Hope can sometimes come in small packages
“Close the gate Bob, that’s the last of the stragglers”.
The slamming of a prison gate never failed to make me jump no matter how many times I heard it. Why was it they put your nearest and dearest in the farthest prisons they could find? Isle of Wight was where they put him. I swore under my breath, I hate this place, stinking, dirty place. And the fact that it took over four hours to get here has not endeared me to it at all. I had to pick up the coach from Victoria Station, so early in the morning I don’t think the birds were up – just an eerie silence as dark night changed into daylight. Travelling to the Isle of Wight Prison you just know who is going to the prison and who isn’t, you can even tell who is working there. Some of them have that smug look; you know the one; there but for the grace of God go I. I always wanted to smack that look right off their smug little faces. But it wouldn’t help me or my Dad and anyway what’s done is done.
Yes my Dad, or Pater, as he jokingly liked to be called might soon be helping out her Majesty with a bit of sewing, again. Yes he is banged up again, on remand I know, but not once has he not been sentenced when he has been caught. The old lag. For what you might ask? For being stupid enough to think he could fence a diamond. I don’t know who was stupider him or the person who trusted him.
“Have your ID ready please”. The guard was nice enough, looked quite young though, admittedly he didn’t look much older than my Darren. I smothered a smile as I showed him my ID, there was no need for a Visiting Order this time. I wouldn’t need it unless Dad was convicted.
My stomach tightened as I walked past the wardens, why was it I always felt guilty when I hadn’t done anything. Perhaps it comes from being around too many guilty people. I didn’t want to be searched, not even a little bit, but I knew that it was to be expected. I looked around the visiting area – people of every description and walk of life. No favourites in prison, everyone gets treated the same on visiting day. There in the corner with a huge grin on his face was my Dad.
“Hello Mel darling”, he said waving frantically, “over here”. As if I hadn’t seen him! Gosh he really knows how to embarrass me.
“Hello love,” my Dad said giving me one of his huge dad-like hugs, “how’s your mum and the kids”.
Dad always called them the kids even though Sally was 12 and our Steven nearly 14. Me, I was just 16 but felt and looked so much older; worry does that to you.
“Fine Dad”. I looked at him and smiled, prison never did change my dad. He had been in so many times most of the prison staff knew him and as well as some of the prisoners who were doing a long stretch.
My Dad bent his head conspiratorially towards me “Mel, I’ve got something to tell you. Promise you won’t tell anyone? Promise me Mel.” I raised my eyebrows, my dad was one of the biggest jokers I knew and this time wasn’t any different. “Mel, I stole a Jammy Dodger from one of the prison guards”, he spluttered. His raucous and infectious laugh carried around the room raising a smile on some of the more despondent faces. “That’s better, I’m not dead love and no-one is going to hang me love. Don’t worry.”
I got up quickly not daring myself to speak to him. “I’ll get some teas in”, I muttered. Dad was still laughing to himself when I got back.
I glared at him “Dad, when will you stop treating life as one big joke. I do worry about you. I worry about mum, the kids. How is she going to cope this time? You know she’s pregnant again. Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?”
His face fell and I felt like the consultant who had just informed someone that they had terminal cancer and that there was nothing anyone could about it. And worse still they only had months to live. “Dad, dad” I said gently. “How is mum going to cope?
He sighed and I saw his huge loveable face look crestfallen. I thought he was going to cry. “I did it for mum love. You know she’s my life, my everything. I thought this time it would all work out but someone grassed me up”
“Grassed you up Dad, what do you mean?” To grass someone up, to tell the old bill was not something anyone I knew would do. It was actually like putting a nail in your own coffin. Sooner or later someone would get you, well you couldn’t be trusted.
“This whole thing was arranged by your uncle Jimmy. All I had to do was to pick up the diamond from this lad Darren… I stopped stirring the tea I had been absentmindedly playing with since I arrived.
“Yeh, go on” I encouraged.
