Another day in prison today. Unwelcome considering the prison was taking up a fair amount of page-space on the BBC news website and airtime on local and national radio. I can’t speak for television as I haven’t actually watched the television since visiting home over a month ago as I can’t afford a license and haven’t got enough room in my pokey little bedsit for one. Thus the importance of my iBook for all my entertainment needs. it is just a pity I can’t separate work from relaxation hence the sleepless nights and disrupted dinner-times at my desk. 

Anyway – Prison. Or Priz and I have taken to calling it on my Twitter page. 

Julie – or “Shark-eyes” as Donna has affectionately named her is the mother-hen and after a few trips into the prison and sitting with the women I wonder if she’s actually a fun, friendly woman or if she’s really playing a game? To be honest, I wouldn’t want to know why she is inside because as I see her every time I am in Styal I have grown to feel almost safe knowing she’s there. She knows the game. She looks like a dinner lady or the sort of lady you’d expect serving you in Tesco. She has shoulder-length brown hair, black eyes, a few wrinkles, she’s a bit large, a bit of eyeliner… she laughs a lot. The only thing that gives away her prisoner status despite not having the customary orange band taped to her wrist labeling the outsiders clearly to the guards but she has a number of nondescript navy tattoos dotted sporadically up her arms like mad freckles. 

Anyway, she is rarely out of the sight of her fellow inmate Tasha whose history I am unfortunate enough to have documented in the same compartment of my brain as gossip. Tasha and Julie are joined at the hip and talk like an old married couple. Needless to say on the outside they are straight but inside it is not uncommon for women to pair off into little couples and families as though to simulate some hybrid sisterly/familial unit. In male prisons gay relationships happen but nobody ever talks about them which must be so much harder to bear. 

Tasha is in her mid-thirties, dark skinned and with really long, dark plaits bunched up at the back with a scarf making a tall ponytail. She has a long face. She seems sadder than Julie who is as jolly as Mary Christmas – or maybe thats just because I know why she is inside. 

Tasha was looking after a gun for a boyfriend who was in trouble. She left to visit friends one weekend and to protect her four children she told her eldest son where the gun was should he need to use it to protect the family. Of course, the son found the gun and accidentally shot his sister. Tasha got 3 years. 

I have been in a few times now and I sort of understand how it works. Geraldine and David are the officers in charge but they don’t look like the officers you see on TV or in movies, they are wearing casual clothes sitting at a desk most of the time but then the education unit is only available for ladies with enhanced privileges and have proven to be good enough to use the computers. 

My only experience thusfar of getting a fright in the education unit was on Monday when a young offender with milk-pale skin and mousy hair braided tight against her skull thrashed her way out of the grip of a guard shrieking how she had cut her roommate with a razor blade and she wanted her to bleed… and that she’d kill again. That and lots of swearing and glaring at each one of us standing with our backs against the wall hoping to God the guards found their second strength with this feral creature! Thoughts of caged and angry wildcats came to mind or thrashing crocodiles. There is something wild and instinctively dangerous about some of these women which shocks you in a very deep way because how many of us find themselves in a place where the number of murderers outnumber the number of innocent people per square meter? 

Of course, If I decided to go down the same route as my tutor, the inspiring Panther, then here would probably be where I’d end up if I ever refused under Contempt of Court to reveal my source. Steve refused to tell a judge who his source was for an IRA bombing feature. After refusing he was condemned to quite a spell in jail but fortunately due to a loophole in the system and a very canny legal team he got away with it! I often think to myself that the glory of the industry being behind you for courageously going away to prison for standing up for what you believe in would be exciting provided you had a job at the end of it! Very Nelson Mandela but on a much more “No, shaln’t!” level. After being in prison, however, its not as though there are many that could relate to you if you were inside for that reason. They’d see you as a soft touch or posh… privileged. Would I survive? I often wonder that. If I was in with Julie I think I’d be ok. She is Mother Hen after all. 

The magazine itself – “Innit” – geddit? It runs with the tagline “By the women, for the women” or rather the last part as none of them besides Tasha and Julie want to help in any way. And in Tasha and Julie’s case their idea of helping is looking over our shoulders and saying very meaningfully that they can’t help because they have Tai Chi on a Tuesday afternoon. 

Its going to be 40 pages of stories on the inside, celebrity gossip on the outside, quizzes, features on prison life and things the women submit themselves like artwork, messages to friends and poems. Donna is the editor and I am her dogsbody/ deputy/ side-kick. Unfortunately the prison promised us Quark hence us all organising amongst ourselves 10 hours worth of night classes in Quark but now it seems we may end up being stuck with Microsoft Publisher and so the magazine is going to look more like a nursery newsletter than a magazine published for a readership of about 500!

Moans aside, the prison work is taking shape and even though I can’t resist sizing-up “Shark Eyes” I am enjoying working with a team of women who haven’t got the sort of pretensions and egos that other journalists and writers do. 

Shorthand is coming along for the exam next week. Baby steps at this stage, only the 70wpm exam for now but hopefully I’ll be doing the 100wpm in April! It does get a bit depressing doing the same morbid passages verbatim day after day. It is so unrealistic! The passages are written monotonously and like a robot with one manufactured pause in the middle. Any mistakes land you with one wrong answer. At 70wpm you are permitted 7 mistakes, at 100wpm you are permitted 10. 

I sometimes catch myself watching the Parliament channel on iPlayer trying to shorthand Gordon Brown or a select committee. They do speak slower in the Commons than in real life which is nice. Then I end up getting distracted, if it is a committee meeting rather than the debating chamber, by the journalists in the back seats scribbling furiously away for prolonged periods of time without a moment to put their pen down all trying to get material for their 4pm deadlines! How I long for the deftness of hand and transcription skills of the Fleet Street Hack? 

I can now say I understand three languages other than English to near fluency – French, German and Teeline. Another string to the bow of the polyglot. Although Teeline isn’t as much of a language as it is a kind of hieroglyphics invented by a toddler in league with a drunk person.

Anyway, the night wears on and due to illness the newsday for Salford News Network has indeed been cancelled and so I have one of those rare days that journalists sometimes get to indulge in called a Free Day! I have decided to go swimming because it is the only thing I can think of where I won’t feel guilty for not working and where I won’t be tempted to badger civilians about current events or stand and watch something embarrassing or upsetting happen in hopes that it might develop into a good story! 

Journalism has made me into a strange person. I have become pointy, restless, rude and single-minded. The nosiness hasn’t got any worse – its just nice to know I can make a career out of it. 


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