Morning arrived, but I was already awake and had been all night it seemed. The noise that I could hear was difficult to comprehend, a mix of shouting, crying, music, and of the whole prison waking up. Bedlam reigned, not only outside the locked door, but in my mind as well. Oh, what had I done I asked myself ?
Suddenly the lock turned on the door, the door swung wide open, and in the opening stood a large, young black man, much bigger than me. I smiled, and as he entered the prison officer ( PO ) said “new cell mate”, then closed the door and locked it again. I offered the hand of welcome, it was ignored. I smiled, no response, he just looked at me as if I should not be there, I wished he was right.
This awkward beginning was not sustained, eventually he said “name is Rufus, from Jamaica, you been here long” ? I answered as quickly as I could, “no just one day” He smiled, settled down onto the bunk, and went to sleep.
“Unlock” went the shout, cell doors were opened and breakfast was served. Long queues, indifferent food, many men milling around, all unknown to me, it was indeed a baptism of fire. I took my tray back into the room, Rufus was still asleep, and sat quietly at the table and ate what I could.
“Training today get yourself ready and be at the end of the landing in 15 minutes”. I lined up and was told to give my name to the PO. “Cedric” I answered, “ Cedric what”? was the reply. “Cedric Masterful boss” I replied. “Well, you’re not very masterful now are you”? he shouted at me, then laughed as if he was the first person ever to suggest this. He was not wrong though, this was the lowest point in my whole life.
We marched in line, 15 new boys escorted by two PO’s, out of the block, through numerous locked gates across the yard, and into the training rooms. Stark and cold looking, unwelcoming in the extreme, I wondered what I could possibly learn here. Soon the PO Instructor arrived, gave his name as Jerry Banks, but told us all “ you will all call me Boss when you speak, is that clear “ ?
As the day unfolded I learned what my life on the inside would be like. It sounded very concerning. Who could I be friends with ? Who would have similar interest to mine ? Who could I trust ? In this jungle there are no quick answers, only time would tell.
We stopped for lunch, in our cell block, then returned to the training rooms, all the time escorted and watched by a sequence of PO’s. Some seemed helpful, some not, and it was clearly going to take time to decide which was which.
At 4:30 we were escorted back to our block, cells were opened up, and to my surprise, Rufus was still asleep. After tea we were allowed 3 hours of association time. Cell doors were opened up and we could exercise and meet other prisoners. I found this very nerve racking, another time when my concept of prison life was being tested.
But at least day 1 was over, I was unharmed, and now just about ready for bed. However, Rufus came to life at night, talking constantly about his life, his loves, his music and his culture. Little did I know what that night would bring.
© John Reed 2021-06-14