in The Big House
by Randerick, HMP Pentonville
Walked through the halls of Education.
’Randerick?’ ‘Yes.’ As I turned around
I spotted Eddie. ‘What’s up Eddie?’
He answered: ‘Would you like to do Shakespeare?’
’I’ve put your name down.’
’Ah, well – I guess so.’
The long trek of self-discovering began.
Pentonville equals demoralisation;
We, the inmates, grasp at anything.
We grasp for self-comfort
- For ease of constant pressure.
Pressure from all sides.
You run away into yourself.
Sometimes it’s not enough.
Occasionally a fresh breeze blows into the
gates of this hollow house; called by the inmates ‘The Big House’. The locked gates; the shouts; ‘Get into your cells’ The constant abuse from inmates and offices alike. ‘Yeah, Gov, Yeah’ The ‘Big House’ is a place of self-discovery. Each inmate chooses a path. Some choices are conscious. Some aren’t.
There is something that can happen here. It’s called escape. We form a circle. Arms placed on each other’s shoulders we sing ‘The Grand Old Duke of York, He had 10,000 men’. We walk in circles in a room no larger than 5 metres square, 30 strong. This is escape within the walls of The Big House.
Men are transformed from brash, hard convicts – some sentenced, some not – to gentle, sensitive human beings. Or is it that society misses the fact that these men can be sensitive, can be human? Many men miss these facts for themselves in the face of others. Yes, we have been shut away. Yes, we have been labelled animals. Some rightly so; Some not.
Arms are outstretched as the visitors arrive. The actors: Open, passionate, engrossed. They submerge into a world of assuming character. Maybe it’s truth itself. Maybe its just a little comfort mixed with escape.
‘Ahhh, Ahhh, Ahhh,’ the director has arrived.
Those are his first words. ‘Ahhh, ahhh, ahh’, he utters, ‘Shakespeare – You own it. The words belong to you. They can never take them away from you. Never’ How true I now find those words.
‘B and G Wing’ echos through the hall and ricochets off the wall of our safe little cocoon. ‘Bang, Wallop’ down we all fall knowing there is no safety net, just like in a real theatre.
‘Randy’; a voice shouts out. We clamber together and the great man Bruce bowls us our parts, fast ball. ‘Renderick’ …. ‘You’ …. ‘Warriors’ ….. Runners’ ‘Chris, I’ve got something for you.’ He unwraps not one but two plastic bags and pulls out an amazing Tibetan China instrument. Bruce dealt fast balls. We caught. We assumed our roles with the guidance of the experienced and fell into it like water out of a tap.
We were severed from the outer noise; thrown into another’s abyss; the Bard’s house; children crying, mums sulking, partners winking ‘love you …. Miss you …. Prison’ A bigger house.
‘Gov, please take me back to the Chapel, we still have one hour of rehearsals’ ‘O.K. Bish, OK’ ‘Thanks, Gov’. Bags, coats, property is left lying all around. Great feeling. No abuse has taken place. Inmates – animals remember – next to purses and wallets. Can’t be nothing missing! Can’t be right!
Video crew arrives. Cameras everywhere. Filming. ‘Camera shy’ No chance. Everyone does really well. We have finally bonded.
Show begins. Friday night. Inmates arrive. Nerves heightened, heart rate exceeding a grand prix driver’s. Wow. Exhilaration is in the air. We perform well. Cheers all round til – It’s the weekend – Pure bang up.
‘Bang.’ Monday morning. The big day. We go through the motions of the day pumped up and ready. Evening – ‘Look’ Chesty shouts, ‘it’s … oh, …. It’s her’; Lord this and Lordy that. The social high I call it. Funny thing they were as pleasant to us, the inmates, as one would be with a mother.
We gave a performance not to be equalled. Shock is the only word I can use. We were truly amazed.
‘B and G’ ‘Yes, Gov’, I observed.
’Back to reality’ my brother said.
‘No. …. NO. …. The play was reality.’
The Gov said ‘Yeah. Now remember that’.
I lay in my bed. Then I heard:
‘Remember Shakespeare’s words.
They can never take them away from you.'