard and led to a holding cell with a few others. There were about 6 cells in all and about 5 people each in 3 of them. Most of my companions seemed to be regular visitors here and some had been arrested on Hogmanay. It seems a common Police tactic at holiday times to do a sweep of bail jumpers and community service defaulters on the Friday before a holiday weekend. This ensures the maximum possible time in the cells. Spending time in Bell Street cells is feared by anyone who's already tasted it and a common phrase I've heard is "I'd rather spend a week in Perth Prison than a night in Bell Street."

I was taken to speak to a duty solicitor who told me I would appear in Court shortly. He said I would be granted bail and I'd be free in an hour or so. I was handcuffed again and taken up some very narrow stairs into Court. I confirmed my name, the charges were read out and I was given bail.

I was released from the handcuffs, given back my possessions and shoved out into the main corridor where Dave, my brother-in-law (also Dave) and Karen were waiting. Boy was I glad they were there but I still greeted them sheepishly. I don't remember much about the car journey back to Dave's but the whole gang turned up and I was moved and touched by the support shown by everyone. I hadn't eaten for 3 days and so Karen went off to make me an omelette while I recounted the events of Hogmanay to my friends.

And the rest is a blank. I don't remember what time we left Dave's. I don't remember going home. The next few days are hidden in a thick fog. I don't know what's going on with me ... am I blocking things out now or did I forget to remember certain things at the time? I really can't tell. Either way I'm beginning to realise, as I try to reconstruct the events for this blog, that I have huge gaps in my memory. Mostly events surrounding Karen. I remember complaining in a jokey way to her that the omelette was a bit rubbery. After 3 days of starvation you'd think I'd wolf it down. No, I complained. Joking or not this now seems to have been the beginning of a behaviour pattern that would have disastrous consequences, and I'm only discovering it now. I think it's important that I push on with the blog and try to shine some light into the darkest corners of my mind. It's somewhat distressing to find I've obviously erased a lot of events from the past year from my memory and I'm pretty certain they are gone for good. Maybe in my mental explorations I'll find out why.

I don't, however, have a problem remembering the events of  THAT summer  ...

Sunday, 26 January 2014

8--Goodbye to the recidivists

There was no sign of Steak Pie Tuesday morning. It turns out he was in a fracas the day before and spent the night in the cells. He's told me previously if he got in trouble again it would mean prison and he really didn't want that. I might not see him again. I wouldn't have thought I'd have anything in common with anyone I met through Community Service but somehow, in adversity, bonds are formed. I feel sad he's doomed to recidivism until something terrible, or probably fatal, happens. He's been in Iraq, he's seen things no one should have to. That's got to do something bad to people.

A break from tradition for me today. I wasn't sent to dig in the Nursing Home garden. Instead I was sent to clear up a private overgrown garden in a housing scheme with four others. A garden strewn with litter, old prams and nappies. I'm sure you can imagine.

I set out originally to tell the truth about my time here. This blog was to be my fightback, my revenge on the system to document the highs and lows and the characters along the way, good or bad. However, I now feel a certain responsibility, affinity even, to my fellow cons and screws. To tell of the practices occurring could have consequences for those involved. It's just possible someone in authority could read this one day and I don't want to cause anyone any grief. So, unfortunately, the next few of my most hilarious and almost unbelievable paragraphs have been censored. It pains me to do so.

--------------------------------------------- tools ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2 hours.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- driving --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- lunch --------------------- Day of the Beasts --------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------- ----- piss --------------------------------------------------------- Menzieshill !

I had a meeting with a nurse this week to give me a Well Man check. Anyone over 35 gets this and we get an hour deducted from our tally. Everything checked out pretty good. We can also have 30 hours of education which again is deducted. I'm definitely going to take up this offer. The courses range from reading and writing to digital photography for beginners, which I think, with a huge dollop of irony, is the one I'll take. Creative Writing is also available which could come in handy.

