Recently someone asked me what I miss most about the outside world. The answer isn’t simple. There are things big and small. But they are all things so many people take for granted.
I miss taking a bath. As a child I used to hate showers. Baths were fine but I would point blank refuse to have a shower. When I was locked up in 2002 there were no baths. It was showers only. In fact, I’ve only been in one prison that had baths as well as showers; HMP Frankland. But by the time I got there in 2009, I was used to showers. By then, baths had become a symbol of my freedom. I didn’t want my first bath in years to be in prison. Baths were for the outside. Showers were for jail. I look forward to the day that I have a long soak in the bath and wash the prison off me.
That extends equally to larger bodies of water too. Especially to the sea. Everywhere I’ve ever lived, and most of the places I’ve stayed at for any significant period of time, have been close to a river, or to the sea. In London, it was the Thames. In York the Foss ran past the end of my Nan’s garden. In Littlehampton my Grandma lived just a couple of minutes walk from the beach. When I lived in Southampton, aged about 12, me and my friends used to explore the length of a local woodland stream nearly every week, always finding something new. And, as we grew older and ventured further out, we became regular visitors of a small harbour on the Solent where we’d spend all day messing around in boats. Water has always been a big part of my life. But I never even realised it until I was locked away from it. I long for the day that I’ll be able to swim, or even just to stand, swaying backwards and forwards with the swell of the waves as they wash past me and up the sand.
But there are plainer things I miss too. I miss being able to take a walk on those frequent nights when I cannot sleep. Not far. Just down the road. Or around the block. Or to the park and back.
I miss being able to walk into a shop to buy something without having to order it weeks in advance.
I miss being able to speak my mind without having to worry about whether it will be misinterpreted and used against me.
I miss being able to get annoyed at life without someone in a shirt standing up as if being annoyed indicates inherent volatility.
But if I’m honest, and this sounds really soppy, what I really miss are hugs. One the outside, my friends and I were always big huggers. Boys and girls alike, we’d hug when we met. We’d hug when we’d part. We’d hug when we felt down. And we’d hug in celebration. Sometimes we’d hug just because we could. But the fact that we hugged made us very close. It bonded us. I have no trouble connecting the loyalty and kinship we felt for one another with our hugging. And, further, I have no problem connecting the many occasions we put ourself on the line, sometimes even physically, with that kinship.
But, in prison, things are very different. Sure, I’ve had the standard embrace at the start and end of a visit with family, and that’s great, but it’s been years since I last had any real human contact and I honestly can’t even remember what it is like to share my personal space with someone and for it to feel anything but tense because I’m simply not used to it. Basically, I miss being normal.