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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 4
09 January 2013 @ 16:36

 I saw Jeff at breakfast the next day, but we didn’t speak. There was no sign of Dave, but that wasn’t unusual as he never got up for breakfast. The meal served, the warders went around and locked everyone up, except for Jeff and the other orderly.

  This other orderly was something of a strange guy. A violent and well-known ‘face’ from South London, Terry was doing 15 years for a string of highly professional armed robberies. However, he had made himself unpopular with the ‘chaps’ at Parkhurst by becoming too close with the warders. Not only did he make tea for them, he also socialised with them about the wing. This didn’t mean that he wasn’t staunch though. He knew about the escape plot and distracted the warders when Jeff wanted to do something.

Recently he had begun leaving his radio on the hotplate, playing loudly. This would serve to drown out any noise Dave and Jeff might make on their way out of the wing.

  Terry made tea and sandwiches for the two warders left on duty in the office and stood in the doorway, laughing and joking with them. Outside, his radio was playing loudly. 

  Jeff immediately hurried along the landing and quietly let himself into Dave’s cell with the cell door key. They quickly put on the close-fitting uniforms, the boots and the caps, tucking their long, flowing hair up inside the latter. The blue shirts and ties added the finishing touches. 

  They were now wearing what every warder in Parkhurst was wearing, but there the similarity ended. For they were two of the most unlikely-looking warders you would ever see in your life. The tall, gangly one was undoubtedly the skinniest warder in the Prison Service. The short one was equally skinny, but the striking feature was his height. He failed the minimum requirements by at least three inches. Individually, they looked distinctly odd. Walking along together they looked extraordinarily comical.

  They left Dave’s cell carrying the bolt-croppers concealed in a pillow-case. There was nothing out of the ordinary in this, warders were forever walking about with inmates possessions in pillow cases. Then they crept across to the wing gate. This was a tricky bit, because Dave would have to unlock the gate and lock it again, all without making enough noise to alert the warders in the office barely twenty feet away. The heavy gate always made a high pitched squeal as it swung open. The warders knew this sound well and listened out for it. It could well herald a P.O. or Chief on his rounds.

  This morning though, the squeal was drowned out by Terry’s radio. Locking the gate behind them, Dave hurried along the short corridor to the gate that led outside the wings. Within seconds, Dave and Jeff were outside. They had overcome the first hurdle, but the second one beckoned.

  Walking as upright as possible, with their caps tilted down slightly over their faces, they strolled down the hill towards the CCTV camera. They would find out soon enough if those presumably watching in the control room noticed anything untoward. The camera stayed pointing up the hill and didn’t swivel to follow their progress. They were past the second hurdle.

  They approached the gate of the compound and, perhaps, the most difficult hurdle. Here the camera was barely yards away and focused on the gate. Dave unlocked the gate and they both passed through. The camera stayed pointing at the gate. The most difficult part was behind them. 

  They walked quickly to the far end of the deserted compound and up to the massive double gates. Using his ‘doubles’ key, Dave unlocked these, pulled down on the long lever that disengaged the gate’s bolts and swung it open. They passed through and Dave locked it behind them. No one but the Security P.O. could follow them now. There was only the perimeter fence that stood between them and freedom.

  Taking the bolt-croppers from the pillowcase, Dave went to the section of the fence that adjoined the wall. Here he would be partly shielded from outside view by the wall. The first snips were awkward, but once the blades of the cutters were through the mesh he made a yard-long, horizontal cut at knee height.       

  Turning the cutters upwards, Dave now made a vertical cut. Jeff had put on a pair of heavy canvas gloves taken from one of the workshops. As Dave levered the section inwards, Jeff gripped the edge and pulled.

  Until this point, everything had gone according to plan. But as with most plans, there is always an element of luck. Their luck now ran out. 

