Monday, November 20, 2017

A Tiny Pirate In Jail

tinypirat lifetsyle cabareteIt’s been a while…I’ve been busy with life, love, adventures and my new magazine. As soon as I can share it with you I will! ☺
Some of you may know I've spent a couple of nights in jail, and each time I have left feeling blessed that the freedom my incredible mum sacrificed so much for is not something that she fought so in vain. Freedom is everything to me and I will die before I relinquish it.

Our liberty is something each one of us probably takes for granted, yet it's something so fundamental that is denied to many around the world. And unless you know someone who is incarcerated, when was the last time you gave any thought to anyone languishing behind bars?

My first night at her majesty's pleasure took place when I was 15 and caught up in a raid at a party in an illegal drinking/gambling den in Kings Cross in London. I was rounded up along with maybe a dozen or so people and bundled into the back of police vans. I had three main problems- my mum would kill me because she thought I was sleeping over at a girlfriends house, the boy I was with (Richard) thought I was 18 and, well, this was the first time I was properly in trouble with the police.

"Don't say you're with me," Richard whispered under his breath, his words masked under the commotion of the many voices chattering in the van.

"Ok." Little did he know my mind was already on overtime, working out how to minimize my own exposure.

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The great thing about the UK is that there are no ID cards, so there is pretty much nothing you can be identified with if you don't have a record. Because of my age I had zero bank cards, just some loose change and make up in my purse. Not even house keys. My first time being locked up was both entertaining and scary, watching as various creatures of the night gave me a private show of the underworld, as they sassed, shimmied and cheeked the police. Working girls, drag queens and gays catcalling every time a uniformed officer came by.

A few worried looking men sat with their heads in their hands, a posture I eventually came to recognise as one employed when someone is going to get into trouble with work or their wives. Usually the latter.

I used the name Candice ( a girl I didn't like at school) along with a Spanish last name. I was worried that looking like I did I wouldn't pass off for a Brit, in any case I still had a slight accent too, so if anything I was going to say I was of Spanish origin. I gave the address of a clothes store on Carnaby street where we used to hang out sometimes, and said I was just walking past the party after an argument with my boyfriend and fancied a drink. I gave my age as 19 to be on the safe side.

tinypirat lifetsyle cabareteI was told off for being in unlicensed premises, told of the dangers of being in such locales and released after they took notes and made 'Candice' sign something. The joyful days before the internet and digitalised records! The procedure took the best part of the night because of so many people being processed, plus the additional influx of other offenders. This was a life- long lesson in not wanting to end up in such a place. I also found out that Richard was 27, not 22 as he'd told me, plus he was married. He told me this a few days later when we met up at the club we were both working in, and he asked me how I was. When I told him I was 15 he had the nerve to have a major fit, luckily we had only just started to date and I had no intention to go any further than innocent kissing, I would have been heartbroken if I had given up my most precious gift to such a jerk.

My second night in jail took place almost 10 years later, when my drink was spiked while I was touring in Finland with a number of artists during my time at the Ministry of Sound. Tripping out of my skull I somehow managed to navigate my way through graphic hallucinations and get myself back to my hotel, pack my things, make it to the airport and catch my flight. All I forgot were my artists and crew, who were all in the same state as I was, and were eventually found a few days later, a couple of them still in Finland.

