On the road again to my new ‘residence’, my head was swimming with all the options, angles and problems which had been thrown up today. I didn’t know what to do, and at the time was too tired to think clearly about any of it. I had been up since 6 am and had spent the entire day locked in the holding cells at Blackfriars Crown Court,apart from my five minutes in court and 15 more in a meeting room with Alistair. We had been meant to depart around 3 pm, but in reality had not left until 4.30 pm, and then had to collect others from Inner City Court around the corner, so by then had hit rush hour traffic and it had taken a good two hours to make the journey, and then there had been three other buses in front of ours, so we had finally disembarked the sweat box at 10 pm, when we were led straight into a holding room and given a styrofoam pack of fish and chips for dinner, whilst waiting for our paperwork to be processed.
This seemed to take an eternity. First of all we were photographed and given an ID card, then called one by one to see the nurse, and I realised with a start that I would have to go through the entire medical history process again, have my re-scheduled throat biopsy re-scheduled again, along with all the other medical processes, including my new dentures, although I supposed I could have them sent from HMP Pentonville once they were ready. Next we were taken to another room and strip-searched, before finally gaining possession of our personal effects again.
When it came time to sign for mine, I noticed with horror that my Prada bag with all my valuables was not there. I had noticed it being loaded onto the bus at Pentonville, and seen it being unloaded at Blackfriars, but everything had already been reloaded before we had been allowed to board, so I hadn’t had a chance to see it for the final journey. The officer in charge just said it hadn’t been on the bus so I would have to fill out an App! We were allowed a three minute phone call, so I called Tom to tell him where I was. I hadn’t had access to the phones for the past few days so I hadn’t had a chance to tell anyone that I was moving — hell I hadn’t known for sure myself until this morning!
Next we were led outside across a lawn to a side entrance of a huge modern looking building,and into a more modern version of the wing set up at HMP Pentonville. We were given a pack containing a pillow, duvet, sheets, towel, and plastic plates and cutlery, and shown to a cell. This was a far cry from Pentonville! There was the standard bunk set up down one wall, and built in desks along the other, but in the corner nearest the door was a mini bathroom, complete with toilet, basin and shower! This was heaven compared to what I’d been used to, in the month at Pentonville I think I had probably only had a shower about four times.
HMP Thameside was run privately by Serco, and had attracted a lot of adverse publicity when it first opened because many felt the facilities were too luxurious for a prison. Compared to Pentonville I had to agree, they were like chalk and cheese, however with the vermin problem, lack of maintenance and cleanliness, and antiquated facilities, Pentonville was inhumane. Trust me, speaking from the limited experience I had at this stage, it was such a monumental shock to lose ones’ freedom, choice, income, assets, lifestyle, family and friends, that I regarded this as punishment enough, without having to be subjected to squalid conditions which affected ones health, both physical and mental as well!
I had been so tired, and anyway not generally disposed towards making friends in here, so hadn’t really noticed the others off the same bus as me, apart from a guy sitting across from me in the holding room who had seemed rather upset, but had resolved to keep to myself so hadn’t paid too much attention to him or anyone else for that matter, but it turned out that he was to be my cellmate for the next day or so at least.
Mark had been done for money laundering and his Lawyer had advised him that he had done a deal with the Crown Prosecution and he would be looking at a suspended sentence, so he had travelled down from Wales that morning, expecting to be home in time for dinner, and had instead been sentenced to 3½ years prison. He was mortified, and his and his family’s entire life had been turned upside down because of it.
We had both been given smokers packs, so we sat talking well into the night, smoking roll up cigarettes — my first since my initial smokers pack at Pentonville some four weeks earlier. I knew that having come this far without them I should probably have continued to abstain for good, but I was still so anxious and worried about things that they did in fact help relieve the pressure.
At least now it looked like Linsey may have been right. Things were definitely more comfortable here. Duvets and real polyester pillows for a start, as opposed to the crochet style hospital issue blankets and rubber covered foam pillows from Pentonville. A shower in the cell was a real bonus, and we also had a flat screen TV, which doubled as a computer, although for now neither of us had any idea how to use it. We had also been told that once we had completed induction we would have a telephone in-cell as well, meaning an end to the relentless waiting in line for the communal ones on the landings.
