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Arts & Culture

Cockroaches. Rats. Prison.

Photo by Nicolas Ladino Silva on Unsplash

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Part 4

The officer led me to three cells before finally finding one that had a spare bed. Evidently her list had not been updated for a number of days. She deposited me in the cell and turned to leave before a rather thin wiry looking bloke came running down the landing gesticulating wildly with his hands and yelling out to the officer ‘No, no, no, you can’t put him in there! You know that’s a smoking cell?’ It didn’t worry me, but patently it did him. After a few further exchanges It was decided that I would be left there until after the lunchtime lock-up, by which time they would have decided where to put me.

Bill turned out to be a nice guy. Over lunch whilst we were locked up together we started chatting and it turned out his first wife had been from New Zealand, so he regaled me stories of the trips he had been on there, when visiting his children. We then got into why we were here, and I learnt that he had been on remand for almost 12 months already, with no sign of trial in sight. I was appalled that this was allowed to happen. Obviously without knowing the full ins and outs of his case, I had no idea how complex it was, but if he was as innocent as he claimed to be, it was shocking that he should be incarcerated, without trial for months on end for something he didn’t do, and what would happen to him once he did get his day in court, if he was found innocent? Would he be entitled to compensation? Probably not!

After lunch they came for me again and this time I was moved up to the top floor. The officer opened the door to admit me, then locked it again and walked off. It was filthy! There were used bread and breakfast cereal wrappers all over the floor, a rickety table in the corner supported a plastic kettle and a few Styrofoam cups in various stages of live culture growth. The bunks looked like they were the originals from 1892, and squeaked and shook when I tried to climb up to the top. Next to the bunk was an upturned box which served as a bedside table for my now absent cellmate to hold his Q’uran and ashtray, along with the assortment of marijuana roaches which were lined up beside them. There were empty ‘Black Mambo’ spice packs on the floor beside his bed, and another box full of breakfast cereal packs and two minute noodles. The bathroom was putrid, the sink was blocked and full of a foul, acrid smelling yellowish brown liquid, and the toilet bowl was black!

Paper and food scraps had been discarded out the window which had a wire net covering on the outside, meaning the refuse had built upon the windowsill over many months or even years and was of a similarly pungent odour. On the upside, there was a rather decrepit looking old analogue television set in the opposite corner to the table, and by fiddling with the aerial socket I managed to get a weak reception for BBC1 and Channel 4 — enough at least to be able to catch up on the news of the world on the outside, as by this stage I was feeling extremely isolated from the world around me.

I set to work cleaning as much as I could, not wanting to disturb my as yet anonymous cell mate’s personal hoard, but I simply couldn’t live in this squalor! I wasn’t sure what I could do about the blocked sink and toilet, but managed to scrape the bracken liquid out of the basin using a Styrofoam cup, and pour it into the toilet at least, so it didn’t smell quite so bad.

At 4pm we were opened for ‘association’. Having basically been locked up for 23 ½ hours for the past 5 days, I’d thought that this was the standard routine, so when they opened the door and left it open, I didn’t quite know what to do next. It wasn’t until 5 minutes later when I saw a couple of guys walking along the landing carrying towels, that I realised that I could have had a shower, had I known where they were. I grabbed my towel and went exploring, but by the time I’d found the shower room on the level below, there was a queue out the door, and I came to the rapid conclusion that I would need to be quicker in future.

Once back in my cell I realised that someone had stolen my television set, so that was the end of my entertainment for the night. They had also called exercise at the same time, but not knowing what that was all about, I decided I was safer back in my cell, and I returned to the task of cleaning again.

I didn’t know anyone, apart from Bill who was down on the ground floor, and frankly I was too frightened to venture out unless I absolutely had to, and anyway I would look like an idiot standing around on my own, so this was the safer option.

After Dinner, there was still no sign of my cellmate, and in the absence of anything better to do, I tried to lie on my bunk but it was too unstable. I was sure It was going to fall over, and wasn’t sure what to do about it. Whilst lying there pondering what to do, the door opened and a tall black guy with an afro, dressed in heavily soiled chef ‘s whites sauntered in. Obviously he must have worked in the kitchens and that was the reason for his absence all afternoon. Ignoring me, he plonked himself down on the lower bunk and immediately reached for the ashtray and roaches. Tearing them open he emptied their contents into a fresh rizla paper and rolled himself a joint which he then proceeded to smoke in it’s entirety, lying on his bed, blowing smoke skyward. Non-smoking wing, indeed!

