Most prisoners who aren’t in Cat-A (high security) prisons are likely to end up sharing a cell for at least part of their sentences – sometimes for several years. The current overcrowding situation in the prison estate has meant that lots of what were single pads (cells) have now been converted into tiny doubles, while in some nicks a few larger doubles now house three cons.
|Two'd up... two cons in a shared pad|
I have posted before about my thoughts on being ‘two’d up’ (as cons call it): Thoughts on Sharing a Cell (3 July 2014). Personally, I always preferred to share a cell with a decent pad-mate to being locked up on my own, especially on those days when you have 23-hour bang-up. I’m a sociable person who enjoys company, but I know lots of other lads have different views and absolutely hate sharing a small space with another bloke, so as usual there are two sides to every story.
It has to be said that locking two adult men in a tiny space – about the size of a standard bathroom in a modern house – for many hours each day can put even the best relationship between mates to the test. As anyone who has lived with groups of men – for example in barracks in the armed services – will no doubt agree, blokes can be pretty scuzzy creatures. In all-male company they are less reserved about burping and farting loudly, or leaving smelly socks on the floor or not flushing the bog every time. No wonder so many women despair of their unhouse-trained male partners or teenage sons.
It can’t be said that prison always brings out the best in blokes. While a majority do try to keep themselves clean and hygienic, a fair few just don’t bother. I’ve met cons who absolutely reek of stale sweat, cheap tobacco, urine and various other noxious substances, often including so-called ‘legal’ highs that can stink like fish. You wouldn’t want to touch some of these guys with a bargepole.
|Smokers: supposed to pad up together|
In theory, smokers are not supposed to be put in a cell with non-smokers, although it can still happen. An estimated 80 percent of adult male prisoners smoke, so it can be difficult to find enough non-smokers to sort out suitable sharing arrangements. However, the risk of a non-smoker suing the Prison Service over ill-health as a result of being forced to share a cell with a smoker is now being taken more seriously, so more of an effort is now made by wing managers in order to avoid this sort of problem arising.
When you initially get padded-up with another con you’ve never met before, you do tend to spend a couple of days assessing each other. Does he suffer from some form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)? If so, then you might end up with a spotless cell, but then have a major row over a coffee mug stain on a table. Is he an obsessive masturbator? As you can imagine, that’s not entirely unknown in the slammer and can cause all sorts of awkward situations in a shared cell.
Is he a junkie or a bag head? Being padded up with a lad who is involved with the drugs business (either as a dealer or as a user) can be a big no-no, particularly if you just want to keep your head down and do your ‘bird’ (sentence) quietly. Addicts are notorious for nicking other prisoners’ stuff to pay for their habits. They can have massive mood swings and that’s not great when you are locked in a tiny concrete box with them at the time.
|Prison drugs: found during cell-spins|
Another risk of being padded-up with someone involved with drugs or having a mobile phone or brewing hooch (prison alcohol) is that you are liable to get what is called a ‘cell-spin’. This is a thorough strip search of both cons in a cell, as well as the pad being ransacked top to bottom. Sniffer dogs can also be brought in to check the cell.
On a regular basis, this level of security scrutiny can get really tedious. Moreover, if anything is found, such as a wrap of drugs or a mobile phone hidden in a pad, then both inhabitants are liable to get ‘nicked’ (charged) by the screws and will have to face an adjudication hearing in front of a governor. Internal prison penalties range from ‘losses’ (of privileges or wages) to a number of days banged-up, either on a wing or down the Block (segregation unit). In the case of more serious offences an outside judge has to be brought in to sit as an Independent Adjudicator and he or she can add extra days to a prison sentence.
The Prison Service Instruction (PSI) that governs these issues is PSI 47/2011. It provides a list of all the possible internal disciplinary charges that can be brought against a prisoner. Paragraph 1.52 deals with having unauthorised articles in possession, or having more of any item than is permitted – excess prison kit, for example.