  It was a fact that the compound and the compound fence wasn’t patrolled at that time of day. However, Parkhurst wasn’t the only prison on the island. Camp Hill, a lower-security, prison was just a few hundred yards further up the road. One of their dog-handlers had gone home for breakfast, taking his dog with him. Returning the way he had come, he walked along the outside wall of Parkhurst. As he reached the point where the wall ended and the fence began, he suddenly came upon Dave and Jeff. Both parties were taken completely by surprise.

  By now, Jeff had managed to pull the cut section of the fence inwards, exposing a triangular hole. Dave made a dive for it, thrusting his head and shoulders through. The dog barked furiously and went to bite him. At the same time, the warder pulled out his stick and started to beat Dave about the head and shoulders. 

  Realising that he stood no chance against this determined assault, Dave pulled himself back inside. To crawl through the hole unhindered would have been difficult, the efforts of the warder and his dog made it impossible. The two of them had to watch helplessly as the warder took his radio from his belt and put in an emergency call.

  Dave quickly stepped behind the wall, out of sight of the warder. Within minutes other warders would be everywhere. He didn’t want them to find his keys.

  Barely two minutes passed and a large group of warders came running into the compound. Dozens more appeared outside the fence. Temporarily though, Dave and Jeff were still safe. No one had a ‘doubles’ key to get them through the big gates. 

  Another few minutes passed and the Security P.O. duly appeared. He unlocked the double gates and the warders poured through. They grabbed Dave and Jeff roughly and   marched them back the way they had come. The gates of the punishment block were already open as the posse of warders propelled Dave and Jeff inside. They were pushed into separate cells and made to take everything off. Completely naked now, they were turned around and doubled over so that the warders could see between the cheeks of their arses. But it was all too late.

  Satisfied that nothing remained hidden, they threw the pair a boiler suit each and retreated with all their clothes. As the doors banged shut, Dave and Jeff contemplated a thoroughly depressing future. There would be the solitary confinement and the loss of remission, of course, but they would also be separated and sent to different jails.

  By dinner time the escape was the talk of the jail. There were several different versions circulating, but all of them told of their being nearly through the perimeter fence. There were also a variety of reactions. Some thought it hilarious that a pair of ‘poufs’ had nearly done what the combined resources of the so-called ‘chaps’ had failed to do. Others tried to belittle what they had done purely because they were gay. But those who gave credit where it was due, had to concede that Dave and Jeff had done an amazing feat.

  Our crowd, who knew the full details, had nothing but respect and admiration for them. Merely to make a ‘doubles’ key was un-paralleled. In fact so much so that the prison authorities hadn’t accepted that Dave had made a ‘double’. With the massive double gates now locked, they argued that they must have climbed over them, although the fact that they couldn’t find any rope and hook did confuse them. They hadn’t found the cell or gate key either and assumed that Dave had managed to hide them somewhere. 

  It would have been very embarrassing for them to admit that a con had got hold of a ‘double’. It smacked of corruption in high places and the Home Office would want chapter and verse. And what Security P.O. would want to admit that his was the first jail where a con had got his hands on a ‘doubles’ key?

  Dave and Jeff, languishing in the punishment block, were largely oblivious to all the gossip and rumour. Dave was quite used to people knocking him. His answer was simply to shut them up by pulling off something quite amazing. That, in fact, was what he was working on at the very moment.

  The warders had carefully searched Dave and Jeff’s clothing for the keys. They had also meticulously searched the area nearest the hole in the fence. They had found nothing, except the bolt-croppers and the gloves. Having stripped them both naked, they were convinced that they weren’t hiding anything. They could only assume that Dave had thrown the keys over the fence. 

  In this they were quite wrong, for Dave still had them. When he had stepped behind the wall, out of sight of the warder with the dog, he had taken a metal tube out of his pocket. It was about four inches long and an inch in diameter, with a screw top. It looked like a shortened cigar tube. 

