Both Sides of the Prison Walls
Yvonne stared into her mirror while she arranged her hair ready for the usual knock on the door that, sure as clockwork, came at the appointed hour. In recent months, she had been more inclined to get up early as there was more to get up for. Slowly but surely, the days and weeks crawled their way off the calendar and the appointed day May 7th 2003 would arrive when none of those screws would have any more power over her life any more.
"Time to go to the shower," came Bodybag's usual sour faced greeting to her. Is she ever going to stop kidding herself she can get one up on me? You can see the key sticking out of the back of her head winding up the spring to her brain only it's still bleeding slow.
"Not that many more days left for you to say that, Sylvia." Yvonne said. She had realized that the strutting woman who revelled in being called "Mrs Hollamby" or "Miss" would never be called that by her. She knew exactly where her weak spots were and how to exploit them. She was the sort of woman she was used to cheeking since she was in school, she got away with it then and she had got it down now to a fine art.
Yvonne sauntered casually down the corridor in that way that conveyed disrespect and she knew wound Bodybag up. She hardly took in the familiar yellow paint over rough brickwork that was part of Larkhall life that she had got so used to. Past the 'anti drug' poster that was displayed in a well meaning fashion half the way down the corridor to the showers that was more communal than the one she, in a long lost incarnation at home, used to luxuriate in of a Saturday morning.
She strolled back, her hair still wet wearing her dressing gown that, even after the Larkhall Prison washing machine had done its worst to it, was more stylish than most. The routine she settled in was for breakfast, as served by the 2 Julies.
"Hi Yvonne, want the usual today, it's your favourite." Julie Johnson served also her welcoming smile that she would always associate her with. "Not many more of these till you get your freedom."
"Your freedom, yeah." Came the inevitable 'line capping' by Julie Johnson depending which way round it happened to be.
"Yeah, well, I've just got to watch out in case Fenner."and at the back of her mind Yvonne was grateful that the human being was attached to a name that could be spat out as she spoke. "doesn't fit me up for any more murders like when O'Kane was drowned," and here Yvonne looked, hard faced, at him as he strode past and glared back. Mutual hostilities and suspicion between the pair of them as long as Yvoone had been inside Larkhall.
Turning round sharply with her tray, she barged sideways into the hated figure of Snowball Merriman with an 'Oops, sorry in case I hurt you.' in tones not intended to deceive, till she saw the smiling face of Denny, whom she made a beeline for. Of all the younger cons whom she had indulged her mothering instinct on, Denny was always her favourite. Despite her forbidding appearance complete with tattoos, Denny always greeted her with the open smile like the twelve year old kid she had been once.
"Not long before you're out of this shithole, man" Denny said, without a trace of jealousy in her tone. This real generosity and selflessness really reached the underlying softness in Yvonne's personality even though, in her flip but maternal way, she thanked Denny for being a 'good kid' but a superstitious streak in her held her back from thinking she was out until she was outside the walls of Larkhall for good. There were too many strange twists of fate in her experience (she crushed back the word 'time') for her liking.
Her spirits rose as she had a friendly chit chat with Denny who laughed at all of her jokes. It touched Yvonne that she had the power to brighten up Denny's day when she knew how depressed Denny had got after losing Shaz. She had gone in every day into Denny's cell where she had lain, not wanting to move off her bunk bed unless she had to and even shrugging off Yvonne's offer to help and be there, especially in the beginning.
Somehow she had brightened up. It even made the disgusting overstewed tea from the tea urn, served in blue plastic mugs, palatable.
One of the friendlier prison officers came round with the post and called out to her that there was 'one for her.' She held out her hand to see the envelope which had been slit open at the top. Some prison officer may, or may not have read the letter before her. Along with the peephole to her cell, that position of being under 24 hours observation was something she had got used to, if not accepted, at Larkhall.
Nikki had written and rewritten her letter to Yvonne in some state of confusion. Everything about her present comfortable surroundings and chic clothes made her feel an uncomfortable gulf between her and the woman she felt an obligation to help and support. She had promised to write to her and keep in touch with her, as she was one of her closest friends when they were both in prison. Yvonne wouldn't just call a spade a spade, she would call it a bloody shovel and that endeared itself to the depths of Nikki's nature as she prized that direct, 'look you straight in the eyes' honesty above all else.
She was perched on the corner of an old polished mahogany writing table with a waste bin next to her with screwed up pages of words which she felt had drifted too much into the realm of her life with Helen and not enough to reach out to Yvonne's present and her own fading past. The room was dim apart from a table lamp, casting a circle of light on the desk where she worked.
Presently, she felt a light hand on her shoulder and Helen looking quizzically at the contents of the letter Nikki was writing. A mug of coffee was placed carefully on a corner of the writing table near an ashtray starting to overflow with cigarette ends.
"You never give up working, Nikki, except when you are asleep." came Helen's light joking tones. And before Nikki could flare up at her, Helen said that she understood perfectly well why Nikki was writing, that she admired her for writing and taking herself back to a world that she had every reason that she would sooner forget.
"That's just it, Helen. We've got a comfortable, free lifestyle and only a few months after I got out, all the memories started to flood back, the petty restrictions, that I couldn't go and see a film if I wanted, go out for a drink- with you obviously- " Nikki added just in time."It's guilt, stupid though it sounds- and I'd like to write as if we were chatting away in a cell like we used to except my world has moved on and hers is still the same."
"Isn't Yvonne due for release soon, now?" Helen's photographic memory was scouring the outermost reaches of her mind."Unless that bastard Fenner has planted something on her to knock her release date back, she should be out very soon."
Nikki's face brightened and she returned to her letter with renewed energy and the words flowed off her pen in her characteristically neat well formed script.
" I know well enough that it is a while since Helen and I left Larkhall and I know bloody well enough that if I came up with a load of well meaning crap, you would be the first to tell me but believe me when I say that both of us have moments when you are in our thoughts. Helen won't forget how foolishly she gave the OK to the Larkhall Tabernacle Choir which was as sharp a bit of rule bending that she can remember and still makes her smile. I can remember that as I was busy elsewhere with the 2 Julies and I missed all the fun of seeing Bodybag's face.
I don't know for sure when you are due to get out but Helen tells me it is pretty soon now and her memory is like NASA computer centre so it must be right.
I remember, above all, you when I last left Larkhall and telling me not to come back as I would have you to reckon with. I won't forget that as I know what you were thinking of. If I have got it right, we'd look forward to seeing you on the outside. All the old gang I still have fond memories of and won't forget. There are some at Larkhall through choice who I also won't forget but not in the same way!!
A big grin spread over Yvonne's face when she read the letter. It was typical Nikki, which she had cunningly pitched just short of getting the letter censored. Even if Bodybag had opened the letter, she would have been so stupid that she would never have worked out Nikki's parting shot. Yes, it also spoke of a much more relaxed Helen who used to come over as a bit of a prig sometimes though she made up for it in doing her best to nail that bastard Fenner. It was a chink of light from the outside world but it cast rays of hope for the future, not some cruel mockery that the light would be switched off letting her know what she was missing. The 2 Julies had filled Yvonne in on the number of times Nikki had been banged up in segregation and that she was known as the most difficult prisoner in Larkhall.
