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LIFE AFTER LIFE

Living in Spain after surviving 24 years in prison. Here I will be sharing my experiences as a writer and journalist, travelling all over the world interviewing dangerous people in dangerous places.

MEET DAVE, A SEAGULL AMONGST PIGEONS -part 3
02 January 2013 @ 20:39

We now had a gate key that would let us out of the wing and bolt-croppers to cut the perimeter fences. But the main problem was getting to the perimeter fences unseen, because if the alarm went up before we got there, the police would have the jail surrounded before we could cut through the fences.

  Then there was the problem of getting away. We had some outside help, but you couldn’t ask them to come over to the island, because when the alarm went up the island would be sealed off and our help sealed in with us. We would have to make our own way off the island and link up with our help on the mainland.

 Dave, with his newly enhanced credibility, now sat in with John, Stewart and myself when we discussed the escape. Quite strangely, Mick was suddenly decidedly unenthusiastic about the whole project. I quickly came to the conclusion that he didn’t want to go. He had been involved in the Brixton escape and all the trauma that a failed escape entailed. An escape attempt was one of the most serious of prison offences. The penalty was normally two to six months in solitary in the punishment block, including 15 days on a bread and water diet. For those with a fixed sentence, there would be anything from two to six months loss of remission. Then the offender would be placed in ‘patches’ and probably spend several months in the punishment block of a local prison, where conditions were always Spartan and brutal.  

  Mick had settled into his sentence at Parkhurst and had even got himself a budgie, a sure sign of settling down. In addition, his appeal against sentence was due to be heard shortly and he was hoping to get some time taken off. We decided to press on without him.

  The ideal escape scenario was for us to get out of our cells at night, tie the couple of old watchmen up, let out scores of people, get out of the wing and storm the fences. For this plan though we would need several more things, the first of which was a cell door key. Even with that though, someone would still have to get out of his cell first, to be able to unlock others.

  Dave said that he could make a cell door key easily, and after what we had already seen no one doubted him on this. He went on to say that he could take his cell door off from the inside by sawing through the hinges with a hacksaw blade that he had. Then he could let others out with the cell door key. The final obstacle would be a double-locked wing gate that the ‘singles’ key wouldn’t unlock. 

  Much of this made for an attractive plan. A mass breakout in the middle of the night would mean that quite a few of us would stand a good chance of getting away. The final, double-locked gate wasn’t an impassable barrier either. With the night-watchmen tied up we could afford to break it down, then storm the fences with the bolt-croppers.

  The hardest part, in my opinion, would be for Dave to take his door off from the inside. I had never heard of it being done before. With the greatest skill and patience, he would have to silently cut through the two big hinges which were partly concealed by the locked door. Then he would have to lift at least 200 pounds of steel and wooden door out of its frame while the lock and bolt were still shot into the jamb. And, as this would be in the quiet of the night, he would have to do all this without making a sound.

  It would be a feat that would need incredible patience, skill and strength. I thought it couldn’t be done without making enough noise to alert the night-watchmen. And even if it was possible to do such a thing, it wasn’t possible for Dave to do it, he of the 32-inch chest and skinny arms. I vetoed the idea, much to Dave’s annoyance.

  Suddenly though, everything had to be put on hold. We were told on good authority that, after lock-up one night, a dozen warders had stayed behind with the night-watchmen. They had stayed out of sight in the night-watchmen’s office. Quite clearly, something had been said. Even Parkhurst wasn’t without informers. 

  None of our immediate group were suspect, but Mick was still being informed about our progress, more out of courtesy than anything else. However, although he would never inform on anyone, he was often quite lax about who he discussed things with. Our guess was that he had said something to the wrong person.

  As it was, Mick took the opportunity to declare that, in the circumstances, he wasn’t going to do anything for a couple of months. Reluctantly, we had to concede that we would lie low for a couple of weeks at least.

  Dave wanted to keep working on ideas though. He lived on such a high state of alert that all the new heat made little difference to him. Our feelings were that if he wanted to carry on, that was up to him. We could hardly stop him anyway.

  As the days passed, Dave would occasionally pop into my cell and bring me up to date with the ideas he had and the progress he was making. As we couldn’t make our move at the moment, it was all largely academic to me and, in truth, I only gave him part of my attention. I continued to underestimate him and he continued to surprise me.

  One day, Dave said that he thought he could make a ‘doubles’ key. Now no one had even made a ‘doubles’ key before, in any jail or at any time. Some of the old, great ‘key-men’ had made ‘singles’ keys that worked, as had Dave so very recently, but none of them had even tried to make a ‘doubles’ key. 

  For a start, no one had ever had so much as a glimpse of one. Out of all the warders in the jail, only the Security P.O. had one. He would go around, on his own, ‘double-locking’ strategic gates and doors late in the evening, and unlocking them early the next morning. Once they had been locked on the ‘double’, they couldn’t be unlocked with an ordinary ‘singles’ key.