Mark was probably the best I could have hoped for as cell mates went. He was intelligent, had been self-employed almost all his life, a conservative like me, and also a keen competitive horse rider, so in fact we had a lot in common. Eventually we turned on the television to find Les Miserables playing on one of the channels,and started watching it, but soon fell asleep. Next morning I awoke to abject silence. It was late, around 10.30 am, with no sign of life around whatsoever. This was weird compared to what I had been used to, with the foghorn-like sirens going off each morning, and cries of ‘free flow’, doors clanging, and loud music or inmates yelling at each other across the landing.
Eventually we decided that something must be wrong, so I pressed the emergency call button. A voice answered almost immediately, informing us that there had been a flood on one of the other wings so there were no staff available to attend to us, but someone would be around shortly with lunch. Sure enough, within half an hour a trolley came round serving out hot soup and sandwiches. We were locked up for pretty much the remainder of the day apart from a half hour out in the freezing cold of a small exercise yard which opened off the end of the wing, but it didn’t matter really because we were both quite happy sitting in our cell watching the racing on channel 4.
I had noticed a couple of familiar faces of guys who had been at Pentonville, but as I had kept myself to myself there, they didn’t know me, and I had no desire to strike up friendships with them either. As it was the weekend, a similar procedure was adopted for Sunday as well, although we were allowed out onto the landing for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon, and Mark, being far more social than me, quickly struck up a conversation with a couple of others who had similar cases to his. One poor fellow had been charged with money laundering on quite a large scale — £50 million to be exact, and had been tried with six other co defendants in front of a jury at Blackfriars Crown Court, but the case had been in progress for nine days now and they were all required to attend every day, meaning the same process of searches and transportation back and forth each time. I wondered what the cost of that was to the taxpayer, not withstanding the added pressure on them for the long hours they must have been keeping. We were to learn later that Serco were paid £350 per prisoner per journey, plus mileage, so each day must have cost over £1000 per person per day in transportation costs alone. I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t remanded them to a facility closer to the court, at either Brixton or Inner London but we were soon to learn that the last thing on the court or prison systems’ minds was cost cutting, budgeting or austerity measures!
Obviously because we had just arrived, and as it was also the weekend, we had been placed on default vegetarian meal options, but even so they were infinitely better than that at Pentonville, which for the most part had been inedible. All in all it was a fairly comfortable weekend spent chatting and watching television, and I was the most comfortable I’d felt for quite some time. Monday morning came and we were all herded up for induction, where they explained about the telephone system and the CMS or Computerised Messaging System, where we were able to book everything on our in cell computers. This included ordering canteen, booking gym and library sessions, applying for education and work, ordering meals, and booking visits. It all sounded amazing, and we couldn’t wait to get back to the cell to try it out. They also told us that our funds, if we had been transferred from another prison, should already have been credited to our accounts, and that we could order canteen up to and including Tuesday night at midnight, for next day delivery. Similarly there was another service from the same company as email-a-prisoner.com, called secure-payment-services.com where friends and relatives could send £50 at a time directly to our spends accounts and if transferred before midnight, it would be available by mid-day the next working day. This was heaven. I had known there must be a way to facilitate these most basic of tasks, however it was only available through privately run prisons, the government ones were too lazy and institutionalised to bother to install it.
Once back in our cell after lunch, They came suddenly to tell me I was moving. Once again I packed everything and followed the officer across the landing to D wing, where I was shown to a cell at the far end of the concourse. James, My cellmate was an affable sort of a chap. A self-employed painting contractor from Essex, he had been given two months prison for refusing to get into a taxi which was driven by a Muslim, however he told me it had been pretty easy to run his company from here for the past two months, owing to the fact that he had the phone in the cell. His employees couldn’t phone him, but he could call them, and did so daily. He was being discharged the following day, so I would have seniority over the cell when he left and I inevitably got my third cellmate in three days!
