Confessions from the inside

Was a real trip to get your letter, love. Been thinking about you every day since I got here. I was hoping you’d write but then I was hoping you wouldn’t ‘cos I didn’t know if I could find the words to write back if you did. Now the words are tumbling out so fast I don’t know if I’ve got enough paper to catch them all.

I’ll do my best to answer all your questions. You deserve that much. Might take a few goes to get it all down though. Told the story so many times to the cops but that was all mechanical like. When I think about telling you it’s like someone pulls a plug out and all the moisture that was in me mouth drains out through me arm pits.

I did write you a few times when I first got in here but me letters got sent straight back. Caused a real pain in me heart that did. I started keeping a diary after that; had to have some way of clearing me head. I’ll give it to you to read sometime love, but for now, just know that I did what I had to. It means a lot to me that you know that. Anyways, now I’m getting ahead of me self. Let me tell you about when I first arrived.

They say, ‘first impressions are lasting impressions’, and this place is all set up like that, love. It’s all about intimidating and controlling. The buildings look like concrete boxes sitting end-to-end, their sides hole-punched by tiny windows. There are no trees or plants or anything green. Everything has the hue of death.

Comin’ in feels a bit like when you start at a new school, you know? People are all dressed up the same, only their faces are free to tell their stories. So, you gotta scrutinise those faces, try to work out who’s on top of the shit pile so you can either stay out their way or suck up real hard.

You got no idea what the routine is, so you follow along, try and act like you know. Not that you can ever end up somewhere you aren’t supposed to be ‘cos the days here are all structured. Mustering, head counts, meals, work. Sometimes the routine will change if they need to fit in a visit from some bloody VIP. Otherwise, once you learn the plan for Day 1 you got the whole thing nailed, just hit repeat for the next twenty-five years.

I gotta say, one of the things I wasn’t expecting was to get a new soundtrack to me life. Keys jostling for space on a way-too-small key ring. Voices crying down the phone to someone that reminds them of a life they no longer own. The buzz and clink of cells doors as they open and close, releasing and embracing their catch in a screwed-up game of hide and seek.

With all this going on, there’s never any silence in here. Not even at night—that’s when the cleaners come and buff the floors up real good (actually I don’t mind the buffing so much, love, ‘cos when I’m lying in me bed me thoughts get real loud and I can’t turn them down the buffing gives me something to focus on). It’s the same sounds each day too, just messed up into a different order, like Bingo balls tossed around and spat out.

Comes a time when you don’t notice those sounds anymore; you notice all the sounds that aren’t there. No lawn mower revving its guts out or kids screaming as they run under the sprinkler. No trees whining in the wind or the tapping of the rain on the roof. You become real disconnected with the weather and the seasons. Not half deliberate I reckon—to mess us all up so we don’t wake up one morning all pissed off cos we’ve just realised we’ve wasted half our life in this joint.

I do have my own room though, love. That’s something. They move you ‘round a lot when you first arrive. Don’t like you getting too friendly with your neighbours. I read once that the airlines kinda do the same—never roster their pilots with the same co-pilot more than once. Helps to stop all that terrorism and stuff.

Anyway, good to be in me own space. Not that there’s any privacy, the screws are always around. They lord over the exercise yard as though they are Roman Emperors waiting to unleash their beasts on the slaves. Everything you do, your whole private universe gets sucked up into the CCTV. Somebody is always watching you and you gotta be always watching them too.

It’s easy to be watchful ‘cos it never gets proper dark in here. The fluoros are on all night, hummin’ and flickering. All of this—the noise, the light, the constant watching—means there’s a restlessness that never settles. Never any closure to anything.

Probably sounds like I am down on this place, but I feel safe in here, love. I like having a routine and always having something hot to eat, not worrying ‘bout someone going off their head on the booze or the drugs. Comin’ from where I was—not knowing what your father would be like when he got home, all the anger and getting hit around—this place got a lot going for it.

Now I been here a while. I do try and bring the new girls in under me wing. Try and help them out, you know? Like that kid did in that Pay It Forward movie. You seen that, love? Thursday’s movie night down in the common room. Everything’s pretty tame, no sex or drugs or violence. I guess you figured that, hey?

So, the new girls coming in. I try to impress on them about keeping their sheet clean so they can leave here and not come back. I guess I been doing something good, ‘cos last week Helen—not that I ever call her that ‘cos she’s one of the screws—asked me to do a proper talk to the ‘fish’ ‘bout daily life in here. Stomach got all spaghetti-like just thinking about talking to a group like that, but I was real proud being asked.

Not as proud as I am of you being a hairdresser though, love. Proper job and all, that is. I should have thought you’d end up doing something like that, caring for other people. I fancied doing something like that once. Before, obviously. They got all sorts of programs in here to help you get your shit together before you get spat back out. Lotta girls get no choice; they gotta do some program as part of their conditions. They don’t bother too much with us lifers though.

Well, I’m just ‘bout outta paper now, pet. I can get some more from the canteen on Tuesday, but I don’t wanna wait until then to get this in the post—too scared you might vanish as quickly as you appeared!

‘Til next time,

Brenda

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