I just spent this morning in prison. As you can see from the photo… But I bet you didn’t know that some cell blocks have dry cells! A dry cell is where you are taken when you are first arrested, with no running water and no lavatory so you cannot get rid of any evidence…
PJ doing porridge
Such is the hard stuff a writer has to go through in the cause of research… In my new novel, Not Dead Enough, which I’m currently writing against a scarily looming end of July deadline, for June 2007 publication, I have a character who is arrested on suspicion of murder. So I wanted to go through the process that he would go through – the whole procedure of what happens when a person is arrested in Brighton. And thanks to two officers, Mark Powles and Julian Clapp, I was given the full Monty!
I used to think it might be quite interesting to be arrested and go to prison: I’ve always been a great admirer of the late composer Sir Arnold Bax who one said, “Try anything in life once, except incest and folk dancing.” But after today’s experience, I’m thinking twice… or maybe even three times, about getting arrested.
It is a really dehumanizing experience. Being fingerprinted, and photographed and then having a DNA swab in your mouth taken are the easy bit. It is when you get to stand in front of a Custody Sergeant, like an errant schoolchild in front of the headmaster, to be booked in, and searched that reality slams home. A searching officer puts on clear latex gloves before touching you, then works from the head down, removing jewellery, watches, your belt, and worst of all, your glasses (in case you try to turn the lenses into a weapon to harm yourself). Then it gets worse still. If you are in for a particularly serious offence, or it is believed you may have evidence secreted on you that you may try to get rid of, of if you haven’t washed since committing a crime such as shooting or arson, and residues could be on your skin, you are taken to a dry cell, where all your clothes are removed (if required for forensic testing) and you are given a blue paper suit and black slip-on shoes. Then you are taken to a normal cell, which has a washbasin and a lavatory and stinks like a public latrine, and you are on your own, with no daylight, total silence and just your thoughts.
The sign you never want to see!
Some years back I lived near Ditchling in Sussex and was friendly with the local pet shop owner in Hassocks, who was also the video man, who got jailed for illegally copying videos. He told me when he came out of prison, that the biggest problem with being inside was the warders getting angry at you if you didn’t buy drugs from them…”
That reminds me of the time my business partner, James Simpson (who famously co-wrote the music for Spitting Image) who was chatting to some locals in a bar in Oldham, Lancashire a couple of years back and asked them, “Do you have a drugs problem up here?” One astonished local shook his head and said, “No mate, no problem at all. Can get you anything you want.”