James was fairly social and there was an endless stream of guys in and out of the cell, to whom I was introduced. Rab, as the name suggests was a Scottish fellow, who had been caught on New Years eve with a corkscrew in his pocket so had been charged with possessing an offensive weapon. He had been on remand for the past 5 months awaiting trial, and would be in court in four weeks time. He had been in a similar situation to me, in that he had been arrested, and unable to reach anyone by phone, so now had in all likelihood, lost all his possessions, job and flat, and would have to start all over again when he was released. He had been in and out of gaol all his adult life so was no stranger to this, but by now, at the age of 52 it was becoming more and more difficult. His sister in Glasgow helped him out financially with a little cash every few weeks, but he was starting to worry about what he would do when released. He was pretty certain he would be released straight from court with time served. When you were released from Prison, by law they had to give you £49.00 but if you were released from court, you got nothing. Furthermore, being in a remand prison, he would then, with no money in his pocket, have to hitch hike back to the prison to collect what few belongings he had.
It didn’t bear thinking about and I couldn’t understand how the government could allow this to happen and either turn a blind eye or be completely oblivious to it. How on earth could they possibly hope to address issues of rehabilitation and reducing re-offending, which they so often debated on television, when they were deliberately setting these people up to fail! For most in this situation, homeless, jobless, and with not a penny to their name, they had no option but to steal, sell drugs, or just opt out and get high, and no-one was doing a thing about it.
19-year-old George was lovely kid who’d had a pretty rough upbringing. His mother had married again, and his step-father was a renowned cocaine importer, and he was the eldest of 6 children. He wasn’t the sharpest knife in the block, but he was honest and kind, and would give you the shirt of his back if you needed it, however he had been diagnosed with ADHD, and was prone to a fairly quick temper. He had however secured himself an apprenticeship when he left school as a landscape gardener, a job which he loved and of which he was immensely proud. He had moved in with his childhood sweetheart, and she had promptly fallen pregnant. George had been ecstatic about the baby, and when it had been born had again been over the moon and extremely proud. That is until he came home from work early one evening to surprise his girlfriend for her birthday, and found her in bed with his best friend, so he calmly went outside to the shed, grabbed the petrol can from the lawnmower, soaked a couple of sheets from off the clothes line, carried them into the kitchen , dropped a match on them and walked out. He had been charged with arson, and was lucky no-one was hurt or it could have been much worse, as it damaged the neighbours flat as well, but there had been no doubt that he had meant to kill the bitch! He had been on remand for over twelve months, and was due in court the same day as me. He was pretty confident of also being released with time served, as his lawyer was pretty certain that they couldn’t give him any more than a two year sentence, and something which I hadn’t known before was that in Britain, for sentences up to 10 years, you only serve half in prison, with the remainder on licence, or probation, and would spend the remaining time reporting to your probation officer, and having to advise them of your whereabouts etc, but at least you were out of gaol.
In George’s case because by the time he went to court he would have already served 12 months, if he did in fact get a two year sentence he would walk free. I felt sorry for him, he was a good boy, but very naïve and easily led. He had got involved with some older guys who had peer pressured him into doing spice, and had become quite hostile towards the prison and its officers, and I couldn’t help thinking how sad that he had become so angry and bitter towards society at such a young age. I only hoped that he could get himself back on track once he was out, but his parents didn’t seem to be the ideal role models either, and with a criminal record, he would find it extremely difficult.
Next morning I said goodbye to James, and wished him luck. He was moved out at around 8 am, and as I had no activities scheduled for the morning, I was left to my own devices in my cell, so was able to unpack the few belongings I had, have a long leisurely shower, catch up on some of the telly I had missed over the past month or so. When the prison had been built, it had been equipped with full free view television, but for some reason this had been switched off. There were a number of rumours and conspiracy theories behind this. One was that they had terminated it because the paedophiles had been watching Ceebeebees, a BBC Children’s network. Another one was that too many guys had been wanking to babe station. More likely, we were to decide later, was that the officers just disconnected it as a power play, but whatever the reason, it had been circumnavigated. By cutting the fixed cable for the aerial, which was routed through a junction box, and poking the raw end out the window, it picked up the signal perfectly, giving us a full complement of 170 channels.
