Posts Tagged ‘prison’

What to do when you don’t know what to do

Something pretty sad happened about ten days ago. A man I cared about was killed by the state of Texas.

The following week, I received two letters from him. That was wierd. I was in a pretty wierd place about the whole thing anyway. It felt sort of like it had happened but more like it was a story I was telling people about an imaginary world. An imaginary world where we kill each other to teach others that they shouldn’t kill each other. We strap them down and give them an injection and watch for 22 long minutes while they gurgle and choke and die.

This world sounds too crazy to be true. So maybe it’s not true, I told myself. Maybe this whole episode is happening in my mind.

And so, as time went by, I went from being pretty gutted half of the time and disbelieving the other half, to now total disbelief. There are no more letters arriving in the mail from him.

He is fading from my mind. I don’t know how to make myself understand that it has happened. It feels that maybe the whole thing never existed, maybe he never existed?

Walking into the high security unit last month in Texas and talking on a telephone to a man behind a glass screen seems like it happened a million years ago. In my imagination.

The whole thing is getting harder and harder to comprehend. Occasionally, when I do sit and think about it and this suddenly awful feeling washes over me, I quickly move my thoughts onto something else before the sorrow overwhelms me.

I’ve been moving my thoughts on pretty efficiently for ten days now.

And I’m worried I won’t ever be able to understand what’s happened because I’m doing the moving-on thing automatically now.

So now I don’t know what to do. How to move on. At the moment, it seems I have relegated him to a compartment in my mind that I’m not sure I’ll open again.

But this man was important to me. He meant a lot. He was a real person and his life must not be allowed to mean nothing.

I guess I’m asking you all what I should do? How do I live with the awfulness of what has happened but not spend all day feeling miserable?

Phone conversations I had on Tuesday


TDCJ: Texas Department of Corrections, how can I help you?
Me: Hiya, I’m just calling to inquire about visiting an inmate. I was planning to come next week. I’m flying from England. But I’ve not received the paperwork to allow me to visit. I think the post is going slowly or something. Is there anything I can do to speed things up?
TDCJ: The inmates are allowed to change their visitor lists middle of next month.
Me: O, ok. On his latest letter, he said he’s changing it end of this month.
TDCJ: No. It’s the middle of the month.
Me: So what can I do about coming on Monday?
TDCJ: You won’t be able to visit on Monday.
Me: Is there nothing I can do?
TDCJ: You can come but you won’t be able to visit.

3.30pm Lastminute dot com, how can I help you?
Me: I have to cancel my flight for this Saturday. I remember taking out a cancellation policy on the flight. Yeh, it’s a nonrefundable flight, unfortunately. You can get a refund on the taxes. Not all of them. But a few.
Me: How much would that be? £147
Me: Really?! But the flight was £574! That’s hardly anything back. Yeh.
Me: Can I rearrange the flight? I’m probably going to go at the end of the month instead. Ok, you’d need to pay the difference, if the new flight costs more. And the airline charges £100 for admin fee when you change. And we charge £45. And you’re only allowed to travel between Monday and Thursday.
Me: Monday and Thursday in the same week? Yes.
Me: So I have to get from London to Texas, to the prison for two days of visits, back to Texas and back to London? In four days? Yes.
Me: And how much am I looking at for that? If you travel at the end of June, going Monday 24th, returning Thursday 27th, the extra charges you will have to pay will be £472.
Me: What?! Wait a minute. My flight was £570 to start with. That’s almost double! Yeh. Shall I book it for you?
Me: You know what? I’ve had a pretty rubbish day. My head is aching and I’m knackered. Can I just call you back? Mam, can I ask the reason why you need to cancel the flight? Delta have a policy that you may apply for a full refund in certain circumstances.
Me: (Deep breath.) My friend is on death row in Texas and he has an execution date next month. I wanted to go and visit him but the prison just informed me that I won’t be able to visit, even if I go all the way there. So I’m not… I can’t go… There’s no point. I can’t use those flights. Ah ok. I’m so sorry to hear that.
Me: So will I be able to get a refund? No. The special circumstances are something like if your family member is ill.
Me: Is this not a special circumstance? He’s being executed in a matter of weeks? No, I’m sorry. So shall I change your flights for you?
Me: No. I. Just. Just leave it. I can’t be bothered anymore. I’m exhausted. Bye. But mam, I…
Me: No. No more. If I could just….