"I see you had a letter from that Nikki Wade, the biggest troublemaker we've ever had here .." Bodybag's voice broke in Yvonne's fond reminiscences.
"You don't mean, Sylvia," Yvonne came back at her with a mocking grin, "that I'm only the second biggest troublemaker. I'll have to do something about that one, won't I Denny, " turning to Denny's equally grinning face whose reply was 'yeah, you show them, man'
"Now then, now then I'm not having the smooth running of this wing disrupted by you. In any case," Bodybag said hastily, changing the topic of conversation that was quick by her standards, "The letter looks as if Stewart and Wade are very cosy together. Didn't take long for Prisoner's Friend Stewart to move in with Wade." Bodybag said with all the bile in her judgmental nature that came naturally to her.
"You mean, like you and Bobby at your anniversary party. I was serving drinks and I saw you and Bobby arguing and I thought to myself, I've never seen a more devoted couple in all my life." Yvonne smirked. Jesus she walks into them every time.
"We remember, Yvonne," Julie Johnson jumped in. "I remember her Bobby walking out just because she was offering herself to Dominic."
"Poor sod" they muttered in unison referring to Dominic.
"That's enough, get back to your work everyone or you'll all be on report." yelled Bodybag trying to make up with assertiveness what she lacked in inches but the blush on her face reminded her of past events she would sooner forget. "Where's Jim when he is needed." she muttered .
As if on cue, the angry face of Fenner yelled "Quiet everybody, quiet, that's enough." In the tone that Bodybag wished she could summon up. They all shut up, partly because of Fenner and partly as they had had their fun and group instinct told them when to stop when the going was good.
Yvonne thought that this was a typical lighthearted day in Larkhall that fed into the stream of events that carried her along. Up till recently, she never thought any different but a little voice in her head told her life would change. One half of her longed for the freedom to come, the other half was afraid of it. She crushed the thought as it struggled to the service on the drilled in instinct not to plan for the future till she was sure of the power to plan it with.
Helen looked sideways at Nikki with a little concern. There was a grin all over her face while she was writing the letter and Helen had smiled at the events which Nikki had referred to. They were the sort of inconsequential moments that any reunion would spark off over glasses of wine in a pub room. But this was different, as much as for her as well as Nikki. They had spent the first few weeks talking over the ups and downs in their relationship as a healing process that both had to go through and that was like skating over thin ice for both of them. But this was the first time that either of them had talked about anything outside that segment of their life at Larkhall. There was so much to do for the present that the past was left behind, sealed over in a casket and buried. But these things have a habit of coming back to life judging by the frown on Nikki's face and that look of isolation. She was unusually quiet that night and that is not the Nikki that she had come to know and care for.
Yvonne went to her cell to write a letter. There was a private side of her that let the defences slip, that allowed her to cry when that tart Renee Williams had told her she had been shagging Charlie, where the hard defensive cool shell cracked wide open. This was the.other side of her that she got to hide when she was around Charlie's gang that used to come around and get pissed on her booze. Charlie would never allow some soft cow of a wife hanging around drooping on his shoulders when he was trying to be hard in front of his mates, that was the great unwritten rule of the East End. As much as she had also been brought up that way by her own parents to be tough and hard, she knew enough of life to realise the limits of this upbringing. The tenderness she could let herself feel came first from being a mother, from watching over and protecting Lauren, yes even Ritchie as well when he let her, as they were growing up. It was funny the way she got to being Mum to all the young kids at Larkhall that needed a bit of mothering though Denny was her favourite. This was to keep her thinking of Lauren who was stuck on the outside. Only now, in a private minute at a stolen segment of the day she wanted to convey her thoughts back to the home that was left to her, to Lauren.
Yvonne reflected to herself that it was funny to look back on things that the first thing she thought when the first shock of imprisonment hit her was that thank God that Charlie would take care of all the business. He would see things right and manage everything, as he boasted in his normal fashion. She had confidence in him or so she thought. Charlie would fix everything, sort the money out . How times changed when she realised how she'd been had for a mug and how the hit man she hired went pear shaped on her. At least Lauren was grown up and could stand on her own two feet and be more reliable than Charlie ever was.
Yvonne chewed on her biro. What could she say about the normal chit chat of Larkhall life when she was beginning to compare it with the great wide world outside where Lauren lived.
Suddenly a loathed shape appeared in the doorway.
"Oh hi," Snowball's insincere voice grated on Yvonne's nerves. "Have you heard about that Fenner guy? He's such a creep. He tried to come on to me when I was in the chapel this morning. Isn't there a sacred place where he will let God in as the good guy into his heart instead of trying to touch me up?"
"You'd better report it to bleeding St Paul and see if he can get the hotline to God to strike the bastard dead,"Yvonne answered in scathing tones. She looked the woman up and down to see if there is some honest bone in her body. She was more worried, if anything, if the bitch was coming on friendly. Miss Tracy Pilkington's suntan and American accent were as fake as her religion. She just gave her the creeps and didn't want her to be around. She was remembering the old times when Nikki and Babs were still there and with the 2 Julies were the brains and brawn between them; they kept G wing from fighting each other and things straight. This bitch was after her own schemes and she didn't give a shit about anyone else. "If you excuse me, I'm writing a letter home, Merriman. One's company, two's a crowd if you get what I mean. Go complain to Betts about your boyfriend, she'll appreciate it."
And Snowball took herself off leaving Yvonne to her thoughts. She rejected the first two letters as either too flip or just rambling about nothing when she finally got it right.
"It feels funny writing to you, Lauren, with my day of release coming that bit nearer. I'm sure some of the screws feel either that they can't wait to see the back of me or jealous that I'm free while they're still working in this dump. It feels strange that I won't wake up and meet Denny and the Julies at breakfasttime or have a natter in one of our cells. This sounds as if I'm going soft in the head wanting to stay on after I get released but that's not true. It's just that I won't finally believe that I'm out till I get out of the gates and look back and realise that they can't drag me back into the cells. It gives me a funny feeling right now.
I hope you are getting on OK with the business and the lads are doing what you are telling them. I'm sure you scare the shit out of them if any of them mess up. After all you are my daughter.
.Well, Lauren, that about finishes things up. The human zoo doesn't change. It's funny now to think that I'll be away out of here and the Fenners and Bodybags will try it on with the next batch of prisoners. Only I'll be out of here.
It was late afternoon and, after sealing up the letter for later on, Yvonne's eyelids drooped down as she lay on her bunk and she made herself comfortable. The pen slipped from her trailing fingers and landed lightly on the cell floor where it lay.
Nikki can't believe where she is and the nightmare world she has been plunged into. Where is the cosy flat that she shared with Trisha, her favourite CD's carefully treasured, next to the player and under the overflowing bookcase with books jammed in that she could not part with? Where are the space and comfort of the flat they shared and most of all Trisha? She feels that half of her is dragged away from her leaving this incomplete person to try and make sense of her new surroundings. And what are they, a narrow double cell that makes her feel physically confined enough if it were not the brutally shaped heavy green door which clanged to and shut her in according to someone else's rules, not hers. Once the surly faced jailer heaved the door shut for the night and turned the lock, she is confined to the cell. She looks around and she sees that the little garret window is situated to the top of the cell and, stretching up, she can look out of the small confined field of vision into the front yard with the solid wooden gates in the distance further hemming her in. She turns back to take in the narrow hard bunk bed, the postage stamp of a noticeboard to pin any personal pictures on and the tiny locker to keep her belongings in and the narrow wardrobe where by a real creative effort of the imagination, what clothes she could take with her are hung up on the cheap twisted metal coathangers which are fastened to the rail.
