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Jailtime by Terry Spring
by Terry Spring
Pages: NA
Returning home brings back so many early memories - some good, some not so good. Recalling the first day at work gave me a sinking feeling. See more of the author's work at www.terryspring.com
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Returning to the ‘Old Dart’ after many years abroad, I sought out my familiar ‘stamping ground’ – Wandsworth, London. The area had seemed run-down back then and now the familiar buildings looked even dirtier and more neglected.

The locals hadn’t changed though - still working-class but today, their skin colour showed migration from many countries but they were better dressed than in nineteen-sixty-nine, when I had started work. Standing outside the shabby building that housed Wandsworth police station, I can clearly recall the horror I felt that day, hearing the sound of the cell door clang behind me.

I had turned round to find the elderly policeman’s face framed by the bars and heard the key click in the door-lock. Aghast, I stood transfixed, listening to his footsteps on flagstones outside as he strode away down the corridor, back to the police station reception desk. I felt complete panic, not knowing what had happened.

I had walked into the station and introduced myself. Wearing a collar and tie, looking neat and tidy, I’d handed over my business card. I don’t have long hair or look like a hippy. I’m wearing a suit. Have they mistaken me for someone else - a wanted man?

 Stunned, I had looked around the bare cell and noticed the worn stone floor. Next to an iron bed, with springs for a mattress, stood a shabby steel hand-basin and toilet bowl, fixed firmly to the wall. Nothing could be used as a missile. The room smelled of disinfectant and overhead, a neon light-fitting flickered. It felt cold and damp despite the afternoon sun filtering through the tiny barred window. I supposed the station had been built in the eighteen-hundreds and had seen an enormous amount of villains pass through its door ...but I wasn’t a villain. I had just left school and had never been in trouble. I was innocent of anything illegal and feeling terribly scared. What was this all about?

The deathly quiet felt creepy.  Would they leave me here? Where was everyone?  The total silence felt unnerving. I looked for a bell to get attention but there was nothing. Should I shout? If I do, will anyone come?

I walked to the door and tried to peer out through the bars. All I saw was the cell opposite. I could hear some men’s voices in the distance. I didn’t know whether to yell or just sit and wait to see what would happen. What if they phone home?  My mother will be in tears and my father will ... I don’t know. What will he do? He’ll be so ashamed. What is happening? How much longer am I going to be here? This must be how it feels, waiting to go to court...not knowing if you were going to prison for years.

I sat down on the iron bed frame trying to calm down. What had brought all this about? I had entered the police station of my own free will. I had introduced myself explaining Mr Briggs had sent me. The elderly cop had nodded and ushered me down the hall into the cell. I walked in and he had closed the door behind me. My conscience is clear; I’m innocent. My God, isn’t that what everyone says?

The sound of footsteps broke into my thoughts and my stomach turned summersaults. The steps grew louder and stopped outside. The key turned in the lock and the cell door opened wide revealing the uniformed policeman. He nodded and announced with a broad smile ‘Okay son, that’s long enough. Out you come.’

I stood up and stared at him sullenly but decided not to argue as a feeling of relief swept over me. I followed him outside into the corridor and freedom muttering ‘that wasn’t pleasant.’

‘Well, don’t take it personally, son’ the London copper had replied. ’Now you know what it’s like to be locked up. It’s the initiation we give to all the cadet police reporters, not just ones from your newspaper.’

I shrugged and marched quickly out into the fresh air. I still remember the relief and how it felt to walk along the pavement, thinking what a terrible thing to do to a bloke on his first day at work.

 

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