Prison Calendar 1983

This is the calendar that I kept in my cell.  I marked off the days one by one.

The month before I was released from my ten month stay in prison in 1983 was perhaps, like many prisoners,  the most difficult of any time I spent there.  I had what is commonly known in British prison parlance: Gate Fever.

The terror at the prospect of release.

Since my arrest the preceding February I had  spent time in both Brixton prison, at that time a holding pen for the unconvicted or remanded prisoner, then once convicted I was transferred to Wormwood Scrubbs Prison in West London.  I was offered the chance of going to an open prison which would have been very comfortable indeed but I had fallen in love with Tommy, the prisoner with whom I shared a cell.

Our relationship lasted the duration of my sentence.  I was released before him and upon his release he returned to his wife and children.

Foolish love, it seems, has always caused me unnecessary repercussions.

Why in hells name was I in prison?  Well, I hadn’t murdered/raped/robbed anyone.

I was convicted at Knightsbridge Crown for Criminal Deception a charge relating to my not paying a credit card bill..my own credit card.    Not, as commentators would have it, someone elses.

At the time it never really occurred to me that I was being unfairly treated.  I had not paid the credit card bill and had avoided doing so.  In retrospect the sentence of fifteen months in prison seems like a gross over reaction by the court to what was surely a nothing sort of crime.

Stephen Fry At 17, absconded with a credit card stolen from a family friend and as a result spent three months in Pucklechurch Prison.

Fry stole someone else’s credit card and got 3 months at exactly the same time I was handed a 15 month sentenced for over using my own.

I was 22 years old when I was sent to prison for this non-violent victimless crime.  A crime like mine in 2010 would not even be a crime in modern Britain.   It was nothing short of class warfare that sent me to prison in the first place.

Posh versus Common.

Let’s face facts, I was sent to prison for my unusual back-story.   A back-story that should never have been mentioned in court because I was pleading guilty.  A back story that included royalty, the ruling class and a working-class upstart like me.

The Lords and Ladies who had become my friends during the time I pretended to be a Lord were indignant but I don’t think any one of them would have wanted me to be sent down.  The class outrage that caused such a harsh sentence was, of course, motivated by the aspiring middle class.

Judge Babington was a bourgeoise, one-armed circuit judge who died in 2004.  His family was described embarrassingly  as ‘well-to-do’  and in so being was in awe of the aristocracy, in awe of a title and outraged that I had simply acquired mine by lying about it.

Stephen Fry took me to the Garrick Club years later and there he was, Anthony Babington sitting in an over stuffed chair reading a broad sheet.  I looked at his withered arm and chuckled.

Stephen once said to me, “They don’t want to forget that you have been in prison Duncan.  It’s very unfair.”

Prison has defined my life.  I am that guy who went to Prison.  Jay Jopling would tell people, “Duncan has an amazing story.”  In this way I became a very British performance art piece.   A social freak.

When I am scolded for treating 30 year olds who make mistakes like grown ups I often remember that I was forced in a very public way at a very young age to accept my wrongs and grow up.

Even though, when I was released,  I did not crawl away and die like Patrick Kinmonth suggested.  Prison left an indelible mark on my psyche as well as my public and private standing.

Sure, had I not been sent to prison I would never have made as much money as I consequently made from AKA or telling that story over and over for TV, Radio and the like.

I would never have developed a taste for working class heterosexual men and I might have kept on the straight and narrow.  Prisons in the UK are often described by those of us who have experienced both as reminiscent of British boarding schools.  Consequently I rather enjoyed the routine, the monotony, the sex.

Once you have been imprisoned unfairly..YES IT WAS UNFAIR!..one has a very low regard for society and the rules of society.  Part of my fearlessness comes from knowing that if sent back to prison I would know what to do immediately.  How to behave.  Whom to defer.  Who to fuck.

I would not miss the endless choices of the modern world.  I would not miss a full wardrobe, a well written menu, compulsive internet use?  No.  It would be a relief.

I would miss my dogs.

If I could only get back there without breaking the law.

I have no shame about going to prison because I should not have been there in the first place.  It was like visiting a foreign country.  That’s what it felt like when I was 22 years old..like visiting a foreign country and I, a mere anthropologist, sent to eat their food and study their culture.   My crime and the associated press amused my fellow inmates and warders (screws) alike.   Nobody took my Criminal Deception very seriously.

Some of the men that I shared cells with whilst on remand in Brixton (the red headed rapist) are still in prison.  They never left.

There was one slight man who murdered a little girl.  Tiny little thing he was.  Never wanted to leave prison.  Never applied for parole.  Wanted his own death so badly.  Already dead inside.  Sad.  Those who killed loved ones, family members were the saddest of all.  Wishing that they were dead.  These men were not abstract villains, their names writ large on the covers of tawdry newspapers, they stood beside me in line waiting for cabbage and sausages.   It amazes me now how forgiving and accepting I could be with them…however ghastly their crime.

Funny, isn’t it, that I could accept and forgive the most terrible people capable of the most terrible crimes but I could not forgive you my dear JB.

So, today I am free?

I am free?  I am free to choose?  I am free to say what I want when I want to?  I am free to love a man?  I am free?

These freedoms do not make me free.