These are trivial matters when she comes to take in her cellmate, Carol Dunn.
"Got any gear," she asks sullenly, her bleached blond long tangled hair flopped over her thin drawn face.
Nikki is dazed with shock and incomprehension when she says politely that she didn't know what she meant.
"You're no pissing use, then," Carol snarls at her waving a small polythene packet of brown powder."Just watch out for the screws while I get this inside of me." Nikki can see that Carol is so impersonal that all she cares about are the drugs and Nikki doesn't exist to her as another human being. None of this, excuse me while I inject myself with heroin. Nikki is horrified as Carol heats the mixture in water with a spoon and fills the syringe. Nikki cannot believe this as all her past life spent in running the club with Trisha and the odds and sods of jobs since she was kicked out of boarding school, has not prepared her for sharing a prison cell in such close proximity with a junkie. For the first time in her life, Nikki does not know where to put herself and this is not like Nikki.
"Wanna watch, so you can see how it's done, " Carol sneered looking her in the face, half sneer, half invitation.
"No thanks, Carol. I'd sooner stick to something natural and herbal," Nikki replies with a shaky laugh. "I don't wan't to get in your way."
"Good then" and Nikki was dismissed from Carol's mind as she ties off her arm and inserts the needle into the ugly mark on her wrist which is her passport to oblivion. She presses down on the plunger and holds it like that.
"Excuse me, I think I'm going to be sick" and as her stomach heaves, Nikki makes a run for the toilet which she gets to just in time. This is the most miserable moment of her life as she props herself above the toilet with water dripping off her nose and a feeling of total wretchedness. She does her best to spit the sick out of her mouth and reaches for a mug of water to clear the horrible taste out of her mouth.
Nikki turns around to see Carol leaning with her back to the cell wall, head lolling sideways, her eyes closed and the syringe lying on the floor and the tye curled next to it like an evil black viper. At this point, Nikki screams
And in the middle of the night, Helen called out to the sweating, rigid shape next to her who had woken her up when she started threshing around in her nightmare.
"It's all right, Nikki, sweetheart, it's all right, you're safe." And Helen held Nikki to comfort her and wake up from the nightmare Nikki had been living through. Jesus, she had never seen Nikki like this. Nikki was rigid and shaking from a dream that was utterly real, her first few days at Larkhall that she thought she had forgotten as the tough street wise Nikki had taken her place with the razor sharp wit that had seen off the likes of Shell Dockley and Fenner likewise.
"My favourite CDs and books, they're all safe." Nikki gasped with relief as what was precious all her life was still there and helped to heal the scars. She had always been particular about them and were assembled in a pattern that was particular and special.
"Where else should they be?" Helen asked with a puzzled frown of incomprehension on her face."You guard them like they are totally precious. What's the matter, Nikki, you'd better explain." And Helen looked straight into Nikki's eyes with those big eyes that expressed all the sympathy in the world,
"It was before you came to Larkhall, Hel," Nikki sighed and the way she put it, made an observer who didn't know otherwise that they had been the same side of the prison bars. Nikki smiled weakly at that."When I first came to Larkhall, I wasn't the 'prisoner from hell' that you first knew. I was totally new to all this. I was shut up in this cell with this addict who was jacking up every night in the cell each evening. It was horrible. I never knew that there were things like that that went on. And I thought I was pretty tough. " Nikki put her hands to her head as the full force of the memory came back to her and she could see it all in front of her but this was not a dream.
"What happened to her." Helen asked softly.
"And you the Wing Governor with all your files?" Nikki smiled more convincingly, her body starting to relax, "Fenner had been screwing her and after the first week, she started mouthing off about it. Fenner went to the Wing Governor before you , John bloody Roberts. He had Carol Dunn shipped out so quick so fast that her feet didn't touch the floor. I can still hear the screams as she was dragged into the cattle truck. You understand, Helen," Nikki's brown eyes looked up to Helen wet with tears and pleading for understanding. "I couldn't take another night of her with that bloody needle, I was glad she was shipped out but a part of myself hated it, and myself for what Fenner had done to her. That's why I stood up for all the other prisoners. You do understand, don't you?"
Helen's arms round her and the gentle touch of her fingers was proof enough to Nikki. And the close ties of feelings and intuitions around them and they gradually drifted off to sleep. Helen drifted off to sleep last of all when she could hear the faint sound of Nikki's gentle breathing. Something told her that this was going to run and run but there was only so much you can do in one night with work for them both in the morning.
"Pining for your boyfriend, Mr Fenner" Yvonne mockingly called out to the dark glowering shape that caused ripples of tension that were left by in his wake as he stomped around the wing. "Aaaaah. We understand how you feel, separated from your nearest and dearest."
Fenner whirled round and glared at the woman who he loathed as much as anyone. She saw right through him and that was the unforgivable offence.
"Shut it, Atkins. You and Charlie will remain separated- seeing as he is six feet under and feeding the worms. About all he's good for."
"Ah well, Charlie is history now, mainly bad history. I'm sure that on the outside I can pull any man that takes my fancy." Yvonne replied, still with that irritating smirk. "Pity we won't be able to have these friendly chats for much longer".
Fenner stormed off on his way home in silence. He was knackered and he had done his shift now.
Yvonne felt that she would always remember these sparring matches with Fenner. This was part of the everyday routine as much as it was that of going to the shop for her weekly spends and to be told how much she had 'earned' in her weekly regime depending on how the prison programme dictated it. And she felt she had to watch the bastards in case they cheated her out of what she was due for even if it was as much as a bar of soap. A packet of cigarettes was something that was bargained for with her mind for reckoning up prison balances week to week. She prided herself that she made sure that she got everything she was due for.
And what's the first thing you'll do, Yvonne, when you're out of this bloody rubbish dump?" Julie Saunders asked her when they were all in the four bed dorm that night before lights out.
"Well .."Yvonne said thoughtfully. "I'll get hold of the best bottle of booze that there is around, or go out on the town to go on the pull, something like that tasty solicitor that came to visit me once and " and Yvonne's voice tailed off when she realised that the 2 Julies would be at Larkhall for another 4 to 5 years at the least with full remission after they had acted towards Rhiannon's pimp lover in a way Yvonne would have done except that the little rat would have been terminally dead, like being part of the foundations for London's newest skyscraper if Yvonne were in the Julie's shoes.At that moment, Yvonne was totally guilt stricken to see the sadness in Julie Johnson's ideas to realise that there were no early reunions , that might have been, for her with David and David's father. Yvonne was looking sightlessly into empty space till the memory of another eve of release came back to her mind. Was it only the other day that she heard Nikki's voice asking Monica to 'take a good look around' at Denny, at the 2 Julies , and finally herself and that .'everyone who gets out, gets out for all of us.' Yes Nikki had said that and she meant it with all the intensity and passion in her personality that she could summon up. She said that even though she was banged up for life, not just a few years. 'Take a good look around ..take a good look around', the words echoed round in her head.
