I caused an accident after losing control of my car. It was sideways straddling both sides of a B road, a motorcyclist coming the other way came around a blind bend to be confronted with a car blocking the road. The impact launched him over my (destroyed) car and dumped him on the middle of the road, unconcious. His bike had been thrown some 14 metres back the way it came. My car dangled precariously over the edge of a drop past the verge.
After about a minute or so of getting my breath back following the airbag deploying, I realised I'd caused a very serious accident. I'd seen the motorcyclist only for a split second before the impact imploded against the B piller behind my head and shattered every window on the car. My sunglasses had disappeared from my face, glass from the door window was mingled with blood dripping from my face.
There was no way of opening the drivers door, I clambered over the passenger seat and observed one of the worst sights of my life.
For about 50 metres down the direction I'd come from, were the tell tale black lines of a skidding car. These were only interrupted by gouge marks on the road surface where car had met bike. In the middle of this lay the biker, motionless, unconscious, a mess. Onlookers, other motorists, were out of their cars but nothing more than background fuzz.
By the time I got out of the car, some other bikers had begun trying to help the badly injured guy laying on the centreline of the road. For a long minute, he didn't move, he didn't seem to breath. I'd just killed a man. Then some movement, some spluttering. Blind panic from someone who's just woken up to wish that he hadn't. His girlfriend, who had been a few minutes further behind on her own bike, arrived. Screaming and wailing, wondering how this has come to happen. No doubt a million thoughts all arriving at once. Most of them fearing the worst.
First aiders helped on the scene, I didn't know how to help medically. I was guilty, impotent and wondering how I'd gone from an enthusiastic drive to a potential killer in the space of 50 metres. It only took 3 or 4 minutes for the Police to arrive, I volunteered myself immediately as the guilty party. I was breath tested and questioned on-scene, sat in a Volvo, bleeding on the back seats whilst in full view of the prone motorcyclist, by this time being worked on by the paramedics who'd arrived, hoping the patient could last long enough for the air ambulance to arrive.
I'll never forget that poor man, lying there screaming for his helmet to be taken off, his girlfriend in tears and despair and me, not badly injured, no reason to have caused this, other than wanting to enjoy the road.
The motorcyclist spent days in intensive care, being treated for most of his right arm being smashed to pieces, his collarbone wrecked, serious head injuries, damaged eye socket, chipped bones on his ankle and a massive nerve injury. A year later and even after a number of operations, he still has many to go to correct his broken body and his impaired eyesight. The nerve damage to his dominant right arm means he'll never regain full use of it. He can no longer support his children by working on the rigs as he did beforehand.
My car was impounded by the Police and kept from the day of the accident, 30th April 2006 until the July. I was first formally interviewed in June 2006, then again in September. I was charged via postal summons in November last year. Magistrates passed the case to Crown Court on 13/12/06, as their sentencing powers were not sufficient and at that point I knew I was going to prison.
10 days short of a year after my accident, I pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and banned from driving for 3 years, for dangerous driving. Aside from the odd speeding conviction (I was driving 65,000 miles a year for the previous 10 years), I had never been in trouble with the Police before.
There was no feeling, no shock, no crying or anger when I was sent down from that court room. Just numbness. As the judge finished his sentencing, I had just one opportunity of shouting to my other half how much I loved her, before being lead into the downstairs of the court. The guard, a nice guy in his late 50s, explained that he had to handcuff me to himself, and down I went. Immediately down, through a number of locked, barred gates, to a booking in counter. All my possessions, and my belt, taken. My height measured. All my details recorded. Then 4 hours in a windowless cell with nothing but a wooden bench and contemplation for company.
4.30pm on a sunny Friday afternoon, leaving a happy looking Carlisle, but for me, in the back of a paddywagon. Watching people leaving school and work with a smile on their faces, looking forward to a weekend of choices. I was heading to HMP Durham.
You can say what you like about prison, and how easy it is, how great you think the facilities are, how prison is like a holiday camp. It's none of those things. It's a demeaning, soul-less place full of sad and sometimes evil people who have lives none of us would ever want or even imagine. All the freedoms you take for granted are removed in the name of control and security to the point that you're constantly reminded how little value society as a whole places on your miserable little existence.
I could write reams and reams about the prison system and the feelings being in it evoke, but I fear to do so would be heavy reading for the casual PHer. I would be happy to answer any questions people have about prison or my ordeal, though.
In reply to one of the posts above about my current situation: I was released on a scheme called Home Detention Curfew at the quarter point of my sentence, on 23rd of July. During this period I'm under curfew and wear an electronic tag until the halfway point, the 19th October.
For the 16 weeks following my release I have to attend a weekly meeting with my probation officer which, a few weeks in, is not much more than a hello and goodbye!
I've been very lucky in that work has managed to arrange transportation for me when it's needed and I've been able to keep my job after my release. I get paid on a commission basis, though, and I've had to keep all my outgoing financial commitments whilst not being able to earn for a few months. I've just about scraped through.
The pushbike has been fettled and, as daft as it sounds, I'm not yet really missing driving. After 10 years of 65,000 miles a year, I suppose that's not a huge surprise.
For the first 10 days or so in both the closed and then open prisons, I kept a brief diary, as much for something to do for my own benefit as much as anything else. I've not had chance to edit it at all, so it's rough and ready, but the following is the day I got sent down. I'll happily type up the other days with more prison info if people are interested. Just don't expect a masterpiece!
