Don’t let the title confuse you, in jail this doesn’t always mean what it does on the outside. Pen (short for Penitentiary) might be an Americanism, but it is one which has crept into British jail slang, especially among younger prisoners. ‘Pen Pals’ are those people who, in prison, you consider to be good mates, but who, if you’re honest, you wouldn’t associate with at all on the outside. Not necessarily because you think bad of them at all, but just because you are from different worlds altogether.
Ok, so they might not be lifelong friends, but they are still mates, and you never want to see a mate in trouble. That’s why I got really fed up recently when one such mate ended up disappearing. He had had a minor fall out with a lad on the wing and, rightly or wrongly (I’m actually not sure), convinced himself that he was at risk of getting attacked by the lad and his mates. I hope this isn’t the case, since I speak to people on both sides of the argument, but that was enough to convince my mate to put himself into segregation for his own protection.
Now this guy is no idiot. He can handle himself. He has proved that much over the years. But since being in jail he has met and fallen for a woman who he genuinely wants to get out to. He has recently started really trying to curb his temper, he has signed up to offending behaviour programmes, and he has even been looking into working with the Alternatives to Violence Project (which I publicised through this site just a few months ago). He has been fighting as hard as he can to change and to grow. To prove he is ready to start progressing. But it hasn’t been easy for him. And now, just as he has started one of the courses he has been waiting for, a simple clash of personalities has resulted in him being relocated to the segregation unit and losing his place on the course altogether. Not because he has had a fight or done anything wrong, but because he is trying not to. And none of us who have seen his efforts to improve even know where he is now.
I honestly despair at times like this. I honestly don’t understand why people can’t just talk these issues out and then let them go. Life’s too short for this crap. I just hope he is ok, and that he knows that not everyone judges him for putting himself down the block. It might not be the ‘done’ thing, but it is better than what I know he would have done a few years ago. As far as I am concerned, he can stand tall.