St. Martin's Press
The signpost announces North Sea Camp, one mile. As we approach the entrance to the prison, the first thing that strikes me is that there are no electric gates, no high walls and no razor wire.
I am released from my sweat box and walk into reception, where I am greeted by an officer. Mr Daff has a jolly smile and a military air. He promises that after Wayland, this will be more like Butlins. ‘In fact,’ he adds, ‘there’s a Butlins just up the road in Skegness. The only difference is, they’ve got a wall around them.’
Here, Mr Daff explains, the walls are replaced by roll-calls—7.30 am, 11.45 am, 3.30 pm, 8.15 pm and 10.00 pm, when I must present myself to the spur office: a whole new regime to become accustomed to.
While Mr Daff completes the paperwork, I unpack my HMP plastic bags. He barks that I will only be allowed to wear prison garb, so all my T-shirts are taken away and placed in a possessions box marked ARCHER FF8282.
Dean, a prison orderly helps me. Once all my belongings have been checked, he escorts me to my room—please note, room, not cell. At NSC, prisoners have their own key, and there are no bars on the windows. So far so good.
However, I’m back to sharing with another prisoner. My room-mate is David. He doesn’t turn the music down when I walk in, and a rolled-up cigarette doesn’t leave his mouth. As I make my bed, David tells me that he’s a lifer, whose original tariff was fifteen years. So far, he’s served twenty-one because he’s still considered a risk to the public, despite being in a D-cat prison. His original crime was murder—an attack on a waiter who leered at his wife.
Dean (reception orderly) informs me that Mr Berlyn, one of the governors, wants to see me. He accompanies me to the governor’s Portakabin, where I am once again welcomed with a warm smile. After a preliminary chat, Mr Berlyn says that he plans to place me in the education department. The governor then talks about the problem of NSC’s being an open prison, and how they hope to handle the press. He ends by saying his door is always open to any prisoner should I need any help or assistance.
Dean takes me off to supper in the canteen. The food looks far better than Wayland’s, and it is served and eaten in a central hall, rather like at boarding school.
Write for two hours, and feel exhausted. When I’ve finished, I walk across to join Doug in the hospital. He seems to have all the up-to-date gossip. He’s obviously going to be invaluable as my deep throat. We sit and watch the evening news in comfortable chairs. Dean joins us a few minutes later, despite the fact that he is only hours away from being released. He says that my laundry has already been washed and returned to my room.
I walk back to the north block and report to the duty officer for roll-call. Mr Hughes wears a peaked cap that resembles Mr Mackay’s in Porridge, and he enjoys the comparison. He comes across as a fierce sergeant major type (twenty years in the army) but within moments I discover he’s a complete softie. The inmates like and admire him; if he says he’ll do something, he does it. If he can’t, he tells you.
I return to my room and push myself to write for another hour, despite a smoke-filled room and loud music.
Final roll-call. Fifteen minutes later I’m in bed and fast asleep, oblivious to David’s smoke and music.
HEAVEN Copyright © 2004 by Jeffrey ArcherJEFFREY ARCHER became one of the youngest members of the House of Commons in 1969, was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in 1985, and was elevated to the House of Lords in 1992. All of his story collections and novels--including most recently Sons of Fortune--have been international bestsellers. Archer is married, has two children, and lives in England.