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Life

“I was starting to feel vaguely human…”

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

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Part 16
They came for him at 7am! After over two months of waiting, badgering, requesting, chasing and pleading and in the end begging, Mark had finally got his transfer. The officer arrived telling him without warning to pack his stuff and be ready in half an hour. We were thrown into chaos! Ever since he had arrived he had been requesting to be moved closer to his family in North Wales, and his first choice had been HMP Sudbury. As he was ‘D’ Categorised, he was eligible for an open prison and we had spent many hours in the prison library researching the best options for him. It seemed to have the best facilities, but as it was quite a distance from HMP Thameside, and not a prison to which they regularly shipped, the excuses had been many and varied as to why he had spent just over three months in a Category B facility.

Firstly they had assured him that he needed to have his sentence plan completed prior to departure, then they informed him that there were no spaces at HMP Sudbury. Another one was that the Governor of HMP Sudbury had to review his file and decide whether they wanted him or not. The list went on, and none of the excuses were valid. Apparently the real reason was that Serco wanted to wait until they had sufficient prisoners heading in the same direction, so that it was financially viable to drive all that distance. For each transfer they were apparently paid somewhere in the region of £350 per prisoner, plus mileage, so obviously it made sense to send a bus with 10 prisoners in it in one go,as the profit would be extremely lucrative!

The Prison system in its wisdom has a habit of springing these sorts of decisions on inmates with no notice. Evidently they were worried that 12 hours notice would give us time to ring around all our contacts on the outside and arrange for the bus to be hijacked so that we could escape. This seemed rather silly, given that they were in fact transferring him to an open prison anyway, which meant that the minute he arrived he would be able to simply walk out if he were that way inclined, and he had already been rather rigorously vetted and assessed as to the likelihood of this happening as part of the categorisation process, but of course in reality they never missed an opportunity to make our lives as difficult and unsettling as possible, and it had the desired effect.

He was immediately worried about having an adequate supply of medication. He’d had no end of trouble accessing batteries for his hearing aids, and every month experienced a nervous couple of days as his repeat prescriptions fell due, unsure whether the prison or the healthcare unit would remember to re-order them, so the realisation now dawned on him that he would in all likelihood have to go through the entire process with the new prison all over again, and it would therefore be necessary to take an extra month’s supply from here. On top of this, both of our enhanced applications had been submitted some two weeks earlier, and as yet we had received no reply. If his were not granted prior to his departure, he would have to begin all over again at the new prison, waiting a further three months before re-applying. He also had a visit planned with his parents, who were driving down from Anglesey specially to see him, in two days time, and the prison had shut down his access to the CMS and closed his spends account, meaning he now had no access to the telephone to call them. All in all it was extremely unnerving and upsetting.

My world had been thrown into chaos too. On my arrival I had not known anyone, and having been told we were to share a cell for the duration of our stay, I had been somewhat scared of who I would be paired with, however despite the occasional disagreement, and my sometimes irritation at his constant and incessant harping about his bloody transfer, or lack thereof, I had rather grown used to sharing with him. We got on fairly well,and in reality the options could have been far worse. Now that he was leaving, I would have to start all over again with someone new, and I knew I was in grave danger of being assigned someone far less house trained!

Over the past few weeks we had both resolved to keep ourselves as busy as possible in order to make the time pass as quickly as possible, so not only was I working in the print shop, and as peer mentor for Imaging software, but I had also started teaching reading to other inmates as part of the Shannon Trust Toe by Toe project, and had also been asked to become an equalities and diversity peer mentor, owing to the fact that I was probably the most qualified person in the prison, being foreign national, old, gay, and in here, being of Anglican religion I was even a minority creed. On top of all this I had also enrolled for listener training, and whenever I had a spare moment without Mark being in the cell, I had started work on my book, Chasing the Dragon, so with all this going on at least I was pretty much guaranteed of being busy!

Now that he was going, for the weekend at least I prayed that I might be left on my own to write. Weekends were the most difficult time in prison, I found. With no work or education there was precious little to occupy ones time. I had put my name down to attend the church service on a Sunday, and had gone a few times, but it was a scary experience. Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh services were held weekly, but being a minority religion, we only had an Anglican service once every four weeks or so, and the remaining three weeks all protestant religions were lumped into one session so most weeks were taken up with Pentecostal services, which demanded one ‘feel Jeeeesus in the room’, and other such orders, including multiple affirmations of Alleluia and Praise the Lord . Although I was not terribly religious at the best of times, the comfort of something familiar was quite a benefit to my state of mind, however the Happy-Clappy style of service which I was experiencing more often than not was frankly more disconcerting than anything, so I had soon given it up as a bad job. Anyway, most of the guys who attended only did so in order to conduct their drug deals with other inmates on different wings, and there was an endless stream of punters moving to and from the toilet throughout the service.

