Exchanges From the Curb: Settling Into Prison Life

By Jamie Snoll on at

Most weeks in the comments here, there are comparisons made between cannabis and alcohol, and admittedly, it is a simple comparison to make: They both have effects on behaviour and mental state in one form or another, after all.

Often people choose to instantly state that cannabis is illegal; fair play to them, what I do is illegal and has landed me in trouble over the years, both with the law and with friends. The comments and subsequent debates also often look at how harmful cannabis is and the effects it has on users and the wider community, and compares to how harmful drink is and the effects it has.

For me there is no comparison -- take the strongest cannabis and give it to someone all day long, then give the same person on another day loads of beer (the weaker end of the scale of alcoholic beverages), and see which day he causes more trouble on. As I have mentioned before, I used to deal to a large spectrum of the Essex and East London population; the city boys I know would always regale me with stories of drunken tear-ups on a work night out, and how booze was the cause of most of their grief -- the same for me; every time I have been in trouble, booze has played a starring role. But the fact does still remain that cannabis is illegal, and beer is not.

I understand my sources are biased to where I live, and maybe my “friends” have a high-percentage chance of being slightly “Essex wide boy” type city boys, but the fact remains, I have never had anyone tell me:

“I was so stoned last night I got into several tear-ups and was throwing up in the street outside Mary Jane‘s near Fenchurch Street, then snorted 3 grams of street chang in Charlie‘s before glassing a banker who was asking for it,” the C2C vomit-comet awaiting the survivors.

They are far more likely to say: “I passed out” or “pulled a whitey," or “ate a shitload of Tangfastics.”

Now I totally understand that there are other issues and concerns, one often stated by the media is: “If a teenager smokes a lot of cannabis they will be mentally-affected in later life.” I am sure this is true to some degree, but is it more dangerous than the effects of alcohol for the same period of time? And how come there are some people who smoke it and are completely fine?

My personal view is to make most drugs legal, controlled and safer for the end user, reducing illness, death and stress on the NHS. While the additional taxes from sales would boost the economy, it would also create jobs in the growing, selling and legislation of the products.

By keeping the prices moderately in-line or cheaper with what people are used to paying now, there would be a smaller sub-section of the drug-using society that would continue to buy illegally for cost reasons, therefore reducing criminal activities around drugs. There could be an area of the UK where it is allowed to be sold, like an Amsterdam project. This could be an area selected due to poor economy in the local area, unemployment, or a number of reasons; a community in need of a financial boost would make sense. One old friend of mine did a business studies dissertation at University, and as we often smoked and chatted as teenagers, he seriously believed in our stoned chatter enough to hand it in at University. Needless to say, he did not get a degree as he dropped out after two years, but seems to be doing OK for himself, the last I heard.

Now obviously I am sure you would all be concerned about me and how I would continue to make a living if this ever did come to pass, but fear not -- something always comes up, and if not I could always go back to HMP and live rent free. After all, I am sure you have all heard in the news that prison is just like a holiday camp.

This is just simply not true -- if you are someone who thinks this is true please, for the love of god, change your travel agents, for you are being ripped off.

I want to say that while I was inside, I was only on remand and had not been convicted of any crime -- I am sure that innocent until proven guilty is the standard, but it did not feel like that at all. I was in a cell with three convicted criminals and we were all treated the same, and the days just felt like weeks, so you get to know everyone in your cell pretty quickly. You also get to know the system pretty well, and as long as your cell mates are alright when you are first in, they will straighten you out so you don’t mistake your Tom from your George.

As I was sure I was only in for a short remand stretch and would be back to my home with an empty living room soon enough, smoking ‘tailor mades,' I did not feel too stressed, but, with the time passing so slowly you quickly realise there are many little things that can annoy you, ‘fish’ quickly get upset about the little things and liberties that are taken.

Firstly for me -- hygiene. One of my cell mates was terrible; his fingernails were longer than most women could ever ask for in a Chinese nail parlour, and dirty too, he did not ever want to have a shower due to the rumour mill, and his perception of what would happen. He was quite a weak lad which did not help him, and had been ripped off by another lag recently which added to his worry. He stank and although moaned at, he refused as much as possible to wash. Therefore when he did wash, he only seemed to remove half the stink.

Secondly dinner could be an annoyance -- on a whole it was not too bad, chips some nights, with a piece of meat, a pork chop and a some veg (bit overcooked; I like my veg el dente). Not great, but I have had worse cooked by a couple of birds I have dated in the past, needless to say. It was not the quality that annoyed me, but if you are served later on in the queue, your plate would more than likely be stone cold and decidedly emptier than everyone else's. Now I love to eat, and eat well, so this really pissed me off.

This was sometimes exasperated by guards taking your personal canteen and fags when you got on the pigs’ nerves. This brings me on neatly to the screws.

The guards, as mentioned before, some are fine -- helpful, even close to being considered nice, occasionally. They seemed to me to be there not for the money, it was more a career to them. But, there were a couple who were different; one ‘screw’ in particular for me stood out; I did not see him the first few days, in fact contact after checking in was fairly minimal with guards. I was in a cell with a safe crowd, and they all wanted to keep their heads down, get parole, and get out. But this screw did not care -- on his first shift, he had a half-arsed attempt to intimidate the occupants of my cell, a bully with authority. That evening he pulled us up for having our TV too loud, the rule is you are not allowed to hear it outside of the cell door, but of course, it is a cell door, so you can hear quiet chatter outside. On this night he gave us a warning. It seemed like he was fucking with us because no one else did, and he got his kicks from it.

In the morning one of my cell mates left for a job to earn a little extra, and pass the time. As he went to leave, this particular screw decided to pay us a visit. Stopping the working lag, he decided to look through the cell, deciding two of the cell mates had “kit issues taking away most of their clothes.” I really did not see why they did this; both had the kit in there the whole time I had been there, with visits every day from different guards.

It seemed this particularly dickish guard also took pleasure in making his colleagues act in a more harsh manner -- maybe he thinks that is how the job should be done, or it is his responsibility to be the hard screw? He reminded me not to be friendly with any of the guards; the fact is they were all his mates, talked to him, and more than anyone else I did not want that prick to know anything about me.

As the days passed, I felt a little more at ease. I spoke to a few lads with friends in common the few short times we were allowed out of the cell; guys I had no idea were inside and recognised in passing from nights out and parties. My cell mates were fine and had similar tastes in music to I; the ginger lump of a cell mate generating laughs with his drug-fuelled happy hardcore tales. There were a couple of books to read, and a radio and TV. You don’t drop your guard though; you keep yourself to yourself even in chats with cell mates, and it gets easier; you just get used to it.

I felt lucky really; the cell was a good one in comparison to others close by, but the square smelly kid was looking more like a victim as I grew in confidence. I am sure the smelly git knew he smelled bad, but the fear of going to the shower stopped him. He was complaining a lot as well; about losing a joint, not talking tough -- whispering it, moaning and bitching.

Just a little too much, it would transpire, much later into my stay in prison. But as for the first few days, it was definitely not a holiday camp, but not a den of anal rape and guard-related abuse, either. Just a bunch of blokes sitting around waiting it out; me in a crappy pair of dark grey tracksuit bottoms which hung off me, and a t-shirt that was the wrong side of snug. I was rapidly getting comfortable, but was it too good to last?

For the next few weeks I will be looking at my time in prison, and some of the guys I met while I frequented HMP.


Jamie Snoll is a pseudonym for a drug-dealer born and bred in Essex, who offers up a view from the different side of the law to our monthly columnist Matt Delito.

Image Credit: Drug-dealer via Shutterstock / anonymous via Shutterstock