The Passage of Time (by Guest Blogger Ben Gunn)
A relatively new prison blogger has exploded onto the scene. His name is Ben Gunn. I’ve recently found myself staying up late to read his blog, which is intelligently written and thought provoking.
His bio: Ben Gunn is a widely recognised face on prison landings, having wandered through the system for 30 years. Pleading guilty to the murder of a friend at the age of 14, he has consistently fought for the recognition of the inherent dignity of all human beings. As a result, he has served decades longer than expected.
There are many, many expected, predicted or imagined effects that flow from being in prison for many years and I maintain that most of these are cobblers. This isn't to claim that all is well.
One effect that has caught me by surprise is how I perceive the passage of time. I don't. Not through any deliberate process you understand; I have literally lost all sense of time.
What I perceive to have been the passage of a few days or weeks is often several months. This is brought home to me by irate letters from people who think I'm ignoring them!
This is quite disturbing and I am making deliberate efforts to mitigate the problem. I keep a diary of incoming and outgoing mail, for instance. But then I tell myself "I will write it up later", only to find several days then pass.
Which makes me wonder about our general perception of time. We notice time moving because of events that approach, arrive and then vanish behind us. But prison life has such a bland uniform quality to each day, with significant events being rare. Every couple of years I have a parole hearing, so I notice that. But on a daily, even weekly, basis there is little to differentiate one day from the next.
Perhaps my inability to note the passage of time is not the worst effect of this Groundhog Day. It took a far worse toll on my mate Jimmy. Jimmy spent every waking moment on the scrounge. He would leave his cell at morning unlock, empty cup in hand, and return when he had found coffee, milk and sugar. This set the tone for the day. Jimmy also liked his drugs, and he wasn't fussy which ones. If it gave him an altered mental state, he was up for it.
Unfortunately, Jimmy was perpetually broke. This could have severe consequences. In an impoverished society, people expect debts to be paid, or a heavy price is extracted. And yet it was nothing for Jimmy to wake up knowing he had to pay £40 by tea time, and not have the faintest idea where he was going to find it.
My involvement with Jimmy's insane lifestyle almost culminated in murder. As we were walking from the wing to the exercise compound, approaching a gate with two screws counting us in, Jimmy suddenly produced a bed-leg, a two foot long metal pipe. He passed it to me and the only option I had was to slip it inside my overcoat before the screws saw us.
When I suggested this was not really a good idea, he explained that there were a few people on the yard he owed money to. He saw his only option as using the bed-leg to bash the brains out of one of them, thus gaining a transfer and financial breathing-space.
Not fancying a second life sentence, I refused to give him back his bed-leg until we were back on the wing. Jimmy survived the exercise period.
I just had to ask him, "Why do you live such a desperate, dangerous life?" Jimmy explained that he found life in prison so soul-destroyingly uniform and dull that his perpetual struggle to buy drugs and pay his debts was the only way he could feel alive.
So maybe my loss of all time perspective is not too bad, as the side effects of imprisonment go?
Click here to read Ben’s Prison Blog. Ben welcomes comments from the readers of Jon’s Jail Journal, both here and at his blog.
Click here for Polish Avenger’s blog on prison mooches.
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Shaun P. Attwood