The officers knew that everyone was doing it, and pretty much turned a blind eye to it, unless you got on the wrong side of them, and then they could be nasty and vindictive, and enforce disciplinary action for it, when absolutely every other person on the wing had done the same thing. Other times they would conduct cell searches, and disconnect all the aerials from all the televisions, purely to make a point — that they were in control. Either way, I was thrilled to have access to whatever I wanted to watch at this point, rather than the regulation eight terrestrial channels on offer at Pentonville. I had already learned that the officers here were a far cry from those at Pentonville. They had been hard as nails and deliberately hostile and unhelpful. These were mostly either quite young — between 20 and 35, or obese, and either way, as weak as piss. They were all social outcasts with a lust for power, and encouraged everyone to call them by their first names. We had very quickly joked that the reason for this was that if they made friends with everyone, there was less chance of being beaten up! I certainly wasn’t interested in making friends with them, in fact I wasn’t even interested in knowing most of their names. As long as they locked and unlocked me when they were supposed to, did their job and answered my questions, that was the extent of my involvement with them. On the outside I wouldn’t have even given them a sideways glance, much less include them in my list of friends!
The door opened suddenly and I looked up to see Mark standing there. He was to be my permanent cell mate for the foreseeable future. I was quite pleased with this arrangement. There were far worse people to share a cell with! We very quickly got into a routine. That afternoon involved education induction but as I had already done mine a couple of weeks earlier I only had to hand in the copy of my test from Pentonville, but being newly incarcerated, Mark had to sit the Maths and English aptitude tests. Once this was done we were free to apply for jobs and education, and this could all be done on the computer. I put myself down for the level two spreadsheets and database course, thinking it was a good opportunity to brush up on my skills, however once I’d started it, I realised that the computers were all loaded with pirated versions of Office, and old versions at that, and there was very little contained in the course in which I wasn’t already proficient. It did mean though that I now had Excel and Access loaded for use on my in-cell computer, which gave me an idea.
I had long since been talking about writing my memoirs, and I very quickly realised that if I got Word loaded onto my account, I would be able to write books in my spare time while my cell mate was away at work, or education. I wasn’t too keen to enrol in the word processing and presentations course though, only in order to get access to Word! I would have to think of another way.
Meanwhile Mark had all sorts of personal problems to deal with, besides coping with his new life in incarceration. It had been a huge shock for he and his wife when he had received such a harsh penalty, and it had left them completely unprepared. She had panicked about how she was going to manage things in his absence, and understandably blamed him for basically dropping her in it. There seemed to be a pattern emerging here from others I had spoken too as well, whereby the Crown prosecutors would agree an American style deal or ‘plea bargain’ style arrangement, in return for defendants pleading guilty, dangling the carrot of the 30% discount on sentence for early plea, and then reneging on the deal, leaving the poor fellows in shock having prepared for a far lighter sentence on the advice of their Barrister. One could argue that this was on old wives tale, or an urban myth, but there were just too many incidences of it for there not to be some element of truth to it.
On a more positive note, within 4 days of his arrival, Mark had been categorised ‘Cat D’ which meant he was eligible for transfer to open prison immediately, so he would be allowed home on weekend visits once he had completed a quarter of his sentence. He was thrilled by this news and it rather buoyed his spirits, however the down side of this was that he started strutting around like a crow, boasting of his new status and telling everyone how good life would be once he was transferred, and the rest of us very quickly became tired of it!
The next step was for the outside contractor, Catch 22, otherwise known as the OMU or Offender Management Unit to complete a sentence plan which detailed how he would spend his sentence, any courses he would need to complete in order to address his offending habits. This had to be done before he could be considered for transfer, however we were now being held in a Cat B prison, which was medium security, so in theory they should move him immediately, however it was not that simple. He’d had a chat with his case worker, and she had agreed to contact him as soon as possible to have the sentence plan completed, as he was also keen to be transferred closer to his wife and family in North Wales.
Meanwhile, we had finally been notified of our library induction session and had both decided to check it out. Without work so far, we had quite a bit of time on our hands and were kind of getting under each others feet, so had brokered a deal whereby we would both try to book sessions for activities apart so that we each had sometime to ourselves, to make private phone calls, or even just time alone, as it seemed we were surrounded by others 24/7/365.
As soon as the door opened in the morning someone would be walking past or dropping in, and because Tom had sent me money, I had a good stock of things like coffee, sugar, teabags and of course tobacco, which was rather like currency in here, and pretty much set me up as a target for every man and his dog to come knocking on my door every time they were short, which seemed to be all the time. I didn’t mind at first, but after a few days it started to become a bloody nuisance, and there was an endless stream of guys adopting me as their ‘best friend’.