“Yeh, this lad Darren, who’d stolen the diamond, was supposed to give me the all clear when I could take the diamond to your Uncle Jimmy’s pawn shop. But it was a set up. The police had been tipped off and were waiting for me. Obviously your Uncle Jimmy denied everything and they have nothing to pin on him. Me, I had the bleeding diamond in my pocket. So there I was banged to rights”.
“Dad, I’ve never heard you mention a Darren before. Have I met him?” I had never been interested in what tomfoolery my dad had got up to before. If my dad noticed that I was asking questions he didn’t say.
“No love you haven’t. He’s…” Dad went on to describe my Darren in great detail. His looks, his walk, the way he spoke everything. I suppose when you are cooped up in prison 24 hours a day you have nothing else to do but think.
“Mmm I see”. And I could see all too clearly. A few months ago I had told Darren that my father had said that I was too young to marry. And as for emigrating, well Dad was having none of it. All his children were born and bred in this country and they would all die in this country. So Dad never did meet Darren, “No point” he said “in raising the boy’s hopes.” Darren had been fuming; I had never seen him so mad. OK there was the time when he got into a fight with a young lad at our local who Darren had said had been giving me the eye all night. I hadn’t noticed myself, but I did notice Darren getting drunker and drunker and more leery. Three weeks later Darren saw the lad again and his mates had to drag him off the poor lad. So I knew Darren had a temper and I knew he didn’t forget easily.
“Dad”, I faltered. “How long do you think you’ll get if you go down?”
“It’s hard to tell Mel, but the bloke who did the burglary got a bit heavy handed and the home-owner ended up with a fractured skull. The police know this isn’t my form, they know I don’t do violence. But they have to solve the crime and I fit the bill. Well and truly fitted. Of course they asked me for names, but I can’t do that can I? Never been a grass and never will be.
Even though I didn’t know Darren was going to do a job I remember the night well. I had asked Darren if it was OK if I came round to his. He said yes that would be great. He did my favourite supper and at about 10.00pm said he was tired so he was going up to bed. I must have dozed on the sofa because the next thing Darren was waking me up, bleary eyed I noticed it was about 12.30am. Darren looked as if he had been running and he had changed his clothes. I didn’t say anything to him – he had been in a funny mood all night and I didn’t want to spoil things. I knew something wasn’t right when the police came asking questions. They asked me if Darren had been with me all night and because I love Darren I said yes. But deep down I knew he hadn’t been. Never for one moment did I think my dad was mixed up in this as well. My mouth felt dry, I couldn’t face another drop of tea, I felt I would choke. I ran my tongue around my lips and mouth to give them a well needed moistening.
I didn’t know what to say. My mind was in turmoil. What was I going to do? I could shop Darren and it could mean that my dad received a lesser sentence for only receiving stolen property. But it would also mean that I would lose the love of my life. And if Darren wasn’t convicted and he found out I had shopped him. What would it mean for me...no that’s nonsense. Darren loves me and I know he wouldn’t hurt me but a grass is a grass, and as I said where I come from it’s just done.
I looked up at my dad, a man I truly loved for all his faults and ways. He wasn’t a bad man, stupid sometimes but not bad. How could I let him rot in prison?
“Cheer up Mel; it’s not the end of the world. Look that woman’s bought in her baby to see its dad. See there’s still hope”
I didn’t have the heart to correct my dad. The baby was either a boy or a girl not an it. Mm that’s it. I wouldn’t tell dad about Darren, I wouldn’t tell Darren that I knew about his involvement in the burglary. I’d accept his proposal of marriage and emigrate to wherever he wanted to go. Then I could give Dad his hope. Grandchildren. Dad was going to be in for a very long stretch and I knew that I would need all that time and more for him to forgive me for leaving mum and the kids on their own. Not to mention leaving the country.
Now how was I going to convince Darren that he needed to change his appearance and possibly his name?