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“Another example of monumental waste.”

Photo by Parker Gibbons on Unsplash

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Part 14
Edd was working for a marketing agency, and I was still in regular contact with him, in fact he had been amazing at coming to visit me, and in arranging to have my clothes brought in and the like. In a conversation on the phone with him one night, I told him about my new working arrangements, and he came up with the bright idea that his company might be able to use us for their printing needs with clients.

I mentioned this to the manager of the Print shop, who thought it a great idea, except that the prison had no way of getting paid for it, so in practice it was impossible. It was incredible to me, having run my own businesses in various fields for my entire adult life, that having spent so much capital on equipment, and with an endless supply of almost free labour, the prison, particularly a private one who was supposedly profit driven, should not be looking for every opportunity they could to make money, however, as with pretty much every other area in the prison system, they were very good at crying poverty, bemoaning the budget cuts and staff shortages, but were unwilling or unable to help themselves and come up with alternatives.

It seemed unless they were given the money from the Government, there was no other option, in fact, it was almost as if they had made a conscious decision not to make money for fear of having their budget cut, or allocated elsewhere if they showed a bit of initiative. It was yet another case of Government departments at war with Parliament. Meanwhile, what could have been an extremely profitable centre, with the potential as an invaluable training area for inmates to learn highly desirable job skills, enabling them to find worthwhile employment on release, and at the same time providing assistance in building confidence and self esteem, was being absolutely squandered. The facilities and all the machinery were virtually sitting idle while the staff sat around drinking coffee and waiting for the next stationery order to come in, when with minimal planning it could have been a hive of industry!

Another example of monumental waste was the gardens department. Not long after we had arrived, they had spent what must have been the best part of £10,000 each on two poly tunnels, which they erected in between the radial arms of B, C, and D wings. They must have been at least 30m long and 10m wide, large enough at least to grow a fairly substantial crop of vegetables, which could then have been used in the kitchens, we thought. The Prison allowed £2.07 per person per day to feed each inmate, and needless to say the quality of food was less than perfect. Absolutely everything came out of a Brakes freezer bag — all the vegetables were frozen, the fish was pre-prepared, cottage pies were made of cheap frozen beef mince, which oozed orange fat when cooked, and dehydrated potato whip. Even the roasted potatoes were straight out of a McCains freezer bag.

Seeing this poly tunnel rising from the ground got us quite excited, with thoughts of an abundance of fresh vegetables and perhaps even fruit or berries flowing forth in the coming months. How clever, we thought! How innovative and forward thinking! It would be another great training facility, where inmates could learn all the skills needed to grow their own vegetables once released, and could even provide employment prospects in gardening, landscaping, or other areas of horticulture.

I often went to bed at night dreaming of nice crisp, crunchy carrots, rather than the rubbery cubed variety to which we were normally subjected on a daily basis. Perhaps things were looking up! The first error, we noticed though, was that there was no watering system installed, meaning that throughout summer it would be extremely hard work to keep anything alive. They then spent a good couple of weeks cultivating the soil, adding compost, and fertiliser, and we watched the progress with avid interest. Before long we noticed shades of green emerging from the soil, and a dedicated team of eager, if somewhat geriatric inmates appeared and started tending the fledgling plants.

Before long there were other signs of garden life emerging around the prison. Weird round and triangular garden beds began to pop up everywhere, and even weirder shrubs soon began to appear in the centre of them. Meanwhile as the weather began to become warmer, these poor old fellows were forced to spend their days carrying buckets of water, often over quite large distances in order to keep everything alive. Luckily, English weather as it is, there weren’t too many weeks that this was necessary, however it did seem a little stupid, having spent so much money on the tunnel houses themselves, not to have spent a little more on some underground piping, a couple of extra taps, and at least a garden hose!

Of course the lovely fresh healthy vegetables I had dreamed about were not to be! After some three or so months, we began looking out the window in dismay at the sight of the bountiful produce rotting in the ground. Those five poor old fellows who had been charged with tending the tunnel houses had worked so hard maintaining the watering and weeding regime and must have been so disappointed and discouraged.

A couple of months later I was moved and shared a cell with one of them who gave me the full story on the entire saga. Evidently the whole project had been a resounding success — everything had grown exceedingly well, and by the end of the season they did indeed have a colossal crop of carrots, assorted varieties of lettuce, leeks, cabbages, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and peppers, along with strawberries and raspberries, and they too were becoming excited about seeing the fruits of their labours gracing the dining halls, or at the very least, the staff bistro, but no! Unfortunately when the first crops were picked and offered to the kitchens, they were told in no uncertain terms that they were completely unsuitable for any use whatsoever because it was too labour intensive to clean and prepare them all for bulk catering, therefore the entire project, all the expense associated with the erection of the tunnel houses, all the months of hard work, carrying endless buckets of water back and forth each day, not to mention the expense of purchasing the seedlings in the first place had all been in vain, all because the catering manager was too lazy to oversee a couple of inmates to wash and peel a few spuds!

