I am lying on a flat blue mat. It’s the kind that you find in gyms, the kind that people wrestle or cartwheel on. I can feel the plastic of it sticking to my skin, and then peeling off every time I move.
I’m looking at the pink wall opposite me. Black words have been stencilled there, high up near the ceiling. They are giving me advice in capital letters. They are shouting specific directions.
IF YOU ARE HERE BECAUSE OF DRUGS
OR ALCOHOL PLEASE ASK TO SPEAK
TO A REHABILITATION OFFICER
I close my eyes then open them again. I pretend that it’s the first time I’ve read these words. I imagine that I can’t remember last night and that I’m not sure why I’m here. I imagine waking up with interesting tracks on my arms and a mouth that feels like it’s been filled with sand and shells and that these words are helpful.
I turn over and feel my skin peel. I look at the magazine that the police officer gave me before she took the toggle from my hoodie and made me take off my shoes, my watch and my earrings. It wasn’t a fair exchange. The magazine is at least 3 weeks old. It’s a Royal Wedding special. There are photographs of the royal couple grinning and waving, rumours of where they’ll honeymoon, a description of what they ate and a story about a lap dancer with dwarfism. The tiny dancer wasn’t part of the wedding, though. Her story was in the ‘true life’ section. The wedding bit is a fairy tale.
Still, I have read every word. I’ve studied every advert and I’m still not sure what I need. I have read the editorial and the letters from the public, although those are the bits that I’d usually skip. I’ve solved the puzzles even though I don’t have a pen and I’ve looked for hidden meanings in the horoscopes. I have been here for hours. I don’t have a watch, but I can tell I’ve been here for hours My bones have told me every second. The lights go out and I can’t look at the magazine any more. I lay on the mat and listen to a man sobbing a few cells down.
I feel a bit anxious in the dark. I can’t see where anything starts and ends. I feel like if I got up and walked I could walk into the dark for miles. I feel like I’m floating on a black sea. I start to worry that I’ll be here forever. I think about my friends protesting on the streets outside with ‘Free Kirsty’ banners. I think about facebook campaigns and t-shirts with my face on them. I think about printing photographs onto wooden blocks. I don’t know why I’m not even sure that this thought is mine. The logistics of printing things onto wood are beyond me. The hatch on the cell door slides open and a woman asks me if I’m fine. I want to tell her that my body doesn’t feel like my body, and that I’m currently floating in the middle of the room thinking about photographs on wooden blocks and that no, I am not fine and that I want to go home and that my bones aren’t watch so I can’t really trust them. Instead I say “Yes, I’m O.K, I’m fine”. She closes the hatch and leaves me suspended in the dark.
It is almost summer and it gets light at about 5 am. I watch the sun light up the pink cell. I haven’t slept. The woman asks me if I am fine every hour, and has done so since I got here. I tell her that I am O.K every time she asks. I wonder if all the cells are pink or if it’s just mine. Am I in a girls cell? Are the boys one’s baby blue? Maybe the colour pink has a calming effect on people. Maybe they did a study somewhere and decided pink was the best colour for prison, it would keep the inmates as quiet as monks. Are monks quiet? I don’t even know. There is a toilet in the corner of my cell. It’s made of cement and looks like it’s grown out of the floor, like an ugly toadstool. It doesn’t flush and I am avoiding it. It would swallow me whole if it could.
The police officer who arrested me had said that prison would be just like a stay in a hotel. “A wee holiday” he had said. “You’ll even get breakfast”. I’d probably complain if a hotel served me breakfast in a Styrofoam tub, with everything piled up like a trifle. A trifle made of beans, and sausages, and potato scones. The tea they gave me had a lot of sugar and a bit tinfoil in it. I didn’t ask for either but I drank it anyway, and then I was sick into the toilet. I try to flush even though I know it doesn’t flush. I give up, sit on the mat and stare at the toilet. I wait for something to happen.
My bones tell me that maybe an hour or so has passed. A woman opens my hatch and asks me if I’m ready. I don’t know what I should be ready for but I say “yes” anyway. She opens the door and handcuffs me. She explains that I need to give her my DNA, and fingerprints before I am taken somewhere else. A mugshot, she explains, will also be taken. I nod and let her lead me to an elevator. It’s a very slow elevator, and as we wait I tell her that I hope I don’t get famous and the press unearth my mugshot and that it ends up on a celebrity gossip website.