  From looking at any jail gate lock, it could be seen that the ‘doubles’ key-hole was set up and out to one side of the ‘singles’ key hole. Further, legend had it that the ‘flag’ on the ‘doubles’ key wasn’t fixed to the ‘shank’ at an angle of 90% like it was on ‘singles’ keys. But as no one had ever managed to bribe a Security P.O., no one had ever seen one, so everything was just supposition.

  Dave suddenly came up with an idea that was a quantum leap in key making logic. He suggested that, if he put the ‘singles’ key that he had made, into the ‘singles’ key hole and turned it, at the same time as he put a straight ‘shank’ of a key with a prong sticking out at an angle into the ‘doubles’ key hole and turned that, then the ‘double-locked gate would open.

  If he was expecting my opinion, then he would have been disappointed. Whilst he might be a mechanical genius, everything that went on in the obscurity of a lock was a total mystery to me. I couldn’t appreciate the problems, so I couldn’t offer any suggestions. It was all way beyond me, and everybody else for that matter. But, as he didn’t actually require me to do anything to help, and as I still didn’t take him completely seriously, I just told him to carry on.

  Just above the ‘fours’ landing was a raised ‘cat-walk’ that led to a gate that opened into the roof-space. This was a crucial line of defence for the prison. Anyone who got into the roof-space could easily remove several tiles, climb onto the roof itself and then lower themselves to the ground with a rope. As only the ‘Works’ department ever went into the roof-space, and then very rarely, this gate was always locked on the ‘double’.

  This gate would be very difficult to get to without being seen. Any warder walking the length or breadth of the lower landings couldn’t fail but to see someone going across the exposed ‘cat-walk’. And once across the ‘cat-walk’, Dave would have to stand at the gate, right out in the open, to tamper with the lock. Taking all the circumstances into account, I would have said that it was logistically impossible. For everybody else it probably was, but not for Dave.

  He had noticed that, during the lunch hour when everybody was locked up, the few warders on duty stayed in the wing office. No one patrolled the landings. The only inmates allowed out were the two ‘hotplate’ orderlies, one of whom was his friend/lover, Jeff.

  Dave first made a cell door key, which he gave to Jeff. Waiting until the warders were in the office having their lunch, Jeff crept along the landing and unlocked Dave’s door. Dave went straight up to the ‘fours’, crawled across the ‘cat-walk’ and went to work on the lock. He inserted his ‘singles’ key into the ‘singles’ key-hole, inserted the ‘shank’ with the prong into the ‘doubles’ key hole, and turned both. The gate sprung open!

  Working quickly, he removed the whole lock assembly with a screwdriver and hurried back to his cell. Once inside, he took it to pieces, measured all the levers and other parts with a small metric ruler and re-assembled it. Then he hurried back up to the ‘fours’, re-placed it and ‘double-locked’ the gate, before returning to his cell and locking himself up. The whole episode had taken less than 20 minutes. You couldn’t fault Dave for his nerve and his genius was breathtaking. It was something straight out of James Bond. Bond though didn’t have an image problem because he was gay.

  The following day Dave came into my cell and told me what he had done. We now had a ‘doubles’ key at our disposal, which added a whole new dimension to our escape plans. It meant that there wasn’t a gate or a door that we couldn’t go through, at any hour, day or night. In fact, we could go through doors that none of the warders, except the Security P.O., could go.

  It raised some interesting possibilities. At various points in the inner perimeter fence were set massive double gates. They stood 18 feet high, the same as the fence, and were made of the same thick, wire mesh mounted on a steel, tubular frame. Once through these gates, there was only the second perimeter fence which adjoined a 16 feet high wall. You could make a choice, either cut the fence or rope and hook the wall.

  Normally, would-be escapers didn’t consider these double gates to be a weakness, because they were always locked on the ‘double’. For all intents and purposes they were part of the main fence. With our ‘doubles’ key though, now we could stage a mass escape from the main prison yard.

   Such an event would undoubtedly have been the most spectacular escape in penal history. Parkhurst housed some of the country’s most dangerous inmates, including a dozen or so IRA men doing very long sentences. This was a classic example of why Dave came to be viewed with such seriousness by the prison authorities, if not by his fellow cons. The former weren’t concerned so much about his escaping on his own. The hue and cry would be minimal, as he was doing only ten and a half years for largely non-violent offences. What really concerned them was all the violent and dangerous men he could take with him.

  However, it was still only a few days since there had been the alert over the warders staying behind at night. John and Stewart both thought we ought to lie low for a bit longer. In truth, Dave was still suffering from his credibility problem. If one of the ‘chaps’ had achieved what Dave had achieved, then his opinion would have carried much more weight. 

  This time, we resolved to keep the secret between Dave, John, Stewart, myself and Jeff. The latter had decided that he now wanted to escape too. As Dave had made so much progress on his own, we could hardly say that he couldn’t include his mate. But we did stipulate that we would only tell others who might want to be involved at the last moment. This was a sensible security measure. 

  At this stage I was still making most of the decisions. With Mick out of the running, strictly speaking, the ‘singles’ key was mine. Even though Dave had made it, he had done so with my impression. However, he had gone on to make a cell door key and a ‘doubles’ key, so the situation regarding ‘ownership’ of keys and when they should be used was now quite ambiguous. But as Dave was being perfectly open with me, this wasn’t a problem.