Yet another shining example of prison efficiency, but it went further than this! The gardening detail were allowed to eat as much as they liked whilst they were working, but were not even permitted to bring any of the produce back to the wings for fear that they would trade it for other items of value or worse, sell it to other inmates. God forbid that any of them should develop any sort of entrepreneurial bent, or even that they should even give it away for free. Far more preferential for it to remain rotting in the hothouses, to taunt those who could see it from their windows!

To make matters worse, a few weeks after I had learned of the downfall of this project I was assigned yet another cell-mate, this one working in recycling and waste management. Quite often he would arrive back on the wing with punnets of strawberries and cherry tomatoes in peak condition, concealed under his jacket. It seemed that the kitchens did in fact order these items in their weekly vegetable order, however most of them never made it to the servery as they were usually consumed by the kitchen staff as soon as they arrived, however once these workers had had their fill, the remainder were simply thrown in the garbage. He assured me that sometimes, usually on a Tuesday, there were entire boxes thrown out as kitchen waste, and all in perfect order. Budget cuts and staff shortages indeed!

Double Bubble
Double Bubble is the third book in The Chemsex Trilogy — a series of books written by Cameron Yorke about his experience with Chemsex, addiction, and imprisonment in the UK.

Read our interview with the author.

We are serialising Double Bubble on Mainly Male. This is the 14th instalment in the serialisation. Go back to read earlier instalments.

The Chemsex Trilogy

Visit Cameron Yorke’s website

Cameron Yorke. Photo by Andres Payo (image supplied)
Cameron Yorke. Photo by Andres Payo (image supplied)

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Life

Wednesday Wisdom: Heteronormativity

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Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash
Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

I find it hard to shake my perception that dating is ultimately about finding ‘the one’ — that you may have to kiss a lot of frogs in the process, but ultimately you’re hoping to find someone that you really connect with, that you have amazing sex with, that you want to move in together and do domestic things with, that you want to introduce to your family, that you want to go on vacation with, that you want to grow old with and live happily ever after.

That’s pretty much what I’ve seen in my family, that’s what I’ve seen in movies. For some gay couples that I know, that’s exactly how it works.

It’s not difficult to understand that from all of our cultural and environmental influences, we’re being conditioned to aspire to a ‘good’ relationship that roughly fits that Hollywood ideal. This is heteronormativity in action.

One of the foundations of much of queer theory, ‘heteronormative’ is a term first coined by academic Michael Warner in 1991. Heteronormativity is the belief that the binary genders of male and female are required for people to perform the natural roles in life — assuming that heterosexuality is the default and preferable sexual orientation.

I’m not making any moral judgements about anyone’s relationship. If it works for you, then that’s great. If you want to settle down with a husband and live happily ever after, then all power to you — that’s what equality is all about.

But it is helpful to occasionally challenge ourselves by asking if our thoughts or actions are being influenced in some way by the heteronormativity that we’re all exposed to every day.

Here’s an example. A friend of mine has been with his boyfriend for years. They live together, they bought a flat together, they decided to get married. They’ve always had an open relationship — that’s worked for them. The weekend before the wedding, he was in the toilets of XXL — a club in London — getting worked over by two muscle-bears.

My instinctive reaction was — “That’s not right…” It’s the heteronormativity talking. In my head, marriage is about monogamy, and that if you were continuing to enjoy an active and open sex life then maybe marriage is not for you. But clearly I’m applying made-up rules to situations that don’t fit the heternomative model.

Obviously, an open relationship isn’t incompatible with marriage. Neither is a monogamous relationship. But this is an illustration of the complexity that we’re all navigating as marriage equality offers additional options for how we define our relationships.

It’s too easy to apply a Hollywood-happily-ever filter to our view of a marriage between two guys. But gay guys are different, we’ve been told that all of our lives, and in that difference there’s power — just because we can get married doesn’t mean that our marriages have to look like anyone else’s, the only rules that need to apply are the ones that make sense to us.

It’s important that we don’t perpetuate the perception that ‘good gays get married’ or that marriage is only meaningful if it looks like something out of a mid-career Sandra Bullock movie.

It’s not easy to find someone that you want to spend time with, to make compromises for, and perhaps it would be a lot easier if there was a black and white set of rules that all relationships had to follow. But whatever your sexuality, relationships are messy and complicated things that really only ever make sense to the people that are in them.

Embrace love, forget heteronormativity.

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