Now that Mark had gone, I had no wish to seek out new friends on the wing and having kept ourselves to ourselves, I hadn’t really forged any great alliances with anyone else up until now, and in fact was feeling quite anxious about doing so, preferring instead to squirrel myself away in the cell and concentrate on my writing, and I actually made quite good progress. Luckily, I was left to my own devices for the next ten days, and during that time I managed to knock out between 5000 and 9000 words per day. In fact, I spent so much time typing that I developed a rather painful carpal tunnel in my elbows from sitting too low in the plastic garden chair they provided us in the cells, but before long I had somewhere in the vicinity of 90,000 words recorded.

The Samsung televisions in our cells which doubled as computers, were actually fairly advanced in the programming options, so before I started typing each morning I would scan the free-view television guide and schedule any shows I wanted to watch, spacing them out every couple of hours so that the television would automatically switch to viewing mode at the scheduled times, providing me with a much needed rest for my back, neck, elbows and wrists! Ah, the peril of old age!

For the first time in along while, I was starting to feel vaguely human. Writing the book forced me to analyse what had actually gone on, and to question why I had behaved the way I had, why I had not given up the drugs much sooner, and why and how I had managed to fall to such depths of despair in such a short space of time, having given up on almost everything I had held most dear.

As I recalled all the events, which had contributed to where I was today, I found myself horrified at the entire state of affairs. For a long time now, things had been getting worse and worse — just when I couldn’t sink any lower, something would come along out of left field and shatter that illusion. Everything had had a snowballing effect, and I had been like a train running downhill with no brakes.

It was obvious, as it had never been before that I had been self medicating on recreational drugs initially to mask my lack of self-esteem and confidence, as well as the stress of day-to-day work pressures. When things had been going badly in the business or when I had been under extreme duress, I had allowed myself to be swept along with the tide. Everyone around me had been partying with drugs and at first I had been curious as to what the big deal was, but pretty soon I had realised that once I was high, I could forget all the stress and worry of the pressures of the business. I had very quickly become caught up with a group of so-called friends who had encouraged me to accompany them into this den of depravity, not that I had needed much convincing. I felt so much better under the influence and I had justified it all by reasoning that it was the only thing that kept me sane. Initially my confidence levels had soared and I had felt ‘normal’ in a way that had been severely lacking for quite some time!

Next had come the dealing, in order to fund my own habit, which I needed to make me function, and without which I was constantly drowning in stress and anxiety. This had further validated the premise that what was happening was normal, as everyone around me was doing it. Very soon what had started as a little pocket money generating operation, to ‘see me through until Christmas’ had escalated to a massive business with a £30,000 per week turnover, which in turn had caused more stress, less sleep, irregular eating patterns, weight loss, paranoia and worry. For this I had self medicated further, increasing my intake until I was slamming crystal meth all day and all night, only stopping to sleep every third day or so, when my body could no longer function and instead of sleeping, I was in fact, shutting down.

Once sex was added to the mix it was the perfect storm. The drugs made me feel amazing. When I slammed, within 2.7 seconds I would come up in a whoosh, and would remain that way, aided along the course of the day or night with candy-flipping bouts of GBL, Ketamine, or cocaine to fuel the fire. Every nerve ending in my body would be alive and tingling and I would feel energised and so horny, with all trace of work and money woes completely forgotten! It was the perfect form of escapism, a complete and total diversion from the rigours and reality of daily life, which underneath it all was spinning out of control.

Misery loves company, and I would have no problem at all encouraging or enticing someone local to join me in partaking — it didn’t really matter who, and once high we would fuck like rabbits — hard emotionless sex for sex sake, which would enhance my feelings of euphoria and further boost my confidence, as I convinced myself they were interested in me, when in actual fact once I had come down, the doubts very quickly crowded in, and I was left feeling used, abused and discarded like yesterday’s newspaper once I realised that the only reason the were there in essence was for the free drugs, and I was a mere conduit. And the answer to all that of course, was to slam another quarter gram and start all over again.

