Exchanges From the Curb: The Sharpened Toothbrush

By Jamie Snoll on at

Sorry for the long stretch between columns; it's been tough work recalling some of the going-ons from my stint behind bars. Our cell had been fine apart from the smelly kid who for all intents and purposes had lost the plot; he was taken out of the cell and this in turn led to a new cellmate, an older lag who seemed comfortable in his new surroundings instantly, crashing onto his new bunk and shifting things about to make space for himself.

The room seemed smaller with him in, and far less comfortable. I can’t say why, but he just had a way of putting me on edge. He wasn’t aggressive, but extremely assertive, taking over conversations and bellowing remarks out of the cell for all to hear; jesus he was loud. Pauly had a decent enough head on him and was good to talk to about topics as far ranging as animals and nature; engineering and racing, but general conversations were a lot tougher -- he just could not make small talk, which is how we whiled away the majority of the time.

On his first night, we were late getting dinner, so he screamed blue murder, which had a huge effect when we eventually did get our food. His approach to guards was to antagonise them as much as possible, like it was his job while he was inside. This seemed stupid to me -- yes, they were considered the enemy, but what was the point? We couldn’t win while we were inside, I kept on telling him. Our approaches seemed very different; I wanted to keep my head down and get through the short time I was there; he wanted to make sure everyone knew who and where he was.

I fell asleep with an uncomfortable feeling the first night Pauly arrived, like something was going to happen -- but what?

When I usually woke up most mornings, I never not knew where I was; I never mistook it for my own bed. I used to keep my eyes closed for as long as possible to block it out, but the smell gave my location away, my brain could not be fooled. But on this day it was different, something was up -- I could hear a mumbled threat but had no idea where it was coming from.

What would you do if you woke up to find a 6-foot man holding a homemade blade to your throat? What would be your first thought? How to escape? How to defuse the situation? How you'd talk your way out of it?

The reality is you do nothing. You don’t move, you don’t speak, you don’t even sweat. What you do is look fucking stupid, dribbling slightly as the aggressor holds you down in a way which makes it impossible to close your mouth and therefore stop the dribbling. While this only lasted a matter of seconds, it seemed to last an hour. Pauly was creaming in a deranged manner about fags and owning him money; none of this made any sense to me, no-one as far as I was concerned owed him any money.

Now, what would you do if after waking up in a prison cell and witnessing this aforementioned cellmate holding a sharpened toothbrush to your mate's throat? Sitting up in the bunk with very little head-room above me, all I could see was an unfamiliar figure lurching over another half-covered cellmate, slurring his way through a sentence of threats. Slurring, while pushing a plastic blade into his neck hard enough to draw blood.

I will tell you exactly what I did -- nothing. I half choked out "just calm down mate" but decided against it, and instead stared at the remaining cellmate who was as motionless and quiet as me.

The guards thankfully heard the situation unfolding, and quickly came in and dragged my new bunkmate out of the room.

Brilliant, the guy had left almost half a pack of tobacco behind him; surely he wouldn't mind if we helped ourselves?

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