  There was already a length of hacksaw blade inside. Dave quickly dropped the three keys in with it and screwed the top on tightly. Dropping his trousers and pants, he squatted down. He pushed the rounded end of the tube up his arse. As his sphincter muscle closed behind the screw top, the whole tube disappeared from view.

  It was now up inside his rectum and safe from anything but an intimate body search. Dave could retrieve it at any time. He often carried things about like this.

  Locked in his punishment cell later that evening, Dave removed the tube. Wiping the outside with a tissue, he unscrewed the top and took out the hacksaw blade. Very gently, he started to saw at the exposed part of the top hinge of his cell door. Within two hours he had sawed enough. He started on the bottom hinge. Another two hours saw him satisfied with the progress on this too. He put the blade back in the tube, screwed it shut and pushed in back up into his rectum. Then he lay down for a few hours sleep.

  The following morning Dave slopped out, collected his breakfast and was locked up again. As was the case in the rest of the prison, the majority of the warders went off for their breakfast, leaving just one in the office. Dave immediately went to work on his door again.   

  He had left just enough hinge to support the weight of the door when it was opened. Now, in under 20 minutes, he cut through the remainder. With the hinges severed, he gently eased the hinged side of the door inwards. Once it cleared the jamb, he slid it sideways so that the lock and bolt both disengaged from the other jamb. He was out of his cell.

  Moving silently to Jeff’s cell, he quietly slid back the bolt and unlocked his door with one of the keys. They both padded noiselessly to the gate leading out of the punishment block. Dave inserted the gate key and turned, but it was a particularly stiff lock. As the levers sprang back there was a dull, metallic ‘clunk’.

  This was one of the small sounds of the normally silent punishment block that the remaining warder was quite familiar with. After being in the quiet for a while, one gets to know every sound, even the small ones that register only subliminally. This was an important sound though. It could be the first warning to a warder dozing, or doing a crossword, that a senior officer was coming in.

  Alerted now, the warder came out of the office. He was astonished to see both Dave and Jeff halfway through the gate. Recovering quickly, he pressed the nearest alarm bell.

  Dave and Jeff both stopped. It was no use their running as dozens of warders would be on the scene very quickly. A chase around the jail would be futile. They both filed back into the punishment block.

  In due course, the news of this latest attempt reached us. I was astounded that Dave had managed to take his door off from the inside, and without making enough noise to alert a warder sitting in an office only yards away. Mentally, I kicked myself. I now realized what a treasure we had allowed to slip through our hands.

  Either one of Dave’s escape attempts rated amongst the best I had ever heard of. Taken together they demonstrated a skill, genius and resourcefulness that was breathtaking. If we had paid more attention to Dave’s escaping skills rather than to his sexuality, a mass break-out in the early hours of the morning would definitely been on.  That though, was the end of my first experience of Dave Martin.

  Living in the long-term prison system is sometimes akin to traveling on the Circle Line. With only six or seven top security jails, friends and acquaintances almost inevitably bump into each other again and again. Especially if they are troublesome prisoners who get moved about.

  A short time after Dave was transferred out of Parkhurst, an incident took place that disrupted any further thoughts of escape that my friends and I had. Nearby Albany Prison staged a roof-top protest against the parole system. As a measure of solidarity, Parkhurst joined in. About seventy of us stayed out on the compound all night in protest. As one of the ringleaders I was put in solitary for a month on bread and water, then transferred out to local prison. Within another month though I had been transferred to Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire.

  Long Lartin was very much a state-of-the-art, top security prison, supposedly the most secure in the system. There were electronically unlocking doors, inbuilt alarms, CCTV cameras everywhere, trembler bells on fences, geo-phonic detectors to detect someone digging a tunnel out and arc-lights that bathed the whole jail in brightness at night. No one had even got close to getting out.

  On the positive side though, the jail had a very relaxed and well-resourced regime. Workshop wages were good enough for inmates to be able to buy a whole range of stuff from the prison canteen. At weekends some prisoners clubbed together to cook lavish meals in the little kitchens on each of the six wings.