This had been a spiral from which I could not escape, and very quickly over the months it became worse and worse, as I became deeper and deeper embroiled into the machinations of it all. Marc had at one point suggested that I go to the doctor one morning when I had been feeling particularly low, but I had very quickly declined. There was no point really — I could not tell anyone I was self medicating on recreational drugs, although at the time I wasn’t really aware that this was even the case, but I was so embarrassed about the social ramifications of admitting their use to anyone outside the inner circle, and I was also terrified that if the doctor found out he would tell the police and I would be doomed. I was also terrified of any of my former work colleagues or friends finding out, because I knew the gossip would spread like wildfire, so I got to the point where I very rarely left the comfort of the flat. I would have been horrified if anyone had found out what I was doing, so I neglected all my friends, declined any invitations on the premise of being too busy, and retreated into my shell.

Then had come the boyfriend, Jakob, who in reality had similar issues to me. I had fallen completely in love with him to the exclusion of all rationalisation, and it became so important to me to keep him on the hook that I would have followed him anywhere, given him anything and done anything for him, and this was what in effect had happened. I somehow felt that if I could make this relationship a success, It would be justification for everything bad that was happening around me and that somehow the relationship would pull us both out of the mire in which we were sinking, and that the two of us together would somehow be able to re-establish some kind of normality, moving out of the haze of drug taking and depravity of drug dealing, and somehow giving each other the strength to come out the other end, when in reality I think we blamed each other for everything that was happening around us,and instead of working together for the common good, were both determined to either destroy each other or to make each other pay.

He would hurt me so badly, and then disappear for weeks on end without a word, whereupon I would punish myself and secretly him, by having sex with as many different men as I could possibly manage, wilfully hurting or punishing myself by allowing myself to be subjected to physical and emotional abuse, and once he had felt he had punished me enough, or possibly just because he needed more free drugs, he would breeze back in as if nothing had happened, and begin again where he had left off. I was so enamoured by him, and so scared of losing him that I would do whatever he asked or whatever I thought he wanted me to do, including things which throughout my entire 49 years had been complete deal breakers in the past. I had always felt that a relationship didn’t work unless it was monogamous, and yet with Jacob I had been prepared to allow him to have sex with others, and indeed during drug-fuelled sex parties we would regularly fuck others in front of each other, both pretending that it was normal and acceptable when deep down inside we both knew it wasn’t and were both secretly insanely jealous of each other.

In my rare moments of clarity I would recognise what was wrong, but would be powerless to correct it. By now I realised that some of these antics would be considered weird or strange — at the very least not normal, so there was even more reason why I could not tell anyone who didn’t already know about them. I felt stupid about allowing myself to be treated so badly by Jacob, but was again unable to talk about it to anyone, for fear of judgement and admonition. The drugs in fact, were the least of my problems, even though they were the only part of my chaotic life that were in fact illegal!

Once I realised how bad things were becoming, I would immediately set about trying to straighten the course, and would rush out on spending sprees, filling the fridge with food and drink in an attempt to normalise my existence, thinking that if there was a choice of food in the cupboards I would be more likely to choose that over drugs, but unfortunately it didn’t give me nearly the same feeling of fulfilment or boost to my confidence. I would also embark on periods of interior design, where I would attempt to revamp the sitting room, or smarten up the bedroom, because that’s what normal people do as well, so quite regularly I would take myself off to Homebase or Habitat and return with a car load of decorator items. Clothes shopping was another diversion which I rationalised, by thinking that if I had the latest designer clothing, at least when I went out I would look to all the world like I was normal.

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Then I’d been arrested which had done nothing positive at all for the state of affairs, and had succeeded in causing me more anxiety, worry and depression, which turned me back to the drugs again. I had also added anger into the mix, as I pondered the unfairness of it all, and the pressure of now having no choice but to continue where I had left off, as I now had no possibility of working, and no way of supporting myself. Of course that was not quite true, but I was in such a desperate state of affairs mentally, that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Throughout the rest of that year everything had continued to spiral out of control,and I had driven myself deeper and deeper into depression and self loathing, and still had no-one to turn to for help, no one who could take control, as by this time I was incapable of doing so. My self-esteem had deteriorated to the point where I now felt that no one cared what happened to me, no one was interested in helping me and anyway, there was nothing worth helping in the first place.

