Sunday lived up to its name as I was escorted back to wing. It was cold as befitting the time of year, but both the guard and I enjoyed the leisurely stroll. As we passed through the security gates and into the wing itself he noticed the Bible I was carrying. As it seemed unlikely I’d get a library visit on a Sunday, I kept it for something to do back in my cell. Pointing at the Bible he said that there would be a multi-denominational service later in the morning, I should just tell the officer supervising breakfast and I would be taken when it was time.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t swing that way, but a chance to get out of my cell and some company that wasn’t on the other side of a steel door sounded like a pleasant diversion, so I thanked him and said I would. I really was feeling quite chipper this morning and there was a definite spring in my step as I climbed the stairs back to my cell.
It wasn’t long before the door banged open again, and with my fellow convicts was taken down to collect our breakfast. A few of my neighbours nodded in greeting and I could see no sign of Peterson. Hopefully he was still enjoying his food through a straw in the hospital wing.
Maybe it was the sun, or maybe just the good mood I was in, but I actually enjoyed that breakfast. It could be that the food for the block was given ‘special’ treatment. No matter, I sat on my chair, a wooden one this time, and ate my breakfast with relish. My tea even had some sugar in it to sweeten the taste.
The service wasn’t due to start until eleven, so after handing my empty tray to the orderly I lay on the bed. It was only four days, but just lying on a thin mattress in the daylight hours seemed such a luxury. I suppose that I am easily pleased these days.
As eleven ‘o’ clock approached a few of us were taken from our cells and led back down to the security gate for the wing while we waited to be taken to the chapel. I took the opportunity to get to know some of my neighbours.
First I spoke to the guy from the cell to my left, the one who fantasised over his mother. Speaking to him you wouldn’t think he had such dark desires, but he seemed amiable enough. We shook hands in a brisk fashion, I introduced myself and he did the same, although just his surname - Davis.
It’s not good form to ask a person what they’re in for, so I didn’t ask, I just took a quick peek and saw that he was a drug dealer who had sold some bad stuff to the wrong person and unusually the police actually followed up on it, so here he was. He’d already served five years and had at least another five to go.
We followed the guards out into the yard, and once again it was a pleasant feeling to stretch the legs again. I got chatting to another prisoner. A shy fellow, his real name was Matthews, but everyone called him Bungle. Which seemed to fit, he was a big idiot bear of a man. They say, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch and his case that is certainly true. I doubt I’ll ever meet another person quite like him. Again I had a little peek and while normally a man of his crimes would fit in the nonce category, he was oddball enough and let’s admit it, big enough not to be at risk because of this.
Delving into his mind was like something from a bad movie. A necrophiliac, he started many years ago with digging up fresh corpses and then molesting them. The fresher the better of course, but the buried were never quite fresh enough, so he took to breaking into funeral homes and mortuaries. He managed to get away with this for a few years, before finally succumbing to the temptation of the freshest meat of all. He lacked some imagination in luring the prostitute somewhere out of the way, but what he did to her after the strangulation more than made up for it.
Still, it was giving into this temptation that got him caught. Some of the other girls had seen him and even with the most basic description he was easy to spot in the crowd. And now here he was, he’d served eight years so far. As a sex offender he’d had some trouble to begin with, but being built like a bull and with a curious ability to ignore pain, he got through it and now had a reasonably easy life working in the library. He was an easy going chap and promised to bring me some books when he next did his rounds. As a category A prisoner I could not go to the library myself, but books would be provided for me, as long as I obeyed the rules.
The chapel was at the far side of the prison, next to the perimeter fence. It was an old building that dated back to the Napoleonic wars. As we approached the chapel I could see narrow slits near the ground, one of the other prisoners told me that they let the light in for the old cells deep beneath the building. It was here that the most dangerous French prisoners of war were kept, although these cells were no longer used for prisoners, just as store rooms for decaying paperwork.
The inside of the chapel was gloomy, a stark contrast to the sunshine outside. A group of about fifty of us walked in and found ourselves seats, I settle myself near the front. Most prisoners try to avoid having to sit with their back so exposed, but for me it wasn’t an issue. It took a few minutes for everyone to get settled and the prayer and hymn books to be handed out.
I took the time to look around, nod in welcome at anyone who caught my eye and just observe my surroundings. My eyes had grown accustomed to the gloom and I could see that this was a chapel in name only. A table stood as an altar, a clean white cloth betraying its purpose. A small crucifix of the tortured Christ stood behind the make-shift altar and a small free standing lectern completed the ensemble.
Near the altar and the doors stood the guards that had brought here, watchful, but at ease not expecting any trouble. While many of the convicts here were not believers and were here just to get out of their cells, they did respect the service as peaceful time for all concerned.
The priest walked in, escorted by another guard and stepped up behind the altar. He saw me and faltered for a moment. Now this was interesting. I needed no invitation and dived straight in. Immediately I discovered two things of interest. The first was that he knew me. No, that’s not quite right. He didn’t know who I was, but he did identify something about me. As if he knew what I was. I tried to push in further, to learn more from this thought, but it was a slippery thing and managed to elude me.
The second thing that caught my attention was the pool of guilt that permeated his every thought and memory. This was too pervasive to escape and with ease I flicked through his memories like a photo album. His every dirty secret laid bare before me. If his flock knew what he was hiding, the sheep would soon turn to wolves. I smiled, this was useful information. Revealing this would be a fine trigger for a riot, but I didn’t need that for today. But for the moment I did enjoy the priest’s discomfort.
Only a few seconds had passes as the priest and I stared at each other and you don’t survive long in here without knowing when something was wrong. A few of the prisoner’s started to get restless, this wasn’t the time, so I withdrew, and as I did so I felt eyes upon me. I turned to face them and saw a guard looking at me closely. He didn’t seem angry, or agitated, he just watched me carefully.
He was a huge man, from his bearing clearly ex-forces, but it was the look that he had that made me pause. But why should I pause? I have nothing to fear from this man, no matter how big he was. So for the second time in as many minutes I invaded another’s mind.
Where the priest’s was a storm of guilt and fear, this guard’s was serene calm. His name is David Hammond and I was right about him being ex-forces. From his memories I could see his combat tours with the Royal Marines in far flung desert places. He had seen action and lots of it. A sniper he had dealt death from afar and up close while on patrol or special mission. The weirdest part was he knew that I was there. He looked me straight in the eye and invited me in.
His mind was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I have encountered calm people before, but usually there is an undercurrent, some inner turmoil that boils beneath their own understanding. Not this man though, on all levels he was at peace with himself. No lingering doubts, no inner turmoil.
I don’t mind admitting that I was shocked. I have been inside many minds and this knowing acceptance is unlike anything... And in the centre I found it. I’m not sure what is was, but it was there, a solid beacon, a rock of light that anchored him.
I wanted to press closer, to peel away at this mystery, but the crowd was getting restless. All they could see was this guard, already a known entity within the prison, one of the few officers that had their respect and me staring at each other. They could almost taste the atmosphere between us. There was a palpable tension rising, so I calmly nodded at him in acknowledgement, winked at the priest and settled back into my chair and watched the priest stutter his way through the service.