It's with mixed feelings that I've applied for a placement. This is where certain offenders can take up a post in something like a charity outlet or organisation, usually cleaning or helping with menial tasks. I have a meeting with an organisation on Wednesday and so, if all goes well I shall spend my last day of digging at the Nursing Home on Tuesday. Again, I would love to write about the very unusual circumstances of the position but I daren't give the game away. At least not yet.

As stated above, this blog was originally intended to rail against the system that now controls a large part of my life. To fight back against the humiliation. To rescue some dignity and possibly glean some humour from the situation. Now I don't know how much further I can take this. If I accept the position next week I will appear to the public like a normal worker and it would be churlish and wrong for me to write about anything that happens there. I'll try somehow to keep writing but it seems the blog has taken a slightly different direction anyway, it's more about ME now. It's all about me.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

7--The Letter

This doesn't define you

I lay in the twilight contemplating my fate and worrying myself sick that Karen and the rest of my friends and even my family would desert me in light of my heinous assault. Hour after hour I lay in fear. One might imagine I was bored but my heart still pounded and my stomach still churned and my mind still raced so there was no room anywhere for  boredom.

Suddenly my peep-hole opened (obviously with a clang) and an eye appeared, it closed just as suddenly. Then my cell door opened and a policeman stood on the threshold. "Well, Mr Popular," he said. "I have a letter for you from Karen, do you want to read it?" "I can't let you keep it, you'll have to read it here in front of me and hand it back." My heart went in to complete overdrive and I began to shake. How much more of this heart-racing torture can I take I wondered. I really just wanted to faint. I wanted to collapse on the floor of my cell and let someone else clear up my mess. Clear up the mess that was ME, just sweep me up into a bucket and pour me down the drain. Was this my denoument from Karen. I expected it was.

I must have muttered that I couldn't read it without my glasses and they'd been taken from me. He scampered off for a few moments and came back with them. I could see he was still glowing from Karen's presence. She had clearly put her spell on him and probably twisted her hair round one of her fingers and given him that smile, while twisting him round her little finger.  I put my glasses on, he handed me the letter and with only slightly more fear and trepidation than I feel right now I began to read:

My dearest Larry,

I will not be able to see you or speak to you as they won't let you out or me in. I just had to let you know how much support and love there is for you. Everyone is so worried about you; none as much as me. This does not define you, but it has brought to a head a lot of the issues you have been dealing with.

Maybe now you will stop suffering in silence. I knew something was up, I just wish I could have been with you more, that we could have taken ourselves away from this toxic situation.

You should probably know that I have also met with Liza. She came to Dave's when we were all there (for you) last night.

Eric is devastated for you and is so worried, Jill, Tina, Dave, everyone.

I want you to know that you are not alone and you will get through this. I love you very much and I know it will be a long road. You have to get yourself together and face whatever is going to come with dignity and above all honesty.

I'm thinking about you every second.

All my heart, Karen, xxx

PS. Myra is home and her mum said it looks a bit better today. xx

I folded the letter and handed it back to the policeman and thanked him. He took it from me and motioned for my glasses. I handed them over and he said "You're a popular guy." I sniffed hard, bit my lip and looked at the floor. He gently shut the heavy metal door and locked it. I turned away from him and immediately broke-down and cried, in fact I howled. I fell to my knees, cradled my head in my hands and the dam broke inside me and days (actually years) of  pent-up emotions flooded unhindered out over my concrete bed. The tears streamed down my cheeks just like they are now, but for different reasons. I sobbed with shoulder-shrugging intensity until I was spent.

Now clearly I was relieved at Karen's letter. She had taken away, with a few strokes of her pen, my biggest fears. Now I could face whatever punishment was due, knowing she cared, and was still there for me. However, have you met me? What I failed to do was pay any attention to the message within. If only I had taken it on-board, things might have turned out different. Anyway, with hindsight I know that couldn't have happened. Not then, that would come later. With hindsight I know that a darkness was spreading through my mind like a creeping cancer, invading and distorting my thoughts. Some trained in the field say it was PTSD. A little dramatic you might think but it's not my diagnosis. With that and the WALL I had built around me Karen had no chance. I was impermeable and impenetrable to all emotion even if this episode had begun to create hairline cracks.