This was the first time in my life that thoughts of suicide had crept in. I had been extremely lucky at this point, that unbeknown to them, some of my so called friends had unwittingly foiled both attempts I had made, by turning up in search of free drugs at the very moment when I was about to take a lethal dose. Of course I have no idea if I would actually have had the nerve to carry it through, but I had certainly planned the entire process immaculately, and it had absolutely been my intention. By this point my life had been a living hell. I had been gang raped at gun point over a drug deal which had gone horribly wrong, and had then been subjected to six months of physical and mental abuse by both suppliers and clients alike, I had finally got rid of the boyfriend, which should have been a good thing, but instead had the opposite effect, and I embarked on another bout of self loathing and punishment, allowing myself to be sexual abused further — thinking that if subjected myself to enough pain, eventually I would pay enough for all the things which were wrong in my life. Finally the realisation that this was not going to happen had been what I think had pushed me over the edge into the realms of suicide and finality.

Since I had been in jail, for the moment all thoughts of suicide had left me, and having been off drugs for almost four months now, I felt as though that had been the lowest point in my life and that I was now on the path to recovery. At this point though, I think my self loathing had transformed itself to anger at others over everything that had happened to me — it seemed that everyone was out to get me and nothing seemed to go without a hitch.

I was angry at the Police for the lies they had told throughout the entire process, angry at the Crown Prosecution for lying, exaggerating or manufacturing evidence against me which didn’t exist, angry at my Lawyer for not representing me and not making the court aware of the facts, angry at the Prison staff for constantly lying and not doing what they were paid to do, angry at my friends for not acting quickly enough on my behalf, and not doing what I asked them, angry at the UKBA for not answering my questions, angry at the government for their bungling Uturns over the economy, but most of all, angry at myself for being so stupid as to get myself into this situation.

Actually, I was angry about everything — hell, I was even angry with the prison psychologist for failing to recognise that anything was wrong with me, except that I either had learning difficulties or that I had anger management issues, but even then I was even more angry that they had diagnosed these and yet had done nothing to address them! Mentally I guess I was now on a much more even keel. Of course I still had feelings of anxiety, insecurity, low self esteem and lack of confidence, but generally just the fact that I was now angry enough to stand up for myself, or even just that I was able to realise when things weren’t right, or weren’t being done as they should be was a step in the right direction. Just the fact that I now cared about what was going on around me was a positive move.

The next step came when I looked around me and realised that there were a lot of people who were far worse off than myself. I acknowledged that I had a long way to go in order to get myself back to the point I had been some three years earlier when everything seemed to have been going my way, but at least I was making progress in the right direction, and writing the book was taking huge steps towards helping me to ensure these situations either didn’t happen again, or were at least far less frequent.

Physically I wasn’t in the best of places — for the past four months I had been co-existing in an 8’ x 12’ cell with a guy I had never met, locked in it from 6pm until 8am each day, and then again for two hours from 12 until 2pm, sleeping on a hard bunk wrapped in polyester bedding, eating horrendously substandard food from plastic cutlery and plates,and shitting and showering in full view and hearing of my cellmate and in fact anyone who chose to look through the observation window in the middle of the cell door.

In short having forfeited every freedom, and having every facet of my life controlled and dictated by others, with very little choice over day to day decisions, and any aspect which did require the slightest modicum of choice or decision was very quickly thwarted by those in authority around me who were not competent enough to facilitate them. It was tough!

Having been self employed for pretty much my entire adult life, I had perhaps enjoyed more freedom usually than others, so it had been doubly difficult to submit to this regime, however there were people around me who had never enjoyed many of the privileges in life that I had taken for granted. I’d been lucky for most of my working life to earn the kind of income which allowed me considerable freedom, but here I had met people who had never even been abroad.

Due to the current gang mentality amongst housing estates in and around London which had been prevalent over the past few years, there were groups of boys, children really who had all been arrested together for the same crime and so were therefore in here for what really amounted to little more than a holiday camp. In most of their cases they had things a lot easier in here than they did in normal day to day life. To them, the prospect of a roof over their heads, three square meals a day, and the chance to hang out and play snooker or cards with their friends all day whilst having nothing better to do was a pretty good deal. The reality of outside life, with no money, no job, no education and nowhere to live meant that even when they were released from prison, for most of them they would very quickly turn back to crime, because the choices involved with freedom were far more difficult than life in incarceration.