In a single cell, when an unauthorised article has been found, then the only real defence is “never seen it before, guv!” The usual claim is that either a previous occupant hid the item and left it when they moved cell, or someone else had access to the pad and concealed whatever has been found. In practice, most cons won’t have a prayer when using this defence at an adjudication hearing, but it may be the only option.
|Contraband: who does it belong to?|
The situation in a shared cell is obviously more complex. If contraband is found in a specific con’s locker or hidden under his mattress, then it’s usual just to charge that prisoner. However, if whatever has been found was concealed in a communal area (say around the WC, under the sink or inside a window-frame) then both inmates are liable to face charges, unless one of them owns up first. If you have a good pad-mate and he is at fault, then often this is what happens. He takes it on the chin and leaves you out of the mess he has created. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way.
In a shared cell, there are three specific elements to a possession charge that have to be ‘made out’ during an adjudication hearing before a governor (paragraph 2.68). The first (obviously) is that an unauthorised, or excess, item exists. Usually, the offending article is produced in a sealed evidence bag. That is the easy part of the case for the screws.
However, the second part of the case is that both cell-mates ‘had knowledge’ of the item. It is a defence to claim that even if your pad-mate had hidden a mobile or some drugs in your cell, you didn’t know about it. Sometimes this can happen and it can prove to be a reasonable line of defence, although not always. For example, if both cell-mates have previously tested positive for drugs, then in a drugs-related nicking there is likely to be less sympathy for that particular argument when a wrap turns up in their pad.
|Sniffer dog: where's the gear?|
The third element in a nicking for unauthorised possession is ‘control’. Even if both pad-mates knew the illicit item was in the cell, did both of them exercise control over it? Just knowing that your cell-mate had a drugs wrap or a mobile phone isn’t – in theory, at least – sufficient for an adjudication case to be proven against you. This defence is included in the rules because in some instances a more dominant con might be bullying his pad-mate into keeping silent about the contraband.
Of course, there can be big risks in using this line of defence because it essentially means ‘grassing-up’ your pad-mate by pointing the finger of blame at him. That’s why the second element – no knowledge of the item – is generally the best way to go.
When I was an Insider (peer mentor), I once helped a fellow con – nicknamed ‘Big Smithy’ – beat a nicking over contraband tattoo guns that had been found under his bed in his shared cell. He asked me to serve as his ‘McKenzie Friend’ (lay advisor) for his hearing, which I agreed to do.
|Prison tattoo gun|
The wing screws clearly believed that Big Smithy was banged to rights when they nicked him. After all, he did have a reputation of being one of the wing tattoo artists.
However, as luck would have it, his pad-mate had been taken to court that very morning, so he wasn’t around when the illicit items were discovered during a cell-spin. When it came time for the adjudication, the cell-mate was still being held in another nick closer to the court where his case was being heard, so he wasn’t around to either be charged or to give evidence at the hearing.
My ‘client’ took my advice and pleaded not guilty to the charges. In the end, without the other pad-mate being present, Big Smithy was able to argue that he knew nothing about the existence of the tattoo guns – which were made from cobbled together bits of old electric razors – and as such, he could never had had any control over them. We won the case and Big Smithy went back to the wing with a big smile on his face, much to the fury of the wing screws who ensured that I was given a rough time afterwards. In their book, a clever con is a dangerous con.
Of course, the best policy with a pad-mate is to find someone you like and trust and try to get two’d up together. Most wing screws are reasonable people and they know that there’s likely to be less grief if two cons agree to share a cell. I’ve never personally had any problem with asking for a specific cell move so I could pad-up with a mate.
I won’t repeat what I’ve already posted elsewhere on this blog about some of the great blokes I shared with when I was inside beyond noting that a good pad-mate can be worth his weight in gold. If you become friends with a decent lad, then that friendship can last long after you’ve both been released and it can make your time in the slammer pass much more pleasantly. You might even have a laugh together, no matter how bleak or boring the rest of prison life can be.