Julie Saunders saw Yvonne and was dead worried for her. She had been the life and soul of the party as she always was and now had a strange expression in her eyes. Everything went dead quiet and no one knew where to put theirselves for a second. For God's sake, it was supposed to be a party. Surely Yvonne can see that she means all the world to us all. Yvonne won't forget them. She'll come and visit, it's just that the screws won't be able to tell her what to do, even less than now.
"Are you all right, Yvonne." Julie asked, flapping a tissue in Yvonne's face that brushed her face," You're making us dead worried about you."
Yvonne's thoughts came down to landing just in time and a slow smile spread across her face.
"Never felt better, girls. It's fun seeing Bodybag and Fenner right now, Don't they just hate it."
"Where did I put my car keys, Helen? Why does everything I put down to keep safe always get moved." Nikki called out to Helen in the next room with an unaccustomed tetchiness in her voice. They had both overslept and were running round in a last flurry to get to work on time.
"Where it always is, Nikki." Helen's very carrying voice called back with a touch of anger in her voice. Surely to God couldn't Nikki see that they could do without all this last minute hassle.
"It is not on the hook, like I always keep it." Nikki's sharper tones responded.
Helen said nothing but stalked into the living room and pointed with a triumphant finger at the bunch of keys in their accustomed place. Nikki had put them there the night before, all ready for her, on automatic pilot, to spot them out of the corner of her eye, whip them into her coat pocket as she had done every day. These kind of day to day actions were done without Nikki even thinking about them, they belonged to the click, click, click of daily life that functioned like an automaton quite aside from the more deliberate choices that needed more thought in her life. She had, so she had thought, adjusted quickly back to her pre prison ways of functioning in the outside world much more easily than she had thought. Perhaps this was because her release from prison was such a close run thing that, not until Di Barker had told her "You're free, Nikki" in her ear did she dare let herself believe that what she most passionately wanted all those months had at last come true.
"I can't believe it, Helen." Nikki said, slowly shaking her head. "I'm really sorry. I swear to God that I never saw the keys till now. They must have been there all along." She could not in all conscience say otherwise than that she had genuinely not seen what was right in front of her eyes. This was not the sort of mistake she normally made and the fact that her habitual way of working had slipped unsettled her.
Helen bit back her tongue from any 'I told you so' snappy retort. She saw at one that difficult as it was to believe, Nikki gad made a genuine oversight. Playing games with people or picking arguments for arguments sake was definitely not Nikki at all.
Neither of them dwelt on the matter at that moment. It was time to be quickly out the door and Nikki let Helen shut the door to. In that moment of aftershock, she would sooner trust Helen to do that at this moment than trust herself.
Karen Betts was working late at night in her office. It wasn't one of her best days starting off with Sylvia collaring her the moment she popped her way out of the office.
"Excuse me, ma'am." came Sylvia Hollamby's best ingratiating smile."But I was wondering if you've heard any more news when that Snowball Merriman is going to be shipped out to America. These shoulders are broad but I've been having to put up with complaint after complaint by the prison officers that she's stuck here because of official red tape in holding things up. Not that I blame them, you know." sniffed Bodybag. "It only takes a signature on some document and a one way airline ticket and there's one unnecessary problem off our backs."
Karen's smile was not inviting but concealed her continual distaste at the lowlife conniving that Sylvia was capable when it suited her. Karen loathed the guts as much as anyone of that callous woman whose original crime shrank into insignificance in comparison with the enormity of what she had done at Larkhall in so short a period of time. To make a bid to escape is something that morally she couldn't object to, not even Yvonne Atkins rope ladder trick over the walls of Larkhall and the punchup with her afterwards. What she could not forgive was Snowball's utter lack of remorse at the consequences of the explosion that burnt a fellow prisoner to death and came very close to killing several others by smoke inhalation and burns. She remembered Jim Fenner's incredulous expression when he recounted to her that Snowball 'didn't give a shit'- and that from Jim Fenner, the most unprincipled man she had met by a long chalk. Yet at the end of the day, justice must be done and not some vigilante 'quick fix' like Sylvia's consignment of Shell to the muppet wing. Once you abandon these principles, you become no better than the prisoners that you lock up.
"You know as well as I do that the matter is in the hands of the legal authorities of both countries and there is sod all that I can do. Who knows, some jobsworth in America is turning up his nose wondering why an English citizen is being foisted on them when they have enough problems with their home grown gun toting crazies?" Karen snapped back wondering why this sudden inclination to talk like someone in a second rate American cop film kept breaking to the surface every so often.
"I'm sure you may be right," Bodybag fawned on her."The standard of public service in America is not what you and I are brought up to. They may think they are good at winning wars but not when it comes to the daily routines. Too many of those gangster films and cowboy films, mark my words."
Karen sighed, her patience at breaking point and conscious that her raised eyebrow felt permanently stuck. How unsubtle in her sarcasm does she have to get for this brain dead woman to get her drift?
"I'll let you know of any developments, Sylvia. Please reassure everyone that I am doing the utmost to speed things up through the proper channels. I know as well as you do what a bad influence Snowball is having on the wing. Now if you excuse me, I've got budgets to work through."
It was several hours later when she had plodded through a set of figures that made halfway sense that she put it aside. This was a part of her job that gave her the greatest headaches. Why was it that she was here in the first place, anyway? It wasn't as if when she was a little girl, she played with handcuffs. No, a flash of memory took her back to playing nurses and she was the one to improvise a bandage from her father's large handkerchiefs in a side drawer that she used to sneak up and borrow. She sort of stumbled into this job and now here settled down it for the comfort blanket of the familiar and for job security.
She sighed and picked up a bulky file marked "Yvonne Atkins". She had a lot of files to look through to check the work of the personal officers. Before her eyes were her past notes, including in angry red script 42 days loss of remission when Yvonne Atkins had a row with that posh woman. She couldn't remember her name but a mental image of her looking across the same desk she is sitting at now with a mixture of scorn, condescension and determination when she applied for a retest of her urine sample .Further on, are her more evenly written notes, calmly and apologetically thoughtout which gave Yvonne Atkins her remission back Without it, she wouldn't be out in a couple of days.
A further thought crossed her mind remembering when Helen Stewart used to talk to her on her pet theory that you need the cooperation of the prisoners to properly run the prison. If it were the case, then what influence for good or bad is Yvonne Atkins? Certainly, she can see from Helen Stewart's early notes how angry she was at the time that Yvonne Atkins had cleverly taken advantage of the rule that " ..each prisoner has the right to possess one guitar for their recreational use .." Throughout the file are Sylvia Hollamby's indignant notes that "that Atkins woman is a continual disruptive influence to the good running of the wing," that "she has a bad influence on the younger women on the wing." Well, smiled Karen to herself, if she were on the other side of the prison bars, she wouldn't be greatly respectful herself being just the sort of teacher figure that she and her little gang at school used to play up. And neither is she respectful of the short cuts and sloppy standards that Sylvia has been guilty of time after time.
Ah well, in a few days time this bulky file will be consigned to the lower depths of the filing cabinet for dormant files, just another set of paperwork while Yvonne Atkins will be out in the big wide world while she is still in Larkhall behind prison bars. Only difference is that this is her living and this pays her bills.