  There was a lot of time allowed out of cell for association and everyone got regular access to the sports-field and yard. No only were radios allowed, record players were permitted too, a significant concession not found in other jails. Much civilian clothing was permitted too. Consequently, although Long Lartin was a long way from being an alternative society, there were still too many things missing that one took for granted outside for that, it was possible to have a life of sorts. Many troublesome prisoners settled down here.     

  There were a couple of dozen Londoners in residence when I arrived, all of them doing very long sentences. That most of them were ‘A-men’ defined them as a sort of elite, but the fact that they regarded themselves as the ‘chaps’ gave them a leading role in the jails life. Although we were greatly outnumbered by prisoners from other parts of the country, we were significantly more violent and always stuck together. An attack on one of us was usually treated as an attack on us all. 

  Several of these Londoners were old friends, others I knew of and they knew of me. To avoid too many of this type getting together and the control problems this would cause, the prison authorities spread them out amongst the wings. I suppose it was a back-handed tribute to my potential for causing trouble that I was placed on a wing with just one other Londoner.

  Terry was about forty years old, the broken nose and cauliflower ears a sign of the professional boxer he had been in the past. Once a promising middle-weight until poor eyesight ended his career prematurely, he was now, several stones heavier and a bear of a man. He turned from boxing to bank robbery and had worked with several notorious ‘firms’. His twelve-year sentence reflected the seriousness of his offences.         

  Despite his size and fighting prowess, Terry was quite gentle and well-mannered by nature. He also had a very well developed sense of humour and loved to play pranks. We quickly became friends and relaxed into a familiar and supporting relationship that is one of the few good things about prison life. 

  I had only been at Long Lartin for about two months when Dave Martin arrived. Like myself, he had been on a journey around the local jails, but his had taken a bit longer. He had the white and stressed look that is the hallmark of someone who has recently done a lot of solitary confinement.         

  Most ordinary people don’t understand the impact of solitary confinement. I believe that its effects were so important in the moulding of the person Dave Martin was to become, that it is worthwhile to briefly explain here. To the average person, to be placed in a small room where one is to be left on one’s own for a long period, might not seem to be much of a threat. One might imagine long periods spent reading, or just simply relaxing.

  The reality is very much different. In psychological terms, solitary confinement is known as ‘sensory deprivation’. In our normal environment we are constantly bombarded with a multitude of stimuli. We interact with others, watch TV, cook, clean the house, play games, etc. In solitary confinement, all of these things stop, and stop abruptly. This tends to induce a sense of panic. One has to fight for control over a situation that one realises could quickly become intolerable. From moment one, there is a continuous fight to maintain control.

  As reasoning individuals, we know that we can’t stand this indefinitely. That is why, in controlled ‘sensory deprivation’ experiments conducted by universities, there is always a panic button that one can press when one has had enough. In solitary confinement there is no panic button. No matter what you say or do, you will stay in solitary until your period is up. 

  Needless to say, some people ‘crack up’. They might scream, or become violent when the warders open their door at meal or slop out times. Then they will be beaten up, put in a canvas, restraining suit and left on the floor of a ‘strip’ cell for days. Some never recover and end up certified and sent to mental hospitals. Most prisoners’ greatest fear is to lose ones mind whilst in prison. 

  The actual environment of the punishment block isn’t conducive to mental stability either. It is a place to where the troublesome and mentally ill gravitate. The air is constantly rent by screams of anger and pain from those being brought down by the warders. And every so often, usually during a period of quietness, there comes the frantic scream of someone who has finally lost control. It reminds everyone else of their own mortality. For myself, I felt that if I screamed just the once, I might never stop.

  So for a spirited individual, solitary is an awesome threat. One realises that one might have to make a stand against unfeeling and unjust authority just to stop them from breaking one’s will. But waiting just over the horizon is the awful prospect of several months in solitary.

 

TO BE CONTINUED.....

 


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