Monday, 26 October 2015

HMP Blantyre House (Taken From Time For Cannabis: The Prison Years 1991 to 1995 by Alun Buffry)


From Time For Cannabis: The Prison Years 1991 to 1995

Available on Amazon as paperback and Kindle

After writing the previous chapters, I had wanted to write about Blantyre House, a totally different and altogether more positive experience with a fresh start, rid of the influence of the Whitemoor memories, so I had decided to take a break.

Unintentionally, that break lasted 17 years!

Now I feel I can comfortably write this chapter, not that the long gap in time was due entirely to the Whitemoor experience, after all, I left that place a couple of years before starting this book. But there have been other things on my mind, which included co-founding and running a small political party based on the single issue of cannabis, travelling as I could afford and a lot of other writing

So, having been approved for HMP Blantyre House, Gary (the inmate travelling with me) and myself were all packed up and ready to leave Whitemoor as soon as we could.

We had heard favourable reports of the relaxed regime there and were looking forward to seeing our bridge-playing, ecstasy-smuggler friends Will and Tom along with a few others from Whitemoor.

This is what the Department of Justice says about Blantyre House in 2015:

"Blantyre House is an adult male category 'C/D' resettlement prison. The buildings themselves are located in a country house which was taken over by the Prison Commission in 1954, having previously operated as a Fegan Home. It was a Detention Centre for young offenders before converting to a resettlement prison for long term prisoners.

"Regime: The regime at Blantyre is designed to prepare men for their eventual release. Within the first six months it is compulsory for the men to continue to build upon their education, which will include obtaining Basic Skills qualifications and taking part in courses such as healthy lifestyles, social and life skills, independent living and preparation for work. There are also a number of vocational courses on offer including IT, Dry-lining and Plastering. Once risk-assessed prisoners are allowed the opportunity to develop their education by attending external colleges to obtain further employment skills. As well as education, prisoners are able to work as cleaners, kitchen workers, orderlies etc."

At Whitemoor on the day of our transfer, after the traditional slops for breakfast, we were escorted through numerous gates along with our possessions. We were taken to a holding cell to await the arrival of the screws and the transportation.

We were told to change into our own clothing by the screw from Blantyre House, which we gladly did. I felt like tearing up the prison clothing. But within minutes he came back and told us we would have to change again because the Whitemoor administration would not allow us in our own clothing whilst still inside the prison. So we changed, again. We did not want to get into trouble before we even left and anyway we were used to petty rules being thrown at us seemingly willy-nilly.

Once we were inside the prison van and outside the prison grounds, we were told we could change back into our own clothing again. The screw actually apologised. He said that at Blantyre House everyone knew the rules and he repeated them.

No alcohol or drugs, no violence or verbal abuse, obey the laws of the land and commit to a minimum of half a day at education every week.

They also told us to be careful with the food, especially the chips, as it was served hot and may be the first hot food we had eaten in prison. That was wrong of course but they did not know that I had been cooking much of my own food along with Ken and others, in the small kitchen on the wing, but they were correct about the Blantyre food as I was to find out.

The journey from Peterborough to Kent took a few hours and we were given sandwiches. The time went quick even though we could not see the scenery.

HMP Blantyre House was in Kent near the village of Goudhurst, close to Cranbrook, beautiful countryside famous for growing hops used to manufacture the drug alcohol.

As we arrived at Blantyre House, pulled in through the gates; we climbed out of the van and there stood my friend Will.

Will took us to our "rooms" inside the large wooden building. He said we would be sharing for a while but later would move to other rooms; this was the reception cell.

The cell contained two bunk beds but Gary and I were the only two that would be using them that night. Apparently we would be here a few days and then moved to another "room". We had our own keys. The room was next to the Principal Officer's (The PO) office; I assumed it was so they could better keep an eye on us.

Will also told us that he would take us to the dining hall as dinner was about to be served, then after that we would go to see the PO's office to "check in".

Afterwards, Will said, he would show us the prison grounds where we were free to wander at almost any time between 8 am and 8 pm. After 8 pm we had to be inside the main building and the outside doors would be locked, but we could associate in rooms until 10 pm.

I do not remember what I had for dinner except that it was vegetarian and hot and quite tasty. Will had arranged for us to share a table with himself and Tom from Whitemoor and a few others; one was Terry P. who was doing time for his part is an horrific robbery.

There were about 100 inmates at Blantyre and the dining room was crowded. Will told us that we would probably be put on washing up duty the next day, and do that, as was traditional for new arrivals, until more new inmates arrived. Then, he said, we would probably be put on cleaning and after that we would either do outside work or college, or do full time education. Being on my Open University course in computing and busy building my database on Ancient Egypt, education would suit me.

After dinner, as promised, Will took us to the Principle Officer's office. Gary Catton, the screw that had interviewed me in Whitemoor, was the PO on duty. Officers, though, weren't called "screws" or even "kangas" here. It took just a few minutes of confirming our names and numbers and being told that after breakfast the next day we had to report to the kitchen and do washing up duty.

After that, Will took Gary and I for a walk-about; he showed us the education block, canteen, church building and gym. There was quite a large green area where rugby and other sport was played.

On the Saturday, just two days after arriving, we joined about twenty others along with several officers, for a five mile country ramble. It was amazing, instead of being forced to march together as I had anticipated, we were all allowed to walk at our own paces. I found myself walking down a beautiful and quiet grove where the trees were brown and freshly fallen leaves were scattered about, passing large gates to houses and small cottages. I felt there may have been a babbling brook somewhere beyond but out of our sight.

After where I had been the last few years and even my home life before that, this was a new world. I felt free and trusted.

Beyond that area there was a fence with an open gate and the other side of that we saw several inmates' allotments, a chicken run, and a large field part of which inmates had worked on for use as a small golf course.

We walked right around the inside of the fence. We walked to places where we could not be seen from the main buildings. There was no razor wire and no visible cameras. It was hard to believe that we were not being watched. A result of Whitemoor paranoia?

I looked up at the trees but still saw no cameras. The only razor wire, Will said, was near the canteen, to stop local kids from climbing over and stealing stuff!

What an incredible change from Whitemoor. Here they talked about the "ethos" and the Governor, Jim Semple said that he did not like to be called "Sir". It was difficult at first to know who was a screw and who was a con.

I slept well that night, although Gary complained that I had snored loudly.


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