Karen looked up after musing to herself for she didn't know how long. She was bathed in a circle of light from the anglepoise lamp on her desk while outside it were the forgotten darkness of her office where everything merged into anonymous shadows. There was utter silence.
Jesus, it was time to go home, Karen thought as she looked at her watch. Anyone would think she lived here.
Helen was quietly working away in her office on her PC trying to concentrate on her work in hand but thoughts kept floating through her mind. Life was good with Nikki around, filling up the hole that had been there, unnamed and unfelt, in her life. She remember the feeling of that emptiness coming to the surface with a vengeance from the moment when she was sat on the settee with her thoughts churning around and listening to Sean droning on about his parents and how 'they' were going to tell them to get stuffed when his parents were to announce big plans for them to have the traditional white wedding That was what life was about, surely, wasn't it, so Sean's parents thought and wasn't that romantic dream was what she wanted from when she first started to read teenage magazines? They were to have a simple registry office do instead or so Sean had in mind. All that seemed to be a lifetime ago and a different Helen Stewart.
And it was Nikki Wade who had set her free that way, Nikki the strong certain one who, from the moment that she had been set free, worked so hard to prove her to herself, perhaps too hard. All that natural drive, bottled up for so long by the restrictions of a prison regime, had been unchained by the freedoms of life outside with a blast of energy. Helen had accepted it all, that the Nikki Wade unchained would be different from the prisoner and Helen always tended to push herself too hard in the belief that some day her ungiving father would let the words free from his unyielding rigid jaws to say, yes Helen, you had done well. Helen had walked that mental tightrope when she was a young inexperienced Wing Governor and struggled every inch of the way till she couldn't take any more and fell off the wire. Thoughts flitted through her mind of that holiday she took and images of lying stretched out on a foreign beach looking at the sands through her dark glasses hearing the reassuring sounds of children playing and taking herself back to childhood. She saw as if behind a dark screen removed from reality a typical English tourist, newly red faced, seeing a suntanned attractive woman and fancying his chances for some holiday romance. He never knew that a certain dark haired woman was buried at the bottom of Helen's dreams which she denied to herself with the help of the surface dreaminess of sunshine on the beach. So she smiled and went through the ritual moves till, still smiling sweetly, she declined the offer to go elsewhere than go back to her hotel. There, in the dead of night, she avoided confronting her invisible questioner asking her how could she face the end of the holiday, to climb back into the snake pit and to face the one human being who would help her but who frightened and attracted her at the same time. But this ghost was laid to rest, wasn't it now?
She must have a proper talk to Nikki tonight, she can recognise the signs for all to see from all she could sense of her own past and her own battles that the past of Larkhall has come back to haunt her. And all from a humorous letter to Yvonne Atkins, born of guilt and a desire to be of use to an old mate still on the inside. The ironical thought is that Nikki's letter was intended to be a greeting till they shortly met on the outside and Nikki had not wholly left the dump. She needs to talk to Nikki and be there for her tonight. And with that thought she attacked the latest pile of papers in front of her with her own manic energy.
Where Nikki worked in another office, she heard the latest empty chat about the serial killer in Corrie and they wondered who it turned out to be. Normally, all that went over her head as she worked away but just today, it really got to her. Do these empty headed women whose noses are stuck in the latest "Celebrity" magazines have half an idea what life can be really like? Killers, she knew them well, she was / is one, little did they know and one of her best friends had taken a contract to kill someone which was the same thing. It was like an irritating TV programme she couldn't turn off and, Jesus, they were sounding like one of those moronic programmes she had to suffer through in Larkhall with the one shared set they had.
"For Christ's sake, can you all shut up about Corrie. It isn't the be all and live all of everything." She suddenly snapped when it all got too much for her.
Four or five blank mystified faces stared in utter amazement at this thought that they couldn't get their heads around.
"Do you mind, Nikki. We were trying to have a private conversation if you don't mind.," said a woman with long fair wavy hair.
Nikki fought down her anger. That woman Tina sounded like a pale, non psychotic replica of Shell but she ought to be fair, she'd never tortured anyone in her life, at least not deliberately.
"I'm sorry, Tina. I don't want to get in your way and OK, it's a free country. Only I've got a pile of work to get clear and I appreciate it if you could just talk a little softer, that's all."
Nikki smiled a winning smile, exercising all the self control she was capable of.
Tina thought for a moment .She didn't want to upset Nikki not out of any real concern for her. It was just that while Nikki was a bit different and strange and sort of removed and definitely not like us girls, she had a knack of looking right through her that instinctively told Tina not to cross her. She even dressed a bit differently from the rest of them, she was smart enough but didn't make an attempt to go for the blond suntanned look that the rest of them adopted from the magazine pages. Funny that she never talked about boyfriends the way the rest of them did, not that that was any great problem. What she did with her own life wasn't her bloody problem. Tina kept a puzzled uncomprehending expression on her face till her recall of the choicest moments came back to her mind. It was the best moment as TV Quick said it was So she turned to her best friend Sharon and got back into motormouth gear but just a little softer.
Nikki couldn't give a damn why they were quieter, just that she felt a little calmer after dealing with the situation. And because she was that bit less stressed, she was able to blank the conversation from her mind and attack the work before her with a bit more positive feeling. She was safe at work which anaesthetised her thoughts. It was when she was out of this comforting framework that her pulse started racing and her thoughts went anywhere.
"You've got a visitor, Atkins" Fenner snarled at her. "Another member of your criminal family come to see you for one last time."
"Yeah, Mr Fenner." Yvonne's hard eyes bored straight through Fenner as they verbally locked horns for what might be the last time." Lauren's come to present you with a bleeding bouquet of roses for looking after me so well in the time I've been in this dump."
Fenner slunk off down the corridor and bellowed orders to the Julies to report to Mrs Hollamby for a job she'd got lined up for them straight away and no messing about.
"Get him, he's got out the wrong side out of bed this morning. " Julie Saunders said pulling a face.
"Depends on which bed he's climbed out of, his wife's or some stupid tart's ..."
The 2 Julies grinned with Yvonne at this . Then in a more reflective mood, Yvonne let the thought cross her mind that, in three days time, she's out of here. No, don't even think of that you soft cow, Yvonne scolded herself, just think of the screws, Fenner and Bodybag for starters who'd love to see the look on her face if the way out of prison was slammed shut in her face at the last moment.
Yvonne moved off down the narrow corridor and for another time, slipped the red bib over her head, the token of the short period of limited freedom that the prison service allowed. Time after time, she'd accepted this routine without question but now it flashed across her mind that soon, she could see Lauren when she wanted to. There would come the time when the clock would be disconnected forever that ticked away the time left before Bodybag's bellowing call for prisoners to leave. She threaded her way into the shabby impersonal room and waited for the call for the visitors to come flooding in.
"You remain in your places until you are called and no kissing and cuddling and passing of unauthorised objects between you." Bodybag's hated parade ground voice disturbed the sights and sounds of visitors picking out their loved one amidst the throng and their faces lighting up with joy.