It would take a whole lot more than this to bring down MY wall. My wall was a sturdy edifice and I'd been proudly building it for many years. In fact, to the backdrop of the Beatles' Love Me Do,  the foundations were robustly laid many years ago.

On a sunny summer afternoon when I was just a 7-year-old boy ...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

6--There has to be a better way

The inscrutability of the human spirit, our consciousness, the soul, call it what you are comfortable with, lets ordinary people do extraordinary things. What makes someone capable of cutting their own arm off and sawing through the bone with a rusty penknife to free themselves from certain death trapped in a crevice up a lonely mountain? Another, kept in a makeshift dungeon and raped daily for 20 years, yet still manages to keep alive and survive to thrive when eventually freed. Survival stories of the extreme yes, but I'm forced to think of examples like these for inspiration when up to my ankles in soaking, sodding, freezing mud, digging in these dreary, dank, lifeless gardens. My boots always wet and hanging heavy with sodden soil. I'm sorry for the unfair comparison, truly I am. However, this huge walled garden seems permanently in darkness and drizzle and turns my mind as black as the foreboding sky. Maybe one day soon the sun will shine and the birds will sing and my heart will lift. One day soon we will plant some flower bulbs and some vegetables. By summer the garden may be a pleasant place and the fruits of our labour will bring joy to others.

But not to any of us diggers. None of us doing the work now will be there in summer. This makes me think someone is missing an opportunity. This week one of the young guys pulled an old rotting cabbage from the ground. He held it up to his face exactly like Hamlet with Yorick's skull and then began to strip away the layers one-by-one till he was bored. I could tell he had never held a cabbage in his hands before. Maybe he didn't even know what it was. He tossed it into the air and drop-kicked it a hundred yards. He wouldn't have done that if he'd planted the damn thing. He wouldn't have done that if he'd watered it, protected it from weeds and watched it grow from nothing into something he could chop-up and have with his mince.

And that's my point. It's no one's fault that these young guys aren't around long enough to tend to a complete cycle of nature, but I think somehow the system should provide them with inspiration. With aspiration. How great would it have been if he could have taken a cabbage he had nurtured, home to his mum, and they'd had it with lashings of butter along with their mince? An unkind thought has just jumped into my head that his mum would probably have slapped him, thrown the cabbage into the bin and said, "You can't have cabbage with turkey twizzlers you clown." Oh well.

But seriously, shouldn't these guys be exposed to things they've never seen before? Things they've never experienced. No doubt the Daily Mail would brim-over with bile and expose such things as being soft on crime but I feel they should be shown films they would never normally watch. Music they'd never normally listen to (although this was demonstrated unsuccessfully in A Clockwork Orange). Maybe a talk or lecture from a inspirational speaker. Perhaps every now and then one of them might just catch fire and be inspired by something.

Anyway, who am I? I'm sure this subject has been discussed by social workers, criminologists, psychologists and God knows whom over the years. I'm not going to change anything.

So, Steak Pie and I worked together this week moving barrow-loads of soil. Sodden mud. Everything is fucking sodden. He told me he had pawned some sort of painting-thing he had. He'd expected £30 for it but in fact was given £3. He had to pay £6.50 to reclaim it. I was aghast. He said that's how it works Larry, as if I didn't know how pawn shops made their money. I just didn't know they made quite that much. I quizzed him more and he said he'd also pawned his laptop but he'd lost it now because they wanted £170 and he couldn't afford that. I vowed, silently, to do something about that.

Wherever I look there seems to be an opportunity for almost every individual to have some improvement made for them. Just a little tweak that might help to improve their bad situations. I think the support workers (screws) should actually be support workers and mix with the guys to try to identify those little tweaks that could make a real difference. Or here's an off-the-wall idea ... someone working undercover, as an offender, someone older who could mix and try to give advice as one of their own. I guess that couldn't work, but it's making me think.