But I digress. Landing at Heathrow the stewardesses were concerned for me but not enough to make sure I got home ok! As I walked through customs and then arrivals everything looked like marshmallows- I'd lost my mobile and tried using a pay phone to call my boyfriend, but the numbers were all moving and squishy in my hand. Stumbling to hail a cab, once we had almost reached my flat I told he driver that I didn't have any money and he needed to take me to a cash point. I don't know if it was because I was clearly dishevelled and looked like I was high that he thought it would be a great idea to take me to my local police station on the Harrow Road. A rotund ginger bully proceeded to drag me out of the black taxi, roughly forcing my arm behind my back and saying "move you f*cking n*gger" as he kneed me in the back and pushed me inside the station. I had his thumbprint on my arm for weeks after, that is how hard he'd grabbed me.
Once the driver saw this he was mortified and offered to take me to a cash point. But it was too late, the ginger nazi had the taste of blood and power and he wasn't letting go. Up until that point, and having seen first hand the many abuses of other international law enforcement agencies, I had nothing but respect for the fairer nature of the British police, but all that evaporated in an explosion of hatred because of this one fetid, putrid, rotten ginger apple in the barrel. Apparently it is illegal to get into a taxi with no money, and the little ginger nazi used this as an excuse to exorcise his personal demons and inadequacies on someone who needed help, not violence and fear.

I was slammed into a filthy cell, made all the worse because I was still getting visuals off whatever drugs I'd been spiked with. Little stick men were jumping or sliding down off the dirty walls, and running on the disgusting, itchy, thin grey blanket over the single hard bed. I was crying hysterically and begging to speak to someone. Eventually a woman PC opened up my hatch, and, I thought, took pity on me. She let me out to go to the bathroom and when I went to wash my hands I noticed a pubic hair on the grimy plop of soap on the basin. I tried to explain to her in between hiccups and asked if I could get my bag to use my own toiletries, but she slapped me round the face and told me "this isn't a f*cking hotel."

My tears and hiccups were shocked into silence and I was pushed back into my cell, no voice, no rights, no protection. I was eventually let go, absolutely no charges but my faith in the British police tarnished forever. The Ministry were amazing, my health and wellbeing paramount to them, and their insistence on using the full weight of their legal team to press charges with the police was a testament of their support.

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I discussed this with my boyfriend and we decided we didn't want the hassle of the police on top of us- we lived near the station and could only imagine the consequences should we go ahead and pull the trigger on legal action against one of their own. We walked away from a litigious situation against the Met Police, but felt sickened that this would be something that would be repeated over again, next time maybe with someone who may be possibly be too vulnerable not to be affected long term.

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, a few months ago I decided to go on a jaunt to the Southern Hemisphere, starting off in the South Island of New Zealand. Because of work and time commitments I usually plan my itinerary well ahead to maximise my time wherever I travel, however the last time I was in NZ was around 10 years ago on the North Island, where I b*tchiked my way through, and had a really enlightening experience with regards to the beauty of the county and its affable people. I think I subconsciously wanted that same freedom again.

A week before I left, the only things I'd arranged had been my arrival and departure flights. Using the digipowers of Facebook, I asked people for suggestions as to where to go and what to do. Advice came in thick and fast, but the one that seduced me and kissed me fully on the lips was "there is a place in Christchurch that used to be a man's prison, but you can now stay there." My internal flight was booked on the spot. And that's where my adventure began.

After an 18hr journey I arrived full of the usual excitement and adrenaline rush I get when visiting a new place. I hadn't bargained for the profound emotions I felt as I walked into the Jail. Even though it has been prettied and polished and the ‘wardens’ an absolute joy to meet, its overbearing and imposing structure made me feel constricted and melancholy. I dumped my bags in my little cell room and took a 3hr bike ride around the city, still being rebuilt after the horrific earthquake in 2011, where almost 200 people perished and thousands were injured. Christchurch looked like an old lady having a major facelift, but instead of bandages and stitches, cranes, scaffolding and tarpaulin covered the open wounds of collapsing facades, broken windows and cracked buildings. Taking photos felt like a macabre type of voyeurism so instead I rode around the misty park, spring daffodils trying to break through the frozen, bitter earth. I rode through some of the more desolate areas where street artists painted over the tragedy with colourful creations. Art will always shine a light in the darkness.

