Having been denied access to my beloved computer for the entire three day weekend, I attacked the book with gusto, locking myself away from the general public, and concentrating on writing, whilst at the same time plugging away at my list of issues. First of all of course was the complaint and request to have my personal effects replaced, so after a week, in the absence of any sign of the promised visit from the Senior Officer, I decided it was best to get things moving sooner rather than later, whilst it was all fresh in everyone’s minds.
Terry Jeeves was the S.O. in charge of the wing — the same S.O who four weeks earlier had come to see me in response to my application for Enhanced status. He had furnished me with about five type written forms, which he advised would need to be signed by all the officers in charge of the various areas in which I was involved, namely; Equalities and Diversities, Library, Samaritans for Listener training which hadn’t even started yet, Louisa Hawkes, the Acting Deputy Head of Education, and the Print shop. It had been no mean feat to have all these completed, as movement in prison is restricted to only those areas to which you are scheduled, and if the various managers of each section were not available, or off on annual or sick leave, which was a common occurrence, then any requests would have to wait until the next scheduled session. It was pure suicide to leave anything with anyone, or to expect anything to be done unless you were prepared to stand over them and supervise, as paperwork constantly went missing, and frankly what was of paramount importance to you, was of no interest at all to the staff in these establishments. The stock standard response when anyone asked them for anything, no matter how menial, was usually either “I’m too busy” or more commonly “there are 1200 prisoners in this prison — not just you!”
I had very quickly realised that it was a good thing that the British Government had such a well subscribed prison service and the crime was at such a high rate in this country, as it guaranteed the employment of people who under normal circumstances in the public sector would never have held down a job otherwise! Anyway, I had managed to get everything signed and had lodged the application, only to find it still stuck on the noticeboard of the office three days later, so had taken it back and handed it personally to Terry, who informed me that it would be successful and would take approximately two weeks to process. I had also, learning from my earlier mistake, hand delivered my complaint form to him, and he assured me that it would be handed to the relevant departments.
Next was a follow up on my medical treatments that had by now been delayed three times. When I had been taken to UCL Hospital for throat scans for suspected throat cancer, the specialist had informed me that they needed to perform a gastroscopy on my vocal chords as he was pretty certain the problems were coming from there. I was informed that an appointment would be made and the prison would be informed, but of course they could not tell me when it would be for security purposes — again they were afraid I would ring all my friends the day before for them to bust me out of the van in transit! Anyway, over the past three months since I had been at HMP Thameside, I had received three notifications by mail from the hospital informing me that I had not attended my scan and that unless I contacted them within the next two weeks, the case would be closed and I would need to be referred back to my GP. This was no use to me at all, as now that I was in here, I had no access to the GP, and no way of contacting them, so after the third such notification I was livid! On each occasion I had taken the letter to the officer in charge of the wing, and each time they had taken a photocopy of the letter and forwarded it to healthcare, who had obviously rescheduled it, but something was obviously happening along the way with the prison service which was preventing me from attending. Each time the wing staff would tell me that the Hospital had cancelled the appointment, but if that were the case, they wouldn’t have sent me a letter telling me I had failed to attend!
Jayne, the Sexual Health nurse, and my secret weapon when it came to all things medical, had advised me that it was the Prison who couldn’t be bothered escorting me down to central London for the appointment, so they just ignored it and hoped I would get sick of pestering them and forget about it! This was standard procedure with everything to do with this prison, and certainly for minor quibbles, could be expected, however scans for throat cancer, in my estimation, were no small matter, particularly since I had a history of cancer, and knew first hand the importance of catching these things as soon as possible for the best chance of treatment success. Of course in Prison also, left largely to one’s own devices at night and for prolonged periods of time, with nothing else to do, these things were apt to weigh heavy on one’s mind. In my case, stressed, worried and anxious anyway, with the added anxiety over what had recently happened, on top of my normal worries of the future and prison in general, the fear of medical issues was amplified and the more I thought about them the worse they became, so I had worked myself up into quite a state, and there was no way I was going to let it slide!