There's another guy, maybe 25 years old, married with 2 kids. He's handsome with a great physique. He cares for his wife and kids and I see potential in him. But he talks at breathtaking speed, every second word is fuck and every sentence ends with "man." I struggle to understand him. He must be frustrated by not being understood but he probably doesn't understand why. I soooo want to ask him to calm down and speak slowly. It wouldn't take a great effort, he just needs to know what he's doing wrong. I'm certain if he could change his speech pattern it would change his life. I'm certain one day, with a little guidance, he could be the sort of man who could cut-off his own arm.

There is much to be done.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

5--To The Cells

January 1, 2013--8.30 am

In a daze I showered and got dressed. I tripled-locked the door again, expecting not to return for a few days. Gingerly I made my way out of the close into the street, wondering if the Police might be sitting outside watching for me. I know my crime may not have warranted a full-scale alert but paranoia was taking its grip. I must have walked past Karen's imposing town-house but I really can't remember doing so. I should have been checking for police cars outside, an ambulance maybe ... some signs of life, but I don't remember walking past however hard I try. Was this the naissance of my blind-spot of all things Karen? I believe so.

I remember getting to Balgillo Road and I phoned my son. Surprisingly, he answered. I told him the police were looking for me and what I'd done. He was less than impressed. He's not easily impressed by much and normally even less so by me, no matter how hard I try. I told him I was going to my eldest daughter's house. He put the phone down, and I guess, went back to sleep.

I walked the 3 miles to Nadine's house and banged on the door. Of course, everyone was asleep in bed. Eventually, Nadine answered the door and could see my obvious distress. She made tea and I told her what had happened. Phone calls to the rest of the family ensued and it was decided to meet at my younger daughter's home, the scene of the family party we'd had the night before. By now word was circulating and I had some phone calls from incredulous friends. The concensus was I should go to the police station as soon as possible. Well of course this was always my intention but I didn't want to do that until I'd spoken to the people that mattered.

My son-in-law drove me to Bell Street in silence. It was around 2 pm when I approached the desk and told the Sergeant on duty that the Police may be looking for me. No one seemed to know about me and they couldn't find anything on the computer. However, they took me at my word and guided me through to an interview room. Presently I was visited by two cops who said they still had no information on my crime but would take me down to the cells till they'd made enquries. They said I'd likely be home in a few hours but I knew instinctively this wouldn't happen.

Downstairs I was taken to a high desk and stood to attention thereat. The cops took up position either side of me and I was told to lean forward with my hands on the desk. As I did this the cops laid their palms in a passive way across each of my wrists. I've no idea to this day what this ritual achieved. However, the police were all polite and reasonably respectful in the process. I was divested of my belongings, my shoes and coat. I was led to a cell, given a blanket made from old Brillo pads and invited to enter. The door clanged shut behind me with a heart-stopping err clang.

Inside the cell was a concrete plinth with a 2-inch thick plastic mattress-cum-excercise mat. There was a non-flushing toiled attached to the wall. I lay on my back on the mat on the plinth and stared up at the cold concrete ceiling. How did it come to this? How could I be in this situation? When I went out last night I was happy and content and proud to be celebrating New Year with my family. A few short hours later I'm banged-up in a cell and have committed my first criminal offence. Good God, I've not even had a parking ticket before. The knots in my stomach tightened and my heartbeat stepped up yet another notch.

I don't know for how many hours I lay there, unmoving, staring upwards till my eyes were sore. I wondered what my family and friends were doing now. It was New Year's night, everyone should be partying. Have I ruined everyone's New Year? What was Karen doing? She saw the horror unfold, probably in slow-motion. What was she thinking of me? I've brought shame to myself, my family and my friends. It was too much to bear. Really it still is.

Every hour the cover over the spyhole in the door would slide open with a clang and a security guard would shout my name, or in some cases, hey you. They wouldn't leave until you answered. Every so often there would be a disturbance from another inmate or someone else being admitted. Every time there was any movement the clanging was intolerable. I thought with modern materials we could eliminate clang from anything. However, I thought of the first inspection day after the cells were finished and the man in charge saying "There isn't enough clanging in these doors. Put more clang in there, we need more clang."

