Another innocent in prison
“Would the foreman of the jury please stand,” the court falls silent…
The ultimate question is asked “How do you find the defendant: guilty or not guilty?”
Seems like forever until the foreman speaks. All the time I am thinking “of course he will say not guilty and I’ll be off home,” then the single word reply comes from his lips… ”GUILTY”
No! No this can’t be real, it can’t be happening, I told them the truth!! My head is spinning, the words of counsel go over in my head. “If they find you guilty you’ll go to prison.” But what about my business, my home? I could lose it all.
The judge decides that she has no reason to delay sentencing as she has read all the reports. She asks me to stand. I’m unsure my legs will hold me and I can’t see her for my tears: “3 charges, 9 months, 9 months and 6 months, total sentence 2 years.” Oh my days, 2 years sounds like forever I just know I will lose everything.
I ask my barrister to appeal at once but she tells me that the chances of winning an appeal is extremely low and that all the time that I spend in prison awaiting re-trial will not be considered if the court upholds the sentence, in fact I could be given longer.
Being sent away
The next few hours are almost tattooed on my brain. I will never ever forget the ride to the prison in that tiny little box with a hard plastic seat, all steel and ice cold despite it being mid-June.
We arrive at the prison and are in a room, several of us and one by one we are seen by a nurse. Then a prison officer, stripped naked to be searched and then put into prison clothes that don’t fit properly and have rips and stains. After an eternity sitting in the holding room, it’s off to the wing where I will begin my sentence.
I have written about that part of my experience at being completely set up and trapped by the police and the terrible miscarriage of justice that I suffered and am still struggling with, even ten years on, because I want others out there to know the truth. There is a dreadful world out there and when someone decides that they don’t like you much then you too could face a ‘fixed’ trial and time served in a hell hole that will leave you scarred for life, both mentally and physically.
I was in a relationship with a woman at the time of my arrest, who I believed to be a perfectly normal person from a reasonably average background. How wrong a man could be. She persuaded me to become a partner in a business with a friend of ours and we worked tirelessly to build it up. All the time behind my back she was conducting a sexual relationship with my business partner/best friend.
Being set up
One evening in early June 2007, the door to our office opened and three police officers from CID marched in. They grabbed my mobile phone, her phone and a trainee member of staff’s phone along with some papers and files and arrested me.
After several hours in a cold and noisy police station cell, I was interviewed and discovered that they had gone back for my partner at some stage and in fact she was in custody too. I answered all of their questions openly and honestly, despite my solicitor advising me to say “No comment.” After all I felt I had done nothing wrong so why hide anything? I mean they were the police the people that are paid to protect us and see justice is done right? Right? WRONG!!
I was charged with three separate charges and from there onward the police and the CPS worked very hard to ensure that they twisted absolutely every word I said whilst believing all of her lies.
I was allowed a telephone call and so phoned my business partner/friend. He assured me that he had spoken to my solicitor and when I appeared in court the next morning he would be offering his address for me to go on bail. I was so very upset but consoled myself that it was only for one night, tomorrow I’d be back outside and running our business. The police would realise it was all a huge error and that within a few days it would all be cancelled. How wrong could I have been? At the court my solicitor said that my friend had said he could offer his address for bail to my partner but not to me and so I was remanded in custody.
Readers please don’t think that I can give you a magic solution to stop this stuff happening to you because I can’t but I can offer you some very important and truthful information.
- The police are not your friends and they do not want to get to the truth. They have an allegation that they run with and will scapegoat anyone, no matter how clean your record is to get someone in a cell for it.
- The defence solicitors that start their contact with you in the police station are not all 100% on your side, many are there because they get regular work from the police sitting in on interviews just like yours.
- Prison is NOT anything remotely like a holiday camp; most are filthy dirty, cold and dangerous places. Food is very poor quality and in short supply. You will be lucky if you get to change your bed sheets more often than once a month and the same goes for your prison underwear which has been worn by other men before you.
- Prison is a very dangerous place where you will spend a good part of your sentence in a room not much bigger than a small family bathroom sharing with one or maybe two more men. You will eat in the room often having to use the toilet as a seat that’s if it has a lid and you will lay on your bed whilst your roommate takes a dump. You will be in that room most days for at least 21 hours or more, locked in. That room is still the safest place though, you are definitely not safe out on the landings.
Prison life is not easy and I will never ever agree to even the hardest criminals being treated like second classed animals, regardless of their crimes. Being deprived of liberty is the punishment for crime not being treated like cattle once you are there.
Punished over and again
An old lag once said that “prisoners are like mushrooms; kept in the dark and fed on bullshit” and trust me that is so true.
The way that the prison system has deteriorated since the last time I had the misfortune to go there is quite disturbing. They’ve banned smoking which kept people calm, drugs are much more commonplace than on the streets and have a much higher value. Fights and bullying are both at very serious levels for both inmates and staff and before long I predict that someone will be seriously harmed or killed during periods of unrest.
I urge you to protect yourself as best you possibly can from being arrested and locked up, but I promise you it’s not easy. “Staying out of trouble” is not the answer, as if the police want a “name in a frame,” no one is safe.
If you are unfortunate enough to end up on the wrong side of the walls of a prison, stay safe, keep your head down and try to get through as best you can. If like me you are wrongly convicted please don’t just “sit behind your door and do your time” and whatever you do, don’t undertake offender behaviour courses or programmes, it is an admission of guilt.
Maintain your innocence and fight for justice to the very end. It’s over ten years since my conviction and with my wonderful partner we are still fighting for justice and we will never ever give up.
I will sign off using a phrase that my late mother hated but I innocently wrote at the end of a letter once as the lights had just gone out.
“as the dark of night meets the dark walls of prison, I’ll sign off again.”
Bless you all and may 2018 be a better year for you wherever you are.
This guest blog was written by Drew, who was wrongly convicted and still works to clear his name. You can follow Drew on Twitter. This article is part of a series of guest blogs written by Injustice Documentary’s interviewees and other criminal justice reformers and experts. If you are interested in submitting a piece, please contact us.