Before long he got up and started pacing up and down the cell, stopping every so often beside the door to bang his head against the wall. I didn’t even know if he knew I was there, but I wasn’t about to bring myself to his attention. The pacing and head banging went on for a good half hour, before he finally settled down and laid back down on his bunk with a dull thud which shook the entire structure violently. I similarly lay there immobile, wondering how the hell I was ever going to survive in here. I got that I had broken the law and needed to be punished, but this was a fate worse than death. I was terrified that he would notice me and become further agitated than he had been, and had no idea what to do. There was an emergency button next to the door, but would that make things worse? How long would it take for someone to come to my assistance? Would they come at all?

Before long there was more stirring beneath me, and I realised that he was rolling another joint. The light was still on, and outside was pitch black, but apart from knowing it was night, I had no idea of the time as I had no watch and not even the television as a guide. Another hour or so passed with more pacing, the occasional scream and more violent head banging, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, He just turned around as if in a trance, fell onto his bunk and within five minutes or so was snoring loudly, shaking the entire bunk again.

Feeling extremely precarious, I knew I wouldn’t sleep lying up here, so climbing down carefully to avoid waking him, I gingerly pulled my mattress off the top of the bunk and laid it down next to the door. It wasn’t ideal, and I had to leave the last 18 inches or so lying up the wall, meaning I would have to sleep half sitting up, but at least the entire structure wasn’t threatening to topple over with me in it.

Lying down I realised I had another few problems. Under the bunk there was a party of cockroaches, obviously feasting off the unused dry food stuffs which my cell mate had thrown in the box in the corner, literally hundreds of them scurrying back and forth across the floor under the beds, and coupled with this were at least five mice popping in and out of the concrete cracks between the wall and the floor. My cell mate had been making such a racket that I either hadn’t heard them or they had similar to me, been to scared to surface, but now he was comatose, they were making the most of it!

I lay there crying silently, feeling exceedingly sorry for myself,and at a complete loss to know what to do. Morning came and the door clanged open loudly, jarring me awake. Cell mate was once again dressed in his filthy chef ‘s whites, in fact I wasn’t sure he had even taken them off the night before. ‘What’s he doin’ down there?’ asked the officer. I would have thought one look at the derelict set of bunks would have given him the answer! ‘Dunno, he was like it this morning.’

I lay there with my face to the wall, pretending to be asleep. I couldn’t say anything about the state of affairs with this guy still in the cell, or it would look like I was squealing. I would have to wait until after he had gone to work. It would also give me time to work out what to say! By about 9am, after free-flow had ended, I had worked it all out in my head. I pressed the emergency button and waited. Eventually after what seemed an eternity a face appeared in the observation panel of the door. ‘Whaddaya want?’ ‘I need to see a listener.’ I replied. I had read somewhere along the way, in one of the endless waiting rooms I’d sat in over the past few days, that there were some guys who were available to talk about problems and issues. Well, I certainly had enough of them to engage a listener for half the morning!

Half an hour later another inmate arrived and asked me through the door what the problem was. I told him about the shaking bunk, the cigarette smoking, and the violent head banging and screaming, the sleeping on the floor, the cockroaches and the mice. I’m not sure what the deciding factor was, but half an hour later he was back to tell me I would be moved after lunch.

Meanwhile another officer had come to check the cell. He tested the emergency bell, had a wander through the bathroom, made some marks on his clipboard,and was about to disappear. He couldn’t have failed to have seen the used roaches next to the bed, and the empty ‘Black Mambo’ packets, but evidently wasn’t concerned. ‘The sink is blocked and the toilet needs some cleaner.’ He shot me a withering stare. ‘I know, it’s been like it fora week or so.’ before slamming the cell door and moving onto the next cell.

After lunch I was moved back down to landing two, and a completely empty cell. This one also had old bunks but they had been separated so that there were two single beds, one along each wall, and finally I had a television set, although no aerial.

Someone had tried to commit suicide in it the night before and the blood stains all over the floor were still fresh enough to give off that slightly metallic aroma. I spent the next two hours scrubbing the blood off the walls and floor. It had sprayed everywhere, and was even up the legs of the beds and desks. The officer had given me a bucket and some cleaning clothes, and a splash of bleach, so by the time I’d finished it smelt of nothing but ammonia.

The doors opened and this time I was ready, and bounded outside with my towel, racing down the landing to the shower room. There were four cubicles to cater for 50 or so men, so no wonder there was a queue every day for them. Today there were only three in line by the time I got there. None of the cubicles had shower curtains, so everyone seemed to be showering in their underwear, and I followed suit, wanting to blend in as much as possible to avoid attention, but after 6 days unwashed I wouldn’t have cared who watched by this point!