Sometime during the night a policewoman appeared at my spyhole (with a almighty clang). She was thoroughly pissed at me and through the hole she formally charged me. When she'd finished she asked if I'd anything to say. I said "how is she?" This seemed to piss her off even more and she clanged shut the spyhole and left. These words were read out in Court. The only words attributed to me throughout the whole year. Three words after a dozen visits to solicitors' offices. Only in hindsight, a dozen useless, worthless visits.

In the morning I was offered a dry roll and some water. The attitude of the guards was fazing me and I refused everything. In the 48 hours I was there I took nothing save for some water. I didn't feel like eating anyway and somehow I didn't want them to feel like they were doing me any favours.

I lost all track of time and knew that I was hugely misjudging the passing of the hours. I discovered I was miles ahead, in my mind, of the real time. I knew that come January 3, I would appear in Court and hopefully get bail. I dozed from time-to-time but never sleeping properly. The mat was so thin my hips were aching. I folded the mat in two to double the thickness but it hardly helped. Occasionally, I would do press-ups and sit-ups on the floor, working up a sweat like Rambo preparing his revenge.

No one spoke to me save to offer water or a dried-up roll. No information was offered, no contact was given. No visitors allowed. The guards were surly and rude. Every possible dignity was removed and my humiliation was complete. I thought my despair could never deepen and nothing could ever be worse. Well, turns out I would be wrong about that.

And then came the letter . . .

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

4--Day 2 and 3, January 7 and 8 2014

Just home after 2 days at the coal-face and I'm weary. Not through hard work but through the mental anguish that comes with the process. I feel a little drained and my mood has been low. Yesterday, the first day of service after New Year, was daunting in prospect. The only con I recognised from Hogmanay was Steak Pie, we shook hands, then we sat in the usual contemplative silence for an hour until it was time to board the bus. There are many such times of contemplation in a service day. Maybe it's designed that way. I know I use it exclusively to think of the Road Not Taken.

I have now asserted my rank of age, and travel (again in silence) up-front with the driver. The journey this time was in brilliant sunshine and people were in the streets cheerfully going about their business. This in stark contrast to the occupants of the bus who were all gloomy captives. Yes, even the screws are in some way as captive as the rest of us. I've come to realise over a short time they are not exactly in coveted jobs and I expect their salary is low. I think the social workers Lord it over them and I can tell they are just different pieces in our game, all playing it as best we can. Out of the 9 or 10 screws I've encountered so far, only 2 have attempted to engage me in conversation. One asking my name and introducing himself. I thought he was a nice guy and I told him it was good to meet him although better under different circumstance. He agreed and replied that everyone had done something stupid in their lives but not everyone gets caught.

Steak Pie and I were put to work together and he told me he'd been in the army, this was no surprise as he wears army combats exclusively. He'd been to prison a couple of times and was loving his community service. He was used to taking orders and was at his happiest when someone pointed to a spot and said "dig there." He especially liked destroying things. We were asked to demolish a shed and his face lit up as he rushed to the front so no one else would get a chance to break anything. One of the younger guys began to use a large broom as a sledgehammer. I guessed it would take 4 strikes before the shaft snapped. It took 3. Normally, I'd be a bit annoyed at mindless vandalism but somehow it seemed to be part of the game. I was surprised at how little I cared.

Back in the outhouse huddled around the soothing heater like cowboys at a camp fire one of the younger guys began mixing a powder with milk. He was asked about it and enthused over a Herbalife product which he claimed was causing him to lose weight in a magical way. He then said he was an agent for Herbalife and was making a fortune selling it at only £55 per month "but if any of you guys want it I'll gie ye 10 per cent aff." Steak Pie said he had a sale. Mr Herbalife then delivered a broad Dundee sales pitch which ended "and they've goat sehintists in America lookin' into' it an' ahin' ... fuckin' amazing." I nearly bought one myself. But really, here's this guy that's not wallowing in self-pity, not giving-up or getting angry at the screws or the world for his misfortunes. Here is a real Jean-val-Jean making and taking every opportunity to rise above his misfortune. Good luck to him.