  Dave then decided that we now had everything we needed for the escape and to wait could only jeopardize our chances. The situation was always fluid in top security jails and anything could happen. Apart from anything else, a chance and thorough search could reveal the keys. Dave wanted to press on. 

  He now knew that, during the meal-time lock-ups for breakfast, dinner and tea, there were very few warders on duty. Further, his mate, Jeff, would be out at these times, in his role as an orderly. He had already demonstrated that Jeff could unlock someone’s cell and let them out. He then came up with a brilliant and audacious plan. 

  As part of his orderly’s duties, Jeff was always in and out of the wing office, cleaning and fetching cups of tea for the warders. He had noticed that there was a locker in one corner of the office that served as a cloakroom. Here the warders hung their overcoats and other parts of their uniform that they weren’t going to wear immediately. Over time, bits and pieces of spare uniforms had collected in this cupboard, together with hats, ties and boots.

  Dave got Jeff to steal parts for two complete uniforms, together with two spare hats. Apart from all his other talents he was something of a skilled tailor. In his cell he altered the uniforms and hats so that they fitted Jeff and himself perfectly. This was especially difficult as he was much too thin to be a warder and, at only five feet three inches tall, Jeff was much too short. When he finished he got Jeff to replace them in the office cupboard.

  Then Dave came to me and explained his plan. One breakfast time when the wing was locked up, Jeff would unlock Dave’s cell. He would go in and both would change into the two altered uniforms. Then they would unlock me.

  Dave would then let the three of us out of the wing and into a short corridor. At the end of the corridor was a gate that led outside. Once outside, Dave and Jeff would make out that they were two warders escorting me somewhere. They would escort me down a hill towards the punishment block. 

  The pretence was necessary because, although it was very unlikely that they would bump into any warders at this time of day, the path down the hill was covered by a CCTV camera on the nearby Security Wing that was monitored in the control room.

  A short distance past the camera was the gate to the exercise compound. As all the cons were locked up, this would be deserted and un-patrolled. However, just inside the gate was another CCTV camera that would ‘see’ anyone entering the compound. Here again, the warders uniforms would play a vital part. 

  At the far end of the compound were a set of double gates. Dave would unlock these with his ‘doubles’ key and then we would be between the fences. It would be a simple matter to cut the outside fence with the bolt-croppers that were buried out in the compound anyway.

  It was another brilliant plan, but my first emotion was anger. Although Dave had made provision for me, there was no provision for John and Stewart. Further, there was no realistic possibility of their being involved. Two warders couldn’t escort three cons, that would immediately raise suspicion. To alter more uniforms would take more time and the bigger the group of people moving outside the wings at this time the more it was likely to raise suspicion.

  When I explained all this to John and Stewart they said that it was best that just the three of us go, Dave, Jeff and myself. I was nothing if not loyal though. Even with their blessing it might still look like a slippery move. Also, there was a second problem. The unwritten, largely unspoken ‘chaps’ code was all-powerful in Parkhurst, and ‘gayness’ was a major barrier to acceptance in polite society. I was in the code’s grip as much as anyone.   

  As Dave and Jeff’s homosexuality was a major facet of their characters, it would certainly be mentioned in their records. I the event of all three of us escaping together, the press could well pick up on this fact. I could imagine banner headlines about ‘gay escapers’. As silly as it may sound, this was a major deterrent to me.

  Last but not least, the authorities had me down as one of their most violent and dangerous prisoners. As an ‘A-man’ my photo would be permanently on display in the gate-house where warders would see it every time they came and went from work. Therefore, I had a highly recognisable face. Should they warders in the control room pick me out on one of the CCTV cameras they would surely wonder where the two ‘warders’ were taking me at this time of the morning.

  I told Dave that I couldn’t go with them and was on the verge of telling him that he had taken a liberty to go so far without us. As far as John, Stewart and myself were concerned, that was the end of any escape plans for us. We would have to start all over again. After Dave and Jeff had made their attempt, at the very least, all the locks would be changed and, no doubt, other security measures would be put in place.

  I could have got heavy with them and threatened them, but that itself would have been ‘out or order’. The rights and wrongs of the situation had become confused. I had provided the impression, but Dave had gone on to do so much more by himself. 

  By now they both were sitting there, quite shame-facedly. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. They were both nice guys and it wasn’t easy for them in prison. “And I suppose you want a pair of our fucking bolt-croppers to do the perimeter fence with too, don’t you?”, I said in a tone that sounded angry but was meant to be ironic. Dave nodded his head, sheepishly. I told them exactly where a pair were hidden, in a partition wall up on the ‘fours’.

  Once evening association had started, just after 6pm, there would be no more spot searches for the day, unless there were very unusual circumstances. By late afternoon, Jeff had collected both the bolt-croppers and the two altered uniforms, caps, etcetera and taken them to his cell. Now they were ready for the following morning....

 

to be coninued......


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