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Things were looking up! I had used a couple of the boards from the broken desk in the cell to slide under my mattress, and had cleaned all the refuse away from the window ledge, so now I had clean air coming in through the windows, bleached floors and walls, a reasonably comfortable bed and a clean hand basin. The only issue now was that the toilet didn’t flush, but again, I was so pleased to be away from the problems of the last cell, that I could manage without a flushing loo! For the moment I would make do with pouring bucket loads of water down it for the same result. It was clearly a waste of time relying on maintenance to repair it in a hurry!

Finally I’d been called to ‘Induction’. Because I’d arrived on a Saturday, there had been none scheduled over the weekend, and then I’d been moved on Tuesday, so had missed it then, and now they had finally caught up with me. I sat in a room with about 20 other newly incarcerated, while a well seasoned looking fellow sat in front of the class and explained how everything worked. Actually with everything he described I had pretty much figured it all out for myself, but I noticed the look of wide eyed disbelief of some of the guys faces when he stated quite matter of factly ‘You’re gonna get cockroaches, thousands of them, and you’re gonna get rats. Get over it, this is a Victorian prison, they’re a fact of life!’ He didn’t need to tell me, I’d already had first hand experience of them, but I failed to see how the age of the prison could be used as a justification for us having to endure abject slovenly filth and lack of maintenance.

I had been recalled to education for assessment as well, which meant that I could possibly get myself onto a course and earn some money, as I’d almost given up on ever having my phone numbers added to my pin account. By now it was Wednesday and still nothing had been done about them, and when I enquired I was told I would have to wait. I was becoming increasingly worried that no-one knew where I was, and nervous about what was happening to my belongings, clothing, jewellery and the like as I was pretty sure the landlord would want to clear out the flat and re-let it, and I would still be liable for rent at £420 per week until it was all finalised as well.

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 fourth instalment in the serialisation. Go back to read earlier instalments.

The Chemsex Trilogy

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Arts & Culture

Giving a voice to gay Arab men

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Samer Bo (image supplied)
Samer Bo (image supplied)

I caught up with author Samer Bo to talk about writing erotic gay fiction in Egypt.

What led you to start writing erotic gay fiction?

I was forgetting what was happening. I noticed that when someone asked me about what happened to me the previous week, I couldn’t remember the details.

I think forgetting was my defence-mechanism for all the pain and trouble.

So, I started by writing my diaries, which ended to be quite erotic sometimes. Then that moved to erotic fiction.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your stories?

Inspiration comes from my personal experiences and sometimes my friends’ experiences. Other times, I just meet a guy or watch a movie, and it inspires me to write a story.

Who are your target audience?

I write for myself before anyone else. I’d love all gay men to read and get aroused by my stories.

But I guess I do write for minorities — people who don’t usually get represented in media, porn, or erotic stories. I want people to see themselves represented in my novels.

What sort of feedback do you get from your readers?

I get a lot of positive feedback from people in the Middle East who finally find a voice speaking to them. Some see me as a role model — a type of Egyptian guy that they never see in the media.

Do your friends and family know that you write erotic gay fiction?

Only some close friends know. I’m not in touch with my family anyway. Samer is my real name, but I changed my last name to Bo.

Have you had any negative reactions to the gay erotic fiction that you write?

I only tell people about my writing if I know that they’re either gay or gay friendly. So I haven’t had negative reactions in that respect.

However, I have had multiple incidents of homophobia. I was arrested once.

Son of the President isn’t an erotic story, how did that story come to you?

That story is based on the real-life story of an older friend that I met a few years ago. I told him about my erotic stories, and he asked me to write an erotic story inspired by his experiences.

However, I felt that if I wrote it as erotica, it would take away from the essence of the story. So I left it as non-erotic story.

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What do you hope that people feel when reading your stories?

First of all, aroused from my erotic stories. Plus, I want people to feel represented.

Gay Arabs are not represented in any kind of media. We’re being suppressed and discriminated against. A lot of gay men in the Middle East feel that being gay is wrong, and that homosexuality is a sin.

This is my small way to help those men feel better about themselves.

What are some of your goals and ambitions for the remainder of 2018?

More stories, maybe some non-erotic ones. I’m also helping a friend of mine to change his non-erotic short story into a play.

Read the novels by Samer Bo

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