We finished early today, 3 pm instead of 3.30 pm. The screws had a meeting to attend. I asked, naturally, if we still clocked-up 7 hours as it wasn't our fault it was cut short. I was a little peeved, but not very surprised at the answer.

Wednesday we were digging trenches again. There were 4 other young guys with me and none of us had met. As seems customary hardly a word was uttered. I know I'm guilty of being quiet, possibly to the point of being thought aloof. It's not (all) aloofness, I am genuinely low of mind right now and each spadeful of earth I grudgingly howk from the ground seems to end up in a large sack hanging round my neck. I stopped taking anti-depressants on Hogmanay. Possibly not the best day I could have chose. However, I figured that since I was going to be pissed pretty much solid for a few days, I might not notice the lack of drugs. I was wrong. By the next day I had a knot of anxiety perched firmly in my chest that made my breath go shallow. I wanted to go back to the tablets but instead I got drunk again. This cycle went on with less and less alcohol for a week. Okay, so I'm now free of the physical withdrawal of the drugs. However, the symptoms have manifested in my mood and I know it. The temptation to take the tablets is great. But the yearning to be me is greater. I want to face my troubles and strifes without crutches or chemical cosh. The old Larry Jones has gone forever. I think the new Larry Jones is going to be alright!

Oh! On the way out I asked Steak Pie how the pie was on New Year's Day? On the mad scramble to get through the door he stammered loudly over the other's heads, "the neighbour's fuckin' doag ate it."

I shrugged, hurried out the door and didn't look back.

227.5 hours to go.

Monday, 6 January 2014

3--The Creeping Realisation--January 1, 2013

The Creeping Realisation--January 1, 2013

So I made my way quickly to my flat a short distance from Karen's. As I walked, a slow realisation began to unfold in my mind. Slowly it crept into my consciousness and with it came the first time in my life I'd felt The Dread. The enormity of what just happened began to sink in and a weight came upon my demeanor that has still not lifted. It probably never will. On my way through the streets I met several groups of people still celebrating the New Year. A few stopped to shake my hand, the same bloodied hand that had risen out of nowhere, seemingly of its own accord, to strike mayhem and horror into the New Year and change, forever, the lives of at least 3 people in that room.

Back at my flat I triple-locked the door and removed all the keys from the mortice locks, I threw off and roughly discarded my suit like an oily rag, knowing it was ruined and I'd never wear it again. Although my mind was racing and I knew sleep impossible I climbed into bed and pulled the covers up tight. I tried to piece together the events and wondered how badly Myra was hurt. I knew my knuckles did. This gave me some indication that Myra would be going to hospital. I phoned a couple of friends but it was no surprise, given the time of day and time of year there was no answer. With some prescience I switched my phone to silent. Then I cried. No, I wept. I sobbed.

Now I want to explain that I have, and always will have, shame, contrition, remorse, penitence and regret for my actions that night. There is no doubt about that. If anyone thinks I'm feeling sorry for myself think again. However, this is my story. Not Myra's. Let her tell her own.

I thought not only of Myra, but of Karen and the atrocity she had witnessed. I would never be the same man again in her eyes.

I lay in bed with a sickness in my stomach I'd never known. I guess I've been lucky in my life, I've had no real dramas, no deaths in my family. I can only now begin to imagine how that must feel. The rising panic seemed to strangle every breath. The dread made my eyes bulge. My expression frozen and my mouth hanging open like I'd seen a ghost. Then, above the sound of my laboured breathing came heavy footsteps in the close. I knew what this was. With every step they grew louder, closer to me, every footfall like the second hand of a grandfather-clock ticking its way to midnight and the resultant, exultant chimes. I held my breath and lay rigid in my bed, my senses focussed on this and nothing more. I know how many steps there are in each section of the stairway as I often have to navigate them in complete darkness, 12, 6, 10, 7. I could now count down the last seven stairs to my door. Clump, clump, clump, and he was there. Standing within 6 feet of me. I daren't breathe. I daren't move a muscle for fear he heard me. Oh the panic in me. The utter terror. Although the second hand had reached midnight there were as yet no chimes. I waited for my doorbell to ring. Still holding my breath. Nothing. Then I heard my letterbox slowly and gently creak like a scene from a scary movie. My mind racing I quickly knew the answer. He was listening for signs of life. I listened back with all my being.

