All in all, my third experience of loss of liberty was the least unpleasant thus far. Indeed, compared to my first two lock-ups, November 2016 (six hours) and October 2017 (48 hours) both in police cells, my short time at HMP New Hall was a joy ride.
Single, warm cell; TV, kettle, pillow, thick quilt, mattress, e-cigarette; a view over the prison wall of trees and the occasional glimpse of a squirrel or wood pigeon. Being in need of a good rest (not having been able to enjoy a few days’ holiday thanks to my aborted trip to Paris last month), I lazed, feet up; watched the news and a couple of films; drank endless cups of tea and vaped nicotine, in moderation…
HMP New Hall used to be a borstal and previously, during the war, a training camp. My three nights were spent on the remand wing, the roughest and noisiest, where most new inmates are sent initially before being moved to one of the normal wings. I kept my head down most of the time. Only once on the second evening did I assert myself, after having being promised then denied my phone call. I was resolute in my protest, meaning I was eventually marched back to my cell. The next morning, Wednesday, I was finally briefed and allowed to phone home.
I was disturbed to learn that one fellow newbie had been remanded awaiting trial for some relatively minor alleged role in a drugs offence, meaning separation from her two-year old daughter and four-month old baby son. Other new arrivals were regulars: drug users caught for shoplifting or burglary. These women did not seem unhappy about being back behind bars, quite the contrary in fact. “Here’s where I get clean, come off the drugs,” said one woman; as if the prison system provided at least some kind of structure in lives that were chaotic on the outside.
Most inmates are working class Northern lasses, of varying ages. I noticed two or three Poles, Blacks, mixed-race and the same number of Asian hijabi-clad Muslimas.
The prison is understaffed: 140 wardens for 400 inmates, with less than a third of officers on duty at one time. Staff were clearly exhausted by the end of their shifts. But they were cheery, kind and, in most cases, professional. Ditto for the medical staff, especially nurse Jane. Prisoners and staff alike were interested to hear my story and I even got to sing a couple of songs.
I was psychologically prepared and therefore coped as well as could be expected. It is not difficult to imagine that more vulnerable women perhaps would find it difficult to adapt and settle in.
Then came the news that I was to be freed on unconditional bail. Paperwork meant that I was held for a further two and a half hours before finally greeting my parents who had driven over Woodhead Pass to collect me at the prison gate.
I am still ploughing through all the commentary. The vindictive tone of mainstream articles and of moderated below-the-line comments speaks for itself. Unsurprisingly, no mainstream report has been corrected to state that I have now been released pending appeal and been granted unconditional bail. Happily, independent reports have been far more balanced and reasoned.
Huge thanks especially to my Mum and Dad, to my barrister Adrian Davies, solicitor Kevin Lowry-Mullins and to those who made the trip last Monday to lend their support. Equally, thanks to everyone who blogged and campaigned on social media. After not starting off too well, the week has ended on something of a high, – although, even last Monday had its moments, as illustrated by the following anecdote, a small sign telling me I’m on the right path:
The court warden who cuffed me was the same warden who cuffed me in 2017 at Chesterfield Immediate Remand Court. We recognised each other and I reminded her that she had congratulated me when I had been released two years ago, and had told me that I was simply saying what everyone else was thinking but didn’t dare say out loud…
Next scheduled court date will be my appeal in the High Court in London, October 31st – Hallowe’en special and of course Brexit Day… More details to follow.