Lauren came in her best smart leather jacket and her dark glossy hair done up in a bun. See how she carries herself with confidence and assurance, Lauren thought proudly to herself. All these past few years she's come, reliable as clockwork and has kept me going through thick and thin, through all the ups and downs in my life. It wasn't easy on her the first few times. I can remember how nervous she was but she didn't seem much more than a child then. There's Mum in her best outfit as usual, Lauren thought. There's a real smile on her face and not the fake prop she used at times to try and hide from me how shit her life was going at times. For the same reason, she's always worn her smartest clothes that somehow had stood up to the rigours of the Larkhall Prison laundry. At last, she's accepted that I am not a kid to be patted on the head and to be reassured when there was no reason for reassurance. It was force of circumstances that put her out of action of being in charge of the family business and for me to take her place.
"Hey, Mum," whispered Lauren. "We've got Betts honouring us with a visit. It is, of course, because this is the last time I'll need to come here."
Yvonne, with her back to the entrance to the visiting room, hadn't noticed Karen Betts enter the room. After pounding her way through budgets, she thought she would clear her head a bit and keep an eye on Sylvia as much as the prisoners. Karen's raised eyebrows indicated to Sylvia to carry on with her usual routines while she sat in the raised seat to the side of where the visits were. Karen went to check on the paperwork that was completed by the duty officers, occasionally looking up to take in what was going on around her.
Trust Madam to come out and poke her nose in when it wasn't wanted, fumed Bodybag, or more exactly, when she didn't want it. She was at her happiest being the top person in charge lording it over the Basic Grade prison officers and prisoners alike except, of course, Jim who could always be counted on to back her up. Nothing pleased her better than to lay down the law as to exactly when the visitors could cease to mill around in a timid huddled mass to move over to where the cons were. She hated all this kissing and cuddling as, to her way of thinking, if the cons hadn't done wrong, they wouldn't be there in the first place. She had especial venom for the women who were all lovey dovey to the men who came to visit them and then moved back to married quarters with the woman that they were sharing cells with. She had caught Shaz and Denny out in unnatural behaviour and told Madam that lesbian behaviour was in the rulebook of forbidden activity and all Madam said was "Do you want your job to become more difficult." And that a few rules should be bent. As far as Bodybag, rules are rules and were meant to be obeyed. Otherwise they wouldn't have been there in the first place.
"Jesus, is Miss Betts smiling at me?" Yvonne asked Lauren incredulously as she saw a particularly sunny smile directed in her direction unless some happy train of thought from inside Karen Betts's mind spilled over in an unfocussed way in their general direction.
"She's probably thinking she'll be getting shot of you, Mum." Lauren laughed. "I mean is there anyone else that could come up with anything like the Larkhall Tabernacle Choir."
"But Betts didn't come till later on, unless my memory has got a screw loose and hers also." Yvonne replied in a puzzled tone.
"She wasn't there but that's not to say she hasn't heard of it." grinned Lauren. "You don't suppose there isn't a little Black Book that's handed down from governor to governor and there's special chapter written specially about you."
Lauren nattered away at top speed conscious of the need to relay all the details of life on the outside and to ask how mum had got on. She could see out of the corner of her eye, Bodybag checking her watch wishing the time away and for prison to return to normal, that is without visitors getting in the way. Bodybag was looking at the Rastafarian couple who were sitting deliberately in the corner acting in a suspicious fashion. They, especially, couldn't be trusted, as drugs were part of their culture.
"All right, times up," Bodybag called out in a less hectoring fashion with one eye on Madam.
Lauren deliberately dawdled as she left the visiting room as her long suppressed contempt for the sad jobsworth in charge leaked out and this was the last chance for her to express her contempt for her.
"Make sure the party invitations are sent out, eh Lauren, No unwelcome gatecrashers please." Yvonne said, pitching her voice up for Bodybag's benefit.
"Don't worry. Mum. And by the way you're coming." Lauren's voice carried through the air as she trailed behind the others.
"All right, all right, visiting time's over now. Some of us have got homes to go to." snapped Bodybag, glaring at this young troublemaker who she'd love to have locked up and to throw away the key.
"Yes, you're right, Miss, I have. I suppose you kip down here, you love this place so much." Lauren insolently replied to Bodybag's fury and Yvonne's delight as Bodybag slammed the door on Lauren with a resounding thud giving her just enough time to jump out of the way.
Karen sighed as she closed her books. And today was Sylvia's performance of 'best behaviour' for her benefit. God knows how she gets on when I'm not here.
Nikki strolled out into the car park on a bright sunny day. On the face of it, things were fine, the end of a day's work which worked out pretty well considering the nightmare of last night that she had relived. She was off home for the best part of the day and that was her life with Helen. Automatically, she felt inside her handbag for her keys with all the sorts of things that cluttered it up and normally she could find them. Only this time, she feverishly fumbled her way through the sharp flat metallic object attached to a black lump of plastic that should turn up but hadn't. A sudden rush of panic flared up as she scrabbled her way, finding everything from lipstick holders, purse, credit card holders, all sorts of miscellaneous objects. This cannot be, she thought. I cannot leave my car in the office car park and bus it home supposing that busses run in the direction I live in. Suddenly in a moment of impulse one step ahead of fear, she turned her bag upside down and shook out the contents onto the bonnet of her car. She fumbled around in the pile of assorted objects and, right at the bottom of the pile, there it was. Nikki felt weak with relief and barely able to stand up. She shoved all her possessions into the bag, opened the car door and sank back into the sanctuary that for one nightmare moment she was afraid would have been denied her. The car door was left open wide but she did not care. All she wanted was fresh air and the chance to collect her wits.
Nikki felt tired and drained as she lay back in the driver's seat but she had to get herself home. She went to move off as normal but the car shot forward suddenly as the clutch was let out too quickly and Nikki had to swerve abruptly as the car rocketed forward in the direction of the gatepost. Still travelling fast, she swung it sharp left onto the road. An angry unseen blast of a car horn flash framed forward to the brief sight of the car in her rear view mirror, inches away from her. Nikki swore as much as anger with herself, fear of what nearly happened and a blast of rage at another of those bloody hyper maniac road rage drivers on the road. Nikki could see his mouth moving soundlessly as the flash modern car pulled up level and zoomed off into the distance.
"Bloody stupid bastard, think you own the road." Nikki yelled into the wash of air and car exhaust left behind him. She knew that shouting was ineffective but she had to let loose some of her feelings.
When she came to the next junction where a major road crossed her path, Nikki's emotions wildly fluctuated the other way to extreme caution and fear. She wasn't going to take the smallest risk with the cars crossing at right angles in front of her in case the petrol driven projectile with a human being strapped to it kept on coming and she had misjudged the speed. Another car horn tooted behind her and she panicked and shot across the junction with inches to spare between her and the car coming at right angles.
After that, everything on her route home, normally as familiar and routine as anything in her life become one jagged nightmare, a world which she felt horribly out of control of.
Eventually, she turned the corner to her street and pulled up with a sigh of relief behind Helen's car already there.
Nikki grabbed her bag, locked her car and ran into the house to meet Helen with a very real look of concern in her eyes and rushed forward to give her a hug.
"Nikki, what's happened to you? You look as if you've been through a wringer."