I needed to breathe so much but I knew it would be an audible gasp. I tried to let out my breath slowly and silently. Suddenly, my silenced phone began to flash. It was him outside, sneaky. If Mission Impossible had fan-fared he would have known I was inside. Hearing nothing he banged on the door loudly. Even now if someone knocks on my door I go rigid with fear. He turned and rattled the handle and slapped the door as hard as he could. I lay motionless while he implored the opening of the door and issued threats of breaking it down. After 15 minutes of heart-thumping banging, and with no signs of life inside, he retreated.

I think it was at least 30 minutes before I drew another breath and let the rigor-mortis grip of my duvet relax.

As I blinked furiously in the darkness I suddenly realised I had become a fugitive. Now a wanted man and on the run from the Police . . . 

2--My Crime

My Crime 

Someone said to me after I'd been sentenced "I hope you've learned your lesson!" She didn't mean it in a bad way, but I guess some people are at a loss for words to be fair. However, I took it badly. I have no need of any lessons on this subject. Not for one second did I think my crime was a good idea. There was no thought process involved and I didn't stop to ponder my actions. Believe me, dear reader, if I could go back and insert just an extra half-second into my life anywhere I chose, it would be right there on that night just before I went nuclear.

Some may now be curious as to the nature of my crime. The following is a statement I drafted after being given a generous 48 hours in Dundee's Bell Street cells to gather my thoughts. Incidentally, no one in any official capacity has read this. No one, in any official capacity has been remotely interested in what happened that night. Not the Police, not my solicitors and not the Sheriff. My victim's statement, given a short time after the event and after a night of heavy drinking, stood unchallenged for a year and was read out in Court.

This then, is my narrative:
It was Hogmanay and I arrived at Karen’s house at around 3.30 am and wished Karen a Happy New Year in the entrance. She showed me into the room and introduced me to Myra and Paul. I wished both of them a happy new year, had a brief exchange with Myra about having met her for a few minutes a couple of months ago in Caffe Nero. I sat down on the 3-seater sofa at the far end and Paul was occupying the other end with a space between us. I mentioned to Paul that I recognised him from the Ferry, possibly from the Ship.

I was wearing a new suit and Karen remarked upon it. I had previously been at a family party and my son and I were both wearing suits and had our photographs taken together. I was so proud of the photo I posted it on my facebook page. Karen went to the kitchen to get me a vodka and coke and while she was gone I tried to engage Paul and Myra in conversation by asking them if they’d had a good time and where they had been. I’m not sure what or if they answered. When Karen came back I sipped the vodka and coke and asked her if it was diet coke. She said no, it was normal fat coke. I said it tasted funny and she replied in jest that it was real vodka and not the cheap stuff I normally drink.

Soon, Myra was up on her feet showing the 3 of us how she would fire her rifle in the next Commonwealth games. Her stances were exaggerated with feet wide apart, hips thrust forward and her imaginary rifle pointed at the sky. She said she should be competing (although I got the impression she wouldn’t be) in the next Commonwealth games and that she was better than any man at firing a rifle. While I thought her actions and certainly her stances a little strange, and knowing nothing about guns I tried to ask what I thought were pertinent questions such as “is it an air rifle or shotgun or some other type of gun?” She seemed irritated by my questions so I let it drop. Karen asked Myra in jest if her stances needed to be so provocative. I took this to mean sexually provocative.

