the wall by lindash


									                              The Wall

New Year’s Eve – I arrive at the prison for the first time & see the long, bleak bare prison wall stretching
along a narrow pavement. No-one is around. The tatty wooden entrance is locked and an umbrella hangs on
the door handle. A woman‟s voice calls out of a nearby car and explains the brolly is saving her place.

“We don‟t get let in until 1.30pm,” she says. That‟s over two hours away. She‟s disabled and cannot stand
for that long. I‟m told you have to be near the front of the queue to get the full visit and those at the back
will lose up to an hour as it takes so long to get processed here. The visits only last from 2pm until 4.30pm.
I wait in shame as locals walk past, glaring accusingly as they know I‟m here to see an inmate. I‟m glad
I‟ve brought a book and keep my head down, reading.

Within the hour there are at least another fifteen visitors forced to stand out in the street, some with small
children and pushchairs, many having travelled even further than me. By opening time there will be twice,
three times that many. It‟s a disgrace – no seats, no shelter, no toilets, no refreshments. It‟s as if we’re the
criminals & are being punished.

Each week I see the same faces and we begin to talk – mainly complaining that the prison won‟t open the
door to the poky room inside grandly called a „Visitors‟ Centre.‟ Less than a dozen seats; two lavatories;
lockers where we put our bags before going through. Not even a vending machine. Hardly hospitable after
the long wait outside. To rub salt into our wounds, there‟s a large piece of waste ground inside the wall
before we enter the room, cordoned off with a wire fence and topped all around with barbed wire.

“Why can‟t they clear the weeds, put some benches there and cover the top with plastic roofing so we have
somewhere sheltered to wait?” everyone asks. “It would only take a couple of hours and cost very little.
They„ve got plenty of free labour to do the work…” I suggest it would be simpler still for the Main Gate
staff to write our queue position on our Visiting Order so we could go away and return when the doors
open. Others who know the prison from old tell us it‟s always been like this; the prison staff frequently
promise they will fix us up somewhere to wait but it never happens.

Winter progresses - I bring more spare clothing each time, piling on layers of fleeces, two pairs of socks,
thick boots, thermal gloves and hat, but long before the door is open I am shivering to my core. It snows
one day and the children run up and down gleefully throwing snowballs while their mothers worry they
might dash into the road and get hit by the cars speeding by. “The Governor is a woman, you know,” they
say. “How can she make us keep our babies out in the cold like this?”

Spring comes – There‟s light relief as one woman who‟s just got married inside the prison shows round her
wedding photos. But then a parent tells off her bored little boy for playing in a corner and finding a pile of
needles where the local druggies have left them. They can‟t even be bothered to sweep the street of litter;
all the cigarette ends and discarded fast food wrappings left between the daily groups of visitors.

Summer – There‟s no respite from the midday sun beating down, so we sit on the filthy floor and wilt in
the heatwave. Some bring beach towels and roll up their trouser legs to get a tan. “Hot enough for you?”
joke the prison staff who recognise us as they wander past for their lunchbreaks. I‟m so thirsty, I drink
three bottles of water and immediately regret it in the visit, as there are no toilets while you‟re inside for
over two hours. In future, I let myself get dehydrated and travel home on the train each time with a sick
headache from heatstroke.

One week I‟m first in line and all alone, eating my packed lunch whilst sat on the doorstep. “That salad
looks nice,” remarks a friendly woman as she walks by. I smile and continue eating. Two minutes later a
mother and young boy stroll along. “Shall we spit at her?” he says with real venom towards me. I‟m
shocked - he can‟t be more than eight years old. The mother hurries him away, no doubt saying how evil I
am to be visiting someone inside a prison.

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                              The Wall

I realise with horror just how vulnerable I am waiting here – the Main Gate is some way down the road &
there‟s no CCTV or emergency phone to call for help. It‟s just as well it wasn‟t one of the gangs of bored
teenagers who wander by who decided to turn nasty.

Autumn - I buy myself a small fold-up stool so I no longer have to sit on the manky ground. I feel like I‟m
heading off for a camping trip each week. A mother who‟s travelled on the overnight sleeper to get here
from the other side of the country dozes fitfully, dog-tired, while a kindly woman reads a storybook to the
five year-old daughter to keep her occupied.

Once again the weather changes for the worst. There‟s the most dreadful storm with high winds and rain
pelting down. I plead with the staff at the Main Gate to let us all in early. “We can‟t let you in
unaccompanied,” they claim unsympathetically. But what are we likely to do to the room? There‟s nothing
valuable there and several cameras to watch over us. We want to get into our visits so are hardly likely to
wreck the place! Despite our umbrellas and raincoats we all get soaked through and sit shivering and
dripping throughout our visits. Everything in my rucksack is totally sodden and the library book I had in
there takes three days to dry out at home on the radiator.

On a different week no-one arrives to open the door. When they are twenty minutes late and the three
people at the front with walking sticks are clearly in distress, again I head to the Main Gate and ask where
the officer is to let us in. “It‟s nothing to do with us,” I‟m told with indifference. They won‟t even phone to
get someone along with a set of keys.

Another year of this misery - We notice most of the prison staff cross the road now to avoid us they are so
ashamed to walk by. How I wish the Governor would come past so we could tell her to her face how
awfully she treats us.

We continue to complain – to the staff, our MPs, even the canteen volunteers write to the Governor in
disgust. Every other prison has a proper Visitors‟ Centre open for a few hours where people can sit and rest
after their journeys. Interestingly, there‟s a prison inspection due in the New Year – we know this place
failed badly last time for its inadequate facilities and no improvements have been made in the two years
since. We look on cynically as new signs are suddenly erected and painting commences to smarten up the

The Salvation Army Chaplain comes and asks us questions; he is trying to get us temporary use of a nearby
church hall for the Winter. Eventually it‟s agreed that we will be able to spend an hour in the hall before
coming back up to the prison. It‟s only four days a week and not at the weekends or Bank Holidays, when
most people make the longest trips & bring their children, but better than nothing. Just before it‟s due to
start, we are told the church don‟t want us mixing with the general public, so we‟ll have to use the fire exit
round the back.

November - We are now made to queue in a main shopping arcade in the town centre, down an alleyway
opposite the disabled toilets. I sit and eat my lunch whilst Christmas shoppers walk past glaring and old age
pensioners stare while they come to use the loos.

I cry. My humiliation is complete.


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