‘I can see no alternative but to sentence you to eight months. Take him down’. My head was numb, I felt physically sick as the court guards took an arm each and led me downstairs to the Crown Court cells. I felt so many emotions at once: anger, frustration, loneliness, but most of all fear.
I screamed at my solicitor and barrister downstairs, ‘So what happened then? Who’s going to look after my wife now? I’m a police officer!’
I was right. I was still a police officer – for the moment. But I was now also a convicted criminal about to start an eight-month sentence for a crime I don’t think I did.
Time stood still as I was stripped of my suit and searched by two officers. It all felt so wrong. I wished so hard that it was a dream. I remember saying to one of the female prison guards, ‘This can’t be happening, it just can’t. I haven’t done it’.
She looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, ‘I know love, but you will be out soon. Don’t worry; just ask for the numbers’.
I knew what asking for the numbers meant. Certain categories of prisoner – including sex offenders, police informers and ex-police officers – are at risk of attack from their fellow prisoners. They are classed as ‘vulnerable prisoners’ and are segregated from their fellow inmates. I suppose the thought of being locked up with vulnerable prisoners helped a bit – but not much!
The journey in the ‘sweat box’, as prison wagons are described, was horrific. My mind was racing, imagining the worst of possibilities. I was also thinking about Lee, and Mom and Dad. They must be so frightened for me. The van almost drove past my house and I was straining my neck forward to catch a glimpse of Lee or Dad arriving home after court, but the van turned off before my road. I was gutted.
Arrival at HMP Nottingham is still a blur in my memory. I remember that after requesting the numbers I was going to spend the night in the medical wing (due to my apparent suicide risk).
That’s sounds nice, I thought. I was wrong.
The medical wing was full of cells with Perspex glass, so the ‘screws’ (as I was already calling them in my head) could see who was self-harming or trying to commit suicide. The screaming and shouting there seemed to be non-stop; essentially it was a mental asylum for criminals. Not a nice place, and not clean at all.
I was in cell number one, opposite the office, where the phone never stopped ringing. I was ushered in. It was empty, apart from a plastic mattress on the floor, metal toilet and sink. I turned and looking longingly at the warder who had delivered me. ‘Is this it?’ I said. ‘I’m afraid so, but you’re only here for one night. Just get some rest’. With that, she closed the door.
Get some rest! I’d lost my job, lost my pension, been all over the news, was starting an eight-month stretch! It then dawned on me, for the first time: I was completely alone.
No one to talk to; no one to listen. No one looking at me and no one to look at. This was prison.
I was exhausted and had been crying on and off since being ‘sent down’, which was now about five hours ago. My eyeballs were aching from rubbing my eyes continually. It was 7.30pm and I was sitting on my mattress feeling as low as I ever have, when I looked up.
I saw a single piece of paper stuck to the notice board in my cell. I stood and began to read the words of a poem that as a Christian I already knew, called Footprints in the sand.
As I read, the tears streamed down my cheeks. I read again its words: ‘You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?
‘The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you”.’
For the next half an hour or so, the Lord entered my cell. What a privilege! What an experience and a spiritual awaking. I felt the Lord’s Spirit fill my cell from top to bottom. This was his cell now, and nothing outside that mattered, but that he was in fellowship with one of his own.
I felt comforted, and uplifted. I knew the Lord would be with me on this journey over the next few months. I know because he had shown me.
That night, the Lord protected me. There was no one there except him and me. I slept soundly from about 8pm till 7am. I am sure not many people could say they slept soundly their first night in prison!
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our
sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to
God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what
needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything
to God in prayer.
To be continued