16. Imprisonment

The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.

I was brought up to believe that prisons were for bad people and so if I kept my nose clean, I’d never end up there. I needed no discouragement, as the idea of being trapped in a room fills me with dread. It’s not the size of the room, but the inability to leave.

I used to watch Hammer Horror shorts and the two that still stick in mind are ones featuring a couple trapped in a house in an experiment in Pavlovian impulses that nasty Peter Cushing has set up. The second featured Susan George arrested in the Eastern Bloc and put away with no hope of ever getting out. They genuinely chilled me – being locked up is bad enough, but locked up with no way out was truly chilling.

So as I was led into a cell a few weeks ago, I recalled such movies. I adored Prisoner: Cell Block H, and the metallic clank of the cell door that signalled the adverts was a warm and happy memory. No such comfort though when the door about to slam is right in front of you. And as much as I knew that as it was a cell door and wouldn’t have a handle on my side of it, it was a shock to see that the door didn’t have a handle on it. I was locked up.

I knew I wouldn’t be there long. OK. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be there long. I was in the cells because the shift that had arrested me hadn’t been able to confirm my story and release me before their shift ended, and so into the cells I went. But what if they forgot about me? What if the nice man who assured me his superiors were working to get this sorted out forgot, or if they changed shift again, or something else happened?

Such thoughts come easy, because there’s little else to do. The cell had a toilet (but no paper, which made the paper I saw floating there seem odd). It had a plastic mattress, about two inches thick. I had a sink, and two buttons, which appears to be some intercom thingy, but no helpful guidance for what each button did. There was also no clock.

Time passed. They’d helpfully given my some coffee which I tried to eke out as a method of telling the time by noticing how it cooled, but being dog tired won out over such MacGvyer-esque thoughts. Laughter and shouts were seized upon as new stimuli. Footsteps held the promise of release, so spirits deflated as they walked past. Once they paused outside my cell (“my cell” still looks weird as I write it) only to open the flap to check I was still alive. They’d taken my shoes off me, so I’d not got the means should I wish to do something daft apart from choke on own vomit, I suppose.

My mind tries to concentrate on ‘other things’ but that’s incredibly difficult, as there’s nothing to distract you at all – just a bright light illuminating every inch equally. I start to pace the cell, as I’m wearing my work suit, and I’ve a meeting to go to the next day and I’d like to not look like I’ve been in a police cell. I start to think about what I’ll say at the meeting, but all trains of thought end up with ‘HOW LONG AM I GOING TO BE HERE? WHEN WILL THEY LET ME OUT?’ I ponder pressing one of the mysterious intercom buttons and asking what’s going on, but decide against it; it might annoy them. Mustn’t annoy my jailers.

Eventually, I heard footsteps that stopped, and then I heard keys being jangled. My heart leapt. I was free to go. As I knew I would be.

I’d been in the cells for about 90 minutes. I think. I foolishly didn’t check as I went in what time it was, and had no idea when inside. But it seemed right. Anyway, they apologise. Nothing on my record. The police give me a lift into town – the nicest taxi I’ve ever been in (Lexus, leather seats, satellite navigation). The Police were very nice as they deprived me of my liberty, and I was very understanding of them as they did it. You realise you’re all cogs together in a machine and you’re all acting your parts out – them, the nice custodians of order, me the understanding, but incorrectly arrested, well-behaved citizen.

Cops and robbers; jailers and jailed. It’s a game you might have played as a kid, but nothing, nothing prepares you for it when it happens for real. It’s barbaric. I hated every single second. I felt affronted, offended and scared. Even though I knew everything would be OK. I had a faint and tiny glimpse into what it must be like for those people locked up in smaller cells, who’ve no idea what they’re supposed to have done and no idea whether they?ll ever get out. Now that’s scary.