Nikki didn't say anything for a long while. Being held by Helen was the only solid, safe and reassuring thing she felt she had in her world right then. When she looked back, much later at that moment she could say to herself, quite rationally, that of course that was not the case. She was in charge of her destiny a million times more than when she was penned up in Larkhall, she had an OK job that at least provided far more material comforts than she ever had before when one cigarette was something to be prized for that day and a few books borrowed from Larkhall prison library meant riches in comparison with what she could buy without thinking. Above all, she had the love of a woman as part of ordinary life that she had once spent too many lonely nights dreaming of. There was everything going for her so why did she get swept up in this emotional freakout that had come in from nowhere that she could not break away from? So she stood there and clung on to the one thing she did feel that she had in her life till she could trust herself to be able to speak. As she stood there, her mind briefly travelled back to the time she was in Larkhall and she asked herself, who then did she turn to in times of trouble? Mostly it was to good friends like Yvonne and Babs who were helpful to a point but it was no substitute for the woman who was there with her and for her, every inch of the way. At that point the tension in her body began to relax and she let everything all out and to cry on Helen's shoulder.
"You stupid cow" Yvonne was overheard by Snowball to say. She was surprised that there wasn't anyone around obvious that was the target of Yvonne's wrath. Snowball was keeping a low profile and playing for time to stay in Larkhall for as long as was possible. Even Larkhall for all its Victorian grimness was infinitely preferable to the parched earth American prisons where fat redneck thuggish guards blatantly preyed on young and vulnerable women and made Jim Fenner look like a chivalrous gentleman in comparison. This was not forgetting the electric chair either
Yvonne was, in reality, cursing herself in letting the days go by in not writing back to Nikki while she had the chance to. There was something in prison life which made it seem 'normal' to lie out on a prison bunk on a sunny afternoon out of boredom because of lack of anything else to do and not to get on with what needed doing. Prison life was a dreadful insidious sliding slope of thinking to accept the routines dictated to by the prison regime and, outside that, to let time go to waste. Yvonne became more sharply aware that everyday life at Larkhall for a lot of prisoners was of a mind numbing boredom. This gradually changed them to the frame of mind of a valium addict wondering fuzzily should she do the simplest task now or later on and expending so much mental energy in figuring that out. This was part of the reason why so many women turned to drugs with the result that they slid down that slope that bit quicker and further. It was always at the back of her mind that she was always thinking up all her schemes to keep her mind active and not just the obvious reasons to flout authority or for the practical benefits of the schemes or even to show everyone that Yvonne Atkins is in charge inside prison just as much as she was outside. Only in the brief period when she, together with Nikki and others, ran the wing and remembered with delight the natural, automatic, one, two, three things done and dusted in rapid succession and the centred feeling of being in control of her destiny. Afterwards, she soon pushed that taste of that normal life to the back of her mind- till recently. Part of the growing feeling that soon she would be out was a hidden fear of, could she hack it in the outside world?
Having wrenched her will back into working mode; she retired to her cell with a pen and paper. Having settled down, she thought awhile before putting pen to paper of what Nikki's world might be like.
In another part of the prison, Karen was likewise deep in thought. Her office room was functional, practical like herself with everything in neat order, at least in her office life. There were a couple of pictures on the wall of faraway landscapes to remind herself twice a year that there were other things in life than Larkhall Prison.
The focus of her thoughts was Yvonne Atkins. Her thoughts went back to the time of Sylvia's 'mass sick in' which Karen reflected that Sylvia had never been brought to book for such a clearly concocted scheme. An official strike, yes, something that would be a nightmare of a situation but, for the POA, legitimate. She saw Sylvia's scheming as morally compromised and a pathetic mass whinge. She remembered seeing Yvonne doing a stand up comedy routine at Jim Fenner's expense and working up the other prisoner to kick off. Yet come the next day and on her discreet tour of G Wing she saw everything was in order and could not help but agree with Helen Stewart who, smiling faced told her and Mr Stubberfield that "the women were doing a pretty good job of looking after themselves." If that is the case, what holds G Wing together? Certainly the prison officers make a difference but again memories came back of when Helen Stewart told her in the good old days before she fell out with Helen that prison officers need the cooperation of the prisoners. Karen shied away from this train of thought as she did not want to think too much of how much she had pissed Helen off in the way she had taken Jim Fenner's side. What an idiot she was.
If she looks round the prison, who amongst the prisoners has the power? Yvonne certainly and, at one time, Nikki Wade, also after Shell Dockley had been pushed aside as 'top dog. In a negative and disruptive side, the Peckham Boot Gang grabbed hold of power in G Wing but that is no more. If I try to think of after Yvonne is set free, G Wing prisoners have no real leader now, not really Denny though she is hard enough, she goes in the direction of whoever she is attached to. Snowball Merriman is twice the schemer that Shell Dockley ever was but she blew her chances when she set off that explosion. So you have a bunch of prisoners who could go in any direction. Not a happy prospect.
Karen was deep in thought and her office was quiet as the grave. Not much different from her house when she goes back to it which is equally quiet. Life these days is up in the morning, put on the personality and uniform that goes with Wing Governor and Miss Betts does a pretty good job, she has to hand it to her, of appearing cool, calm and in controlled in any situation that comes up. Miss Betts is pretty friendly and approachable but knows where to lay down the law when she needs to. Miss Betts is a survivor and pretty immune to the pressures of being a modern day Prison Officer. She doesn't let things affect her personally that way and can take the rough with the smooth, mostly rough these days, as Karen ironically noted. Only who is Karen these days, the woman who time after time cannot spot a smooth talking bastard for who he is even though Miss Betts does a pretty good job in sorting the sheep from the goats. What is Karen going to do with her life now that her son Ross is away at University?
Karen could not help but remember coming into the visitor's room where she felt immediate tension, not from the prisoners but from Sylvia as she was cramping Sylvia's style. She looked at Yvonne and her daughter, Lauren, deep in conversation and the real devotion and closeness to each other was obvious. She could put herself in Yvonne's shoes as she was another woman who was on her own as their supposed nearest and dearest had let her down. She was glad that Yvonne had a daughter to be there for her. No one should be alone like she is right now. She shivered at the thought and tried to push it away by grabbing at some more paperwork to go through. She made a mental note to wish Yvonne Atkins when she makes her final farewell. Knowing Yvonne, she won't leave with a whimper but with a bang. It is in her style, she thought.
In turn, Yvonne was writing with half an eye on the screws that might not let anything through that was too inflammatory. What could she write to an old mate who, but for the accident of both of them doing time, she might never have met? Bet Nikki will have sorted her life out on the outside. What would Nikki be thinking of her, Yvonne thought for a panic stricken moment? You soft cow, she thought to herself, she hasn't just mentally wiped the slate clean and walked away from Larkhall without a backwards glance or else she would never have bleeding written to her, nor checked with Helen Stewart when she was due for release. And she'd got the date right.
Your letter came at the right bloody time as it cheered me up no end. You got the date dead right and all as I'm out of here in a day or two. I'm the one who's left it a bit bleeding late to write back. Still, better late than never.
I remember all us girls looking at the TV screen and seeing the news of the appeal .We were over the moon and it was great hearing you giving it to Fenner in your speech on the steps of the Court of Appeal. You looked about done in when you came out of the court building but you said it all for us. Only person who didn't like it was Bodybag and she went off in a huff .
