As an ordained chaplain to the weak and needy, I often perchance to offer my ecumenical services to those less fortunate than myself. Those who find themselves unjustly escorted, accused, processed, or banged up for whatever slight or misdemeanor, behaviour such as urinating in public, threatening to mutilate an ex-partner, or just swearing at oneself on the public highway. Here in a seaside town where the night-time economy is fuelled by the obligatory over-consumption of alcohol, there is a good chance that what would be seen as revelry by some, might well be interpreted as antisocial behavior by the boys and girls in stab-proof blue; alcohol easing the passage of an ASBO for the unlucky few. Even your humble pastor has, very recently, been unfortunate enough to find himself a guest at the local cells overnight (and most of the following day), for reasons known only to God, his accuser, and the painfully slow process leading up to judgment by the Crown Prosecution Service. But I digress. If you are unlucky enough to be “nicked” (guilty or innocent), it is worth bearing in mind that there is a protocol to this institutionalization. One’s freedom is taken away, if only for a few hours, as is the ability to take a piss without asking for permission. The light is kept on, ensuring you have not escaped, and basic human rights are reduced to the apparent whim of whoever drew the short straw as custodian, keeper, jailer, and person responsible for heating up the Asda value meal inflicted upon you three times a day. Once processed past the duty Sergeant, a manoeuvre which involves removal of any personal items, implements to hang oneself, knives, guns, Thai prostitutes etc, one is handed two important pamphlets before being led to the cells:
Exhibit A, a glossy colour job that suggests you come clean before the DNA profiling reveals you as either a kiddy fiddler, having murdered your dear old Gran in 1943, or both.
Exhibit B, a photocopy entitled ‘Notice to the Detained Person’ which, at first glance, seems equally
It is worth noting at this stage that murderers, rapists, Great Train Robbers, and Conservative MPs have also
walked these hallowed steps to incarceration. They’ve seen that their room for the night makes a ‘Motel 6’ look
like the Hilton. If you like terracotta tiles in the style of a Geordie urinal, then this is the place for you. A prisoner
will get a hard bench-like bed and a thin blue-covered foam mattress, decorated with the biro ramblings of
previous inmates who, for some reason, think being banged up is clever, and have left inane messages for the
next idiot to read. There’s no Jeremy Kyle, radio or cable, all you get for entertainment are cries for attention, occasional puking, and defiantly futile door-banging from fellow inmates (attention seeking behaviour which is about as funny as that displayed on said Kyle show). The outside world is reduced to a plexi-glass spy-hole on the left of the door, to which the occasional beady eye is drawn, checking you haven’t done a Frank Morris, fashioning a papier-mâché head from the leaflets, before digging your way to freedom with a concealed spoon.
There is no clock, and watches or timepieces are taken away, so one is left to count the seconds, then the slow minutes, then the painful hours. I spy is not an option: I spy a terracotta tile… correctomondo, I spy another terracotta tile…correctomondo again. In fact, I spy 19 terracotta tiles to the lower section of the right hand side wall and 14 terracotta tiles on the end wall. Hmmm…. that means, if the height is 14 terracotta tiles, there are approximately, allowing for the doorframe and high-level window, 792 terracotta tiles in the room.
But there is a way to keep boredom at bay. If, perchance, you have already started on your papier-mâché head, then you are truly fucked. But if you have kept the only reading material available, you may well notice within the Guide to Detained Persons a section which advises that you can: “Tell the Police if you want to look at their rule book called the Codes of Practice”. This is not a ‘get out of jail card’, but it can make one’s stay in the local constabularies’ accommodation bearable, and ever so slightly empowering.
The phrase ‘rule book’ implies rules, and rules are made to be followed.
For example, one has the right to legal representation at any time, and on as many occasions as your brief
will put up with, in private and prior to a statement being made to the police. If you don’t have a brief, then
an impartial, “how did I end up doing this? I wanted to be Judge John Deed!” duty solicitor will be
allocated, but he or she will not rush out of bed in the early hours to build a case for your freedom, so
be prepared for a long wait.
You have the right to legal advice before questioning, and one’s brief must be present if you are questioned. You have the right to be warm and safe, so if they put you in a cell with Charles Bronson on a drunk and disorderly charge complain, or ask for a blanket so you and Charlie can get acquainted. You have the right of free access to a police doctor, or your own Harley Street nip n’ tuck specialist, as long as you foot the bill for his cab fare at 3am (not to mention the fees). You have the right to advise a relative where you are, but you're not allowed to talk with them. This leaves receiving cakes filled with cutting gear a non-starter. You can ask for a pencil and paper, but your novella or other outpourings will subsequently be reviewed, and not by the critic of your choice.
You have the right to one phone call (don’t waste it on an 0898 number, that’s not clever), and you can ask the police to call your brief as often as you want. They have to oblige, eventually.
You have the right to remain silent - say nothing, ask everything.
You have the right to ask questions, like ‘what time is it?’ on the hour every hour. Also, can I have a shower and toothbrush? What about drinking water? I need toilet again! All as many times as they will put up with. You can request special dietary considerations
(although there aren’t many Halal shops open at 6am on a Sunday morning), as well as food three times a day, although you should expect the worst. I now understand why Steve McQueen ate those cockroaches in You will be reviewed every six hours by a duty inspector. That means he or she has to look in and check you’re being treated well. It’s also a chance to ask for some basic comforts and exercise your rights. The police can keep you locked up for 24 hours, but after that a Superintendent has to decide if they should keep you for another 12. After 36 hours only a court can assert that you’re such a menace you need to be kept under lock and key until trial. However, if you’ve been lifted as a suspected terrorist, throw away the rule book. You are truly fucked. So start making that papier-mâché head and tunnel like fuck.
This process is long and slow. If you’re arrested you might be lucky and get out the next day, in time to catch the
McDonalds breakfast menu, but that’s not very likely. Chances are you’ll be released in the late afternoon,
depending on how busy they are. Remember, the police have performance targets. In practice this equates
to ‘nicking’ those who commit insignificant crimes, ones that don’t involve laborious criminal detection. That
weekly quota needs to be reached, and minor misdemeanors are a tacit way to make the force look efficient;
as if they’re doing their jobs properly. The downside of this arrangement is the possible loss of liberty for those
who don’t deserve it. A night in the cells for you my lad, whereupon you’ll join the growing number of participants
on the DNA register, and face the very real possibility of a criminal record.
Your humble Pastor spent fourteen hours of solitary penance for an alleged offence he did not commit. His faith in God unshaken, but his faith in the boys in blue very stirred and just generally fucked about. If one is unlucky enough to become a member of our growing criminalised underclass, the advice is to be polite, respectful but firm. You have been arrested, not tried. Despite the suggestions of ‘coming clean’ to help your defence, every suspect is innocent until proven guilty.
Yet only the courts can decide that guilt. So unless you have actually committed a crime, antisocial act or misdemeanor in front of independent witnesses or a judge (or a police football team), unless you have absolutely no alibi, are identifiable on CCTV, left your dabs on the murder weapon, or said: “It’s a fair cop, I did it guv’nor”, then get used to the terracotta. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering at those remarkable crime detection statistics, constantly bandied about to justify your council tax, while you're in there. I did.