The guard returned in what felt like a matter of seconds and silently led us out of our cell, through the security checks and outside. Moist air filled our lungs as we squinted in the hazy autumn sunshine. We walked barely fifty yards before entering a block that looked identical to the one we’d just left. It was lock-up so the wing was eerily quiet.
Igor was first to be dropped off. The guard removed his handcuffs and ushered him in to his new cell. Inside I could see a prisoner sitting on the bottom bunk. I thought back to the moment I had been delivered to Igor’s cell. Igor turned, our eyes met and we exchanged nods. The cell door slammed shut and he was gone. As soon as the door slammed shut, a volley of thuds could be heard from inside.
“I told you I didn’t want anyone in with me. Get this fucker out of here!” Igor’s new cellmate didn’t seem too pleased with the new company.
“SHUT IT!” ordered the guard through the slit in the door, then snapped it shut.
My palms became clammy as the guard turned his gaze back to me.
“Come on,” he said, gesturing in the direction he wanted me to go. We walked right to the end of the wing, to the very last cell door.
The guard removed my handcuffs, swung open the door and guided me in. On the bottom bunk my new cell mate lay motionless, gazing vacantly at the television. Before I had time to assess the situation the cell door slammed shut behind me.
“Alright?” I said — trying my best to sound confident and assured without being confrontational or aggressive. He nodded, but his eyes remained fixed on the television. It was clear he didn’t want to talk. I awkwardly jumped on to the top bunk, glad to be out of his view. I stared at the television and tried to stay calm. My stomach was in knots. The security blanket of Igor had gone and the early impression of my new cell mate was not a good one. I alternated my gaze between the television, the ceiling and the tiny window for what must have been hours. Other than the sounds from the television the cell was silent. I willed myself to sleep but there was no chance. I was on edge. Every movement from the bunk below filled me with dread. Who was this guy? Why was he here? Why won’t he talk to me?
Relief came in the form of dinner. The cell door clunked and swung open, air rushed in to the cell and the tension escaped. I leapt from my bunk and out of the cell.
I joined the queue for food. The faces were new, but the game was the same. I exchanged nods with anyone that offered eye contact, being careful not to eyeball anyone. I scanned the queue for Igor but there was no sign of him. As I got to the counter I held out my plate and cup.
“You’re new here mate and you haven’t placed an order so you’ll get what’s left,” growled the server as he pointed to the back of the queue. I apologetically shuffled to the back of the queue and waited. It turned out to be a long wait and when I did get served all that remained was one hard-boiled egg and a bread roll.
I took my meagre rations and scanned the wing for somewhere to sit. There was still no sign of Igor so I sat alone in the corner. My mouth was dry from the nerves and I found it almost impossible to swallow. I was so hungry that I ploughed on; taking a gulp of water with each mouthful to wash it down. As I was nearing the end of my meal two inmates approached my table and sat either side of me.
“Alright mate?” they said in unison.
They went through the questions I had now become accustomed to: name, age, crime and sentence. Each of my answers was met with a nod and a smile. They seemed friendly enough, but something about their smiles made me feel uneasy. Their source of amusement would soon become clear.
“You know who you’re in with, don’t you?” the shorter of the two inquired.
“No...” I cautiously responded. Again they looked at each other and smiled.
The inmate to my left cleared his throat and took and inhaled sharply.
“Your cell mate is serving 12 years for attempted murder. He was on a 10 year stretch, but they added two more years after he cut up his last - and only - cell mate.”
I stifled my gasp and tried my best to act nonchalantly. I hoped that this was a joke, some sort of initiation prank. Surely I wouldn’t be put in a cell with someone like that? As they continued I soon realised that this was no joke.
My new cell-mate had been in solitary confinement for the last six months. They told me he was on all sorts of medication, that he was a real loose canon, that I should be careful..
My nervous smile was now replaced with obvious horror. My worst fears had just become reality. I was about to be locked in a cell with an attempted murderer for the next 14 hours. I knew that if anything happened it would take a guard at least 10 minutes to reach the cell. Plenty enough time for me to be chopped in to little pieces. And even if I did make it through the next 14 hours, how would I make it through the next 42 days? My horror was now accompanied by an immediate sense of panic — I am going to die here and no one will know. No one even knows I’m here. I thought about my children, how I wished I could hold them. I glanced over to the far side of the food hall. My new cell mate sat alone, head down, focused only on his food. He must have felt my glare, he turned his head and for the first time since we had met he looked in to my eyes. As I switched my gaze back to my plate the guard bellowed:
“Time please gentlemen, let’s have you back in your pads.”
This time when the cell door closed I genuinely believed I wouldn’t be alive in the morning.
My new cell mate was now ready to break his silence. He spoke with a broad Glaswegian accent — oozing with aggression and barely intelligible. I concentrated intently.
He asked me the usual questions; I returned the gesture, even though I already knew the answers. He called himself Jock, though I was pretty sure that wasn’t his real name. Sure enough he had been convicted of attempted murder, he omitted to tell me about the fate of his last cell mate and I certainly wasn’t going to ask. His dialogue was jumpy, his eyes were wild and there was an overwhelming sense that even whilst calm, he was only moments away from blind rage. He described the details of his crime, and how he regretted not “finishing the guy off”.
During our introduction it became apparent that he was passionate about football. I told him about my brief career as a professional footballer and he seemed suitably impressed. Glad that we had found some common ground, I hopped on to my bunk. My new companion and surroundings placed even more importance on the appeal hearing I was due to attend the next day. It wasn’t just about freedom and justice anymore, it was now life or death. I had to get out, or die.
I laid on my bunk and stared at the television. Jock was pacing around the cell, he was clearly not comfortable. He opened the cupboard under the television and pulled out a small plastic cup filled with blue and white pills. He took one of each and the returned the cup to the cupboard. Next he produced a pouch of what looked like tobacco and sat on the ledge next to the slit window. As he rolled a cigarette and put it to his lips he asked:
“Do ye smoke?”
“Yes” I said. He motioned to me to take a drag of his cigarette. “No, it’s OK — I’ve got my own baccy,” I said.
He laughed, “This isn’t baccy.. it’s spice. It will help you sleep.”
I’d never heard of spice, but the room was now full of pungent smoke with a fruity tang. I put the cigarette to my lips and inhaled. Immediately I started to cough. Again Jock laughed. I handed the cigarette back to him and returned to my bunk.
As I lay on my bunk I could feel my head getting fuzzy and my heart pounding against my chest. I started to feel paranoid, I needed to get out, but I couldn’t. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep but my mind was racing. Thankfully, it wasn’t long until I could hear snoring from the bunk below. Jock was asleep. Now I just needed to make it to the morning.