Governor James Shanley has some serious problems to resolve at HMP Nottingham and the prison’s appalling reputation is richly deserved.
I was remanded to HMP Nottingham on 17 October by District Judge Leo Pyle on three charges of publishing ‘malicious’ communications regarding the police.
I asked my solicitor John Wilford to speak to the Inspector at Eastwood Police Station and he was assured her officers would discontinue the policy of parking outside my home. There is a perfectly good car park, always half empty, opposite the police station but the police parked their cars outside my home instead.
I made a complaint regarding this to the IPCC, which is now under appeal, and expected the police to honour their promise to Mr Wilford not to park outside on my street because I regarded it as harassment.
But the police broke their meaningless promise to Mr Wilford acting on my behalf and continued their harassment. It should be noted that we are dealing the officers’ private cars not marked police cars. There is no reason at all other than harassment for them to park outside my home.
Accordingly, I published photographs of four cars owned by police officers because I was tired of the harassment. But true to form the police claimed this was malicious communications and I was arrested, charged and remanded to prison.
On C Wing, used for induction, there was almost no trouble until the morning of 20 October when a young, fat prison officer told me that I was being moved to F Wing because I was over 40.
As we left C Wing on the 1s a chorus of “grass, grass, grass” erupted and I knew immediately that the screws had smeared me to the other prisoners. “Snitches get stitches” is the motto in HMP Nottingham and clearly the screws wanted me stitched up in more ways than one.
I had no doubt at all that corrupt Nottinghamshire Police had been in contact with their friends in the prison service to incite this false allegation to get me seriously beaten up.
On F Wing I was taken to cell F1.10 and the prisoner inside promptly told me he was a paranoid schizophrenic on medication and he also suffered from OCD. What a pleasant ‘welcome’ and I could see trouble coming in short order.
On 23 October, I was remanded back to HMP Nottingham by the Magistrates. The bail hearing was a farce and at one point the CPS troll accused me of making police officers “targets for terrorists” by publishing photographs of their private cars parked outside my house. I laughed my socks off at this nonsense and Mr Wilford objected in strong terms to the CPS drivel.
The day before, the madman in F1.10 had thrown a kettle of boiling water at me and missed. I was not surprised he got 10 years for attempted murder and the next morning on 24 October, he attacked me without warning from behind at 08:10hrs.
Craig launched his attack on me as I was lacing up my shoes. He is a 6.3 bully and he grabbed me in a throat lock, his forearm across my windpipe. Having trained in Krav Maga, I acted quickly before I blacked out. I thrust my left arm behind his leg and punched him in the testicles with my right arm. Thank goodness for Krav Maga or I would be dead now.
Craig had told me the night before the attack that he could kill me and because of his mental illness, he could not be held responsible legally. He clearly had murder on his warped mind and this man should be in a secure mental hospital not a prison.
The screws moved me to cell F2.20 on the 2s and there I met a great guy. He was huge but a gentleman with it and no one messed with “the general”. I got on with him very well and he had a brilliant sense of humour. He was straight talking too and gave me some of the best advice I had been given in many years.
I will not name him or any of the prisoners because I had no problems with them. The tiny minority who hated me because I was a journalist, I was told to ignore and “the general” took me under his wing.
I met some genuinely decent men in prison who had simply made mistakes in life and paid for it. Despite the image of prisoners being stupid, I found the reverse to be true.
But levels of staffing in HMP Nottingham are an extremely dangerous joke. Government cut-backs have endangered staff and prisoners alike. On one day, the whole of F Wing was managed by a 4.8ft female prison officer because of three serious incidents that day.
Three prison officers had been taken to hospital after being attacked in a riot on G Wing and a fight on E Wing. No reinforcements arrived between 15:30hrs to 22:00hrs. Even “the general” shook his head in disgust.
The food is atrocious and the prisoners who cook it are not to blame, it is because of Government cut-backs. The same is also true of health care and not one prisoner told me that he had been reformed by prison, even men who had served long sentences. Most men said “prison has only made me more angry than before”.
“Prison isn’t working” is a reform motto used by campaigners and I have to agree entirely. One 75-year-old man was serving a 16 week sentence for stealing a can of pop and a cheap coat. The OAP has dementia and needs medical treatment not prison.
The Governor produces a monthly bulletin to the prisoners and his grammar and spelling skills are not up to scratch. When set this example by the Governor, how can prisoners be motivated to upgrade their education?
Worringly though, HMP Nottingham is a tinder keg waiting to explode. A general riot across the whole prison is entire likely and the staff will not be able to cope when it kicks off.
Penal reform can only be achieved through rigidly enforced community penalties and fines collected by attachment to earnings or benefits. Prison should be for serious offences only, including murder, terrorism and sex crimes, particularly against children.
Throwing people in prison for petty offences, real or imagined is costing taxpayers huge sums of money and creating prisons that are ripe for riot. Not to mention the fact that some prisoners are being recalled for petty reasons, like disagreeing with a probation officer.
The internal complaints system is a worthless paper shuffling exercise. The prison authorities do not take complaints by prisoners seriously and the favourite answer used by screws when you ask them a question is “don’t know mate” and don’t want to know more to the point.
In fairness, I should say that some of the screws are good men and women doing a very difficult job but some of them are just disinterested assholes who love wearing a uniform and getting paid for standing around all day doing little or nothing.
The most common corruption prisoners complain about is the Probation Service and its power-tripping pettiness, particularly for returning people to prison for next to nothing.
I agreed with two men in HMP Nottingham that I would write a book detailing their lives in prison. This will have to wait until they are released because otherwise the Probation Service will try to prevent their release.
I would also like to thank Officer Khan for apologising to me for being rude on F Wing. Some officers do give a damn and Mr Khan is a first class officer for whom I have a great deal of respect.
On 11 November at 15:00hrs, a screw opened my cell door and announced: “Tomlin, come on mate, home time, bail.”
Mr Wilford had appeared at Nottingham Crown Court with a Judge in Chambers application before Judge James Sampson. I was bailed and walked through the prison gate at 16:50hrs in complete darkness but before I left, two screws had a surprise for me, one of which I will never forget.
One screw asked me to write an article telling everyone what a “great job” they are doing at HMP Nottingham under pressure of cut-backs. Instead I produced this balanced piece instead of propaganda.
At the front gate another screw said: “You do realise Special Branch are the biggest criminal gang in the country don’t you.” I replied by saying, “yes, I know, I’ve been fighting them for nearly 25 years”.