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)