DRUGS & DEGREDATION: MEMORIES OF PENTONVILLE
By MARTIN WINGFIELD. Undaunted by the 3 month prison sentence imposed on him by the State, he was unanimously elected NF Chairman by his Directorate colleagues on his release from jail.
"WATCH OUT for the woofters!", was the most frequent remark made to me when I informed anyone of my intended spell in prison. Although said in jest, the worry of being locked up with one of Britain's steadily growing 'gay community' was in my mind when I started my internment at Pentonville in November 1985.
It appeared that my suspicions were to be founded when a head was poked through my cell door and I was asked whether I wanted 'a bit of blow'. Having told the gentleman concerned exactly what to do I was hoping that the word would go around and I would be left alone. No such luck, the very next evening a black face popped around the door and I was asked, "Do you want a bit of black, man?"
On exercise the next day I told an 'old lag', who had been helpful to me with advice on prison routine during those first traumatic days, about my experiences. He laughed at my suspicions and cheerfully announced "They're not gay-boys son, they're pushing dope".
It took me about a week to realise that nearly half the inmates in Pentonville prison were either smoking cannabis every evening, most evenings or at a week-end.
Dope was the life-blood at Pentonville, rapidly replacing tobacco as the most saleable commodity. It was always a topic of conversation from the morning slop-out where the Rastafarians sang their jerkily mumbled songs in praise of 'ganja', to the exercise yard where there was always someone rushing around trying 'to score' or 'make a deal'.
I knew of two 'big dealers' in drugs during my period at Pentonville. One told me that he would make in excess of ￡1,800 in deals during his two month stay. He was a resident in 'D' wing but one day managed to slip into 'A' wing's exercise yard. He was immediately recognised by the other inmates who flocked around him to 'strike a deal'.
A quarter of 'black' would be sold although no money or drugs would immediately change hands. On the outside, money would be sent by a contact of the purchaser to an address given by the dealer. When the money had been deposited, the purchaser would request a visit from a person whose name and address would be given to him by the dealer. When the visit took place the dope changed hands.
The visit was often highly amusing as neither the inmate nor his visitor knew what each other looked like. Nearly always it turned into a farce with the visitor shouting "Jimmy, where are you? I can't see you", with the reply coming "Is that you Lucy? This is Jimmy over here".
I saw inmates so stoned they could hardly put two words together. I saw inmates so stoned they had to walk along leaning up against the wall to hold themselves up. I saw an inmate carted off to the block (punishment cells) after a search during an evening class for a teacher's mislaid wallet revealed his dope. I saw inmates running, jumping and trying to catch the pigeons on the exercise yard completely stoned out of their minds. The next day they could be seen shuffling around the same yard "trying to get themselves together".
I believe the prison authorities have deliberately turned a blind eye to the use of soft drugs in prison in their quest for a peaceful life as Britain's prisons become more and more congested with a growing number of people from different cultures with different conventions to those of our own. Just like community policing where the police admit to turning a blind eye to certain offences, the same rules appear to apply in Pentonville.
The unfortunate spin-off is that British youngsters, to whom cannabis is not part of their culture, are taking advantage of the situation and their short sharp shock treatment is turning into a drug-befuddled sick joke.
I was able to view my stay at H.M. Prison Pentonville without the blinkers of bitterness, for not only was I not guilty of the offence I had been charged with, I didn't even recognise the law I had been prosecuted under. I did not regard myself as a criminal and had no intention of acting like one. At all times I strode around the prison with my head held high and never wasting an opportunity of making mental notes of the things I saw. The effect of my attitude was that seldom a day went by without an officer telling me, "You don't look as though you should be here" from which followed the question "What did you do?".
On my first morning when interviewed by the governor he gave me a lecture on rabble-rousing in prison. “We've got many inmates from the ethnic minorities here Wingfield, so you are just going to have to learn to live with them". The authorities were obviously worried of the possibility that my presence in prison could stir up unrest and I was immediately dispatched to a single cell and allocated a job as cleaner in the education department where for many hours I worked totally alone.
The conditions in prison were generally inhuman and were entitled to bring the worst out in the inmates. But, both black and white prisoners alike acted with great dignity. There is no doubt in my mind that the anaesthetic effect of smoking dope helped many inmates cope with such degradation.
The education department where I worked, on the other hand, was warm, clean and friendly. The staff treated those inmates on full-time education and others connected with the department with respect and on equal terms which raised the standard of behaviour of even the most moronic inmate.
The staff room which I cleaned every morning had its fair share of left-wing propaganda which was constantly distributed by the Inner London Education Authority, Women Against Police Harrassment, Anti-Racist Teaching and a wealth of other pamphlets supporting various other minority causes covered the literature table. The teachers themselves were very friendly and we had many chats discussing the National Front and its policies. They took great delight in informing me when the Guardian covered the NF.
Numerous prison officers expressed support for the National Front and others admitted agreement with many NF policies. Many P.O.s were upset at a recent case of positive discrimination within the prison service at Pentonville. While officers from the ethnic minorities made up just 1% of the staff, one had been promoted to senior officer; according to another prison officer "... over the heads of vastly more experienced officers". Bitter recriminations came from other officers and one summed up their feelings telling me "An inexperienced officer, who can't even speak the Queen's English has been promoted simply because his colour makes it politically expedient to do so."
In 1982, Joe Pearce said after his four months in Chelmsford, "Prison has strengthened my resolve". I'm pleased to say that my spell in Pentonville has done the same for me.
Edmund Burke was so very true when he wrote "He who wrestles with me makes me stronger". By their persecution of National Front members up and down the country the authorities of today are priming and training the National Front for its crusade of tomorrow, a crusade on behalf of the British people under our banner of National Freedom and Social Justice.