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.

We are serialising Double Bubble on Mainly Male. This is the 16th instalment in the serialisation.

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Arts & Culture

Photography that embraces naked men

“Stop comparing ourselves to strangers on the internet…”

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Arrested Movement by Anthony Patrick Manieri (image supplied)
Arrested Movement by Anthony Patrick Manieri (image supplied)

I caught up with photographer Anthony Patrick Manieri to talk about his ongoing series of work known as Arrested Movement.

Why do you think this project has captured the imagination of gay men around the world?

Because we’re all the same really, except we don’t all look alike. We usually just see what society deems to be the ‘perfect’ body types, flashed across TV and social media all the time.

This project encompasses a wide variety of men that are photographed equally and beautifully. I feel that the variety of men and body shapes being highlighted are recognisable to most men. We need to see diversity represented more in the media. That, and also the idea of male body positivity is refreshing in a world where the media seems to only push female body positivity. In this day and age, where depression and anxiety are extremely commonplace, it’s nice to know that we’re not alone in the struggle.

Why are men so keen to be photographed by you for this project?

Because we all want to fit in. We all want to be accepted, and here is a photographic series celebrating all men, all body types, and showcasing them artistically. I think men look at this and can relate and identify with some of the participating models, because they see themselves in the photos.

Most of the men you’ve photographed for this project appear to be first-time models, most likely being professionally photographed naked for the first time. Was that experience confronting for many of your models?

From what I’ve seen, and from what some of my assistants mentioned to me, for most of the men that participate there’s a definite shift in their overall energy levels from when they first arrive at the studio to when they’re done. One assistant asked me — “What is going on in the studio? Because when they arrive they’re quite scared, some even shake with nerves, but when they leave they glow and have this sense of empowerment.”

I make sure that the studio is private and a safe space for them to try and feel as comfortable as possible. I brief them, and coach them with suggestions of possible body movement. I also stop periodically to show the gentlemen their progression so far in the shoot.

Most men, after seeing themselves on the screen during the shoot, are delightfully impressed by how they look. They look at themselves in a positive light artistically, and not what they usually expect to see. I talk to them about how their hands are positioned, their facial expressions, pointing of their feet, and the overall lines of their bodies in the frame.

When you’re not quite happy with your body, putting yourself out there is brave. I watch some men almost lose themselves in the moment and in the music. I’m grateful that I get to witness such a personal moment of self-evolution. For others, they’re determined to take an amazing photo, so they push themselves so that their final image is strong and unique.

Should everyone tackle a naked photo shoot at some point in their lives?

I don’t know if that’s the answer. What people should do is take time to appreciate and accept themselves, to put themselves first. Fill their own cups before extinguishing their energy with others. Uniqueness is special. It’s okay to look different on the outside, because we’re all the same on the inside.

How is the project continuing to evolve?

I’m currently working on the design of the book — I’ll be releasing a Kickstarter page this Fall. I’m also looking at gallery spaces to have the first of many shows.

Are you still actively shooting guys for this project?

I’m still actively photographing men. If it were up to me, I’d be in a different city every weekend photographing.

Since I’m funding this myself, I need to take breaks between cities. Travelling, studio costs, and hotels add up quickly. There are a few cities in the US, Canada, and Mexico that I’d like to do before heading back to Europe. Beyond that, there’s talk of Australia, and possibly some cities in South America for 2019.

How can we help each other feel better about our bodies?

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I think we really need to be kind to ourselves, and each other — daily. Judgement and self-judgement is such a human flaw, it’s like a vibrational plague. We should be detaching ourselves from our smart-phones and social media regularly. Yoga and meditation are great ways to feel centred and grounded, to be in tune with our higher self. Eating right always makes for a happier body and mind. We need to encourage and validate each other to be the best we can be.

What do the images that you’ve captured through this project tell us about gay men and their relationship with their bodies?

Gay culture is meant to be inclusive, and we celebrate that inclusiveness. Though within the gay community, there’s such a divide between men. We’re labelled and put in categories, therefore creating almost a hierarchy of what’s acceptable.

Body-image and self-esteem start in your own mind, not on Instagram. We need to literally stop comparing ourselves to strangers on the internet. We need to make mental health a priority in the gay community.

I hope that when people see this project, they know their worth, they know that they’re beautiful, and that it’s okay to be different.

Meet the participants

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