I again tried to get a conversation going by asking Paul what he did for a living. An accountant. Oh did he know of Jim who was another accountant I knew? Yes he did. So did Karen and Myra. I struggled to coax Paul into a conversation and his attention seemed to be with Myra so I asked if they were together. No not at all, they had just been at a party together. Are you married? Yes. With these terse replies I gave up.

I can’t hope to repeat every word that was uttered that night and my memory of the time I spent in the room seems to come at me in “scenes” with not much in between. The next scene that comes to mind is Myra sitting on the floor next to Karen. I’ve no idea of the conversation that may have preceded Myra’s next words but I was startled to hear her say “You know your dad cost my family £20,000 due to his incompetence.” Karen’s father has dementia. My mouth fell open at this point but what came next is difficult to convey. Myra’s face took on what I can only describe as a beatific expression pouring with love and with staggering condescension she said “But our family doesn’t bear any grudges Karen.” She repeated the whole statement along with expressions in case anyone missed it.

Throughout the time spent in Karen’s house I don’t remember Karen and I have any conversation other than the discussion about the vodka. Myra seemed to dominate the floor and, in my recollection at least, held everyone’s attention most of the time. She talked about her boyfriend a bit. They weren’t getting on and I was asked if I knew him as we had both worked for the same company. I said I didn’t, I would probably know him by sight but not by name. Myra was now on the floor directly in front of Paul. She complained that her job was awful and that she wished she had something better. Some mention must have been made of her degrees and I tried to sympathise and said but surely if she had 3 degrees there must be lots of openings for her. She said “I have 4 degrees.” Then she named them. I can only remember engineering as it seemed quite unusual. I was impressed and said “wow, well you must easily be able to get something more interesting.” Her jaw trembled and her mouth fell open, mouthing words that never came. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks at the injustice of a world that didn’t recognise her talent. I thought to myself that she didn’t need any degrees as she had a wonderful future on the Stage. A few minutes later I whispered to Karen that “your friend is bat-shit crazy.” I have no idea what bat-shit crazy means but that’s what I said.

I had no bad feelings towards Myra and throughout the whole night I was never rude, trying only to be friendly and jovial. She is, after all, Karen’s best friend. I was, however, amused at her antics and was fascinated by her attractive and agile facial expressions.

Soon Myra had Paul upright in the middle of the floor and they were sparring as if boxers in the ring. She remarked that she was as good at boxing as any man. I may have lost interest at this point because I didn’t see her actually punch Paul but he sat down clutching his stomach as if he’d been winded and said he’d had enough (or words to that effect). I don’t think he was serious, probably just play-acting. Myra motioned for me to take her on but I declined with the soon-to-be apocryphal words “I’ve never hit a woman in my life and I couldn’t ever hit a woman.”

The next scene I remember has Myra sitting in the chair on the opposite side of the room drinking from a glass of red wine. Her hand began to shake and her finger pointed and wagged, eventually aiming in my direction while she mouthed the words “bad, bad” she looked at Karen and said “he’s a bad man you shouldn’t have anything to do with him.”

I asked her calmy “do you think I’m bad because you know I can see right through you?” She said “What do you mean you can see right through me?” I said “look, it’s new year, we’re in Karen’s house, let’s not have any unpleasantness.” She asked me again “what do you mean you can see right through me?” At this point she rose from her chair and strode 4 paces with intent in her eyes, she sat down in the space between me and Paul. I was sitting to the side facing her with our knees almost touching. She asked again “What do you mean you can see right through me?” I said again, “c’mon, it’s new year, we are in Karen’s house …. “ She threw the contents of her glass of red wine in my face and at the shock of this my arms went up in the air and I threw my body backward and head forward to look at the wine landing on my new suit. At this point with my head bowed forward the glass hit my face. My right hand instinctively came down and hit her once. I jumped up from the settee and went nuclear. It was over in a few seconds. I turned round and walked out the door without saying a word. The next salient thought came after hearing Karen scream my name. It was “Oh Fuck.”

The time was roughly 5 am.

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 ....