Day 1, April 20th 2007
When I left that courtroom, my friends, family, normal life and worst of all, Jilly [my OH] I felt nothing but numb. Only a few steps behind the courtroom and youíre in a whole new underground world. The guard handcuffs his arm to mine, heís a decent guy in a sh*tty job, my chirpy small talk is probably a pleasant change for him. Iím only hiding the shock, though.
We arrive at the holding cells area of the court to a reception desk, where itís goodbye to my belt and tie- you know why, too. Lots of form filling follows, whilst my now worldly possessions are removed, inspected and logged from the bag Iíd brought with me. Never has a pair of grey briefs looked so f*cking pathetic. Iím told I canít take most of the toiletries Iíve brought with me, such as toothpaste, shower gel (no soap on a rope) and shampoo. Theyíre bagged up separately and given back to my barrister upstairs. HMP Durham is the usual first port of call for custodial sentences from Carlisle, but as the prisons are so full, the guards downstairs canít confirm where Iíll be going tonight.
Four hours in a bare cell with just a wooden bench. A million thoughts are still gliding aimlessly through my mind. I canít complain, this is all about punishment and no better time to start than now. ďgez scouse on tourĒ, ďkellez kendal krewĒ and hundreds of other works of art list the previous tennents whoíve enjoyed my surroundings. At least reading those takes my mind off the stench of p*ss.
Itís about 4.30pm, another short walk, handcuffed again, and weíre on the wagon. At least itís movement, at least somethingís happening. Itís confirmed Durham have space, and with that, weíre off. The cells in the prison wagon are about half the size of a plane toilet, you sit on a hard moulded plastic seat, and the cell wall in front of you has a cut-out for your knees. At 6í I just manage to fit in without struggling, god knows what itís like if youíre pretty tall? Thereís a window to look out of, youíre on the other side of those blacked out windows that press photographers try to snap through when someone (in)famous gets a ride from Her Majesty. Itís a warm, sunny late spring Friday afternoon and as we head out through the Carlisle traffic, the everyday people are leaving their everyday schools and jobs, planning their everyday, legal Friday nights. In freedom. Itís hard not to begrudge all those happy looking people, very hard. I wonít be planning my Friday nights, or any other night for a while. For now my nights, and my days, will be planned for me.
Around 6pm we arrive at HMP Durham. Itís moments like this you realise how much your freedom is a gift, as four of us are unloaded and herded into the prison, up the stairs and into the reception area. Five or six prison guards are behind a large desk, scurrying around, creating the paperwork to put us into the system. Weíre told to wait in a large, perspex walled waiting rooms until our names are bellowed and you begin answering what become standard prison questions; ďBeen in Durham before?Ē, ďBeen in prison before?Ē, ďDrug problems?Ē. Somehow I feel unique in answering no to all three. Iím asked if I know what to do if I discover a prisoner whoís overdosed. Iíve never really thought about it, to be honest.
Back to the perspex room and wait for another shout, where Iím given my prison number, VT4352, and handed some of the clothes Iíve brought into prison with me. Iím allowed 12 items of clothing, a couple of writing pads and my nearly empty toiletry bag. Every item is logged, signed for by both the guard and me and the items I canít have are put into storage.
Next up is another room to be fingerprinted. No high tech, just an ink pad and sheet of card. I stand against the wall as my photo is taken and ID card is produced. Mustang Sally is playing on the radio and the guards donít waste an opportunity to take the p*ss. Thank god these guys are human.
At the back of the same room is a hatch manned by inmates, where Iím handed my prison issue clothes; two T-shirts, tracksuit bottoms, sweatshirt, prison jeans and a short sleeved shirt. Then itís into a cubicle where Iíd stripped and searched, my suit put into storage, I wonít be wearing it for a while. Luckily Iím allowed to put my own clothes on. As sad as it sounds, familiar clothes have a strange comfort to them, like theyíre braving a strange journey with me.
A quick interview with a nurse, weighed, then another guy in another office. The three question repetition; ďBeen in Durham beforeĒ, ďBeen in prison before?Ē, ďAny drink or drug problems?Ē, no, no and no. Still.
E Wing is an induction wing, I arrive clutching a clear plastic bag full of my clothes, bed sheets and paperwork. Like all the staff so far, the officer greeting me was very polite and very concise although a little flustered by having so little time due to staff shortages. He runs through some of the basics, hands me my pack of plastic plates and cutlery then explains some of the routines, but by now itís passed 9 oíclock, Iím emotionally and physically wrecked, thereís too much to take in. ďYouíll pick it upĒ he assures me. Not like Iíve got much else to do, is it?
Iím given some emergency phone credit and use the phone by the wing office to ring Jilly. Iím too headf*cked to crack up over the phone, but itís so amazing to hear Jilly on the other end. Only 9 hours ago I was holding her in the waiting area of court. It feels like that happened in a previous life. Iíve found out youíre allowed a special reception visit when you first come into prison where loved ones or friends can come for one visit in the first few days. Jilly, Mum and Dad have already phoned the prison and booked themselves in for tomorrow. I wish it was tomorrow, now. As much as I try to reassure her Iím OK, sheís cracking up. Itís harder for her than for me.
Mark, my new cell mate, is a star. I arrive at cell 3-15 like a lost puppy, a bag of clothes in one hand, linen in the other and more cloth in my head than both put together. Without a prompt Markís got me organised. It takes him a minute to do what would have taken me hours, sorting the bedclothes, putting stuff in cupboards for me. Finding someone decent for a cell mate has been the first good thing of the day. The only good thing.
Having a portable TV in the room was a godsend I wasnít expecting. More useful as background noise, helping me doze during the evening, proper sleep wasnít going to happen, so I grab a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Iím not exactly a conversational masterpiece.