A little while ago a friend of mine got transferred. It was a good move for him as he was progressed to a category B prison which would make it easier for him to argue the case for release at his next parole hearing. But one thing struck me as I helped him pack up his things. One by one everyone he knew stopped by his cell to wish him well, but every single one of them asked him for something.
I could see their eyes darting around the cell, even to his packed bags (which clearly only contained things he wanted to keep), just looking for something they could ask for. It is the exact reverse of life in the real world. Outside you might get someone presenting you with a going away gift, in here the only thing you get presented with when you move on is a series of wish lists, the gift giving is up to you.
I think it comes from the fact that it is quite awkward to transport a large number of bags of property from one prison to another and it is almost worth giving things away and then rebuying them when you get where you going. Of course, this wouldn’t apply in the case of large items or electricals, but when it comes to toiletries or food, this is often the case.
I watched as person after person dropped in and asked for what they wanted and I was struck by how brazen some were. Towards the end the line that came forward was “Has anyone claimed this yet?” or “Have you already promised this to someone else?” It was a blatant assumption that, if the item wasn’t already going to someone else, it could be ‘claimed’ and acquired. There are things he had which I liked the look of myself. But I always thought that, if he packed them then he probably wanted to keep them, and if not, I could ask at the end whether he was planning on taking them. I would certainly never have asked him for anything he had bought himself on his meagre prison wages or, worse yet, something he had already packed to take with him. In fact, the only things I did ask him for were a mirror and a plate, both supplied by the prison, neither of which could he take with him. And, most importantly, I waited until he was done packing and I asked him separately to saying goodbye.
Now I think of it, it was those who were eyeing his property even whilst shaking his hand and wishing him luck that most got on my nerves. These weren’t friends. They were vultures. And it reminded me of something I myself had been through at another prison. I was only moving from one wing to another, but I found lots of people helping me take my bags down to the wing gate. This stood out to me because the previous time I had moved wings I had not been helped by anyone at all. I actually raised it and, after thanking one of the lads, said I’d never had so much help. His reply was right on the money:
“You can always tell how popular you were on a wing by how many people help you move off it. The trick is knowing the difference between those who help because they like you and those who help because they want you gone.”