Sentenced to Borstal Training
On a morning in late February 1971, just before slop out, Colin’s cell door was opened by the wings senior officer and he was told to pack up his stuff as his court date had come through. He was to appear at Wakefield Assizes and would have to be kept in a holding cell in Reception until his transport came. Colin knew better but couldn’t help himself and asked the officer when that would be. “Might be this morning, might be tomorrow” was the blunt answer and he was escorted down to the lower landing, across the yard and into a small single cell with only a wooden bench fixed to the wall. The prospect of sleeping on this bench wasn’t too pleasant but after spending 4 months on remand he was eager to get it over with. A six month detention centre stint meant just over two months left to do. A year’s prison sentence meant four; worst case would be six months to two years of Borstal Training as time served on remission didn’t count against Borstal.
“I was eager to leave Thorp Arch and to know my fate; I’d had enough by now and was looking forward to knowing when I would get out. I didn’t have to wait long; the reception screw came into my cell handed me the box with my clothes and my few valuables and told me to get changed ready for court. The lack of contact with my parents meant that I hadn’t received a change of clothing. I was going to appear for sentence dressed in a pair of stained Levi “staprest” trousers, a creased white Ben Sherman shirt, tan brogues and a ¾ length navy blue fly fronted rain coat, not quite the impression I wanted to give” Said Colin.
Within an hour of leaving the remand centre Colin was in the cells below Wakefield Crown Court, with Chris in the next cell. Chris had been held on remand in the adult section of Armley and they were able to talk through the hatches in the cell doors for the first time since their last court appearance. Vinny and Rich had both been dealt with quickly and had got two year prison sentences each. Chris was expecting a similar stretch and he warned Colin he was likely to get Borstal. Colin had toyed with the idea that he might even walk away from court a free man. Borstal really was the worst possible outcome for him. Even Stoke Heath, which was reputed to be a tough place to be meant another six months inside, Feltham in Middlesex where “addicts” were sent, could mean another eighteen months to two years.
“My reverie didn’t last too long” said Colin “we were taken from the cells and up some stairs into the dock. The judge was only there to pronounce sentence and we were asked if we had anything to say in mitigation before this was done. The judge nodded to Chris who replied, “Sir, I have something to say to this court, I have been treated fairly and during my time on remand I have come to realise the error of my ways, I ask for a lenient sentence so that I can prove to the court and my family that I am going to change”. “I was a bit taken aback” said Colin, “Chris hadn’t said anything to me, he had obviously been prompted by his solicitor but I didn’t have time to think about it as the judge indicated that I should speak. “I tried to take the same tack as Chris, by saying I had learned my lesson and wouldn’t be doing similar things in the future, hoping that my chances of a non custodial sentence would improve. I didn’t know how wrong I could be”.
The judge had listened to what the two of them had to say and after a short time delivered his summing up.
“I have read the reports and have listened to what you both have had to say. Mr Hazel, it is obvious to me that you are well on the way to becoming an habitual offender who shows no respect for the police or the rule of law. I am minded to impose a custodial sentence of enough length to give you real time to reflect on your behaviour and where it might ultimately lead you. Although the reports in front of me indicate you are not a drug addict I have no doubt that this is the road you are going down. You will go to prison for a period of two years and I am making an order that you will receive treatment for your burgeoning drug dependency.
He then turned to Colin; “Mr Cross, I have studied the reports at length and listened to what you have had to say in mitigation, there is no doubt that you too have a worrying attitude towards illegal drug use, you were in fact convicted, relatively recently, on a conspiracy to supply charge. I am convinced that only a custodial sentence, with an order for psychiatric help, will bring you any benefit. You are hereby sentenced to Borstal Training for a period of six months to two years, during which time it is hoped you will come to see the error of your ways”.
The judge told the warders to take them both down; they said their goodbyes again and went their separate ways.