“What would you be famous for?” she asks me.
“Winning the X-Factor or something,” I say.
“Can you sing?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
She snorts sort of, and then we spend the rest of the journey in silence.
I guess that it’s about 8.30 in the morning, although I don’t know for sure. I have been told there is a bus, and that it will come soon, and that it will take me somewhere. I am glad to be leaving here. I haven’t washed since yesterday morning, I don’t know what I look like. I am wearing a short floral dress and my legs are bare and tanned but cold. I have large men’s socks on my feet.
After the mugshots there are two more guards and a pair of empty handcuffs. I still don’t have my shoes, my hoodie toggle, anything that was taken from me. I turn to the one and say, “I went to pick up my handbag there and couldn’t understand why I didn’t have it.” She doesn’t say anything in reply and I am led out of the building and onto a white minivan with blacked out windows. I can see out, but no one can see in. Inside the bus there are lots of little cubicles. I am put in one cubicles near the front and I am handcuffed to the door. I wait for the other passengers. This takes a very long time. They have to be found one by one. Then their possessions too, I guess, like aeroplane luggage. Maybe there is a surly man in a fluorescent jacket throwing my handbag and hoodie onto the back of the bus.
The bus drives past familiar places. Glasgow is quite a small city and I feel like I know everywhere, except for where this bus is taking me. I can see people driving to work, walking on the streets, just doing normal things and I am jealous of them. I want to shout at them and tell them to appreciate the rain and the grey. I want to tell them that they could do star jumps if they wanted to. A man in the back of the bus starts to moan. “Driver!” he shouts “Driver! It’s fucking roastin’ in here!” It is not “roastin”. It’s actually quite cold on the bus. The man is probably on a comedown. I feel sorry for him, a bit. I am glad someone is actually shouting.
The radio is playing. It’s a local radio station and the DJs have local accents. They are pretending to laugh at a joke that a young caller has told on the phone. The caller has won some stickers or something, she is ‘shouting out’ to her friends. Now she’s requesting a song. She’s requested a late 90’s dance song, which seems strange as she was probably born in the 2000’s. Maybe her parents like it. The presenters oblige and play the track. The music is fast and there is a woman singing “I am freeeeeee, I am free, yeah!” I start to cry. Big fat hot tears roll down my face. I am not sure if anyone else on this bus appreciates the irony. The man in the back is still shouting because he is too hot.
When I get to the court I am led to the holding cells beneath. A woman with bleached blonde hair and a fake tan frisks me, and asks what I am in for. I don’t know if I should tell her, would they use it against me? Can I plead the fifth? Do they have that in the UK or have I watched too many American TV shows?
“I plead the fifth.”
“I slapped a guy.”
“Stabbed a guy?”
I give up.
She laughs and asks me if this is my first time. I hope she isn’t talking about sex. I tell her I have never been arrested before, she tells me that I’ll be fine and that the girls will look after me.
She leads me to a cell which has bars. It’s been painted bright yellow. This seems more like it; the other cell didn’t have bars. I see that the girls she referred to are two large middle aged woman, and a girl about my age, whose face looks like it was over zealously carved out of marble. She is thin and sweating and her long lank brown is hanging from her tiny head.
“This is her first time, ladies!” the guard announces.
“We’ll look after her, Barbara,” the old ones say.
Marble Head barely looks up. I find a space on the bench inside the cell.
“You stabbed a guy?” one old one asks. She looks about my mum’s age. Her hair is blonde and frizzy. She has a kind voice and she’s dressed in double denims.
I nod. I feel like I can’t admit I am only here for slapping someone.
“He was stalking me, for a long time, it was in self defence.” This part isn’t a lie.
“Good on ye, hen!” she’s grinning at me and nodding. “Ahm in here cus I threatened ma husband wi’ a lamp!” She’s laughing now, “ah tried to throw it at is heid, and the fucking police came in. Now ahm here. Again!” Both the older ones are laughing now. Marble Head has slid off the bench and has found a nice spot on the ground. The other two start talking about men as Marble Head presses her face onto the cool cement floor.