It is 3.45pm. I am ready for bed.

And that, my friends, is what happened to me on Tuesday. My mind is tired. My head is aching. I’m wondering when we became so addicted to rules and regulations.

And I’m sad.

*As a postscript to this, I called on Wednesday and had changed their minds. I do not have to travel Monday to Thursday in the same week. Problem solved! I’m going in late June and it only cost £280 to make the adjustments. Phew.

Special pigeons

We’re mixing it up this week and having the guest blogger’s contribution on Monday, instead of Wednesday. Enjoy!

I recently visited a place in England which was very top secret during WW2. It was where the government set up a special department for breaking codes used by its enemies: Bletchley Park. Wartime communications, especially military, were normally sent in some coded fashion. This has been the way for many hundreds of years; a way of trying to prevent your enemies knowing what you are planning either defensively or against them directly.

We’re all familiar with the idea of a code: something which changes the letters of normal words into something which hopefully is hard to decipher if the message falls into enemy hands. A simple code would be like this: nwpf usppqt up uif csjehf. It means “move troops to the bridge”. You can probably see it’s just a transposing of the normal letter by one to the next letter in the alphabet. Nothing else has been done so the same number of letters appear in each word once it is coded. A slightly harder version might be npw fus ppq tup uif csj ehf where the letters are grouped into threes and it is much harder to see how the words are made up. Of course there are much more complex versions of coding and ones based on some mathematical formula. During WW2 the Germans had invented a machine which produced one of the most complicated forms of coding. It needed three wheels to be placed into the coding machine each set to a certain letter of the alphabet. Once in place when the operator pressed say the letter “a” out would come “t” and then after “b” was pressed out would come “m” say and so on. The receiver of the message then put the same three wheels in at the same positions and typed the coded letter and out would come the real one. The only way you could fathom it out would be if you know which wheel settings had been used and in which of the three slots. Anyway the job of the folks at Bletchley Park was to try and figure out how the wheels altered the normal letter into the coded one. There’s too much detail to go into here but here is a picture of the front of the machine they built to try and duplicate what the German coding machine was doing.




Alan Turing was the man in charge of the project and the machine was called a “bombe”. (The word bombe came from anglicising the name of an earlier simpler machine used by Polish code breakers. They had called theirs bomba kryptologiczna). Although it looks like something sat on a table it is big – it actually reaches to the floor and is taller than a person.



It’s amazing seeing all the wires making the connections to wonder how Turing’s team could have possibly been able to work out how to make it.


Bletchley Park is a very big site and if you wanted to read all the info boards you’d need a whole day. I couldn’t spend the whole day but I was there about 5 hours. A number of the huts that were used during the war have been made into exhibition areas on different subjects. One in particular was very interesting because it was on a subject which many people know little or nothing about – how pigeons were used in the war. If you read my post from 18.7.12 about bird droppings you will remember I was not very complimentary about pigeons because of the mess they make on our cars, houses and washing. However, one of the films I saw showed how during the war there were times when homing pigeons were essential: when radio silence had to be maintained. Agents on the Continent would use them to send messages back to England with information about troop movements and requirements for the resistance organisations. The use of them was taken so seriously that the occupying forces used snipers to try and shoot down pigeons flying over the area. Anyone keeping pigeons would of course be under suspicion. Paratroopers sometimes carried them in their uniform to release when they had landed. I was surprised to learn that flying relatively short distances over The Channel back to England they could fly at speeds of 60mph.

