It is, I suspect, common knowledge that our thorny friend, Half-life, has spent a good deal of time in prison. Indeed, his nickname is a nod to his having spent half his existence behind the wrong sort of bars. While this is no longer quite the case (he’s been continuously at large in society for at least 15 years now) a series of youthful offences relating to drugs, firearms, and – possibly – illegal poetry, once saw him get his collar felt on a regular basis.
What is perhaps less well-known is that I, too, have done a stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure. It’s not a time I am particularly proud of, but if I can help others by sharing my experience then I am more than happy to do so (it says here).
It all began with a simple Thursday night in town after work: One in The Ship & Shovell, a bottle of sherry at Champagne Charlies, a couple of numbers round the piano at Player’s, a few ales at The Harp and, inevitably, a table in the back of Shutters, a louche dive bar just off the Charing Cross Road, of which I had been made an honorary life member after once helping to see off a late night brawler.
Somewhere along the line, the four of us – Dirty South, Spider, Osman and I – had befriended two Swedish girls, who had accompanied us to Shutters, drawn no doubt by the promise of blunted wit, fizzy beer and endless plates of honey-glazed sausages.
When, inexplicably, the girls had grown weary of this exposure to English culture, I escorted them outside to see them off in a cab.
‘What a gentleman!’ one of them said, as we left.
‘My pleasure,’ I said. ‘Mind the car.’
But it was too late.
A car that had been stationary in the little side road outside as we left, began to reverse for no apparent reason, brushing past me and then over the foot of one of my companions.
‘Aj!’ she cried, or similar, and springing into action I swung a foot at the driver’s door.
‘Mind the fucking Swedish girls!’ I yelled.
Pick your fights carefully, my old dad had always told me, and if I’d noticed that the car was filled with bored casuals looking for action, I may have modified my approach. As it was, I was left with that sinking feeling you get when you kick a car and in response all four doors immediately open at once.
‘Police!’ yelled one of my assailants, as I was bundled roughly to the ground. For they were plain-clothed rozzers. And they hadn’t had any dinner.
One of the girls went back inside to alert the boys to this dramatic turn of events and even though my specs had gone flying in the melee, I could still make out Spider’s reaction to the scene laid before him when he emerged into the night. From my lowly vantage point, my cheek pressed into the paving slab, I watched him grinning like a loon. Oh, he was enjoying this.
I was pulled to my feet, cuffed and bundled into the back of the car. We sped through the streets of London to I knew not where. My abductors were chuffed at having made an arrest. Until they’d come across me it had been an unusually quiet night, apparently.
‘Do you make a habit of kicking cars?’ one asked me.
‘Do you make a habit of mowing down Scandinavian visitors?’ I retorted. ‘She may never play badminton for her country again. Think of the scandal. Have you any idea how important tourism is to our economy?’
They fell silent and I like to think they were taking on board the enormity of their actions.
At the police station I was photographed and fingerprinted. A policeman dressed as a doctor asked me to touch my nose with my eyes closed and told me I was drunk.
‘Am I, balls,’ I said, ‘I was only just starting.’
I was given a blanket and shown to my room, a simple affair with a plastic-covered mattress and a lidless toilet. I loved it.
From the moment I lay down, the workaday cares of the world quit my psyche. With no phone and no TV I was able to fully engage with the moment; to be in my life rather than just feel it drift by. Also, as it turned out, I was a bit pissed and I fell into a blissful asleep.
My existential rush was interrupted by the duty sergeant opening the spy hatch in my door.
‘One of your friends has been over with your coat,’ he said, waving a little plastic bag of weed at me. ’We found this in the pocket.’
For fuck’s sake. I’d been dobbed in by my own idiot friend. I won’t say which one it was, to spare his blushes, but it wasn’t Spider and it wasn’t Dirty South.
I awoke in the morning with that strange feeling you sometimes get when you’ve forgotten where you are. Oh yes, I remembered after a moment, jail, and I immediately relaxed and dozed off again. Some time later I was woken by a new man at the spy hatch.
‘Coffee?’ he asked.
‘Yes, please,’ I said
‘White, with half a teaspoon of muscovado,’ I said. I could get used to this, I thought.
After a sugarless coffee I amused myself for a while playing a game involving a rolled up paper ball and the basin. Russia, the USA, Germany and the UK had just reached the Prison Ball semi-finals at the Olympics when my hatch opened again.
‘What are you in for?’ asked the disembodied voice.
‘Assaulting an unmarked police car,’ I replied. The hatch closed and I returned to my game. But I was unable to finish it before the door opened.
‘No-one’s coming to process you so we’re letting you off with a caution,’ said my captor.
‘A caution? For what? I wish to speak to my lawyer,’ I said.
‘Do you have a lawyer?’ he asked and I thought about this for a moment.
‘Alright, you’ve worn me down,’ I said. ‘You win.’
And with that, I was free. I stepped out into a crisp, bright autumn day and breathed in a lungful of unconfined air. Had it been autumn before my incarceration, I wondered? I couldn’t remember. But more importantly, where was I?
I saw a red double decker bus go by. That’s it, London! And they still had red buses! I didn’t know where in the city I was, nor which way to go, but I started walking. It felt good and as I walked I considered my time inside.
It’s tempting to think of prison as being like an early Facebook: You have your picture taken and then sit alone, in your pants, writing on walls, surrounded by misery and trying to avoid getting poked. But my time there taught me that, actually, a period away from the rigours and demands of everyday life is good for the soul: A relief, a time for reflection and contemplation. And, for that, I thank my burly kidnappers.
I also learned, of course, that I really can get a good night’s sleep anywhere. Though, in truth, I knew that already. It’s my special power; a gift from Hypnos.
Plus, getting into work is a cinch from Zone 1. It turned out I had been imprisoned somewhere near Marylebone and I was at the office just in time for lunch. Result. I went to see my boss.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ I said. ‘I’ve been in jail.’
‘Jail?’ he replied. ‘Oh, well, it all adds to the legend. Like when I got caught in the lavs with Penny from HR. Now, have you got those quarter on quarter audience numbers I asked you to invent?’
And with that, I left prison life behind me and slipped back into the cosy, overpaid world of corporate media.