A couple of years ago I was completely stitched up by an officer who I can only describe as being either entirely delusional, or a complete liar.
There was another prisoner who had finished his sentence but was being kept in prison until he could be deported back to Cyprus. Now, the prison service rules state that such prisoners are to be treated as immigration detainees, as they have completed their sentence and are therefore no longer convicted. They are therefore entitled to all of the same things as prisoners who are on remand. They can have property sent in by post or on a visit, they can have additional visits and write additional letters, and they can even insist on being kept separately to convicted prisoners.
The prisoner in question didn’t care about most of that, but he did want to have some of his own clothes sent in to him and, since his English was limited, he asked me to help him write out an application to do this. But when he went to hand the application in at the office, to be sent to the governor for approval, the office refused to process it.
This prisoner had a long history of temper problems, disciplinary warnings, and adjudications. But for the few months since he had moved onto my wing, I had managed to keep him calm and out of trouble. However, when he came back to his cell, where I was waiting, he was clearly irate. He couldn’t understand why the officer wouldn’t take his application. After a few minutes of me trying to calm him down, the officer followed him to the cell and began to taunt him, grinning all the while. Then I did something I shouldn’t have. I intervened. I asked the officer why he couldn’t take the application.
The officer said that he wasn’t entitled to what he was asking for, so I immediately thought that it was actually a situation that we could sort out there and then. I said that, although I knew it was unusual for prisoners to get things sent in at that prison, so I didn’t blame him for not knowing about it, the rules for immigration detainees do allow it. I then said that I had a copy of the relevant prison service instruction in my call and asked, if I could show this to the officer, if he would then be willing to process the application and forward it to the governor. Without a second’s hesitation the officer laughed and said no. And that was when my mood changed. It was clear that this wasn’t about what anyone was entitled to or not entitled to, it was all about a petty little man being either too lazy or too vindictive to process the application. So I told him so.
Needless to say, he didn’t like hearing it, and told me to get off the landing and return to my own. The only problem was, he was standing in the way of the door. But I knew the drill, I knew that I’d be placed on report if I refused. So I stood up slowly, kept my arms loose by my sides and my voice low, and told him I’d be happy to leave, just as soon as he gets the hell out of my way.
He didn’t like this either and immediately pulled out his baton and took a step towards me, raising it over his head and shouting “You can’t tell me what to do! I’m an officer! You’re a con! Now get off my landing!” I knew the reactions he wanted. It would have suited him equally for me to swing for him or to cower in the corner. So I did the thing that I knew would piss him off most. I laughed at him and calmly told him not to try to intimidate me with his little stick (his little stick clearly being the reason why he felt the need to lord it over everyone). I then repeated that I would leave as soon as he moved out of the way of the door. What I didn’t expect was what he did next. He didn’t swing for me (which was sort of what I wanted), and he didn’t put his baton down and relax (which was my second choice), or even move out of the cell onto the landing so that I could leave. Instead he moved further into the cell, putting himself right into the corner, clearing the doorway for me to leave, but putting himself at risk. There were no other officers around, no alarm bell had been pressed, and here he was, on his own, in a cell with two prisoners he had been arguing with, in a situation where he had deemed it necessary to draw his baton, and I couldn’t work it out at first. And then I realised. The landing had CCTV cameras on it. He was going to try something and he didn’t want to be on film when he did it.
But the door was clear, so I had to leave. I slowly moved towards the door, keeping my arms low and loose, edging past him and turning so that I kept my face towards him as I went. Ready for him to swing. And then, as I stepped backwards towards the door, he put his hand on my chest and pushed me backwards. I stumbled back a step and knew what he wanted me to do next. He knew that the cameras could see me now. He wanted me to retaliate. Instead, I headed straight down to the Senior Officer and reported it as an assault.
Needless to say, ranks were immediately closed and I was placed on report myself with two charges. The first was refusing to obey a lawful order. The second was for threatening or abusive behaviour. And this was where it got really funny, at least for a few minutes. The officer wrote on his report paperwork that I had refused to leave four times, clenched my fists, said “I’m gonna do ya!” and lunged towards him. But during the adjudication, when the governor asked him to explain exactly what had happened, he didn’t mention any lunge at all. When it came to questioning, I asked why he’d left this out, but the governor didn’t even let him answer. Instead he volunteered the answer on the officers behalf, saying that he had said that my body language changed. I asked if that was the impartial governor’s answer or the reporting officer’s and the governor nodded to the officer for him to answer. Not surprisingly, he simply said, “Yeah, it was when your body language changed. That’s what I meant.” Now I’m no body language expert, but I can’t imagine any situation where I would equate someone lunging threatening towards me as their body language changing. But we moved on and I asked the officer to explain the layout of the cell and where we were all standing. My intention was to show that, since the officer was in the way of the door, I couldn’t possibly have refused a lawful order to leave, as it wasn’t physically possible for me to leave. However, the governor once again intervened and said that none of that was relevant. He wouldn’t even let me establish who was standing where.
I then asked the officer for the CCTV evidence to be made available, since this showed the officer was in the doorway right up until a few seconds before I backed out of the cell. The governor refused to let me see it.
When the other prisoner came in as my witness, he confirmed everything I had already said, including that I had never said that I was going to do the officer, I had never refused to leave, I had never clenched my fists, and I had certainly never lunged at anyone. When the witness left again, here is what was said:
Governor: “I accept what the witness has said today. Events did not occur precisely as the officer reported them. However, will you agree with me that no-one can possibly know how another person is feeling inside?”
Governor: “So if my officer says he felt threatened, then he may well have felt threatened?”
Me: “Yes. But I haven’t been nicked for how he feels. I’ve been nicked for threatening behaviour, and you’ve just admitted that events did not occur in the way he reported them. My behaviour was not as he reported.”
Governor: “No, that’s not what I meant. If my officer felt threatened, then you must have threatened him.”
Me: “So does that mean that if your officer feels depressed then I must have depressed him?”
Obviously, that didn’t go down well and I was immediately found guilty. But let me just make something clear. I wasn’t innocent. I just wasn’t guilty of what they alleged. I didn’t refuse, I didn’t threaten, I didn’t lunge. But I was disrespectful to an officer. I’d have plead guilty, I’d have held my hands up and said, yeah, fair enough. But to be found guilty of what they said? That was just ridiculous. And I’m not the only one it has happened to. I’ve seen it time and time again. Instead of just putting the prisoner on report for what they actually did, they’ll beef it up so that they get a bigger punishment.
At the time I tried to remind myself that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. But the truth is, what doesn’t kill you, really pisses you off. It’s only now that I can accept that it’s too late to do anything about it and so I accept it for what it is and try to focus on the funny side. Remind me what the funny side is again?