Pigeons have been used for carrying messages for hundreds of years (different ones of course as they don’t live for hundreds of years individually!). One ancient ruler actually set up a regular messenger service using carrier pigeons between Baghdad & Syria. They’ve been used at various times throughout history for carrying valuable information; and scientists still don’t really know how they find their directions. A number of theories have been postulated: inbuilt compass, using invisible magnetic lines & using physical geographical features like roads or rivers. Some appear to follow roads or rivers when trying to get their bearings. Anyway however they do it, it seems to work.

The usefulness of carrier pigeons led to a number of measures being taken by both sides in WW2. Look at this poster headed “Defence of the Realm”.



You could get 6 months in prison or £100 fine for shooting one according to this poster issued in Leeds. Also the government offered a reward of £5 for info leading to a person being convicted of shooting a homing pigeon.


This poster I assume was done for publicity purposes to frighten the local community. This man as you can see was shot the day before the notice was put up. He was shot because they believed he had released a pigeon with a message for England. Pigeons’ abilities were taken very seriously by both sides. However the film mentioned that there were horrendous numbers of casualties & birds which didn’t make it home. Some may have been shot; some may have been killed by natural predators; some may just have not found their way back. Despite this they clearly supplied enough good intelligence to keep the idea going and homing birds have continued to be used even in conflicts of recent times.

One of the strangest girls ever

I once went to Aylesbury, to a young offenders’ centre to train as a mentor for young men at the prison who were about to be released, to encourage them to not come back, essentially.

So I had a phone interview, then an interview in person then two days of training. Everyone else there had also had two interviews so I’m not sure how this girl made it to the next stage.

She was one of those people who is totally socially unaware. When the woman running the session asked us to take a few minutes to write something, like why we wanted to become a mentor, we would all fall silent. But this girl didn’t seem to realise what was going on. She was sitting, talking aloud and sighing and huffing and puffing.

“Why do I want to be a…. *loud sigh* …. hm… a mentor… hffffff… Why do I….. Erm…. *sigh*.”

It was bizarre! We were all silent, scribbling away and she was talking aloud to herself as though it was the most normal thing in the world.

When we were asked to each read one thing off our list it went as such…

“To help people.”
“To help reduce crime by repeat offenders.”
“Because I’d like to do criminal defense work so feel this would help me understand the issues involved.”
“Because I just retired and would like to do more voluntary work.”

And then it gets to her at the end of the line and she is asked for a reason. She looks at the list of things other people have said, which have been written up on a board and sighs, then picks one.

“To reduce crime by repeat offenders.”
“O, haven’t you got something off your own list that you wrote?”

She continues looking up at the board, not even glancing down at her own paper and goes, in a vacant type of way, “Yeh, it’s the same. All the same ones.”

Erm. It doesn’t make any sense. How can she have those same same things? The whole day went like that, talking aloud, sighing, saying odd things, copying whatever anyone else said.

When we left at the end of the day, I was offered a lift to the station by a woman who then offered the strange girl a lift too. It was hilarious. Five minutes in to the journey, she freaks and goes, “I’ve lost my passport! I’ve lost my passport.”

So we pull over and she talks v e r y slowly through what she might have done with it. And she figures out she has thrown it in the bin in the prison! Yes. That’s right. She has thrown it. In the bin. The BIN! How stupid is she?

I forget how she worked it out. But she ended up calling the prison to ask them to go and check in the bin. Of course, in a prison, you do not just run around different buildings looking in bins. Every door is opened and closed by keys. You never have two doors open at a time. You open one and close it behind you and it all takes a long time. We had been in the admin building, the staff of which had all gone home when we left. No-one was allowed in the building when the staff left. The security measures were tight.

She tried persuading the officers to go in the admin building. They obviously said no. She was going, “But my passport is in the bin!” like an idiot.

It was unbelievable.

I forget if she got it back. I just remember that I had to stare out the window really intently when we were in the car and try not to laugh out loud.

When we got to the train station, she got the same train as me! It was awful. She said, “I can’t believe I’ve left my passport in the bin,” about a billion and four times.

Now I’ve met strange people in life but I think she might have been the worst.

P.S. It’s Danda’s birthday today!