Yvonne stopped from the initial flow of words as her thoughts dried up. That was then, what does she say to Nikki now. Looks like Nikki is seeing a lot of Helen but I can't put any of that in the letter. Yvonne chewed on the top of her biro in thought till inspiration came.
I can't wait to get out of prison but it will seem strange without all the rest of the girls around some of whom I'll really miss. Can't even picture what the outside world will be like as it seems ages ago that the Old Bill came knocking on my door after my plans went pear shaped. That was when Charlie and I were together.
I have no idea really what you're doing with your life but I'd love to meet you for old times sake. It gives me a funny feeling that I can suggest going anywhere but within these four walls when I've been in so long and fixing up a bloody social life is the last thing I could see myself doing. That is going to change or else my name is not Yvonne Atkins.
Everyone else that you knew wish you all the best.
Yvonne's writing after being on such a roll of feelings as they splurged out in one stream of feelings suddenly came to a halt. She was always stuck as to how to round off the letter to her best mate. Face to face Yvonne Atkins would have no problems , least of all with Nikki. She eventually thought just write it as it feels best.
Looking forward to seeing you
She addressed it from the address Nikki had written on her last letter, and sealed up the letter, pressing hard down on the seal of the envelope to make sure it stuck. The screws are certain to open the bloody letter, especially as it is going to Nikki whom they won't have forgotten in a hurry but, bugger it, there's nothing they can object to. Yvonne put the letter carefully on one side with a warm feeling of past good memories and of a job well done. Day after tomorrow, I'm out.
The 2 Julies were settling down to bed that night after the cell door had clanged shut for the night. Part of Julie Johnson was feeling over the moon at the letter that had arrived today through the post from David. True, there was the scattering of words that the combined reading of her and Julie Johnson just about deciphered. The really good news was that David had done brilliantly at his exams, all Grade Bs at the least and a scattering of As, English being one of them, naturally. David wrote to say that he was stopping on in the sixth form and university was a dead cert (or that was the 2 Julie's version of David's posh words), The joy and pride in his mother flowed off the pages and that he told everyone it was down to having such a wonderful mum. He had said it time and time again on the occasions that he saw her and she knew that she loved him to death. She couldn't get away from the bitter feelings inside that she was around him for so little of his childhood that it was a wonder that he felt that way. Nothing in his eyes could let anyone or anything make him feel bad of her. Trouble is, it was so easy of her to feel bad of herself and that was something that was around her all the time. She just put on a brave face especially in trying to be positive around Julie Johnson when she felt down for the exact same reasons. Only mums in prison could feel that way, Julie Johnson, Yvonne and Roisin as well. You had to live that to know it for sure.
"All right ,Helen." Nikki spoke in clearer more forceful tones than she usually did. This wasn't, as Helen instinctively realised, Nikki pushing a point of view forcibly at Helen in an argumentative sense. No, Nikki was pushing at herself. There was a real heroic quality about Nikki that would accept the most unpalatable news about herself with a real sense of honesty and integrity. The thought to fudge the issue or tell half truths was totally unutterable and that ingrained instinct operated, even if it was to her disadvantage. Helen loved her for it and admired the fearlessness of her thinking. "I'm not right in my head. It's not just an isolated freakout, Helen. I know I'm not functioning right. The slightest thing makes me flip and it is not as it should be. My memory has gone to bloody pieces and the sort of things I used to do without thinking I mess up. I've been overdoing things a bit recently." And underneath her confident certainty, her brown eyes pleaded for support and validation from Helen.
"Not so easy for me, Nikki, to spot someone else overdoing it even the woman I'm living with." Helen spoke slowly as if she were balancing every word carefully." But, yes, Nikki, you've got it right. I really want to help you as much as you need Nikki. If nothing else to give back for what you've given to me."
"That's nothing, Helen, but " Nikki was about to start.
"No I remember way back, when I was Wing Governor, before I went off sick. Don't you remember that when I was getting it from all directions, you were the one who stopped me going over the edge?"
"I don't understand ." Nikki replied in a puzzled tone.
"Don't you remember, Nikki. If there was any little thing from talk to Monica about appeal, or just being there, even if it was the other side of your cell door and understanding, you would be pitching in there. I haven't forgotten that, not ever."
Nikki shook her head, remembering. She remembered how she felt then and it was strange that in all this time, they had never talked about that period in their lives, as there was so much to do in the present. She certainly remembered chasing after Helen to make her fall in love with her. Somehow, she never fully thought that Helen was also simply grateful to Nikki, more than she ever realised at the time. She always did things that needed doing for people, friends or lovers without thinking too much of what she had done. She was conscious at the time of giving to Helen when she sensed how Helen was up against the 'Old Boy's Network' and realised that Helen's first words she ever said about them were for real. She had never fully seen herself through Helen's eyes and felt her feelings in return.
She was safe for now as the evening sun dipped below the trees and cast dark shadows of the evening across the room. The roles were completely reversed and now it was Nikki who was clutching out to the lifeline let down by Helen and knowing that Helen would keep her safe and calm, for now. Accepting help in return for what she had given squared itself with Nikki's stubborn sense of pride and independence. Savouring that knowledge seemed to settle Nikki as it all added up in her mind and her feelings. Finally, it wasn't just the intensity in Helen's voice with which she put her heart on a sleeve; it was the hug she got that told her everything.
"Where do we go from here," Helen said softly and slowly, thinking aloud. "I'm not sure where to start." Helen came to a halt looking closely at Nikki while her mind thought furiously wondering which way. She knew that Nikki was hanging on her every word. "If someone came to you, in exactly the same situation what would you say, Nikki." Helen finished more confidently with a slight challenging smile on he lips.
"Well .." Nikki started off, clearly intrigued by this approach and mentally congratulating Helen for pulling this 'bunny out of a very small hat'. "I would start thinking counselling but I would be a bit worried in case she got some councillor who would lay everything on her being an out lesbian for as long as she can remember "
"Which is known to be absolutely no problem at all as we know ."
"I'd say that Nikki Wade is getting some pretty scary flashbacks from her time in Larkhall, that's an obvious one." Nikki spoke more evenly nodding firmly as she sprang that thread of thinking out of the mixed up whirl of feelings.
"And how difficult, do you reckon, that it has been for Nikki to settle back into a normal job after doing time, and with the people she's working with?" Helen's very softly spoken words threaded themselves into the dialogue.
"Very difficult, more so than Nikki has been prepared to admit. I think, no I am sure, she's bottled it all up when she's started work. She's never told anyone that she's done time and she's wanted to prove that she can move mountains so no one can point the finger. She gets hurt more than she admits by ignorant tossers- " there, her calm reflective tone of voice took on an angry tone before dropping back to this calm stream of consciousness speaking "so her way of coping is to cover up. In this case I'd say, she's worked way too hard and blown her fuses."
"And do you think that Nikki has reacted all through her life to anyone who has criticised without understanding, who doesn't see the Nikki Wade I know and love?" Helen's clear voice articulated, so softly just pitched in a whisper but clear for Nikki to hear.
Nikki's eyes, which had been looking far into the distance, suddenly focussed in on Helen and she nodded emphatically. Nikki felt a lift in her spirits that she had, thanks to Helen, a handle on the situation.
"Yes, that's it Helen. That has been me since I was a little girl, as far back as I remember."
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