Life sentence

Prison eats your life. They warned us; they said that unless we were careful we would find that it takes over, and we would get obsessed. Well, I think I am. But – I’ll try to mention the other stuff as well, before I become a complete prison bore.

Yes, Jackie (or Jekkie, which is how, as a completely-acclimatized (I know that’s not the word I want, but the correct one escapes me at the moment) New Zealander, she pronounces her name) came, and yes, it was just as if we had met the week before. Jackie and I shared a flat when we were at University. Of all the people I am in regular contact with, she goes back the furthest. So we shopped, and walked, and drank wine, and ate, and talked; she helped me move stuff around when the gas man came. I had a day off! Probably only Jackie could get me to do this.

Ah, the gas man. The gas fire in the playroom, which is the room we sit in of an evening (I love that expression) has not been properly serviced since it was installed in 1985. And yes, predictably, it has been gently exuding carbon monoxide fumes all that time. One of the advantages of living in a house with holes in is that we are never likely to be gassed. But to allow him to do what he needed to do, we had to move a bookcase, and all the stuff from it is in boxes, awaiting my son’s arrival so that major playroom tidy can happen. If he doesn’t arrive soon, then it will be too late to do it today, and the stuff will probably all stay in boxes for ever.

And so to the prison. I stayed late on the Tuesday, having been given permission to work with some of the guys during their evening association period, and helped one of them write a love poem to his girlfriend – aah! Earlier in the day, I had run my first poetry-writing group. They were a bit bemused, I think, because they want to write 1. love poems and 2. poems about being in prison. I want them to write about ordinary things, because you need to be able to do that before you start on the big things. They didn’t quite get the point, but they all had a go and did well. They were delighted with the notebooks I took them, and started using them straight away; and they all want to be published. Well, there’s the newsletter, and the book I’ll make at the end of the course; but they think they can write poems or novels and make loads of money. Oh dear.  For now, they just need to understand that a splurge of emotion doesn’t make a poem, however much it rhymes. And next week I will have a flipchart!

The staff group were pleased to have their “minds stretched”, too. The newsletter seems back on track, with the print shop changed round all over again and an interview arranged with the Governor; and I have IT access. It’s all looking a lot more cheerful than last week – but I was so tired, both on the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, that I did no more than sleep. Most of Thursday was spent writing up notes and typing newsletter pieces and preparing for next week. And Friday, too.

But I did manage to do a very boring piece of non-prison work that’s been hanging over my head for about 5 weeks, and get some Poetry on Loan stuff organised.

My inbox has been full of advertisements for artists of all types to work in schools with Creative Partnerships. The CP organisations do fantastic work in schools, and pay well, but I do wonder sometimes whether all the projects are looking in the right direction. I really want to apply for some of the work – spending time with young people is necessary as a refreshment among the other things I do – but I really mustn’t take on too much, however interesting it all sounds. I need to decide soo, though, because the deadlines are approaching rapidly.

And I need to find a sofa. And a phonograph, and a parasol, and a flat flower basket… Being stage manager for Pygmalion is finally getting serious, and difficult.

This weekend, though, there will be little time for work, or indeed for pleasure. Tonight I’m going with my kids to a family reunion at a posh Indian restaurant in London; tomorrow we’ll troop up to my mother’s house in Cheshire. None of us really wants to do these things. We all need a rest! But they are both trips that we just need to make, and it will all be ok, really.

I should just have enough time on Sunday evening to finish my prep for next week’s prison work. I’m not getting obsessed. No, really, I’m not.

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