Unfortunately, in this situation my hands were tied and as with everything else in this place, I had no control over it whatsoever. By now though, after three missed appointments, I’d had enough, so I decided that whilst I was filing a complaint about the missing items, I might as well file another one about this also. There is a prescribed process solely for complaints within the prison system, and it is one of the few procedures which is standard nationwide! Firstly you file what’s called a comp 1 form, detailing the particulars of the complaint and what you want done about it. The Prison then has seven days to reply, but in reality, nothing is ever resolved that quickly — on average its usually more like two weeks. If the response is not satisfactory, you then file a comp 1a form, which is basically an appeal of the first decision, which goes to a governor for consideration. Each of these are lodged in a locked box on each wing,and are supposed to be collected daily, however again, in reality this does not happen, and its more like once a week. But again they are supposed to reply within seven days, and usually do so within 14! If the response to this is still not satisfactory, the next step is to fill out a complaint on an IMB form. The IMB is the Independent Monitoring Board, and there is a volunteer in each prison who comes in usually once a week to process these complaints. They visit the areas involved and basically mediate between the prison and the inmate. They have no power to force the prison to act, but at least they are an impartial party in the process. If all that fails, the last port of call is the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman, an Independent Government body that have the final say in any adjudication.
You need to write to them independently, after all other avenues are exhausted, including all previous correspondence and detailing all the steps that have happened so far,and they are supposed to reply within two weeks also. Very few of these are ever lodged, as usually in most prisons issues are dealt with internally, or at the very least with the IMB. For my medical process, I had already lodged a complaint, which had been sent back suggesting I complain to the Healthcare department, which has a separate complaints process, however I was 99.9% sure it wasn’t the fault of the Healthcare Department, but rather the Prison who were responsible for my escort to and from hospital. So I had lodged a comp 1a but had had no response. This time I decided to lodge an IMB form. It seemed the only way to get anything done in here was by complaining, and even then it was a long drawn out process.
My issues may have seemed trivial to the prison officers, but to me they were monumental, and even in hindsight as I’m writing this, I don’t think these two concerns should have been treated with contempt as they were both pretty serious. The next issue was the handing out of my personal belongings. I’d already been forced to go down the complaints route over the prison service’s loss of my valuables. My Prada messenger bag containing a Louis Vuitton Cigarette case, Du Pont Lighter and Tom Ford Sunglasses, and various other items had been lost in transit on my transfer from Blackfriars court to HMP Thameside, and had necessitated the IMB becoming involved after the prison had blamed the court, however when I’d taken it up with the Court custodian, she had shown me the entry in her book where they had sent it to HMP Thameside via special courier — she had even provided me with the tracking number. Amazingly, two days later, the IMB officers had informed me that the prison had located my belongings and they had been placed into the property department as stored items.
By this time, I had missed my 30-day window to have items handed out on a visit, but given their track record, I had serious concerns over the prison’s ability to keep everything safe, so I’d had to lodge a further series of complaints in order to get permission to have them handed out late, however after three attempts, each time Edd had asked for them in reception they had told him that there was nothing there, so I lodged another complaint about this also. Quite aside from it being the only way in which to get a result in here, It also gave me a sense of control and satisfaction that I was on top of things, and that I had achieved something. When I finally got a result, no matter how small, it was almost a cause for celebration, and the difference in my psyche was immense, I felt as if a great load had been lifted from my shoulders and that I was finally succeeding in something.
Meanwhile it was just a case of being patient and realising that nothing happened over night, and that it was really somewhat similar to what they teach you in any sales seminar. You need to keep filling up the pipeline, and eventually when you keep putting the effort in at one end, the results will start to spill out the other end, although in here it felt as if there was a huge blockage somewhere in the middle of the pipe. It seemed as if I was pouring gallons in at my end and only a faint trickle was coming out, but at least there was something to show for all my efforts and I was determined to continue the process so that eventually I would win.
It really was a ‘them and us’ culture — these people were meant to be there to help us, advise us,and facilitate the areas we were forbidden from accessing, but instead it seemed they were there to thwart every effort we made at preserving what little we had left, and god forbid that we should try to better ourselves, or work towards a future when we were no longer in incarceration, in order to prevent ourselves being launched out into the world with nothing but the shirt on our backs, nowhere to live or work, and nothing in our pockets to do anything about any of it.
I had initially become extremely angry at the ineffectual staff, and their laziness and complete antipathy to anything which remotely resembled the job they were paid to do. Whenever we asked them a question, their immediate response was to lie. They would never admit that they hadn’t done, or that they didn’t know something, and nine times out of ten they were like goldfish, and would have completely forgotten whatever it was you told them within three seconds of departure, so if they wanted to make it about them and us, then I was more than happy to take up the challenge,and I was determined that I would win!
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 18th instalment in the serialisation.
We want to hear your opinion
Photography that embraces naked men
“Stop comparing ourselves to strangers on the internet…”
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?
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
Lads in lace for L’Homme Invisible
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