She starts to talk to the floor. She tells it that she took “ten vallies” last night. I start to wonder what vallies are, when Marble Head speaks again, “I just want to sleep,” she groans and curls into a ball. Vallies. Vallium. I get it. The other women start listing drugs. I learn that ‘Pammies’ are Diazepam. I also learn that the non double denim older lady is schizophrenic. She looks like a drag queen without a wig. She looks like she should be called Jaqui. Jaqui is telling us about her contact lenses, they’re daily disposable ones. She’s had them in for over a day and she is complaining that her eyes are sore. She is worried about her boyfriend too. She explains that she was meant to go to his house last night, but was arrested. She’s asking us for advice on what to say to him.
“Just tell him the truth,” I suggest.
By the way that Jaqui is looking at me I can tell that this is a ridiculous idea.
“Barbara,” she shouts at the prison warden, “what should I tell my man?”
Barbara offers to send police officers to Jaqui’s boyfriend’s flat to let him know where she is.
“Oh no, I would-nay do that,” Jaqui replies. “He hates the police. He’d fucking stab ’em if he saw them at the door!” Jaqui laughs. Everyone laughs. I do not laugh.
I start to see robed people swishing past the cell, with dirty inmates in tow. Some of these robed people are striding through a door near my cell. They have come to consult with their clients. Double Denim tells me that we’ll all be out soon. We’ll talk to our lawyers and then go to court. I am getting impatient. I want to speak to someone reasonable. They have started serving lunch. This time the tea doesn’t have sugar in it, but it is almost transparent. I choose a tuna sandwich, from the few that are offered to me. There’s only white bread. I consider asking for brown but I think that they probably won’t cater to my middle class tastes. The white bread spreads all over my mouth. It’s sticky and it’s sweet and it’s curling round my tongue. I take a sip of my watery tea. The bread sits in my chest in a menacing lump.
A lawyer comes to the door and asks to see Marble Head. He calls her by her name which is Laura. She groans. She tells him that she wants to sleep. The lawyer looks at his watch, sighs, and leaves.
Jaqui’s lawyer comes for her. He’s tutting and grinning and he ruffles her hair like she is a mischievous little chimp. She leaves the cell and blows us kisses. I am anxious now. I don’t want to go to court. I imagine a judge sitting high up, with robes on and a wig, furiously banging his gavel and sentencing me to death. They could have bought back the death sentence over night. Maybe I’ll get stoned. People will throw a thousand rocks at me and I’ll be the only one who knows which one killed me.
Barbara the prison guard walks past, “are you still here?” she asks. This is a stupid question to ask since I am locked behind bars. I don’t point this out though, I just nod. “We were meant to let you out ages ago!” She laughs like it’s a great joke. “The case against you was thrown out. The charges have been dropped.”
It takes a moment to sink in. I am free. I can go home. I can do star jumps in the street if I want to.
“I’ll just go get your papers,” says Barbra. Then she disappears. Now I am waiting yet again. I have been told I have not committed a crime, but somehow I am still ‘behind bars’. ‘Caged’ as the newspapers would say.
A public lawyer comes for me. No one has told him I am a free woman yet. I tell him that they’re letting me go. “Bloody prison officers” he mutters. He’s losing money because of my freedom. He offers to speak to me anyway. He explains that I won’t go to court, he explains that I won’t have a record. I glance at the lawyers papers and see my stalker’s name on them. The Lawyer is representing my stalker too. I tell the lawyer that this man has been harassing me. I tell him that he’s a horrible person. The Lawyer gathers his papers and wishes me luck. Barbara the prison guard comes into the room and tells me that they’ve printed my papers, but forgot to put my name on them. “Bloody prison officers” repeats the lawyer as he swishes out of the cell.
I look down at my papers. Essentially, they tell me not to slap anyone in public any more. Not ever. Not even lightly. I am happy, I am nervous, I am excited, I want to go outside and run in the street. Instead I am waiting on a bench. Waiting for my bag and hoodie toggle and shoes. I am moved to another cell. A cell where I will wait to get my things. Finally, I hear my name. My things look the same and yet different. My coins are in one plastic bag, my earrings in another.
“Can I go?” I ask a man at a desk behind a perspex wall. He nods and buzzes a door open. I don’t know where I am going; I walk up stairs and walk down corridors until I see an open door. I am walking quickly, trying not to run for that door and at last I am outside. I do a star jump because I can. I don’t care that it’s raining and that I don’t know where I am because I am free and right now I feel like I can do anything. Anything except for slapping someone, I guess.