Incarceration, Part Five

Coloniescross, Going Postal

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…..

Coloniescross ©