Having cleared my head, I went back to my temporary home, chatted to the delightful staff and had a good look around. My little cell number 13 was charming until I really thought about the previous occupants of the 6'x15' rectangle. They didn't have the luxury of polished wooden floorboards, whitewashed walls and comfy mattress and pillows on the grown up version of a single cot I slept in. They were probably denied the extra blankets and electric heater I requested because of the bone chilling cold which permeated, even with the heating on and sleeping with a hoodie and leggings. Previous residents would not have been able to look at themselves in the large mirror on the back of their door, now used to cover where bars would have once been.

I cant imagine anything more lamentable than waking up to birdsong when you are in a jail cell, knowing you can't see the skies and fly away. The high ceilings give you just enough light to alleviate claustrophobia, but also create acoustics that amplify the smallest of sounds. I heard laughter and banter from other guests, yet this is not exactly what would have been heard by the men who resided here previously.

I talked to the ghosts of the past inmates, and wished they were now at peace wherever they may be. I craved for them to be loved and happy- for whoever is loved unconditionally and made to feel worthy and special can surely be helped to avoid ending up in these places? It's when we give up on ourselves and others, when humanity has nothing to lose, that we make grave mistakes that cost us the basic rights we are born with.

I went into the isolation cell- two doors away from mine and maintained as it was when the jail was operating. Half the size of number 13, the peeling and discoloured walls were a testament to its origins. Dank, miserable and with the clear stains of the desperate souls who were punished here, their frantic scratches scarring the peeling paintwork throughout the whole room. I still fail to see how this kind of "correction" has anything but an even more negative effect on a human being. The majority who end up here- I am convinced- are some of the most vulnerable people in society. Why do we therefore, when we allegedly have some much more information and education about behaviour, deprivation, socio economic and psychological issues, continue to propagate brutal regimes in our antiquated prison systems?

My heart was heavy- the novelty of sleeping in a prison was overwhelmed by the feelings of guilt and compassion my stay evoked. But I guess this is why I travel. Experiences are everything and empathy enriches one’s soul in an incomparable way. I thought of my darling Howard in his isolation cell and the things he told me about keeping himself healthy and sane in there. How the mundane became life and mind saving rituals, such as how he would peel an orange all in one perfect segment then make little chunks to shoot into a paper cup at the other end of his tiny room. This was all he had as entertainment for many days or weeks. Meditation and yoga were his other companions. Many prisoners don’t even have these. To deny a person basic human contact is no more than killing their very being in a slow, torturous manner. Where is the rehabilitation in this?

Maybe the universe subconsciously made me make no plans for this journey to remind me of my own freedom, and to therefore be grateful for it and not to take it for granted. So far I have thought about things that were long gone from my radar, thought about those all over the world suffering imprisonment, and met some beautiful people whom I wouldn't have otherwise crossed paths with.

My lack of planning is now taking me to the West Coast of the island on the Tranzalpine express, across crystalline lakes and verdant mountains, spring lambs gambolling alongside their chunky mums. A guy I almost crashed into on my bike took pity on my shivering and told me I should head west where it may be warmer, to a rainforest retreat and hike up a nearby glacier. And my freedom means I can do exactly that.

My freedom also means I can share this with you in the hope that it may inspire you to be able to consider helping prisoners. Yes, there are a lot more deserving causes and people worthy of the little time and resources we may have. But spare a thought for your local prisons. There are little things that you can do- offer to visit, send some books, write a letter, send unwanted clothing. Or make a donation to prisoner organisations.

We all make mistakes. Some of us have to pay for those dearly, and some have been unfairly or wrongly convicted. But regardless, prisoners are still people, and not just there to be treated like subhumans. I am so thankful for my incomparable mum for the freedom she gave me, but also for all those who have fought for all of us to have this right. That is why we should also fight for those whose liberty has been taken away. Everyone has a story and everyone deserves forgiveness and our compassion.

In the very least- if you value your own freedom- make the most of it. Freedom is as precious as time, so use it wisely. Make each and every day count, because there are so many who don’t have that luxury.

Toodle Pip until next time and thank you for reading!

Claud ☺ xo

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