One of the first questions any newly convicted prisoner gets asked on his or her arrival on a prison wing is “How long are you doing?” Once he gets through Reception – and perhaps a first night unit – one of the UK’s latest intake of cons, disgraced former City trader Tom Hayes, is going to be answering that question a fair few times. No doubt he will get used to telling fellow inmates that he has just been sent down for 14 years. That, as Ben, one of my witty mates from my own time inside would say, is “a real lump” of a sentence.
|Tom Hayes: served a 'lump'|
Of course, in reality despite the tabloid headlines Mr Hayes is ‘only’ going to be a prisoner for the next seven years. That’s still a long stretch.
Like the vast majority of white-collar cons he’ll probably keep his head down, conform to the prison rules and get released on licence in 2022 (assuming he doesn’t appeal either his sentence or conviction – or both). Then he’ll have another seven years under supervision back in the community, liable to recall to prison should he commit another offence or if his level of risk rises for any reason (excessive consumption of alcohol, taking drugs or anything else that might annoy his offender manager). He will have to live where he is told and until 2029 will only be permitted to work in a job that his supervisor has approved.
|Double-cuffed to an escort|
Still, all that is far in the future. Today Tom is now deep in the belly of the beast that is our prison system.
I well remember the cold click of those bloody handcuffs before I was led out from the cells under the Crown Court for my first ride in a tiny locked cubicle inside a GEOAmey ‘sweatbox’ vehicle on my way to the local Cat-B nick. I think that’s the point you actually realise you are now merely a number and the property of the state… hands cuffed together, then double cuffed to an escort officer – just in case you suddenly decide to try to make a run for it in a moment of insane panic.
A lengthy prison sentence – for whatever offence and whether you are in fact guilty or innocent – can be very hard to process at first. In Mr Hayes’ case, it was made very clear in the judge’s sentencing remarks that he would serve seven years in custody, but would be liable to recall to jail for a further seven years after his release. Nevertheless, I defy anyone to receive a ‘lump’ of a sentence like that and not feel utterly KO’d by it.
|Justice can be painful|
For those who haven’t been inside, seven years is a long stretch – a lot longer than I did myself – although a fraction of what a life sentence is likely to be these days. There are various ways of getting your mind around such a penalty. Some cons start by working out the actual number of days in the custodial part of the sentence.
Since he’s supposed to be pretty good with figures, our Tom will soon work out that he has 2,557 days (including two extra days for the leap years in 2016 and 2020) to reflect on his offences: rigging global Libor interest rates. As I type this post he has spent one night inside, so just 2,556 days and nights left. That is ‘a real lump’. And it will soon be confirmed in writing when a member of the prison staff hands him the document containing his sentence calculation.
Other coping strategies include marking off the days in a diary or on a calendar. At least a determinate-sentenced prisoner like Mr Hayes has that luxury, whereas a lifer (or anyone still serving the now discredited Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection or IPP) remains in a state of limbo for years, usually well past any minimum tariff handed down in court, in some cases for decades. All IPPs received a nominal sentence calculation of ’99 years’. Imagine getting that paper shoved under your cell door during your breakfast and not choking on your soggy, stale cornflakes.
|Last Chance saloon|
If Mr Hayes and his legal team are planning to launch an appeal of some kind then the reality of his current situation might not kick in yet, despite all the humiliations of the dehumanising reception process. Somehow, at that stage, the sentence doesn’t seem ‘real’ until the final appeal has been dismissed. However, barring a successful outcome at the Court of Appeal (or Supreme Court), sooner or later the reality will sink in.
Given the length of the custodial element of his sentence, Mr Hayes’ won’t be heading to the relative comfort of a Cat-D (open) nick anytime soon. In most cases the maximum period that any prisoner is supposed to spend in open conditions is 24 months, so even with the best will in the world, he’ll not see the outside world again until at least late in 2020 and then only during Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) from his Cat-D.
Since he will start his sentence as a Cat-B, that will still leave at least five years of closed conditions to survive. An educated guess is that he’ll serve around two years in a Cat-B before getting re-catted and transferred to a Cat-C training prison for a further three years or so, possibly a bit longer, before he gets reviewed and then – in all probability – approved for transfer to open conditions.
One of the problems that the Prison Service will face with Mr Hayes – as it does with any well-educated former professional – is what to do with him for the next seven years. His sentence planning will be an interesting exercise.
|Libor... now a dirty word|
There are very few offending behaviour courses suitable for those convicted of similar financial offences, let alone the first man convicted in Britain of Libor-rigging. It might be a bit of a struggle for the average offender supervisor to fully understand the mechanics of the offences that earned Mr Hayes’ his sentence. I’m not convinced the usual victim awareness course on offer in most nicks is going to address this type of complex offending behaviour.
I suspect he’ll end up working in prison education departments as a peer mentor supporting other cons with their literacy or numeracy. Otherwise, he might just end up mopping wing floors as a cleaner for the next few years – or else banged up in his cell for 23 hours a day. Who knows?
|Typical Cat-B: Tom's new home for a few years|
At the moment, however, I imagine that Tom is going through all the usual emotions common among first-timers. He’ll probably be shit scared as a result of watching too many US prison movies, such as The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke or Brubaker. I very much doubt that he’ll be assaulted (or worse). Probably a fair number of cons will have seen him on the TV news and some will be interested in his case. Maybe a few will ask him for investment tips...
In reality, as long as he keeps his head down and avoids getting into debt or the temptation to try drugs, his worst enemies are likely to be regret and desperate boredom under the mind-numbing regime. Once he gets off of Entry level (the first two weeks) and out of grim – and grimy – prison clothing he’ll start to feel semi-human again. If he’s lucky he may make a few good mates who’ll provide advice and moral support – and he’ll come to realise just how much he will need the love of his own family to get through the coming years.