A wee bit for the CV

At the age of 24 close political contacts ensured my appointment to the local H.M.Prison Visiting Committee. Corruption? Nepotism? Of course it was.

I had just had my first child and had begun the law degree. The Committee appeared to ask very little of me but seemed a good CV bet. There was nothing more in it for me than that. I gave the shift little thought.

I was the youngest Committee member by at least 35 years. The combo of gender and age meant that I was quickly appointed to the paid position of Committee Clerk. A  lowly unattractive admin position – but one which I shortly realised was the real power behind the Chairs illusory throne.

The then Prison Governor was a bastard of a man. Ex-military. Dictatorial. Capriciously and gratuitously bullying. Misogynistic. loved by the old Officers and respected by prisoners habituated to a hard unbending institutional violence. He was due to retire within the year but had the offer of a contractual extension – he had reigned over the Prison for an unusual trouble-free twenty two months.

He despised the Committee do-gooders. Displaying contempt in late arrivals to meetings. In eye-rolling  dismissals. In hard stares. I watched that first day. He fixed his gaze on each emerging source of irritation – and simply stared potential dissent down. Big grown men – leaders in their own fields – cowered, shifted in their seats, ahemed, and then back-tracked.

As the Agenda stuttered and faltered, Governor would distribute a short typed report. Speak to it. And, finishing it, would raise his gaze, looking over his half-moon glasses to fix the company with a stare which dared response.

I remember that first meeting. The tense silence. Eyes looking to the table top. One cough. Then another. Men seeming to shrink in their seats.

All, in fact, but one man. A big tall craggy attractive man in his 60s who had caught my attention earlier. A man with a twinkle in his eye. I remember him catching my bemused stare,winking at me, then turning to the Governor to say, with a slow, deliberate nonchalance, that acted like a slap, Now, George…You and I both know that that’s not quite true…is it?

(to be continued)

8 thoughts on “A wee bit for the CV

  1. He frightened me. I was there from Jan 1991 til mid 1997. Right through the degree and post-grad. Combining it latterly with another job. I became addicted to the darkness of the place (officers and prisoners trapped in hatred and contempt with little hope) – the otherness of it. I had a few run-ins with George before the end. He referred to me latterly as “that stupid wee lassie”. Attempted to intimidate and bully. The shrinkers were a revelation to me. I had seen them in another positions – official positions they relied upon to be bombastic. What an eye-opener to see what true cowards and small people they really were. I learned that the establishment is an irresistible force – that little people can only chip away incrementally and for every small win there is a bigger loss. But strangely you shouldn't lose heart.

  2. It always fascinates me how some people's personalities extend beyond the physical. As a positive example, I knew a poet the instant she entered a room, everyone at the meeting felt a presence– she could bend the will of an angry committee for a positive reaction.

    But to your scene in particular: Is this a genetic trait? Is it learned behavior? –and what produces the cowardice reaction in others?

  3. It absolutely fascinates me D-G. It seems an innate – perhaps genetic – quality that I genuinely do not believe can be taught or learned.
    We all project some immaterial but otherwise perfectly tangible “presence”.
    There are always – for instance – the informal leaders in a workplace who command respect irrespective of formal position.
    I notice the trait in my kids – they lead, naturally, taking responsibility and being the one in their respective groups to whom the others turn.
    The cowardice reaction is another thing entirely. Reminded me a bit of Goldings “lord of the Flies”… or the truth of the old description “sheep” when applied to humans…

  4. As a post-script D-G – one reason my boss gave for “missing me” during this extended leave I am in the middle of is that she is “missing the positive influence I exert in the most difficult and challenging of circumstances”.
    It is the people of misuse their innate “power” who most upset me.

  5. Your post covers so many, so very many, areas for discussion that I don't intend even to put my toe in the metaphorical water. Suffice to say I, as a person who was part of The System for so many years, I found your words fascinating and am certainly looking forward to the sequel.

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