Colin stopped speaking for a moment to take a swallow of his beer and I asked him if he could remember just how he felt at the time. He thought for a second or two before he spoke. “I wasn’t quite prepared for all of it, I felt a bit numb and once again I didn’t know what was going to happen. They put me in a cell below the court, I knew that I would be on the move again, but didn’t know where to, I assumed maybe back to Thorp Arch but that wasn’t the case”.
Colin was held in the cell for several hours before his door was opened and he was told he’d better use the toilet as he was going on a longish journey. When he asked where to he was told he was being moved to the Borstal allocation wing of Strangeways prison in Manchester.
“Arriving at Strangeways was a very similar experience to arriving at Armley, with one big difference, I was now a convicted criminal about to start an indeterminate sentence and I had no idea how long it would be before I was sent to my ultimate destination. I only knew I had to do all I could to influence which institution I was sent to. I didn’t want Stoke Heath, it had a terrible reputation and I didn’t want Feltham, they kept you there longer than anywhere else”.
Colin went on to tell me about his time in Strangeways, the prison itself was made up of two blocks emanating from a central core, the floor in the centre of the core was made from intricately patterned wrought iron, extremely thick and painted a high gloss black. Prisoners were not allowed to walk on this surface and it had a constant presence of older screws, hard looking men with large bunches of keys suspended on long chains. He said it was obvious these were not men to be messed about with and there was an air of discipline and order about the whole place.
All in all Colin spent five weeks in Strangeways, passing his days in the mail bag shop, eight stitches of waxy black string to an inch or start again was the rule. One bag needed to be completed in a day to qualify for enough pay to buy half an ounce of tobacco, some sugar and a couple of sweets at the end of the week. Colin passed his time sewing and being interviewed by doctors and probation officers who were tasked with deciding where best to send him. Colin had written to his mother and asked her to visit him. He hadn’t seen her for nearly 6 months and it was a very emotional meeting but he really needed her support. He got her to write a letter to one of the probation officers asking for Colin to be sent to Hatfield Open, six miles or so from where she lived. She obviously made a good case as this was where he was eventually sent.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like in prisons now, gangs of Muslim thugs preying on the weak, drug and phone card dealers and fewer officers. It must be hell” said Colin “when I was inside there were no drugs to be had, we often heard rumours that alcohol was being distilled from potatoes but I never saw any of it. There was always someone selling snout (tobacco) but that was generally on the adult wings. Following the rules, obeying the screws, keeping your head down and doing your “bird” was the order of the day. The screws were all male, many of them ex military and there always seemed to be lots of them on duty. The majority of them were a taciturn bunch but so long as you didn’t get on the wrong side of them and treated them with respect they just got on with their jobs. A couple of them could be awkward though and there was one incident that has always stuck in my mind”.
Colin had gone down to the basement with the other cons from his landing, it was time for the midday meal and this was where it was served up to them, spooned into metal trays with four compartments. He told me about an officer that everyone called “Teddy Bear”, though not to his face, he was a chubby man and a bit of a bully. Teddy Bear had been picking on one lad for a couple of weeks in the meal queue, whether or not something had provoked him into this Colin didn’t know but as they all waited in line he started in on the lad again. Without any warning the lad had whipped his tray across the screws face causing a deep cut on the bridge of his nose.
“For what could only have been a couple of seconds everyone froze on the spot” said Col. “Teddy Bear was bleeding profusely. The lad was just stood there with the tray in his hand, he wasn’t a big lad and he didn’t look like a hard case but that didn’t stop the screws piling in and kicking and punching him into a cell further down the corridor. We could hear him screaming for them to stop but they must have delivered a pretty good beating. You didn’t mess with the Strangeways screws if you knew what was good for you.”
Within a week of this incident Colin was given his final interview in front of a panel consisting of a senior warder, the prison psychiatrist and a probation officer. He was given the welcome news, in the circumstances that he had been allocated a place at Hatfield Open Borstal Training Centre and would be leaving on the next allocation.
To Be Continued…..