On this occasion though, we had no choice of the session time so went together. The library itself was small but it had a really good range of books available, and also offered extra activities such as Rosetta Stone language courses, DVLA Driving theory tests, and a book club which operated weekly, run by two volunteers from a charity who alternated the sessions. We were given the books to read and were then allowed to keep them afterwards, so we both signed up for it.
Neil, the Librarian had been really proactive in creating and running the library, and he had also been responsible for an endless stream of well known authors who donated books to be read, and then came in to take part in the book club groups and answer questions about themselves. This was of course a huge source of inspiration for me, and made me more determined to write my own books. To begin with I had decided that I would write one, but I quickly realised that there was so much content, I could quite easily fill three volumes.
Whilst we were both there, we managed to have a look at the Prison Handbook, and therefore Mark was able to decide the Category D prisons which would be best for his transfer. His first choice was HMP Sudbury, so he was quick to attack the computer once back in the cell and advise the case worker of his choice. Gym induction was another story altogether. We had been summoned after the first week, and had completed our gym induction, and been told that we should be able to schedule gym sessions the following morning, but so far it had been over a week by now and still neither of us were having much luck. I had sent a message on the CMS to the gym and they had come back saying that we should ask healthcare to authorise that we were medically capable. This apparently should have been done after our initial healthcare screening, however now it seemed we would have to book a session with the nurse in order to get it done. A prime example of the typical prison ‘box ticking’ gone wrong, but luckily I had an appointment scheduled with the sexual health nurse, to follow up on my hep A & B boosters, so I resolved to ask her about it while I was there.
Jayne, the sexual health nurse was amazing! Probably about my age, she was a lovely, bubbly person, so friendly and helpful, and I warmed to her immediately. She was also able to access all the other areas and book me in to see other specialists, and very quickly had me on the urgent lists for everyone. I was having trouble eating anything of substance without my teeth, and needed the dentist to get the dentures sent from Pentonville as they would be ready by now. After a month of no drugs my feet were not much better than before I came in,and were extremely painful when I walked so the Podiatrist was probably a good idea and I also needed to have my throat biopsy re-scheduled, but to do that I needed to get a referral from the GP. I had also developed a rather irritating itch and wondered whether I might be allergic to polyester sheets, or maybe the detergent they used to wash them.
She had a look at it for me, and to my horror, said she thought it was scabies! This she said could have been contracted from anywhere within the past six weeks, and was extremely contagious. Apparently you only had to sit on a contaminated chair or a bed for 12 seconds to catch it, and they were little bugs which burrowed under the skin. It was all over me, and extremely uncomfortable, but it made me sick to think that I could catch such a horrific thing. She prescribed some lotion for it, which she said would be available in three days. I thought that I had probably caught it at Pentonville, as we had showered and changed bedding so infrequently that there would have been ample time for infestations to take hold and spread. It literally made my skin crawl! Oh,and when I asked the nurse on the desk about the gym authorisation she of course blamed the gym staff for not processing it, but funnily enough, the following day, my booking ban was lifted, and I was able to book my first session.
I had never been much good at exercise. In truth it bored the shit out of me. In Belsize Park I had made noises about joining a gym, and Suzie, my uber-fit Jewish Princess neighbour had even gone as far as giving me a three day trial at the super stylish celebrity establishment she frequented just down the road from us. To be honest, I had gone once, in my extremely out of shape state, and been immensely intimidated by Gwynneth Paltrow and the like looking extremely chic in their designer sportswear with not an ounce of fat on them, so I had scurried away with my tail between my legs retreating to the anonymity of my sitting room, however it got worse — they had rung after the three days was up, to ask me what I had thought, and I had been too embarrassed to tell the truth, so had coughed up the £1400 annual membership fee via Mr Mastercard over the phone, and then never again crossed the threshold!
Later of course, once I had discovered the joys of crystal methamphetamine, I’d had no need for a weight loss regime — a couple of slams, and a three day sex party had been enough to keep me trim and flab-free for the past 12 months, however it had not been able to give me any muscle definition. Up until now I had not had time to even think about fitness, but now time was something of which I had an abundance, and with a free gym on my doorstep, I resolved to make the most of it, which in some ways would make up for the monumental waste of money my last effort had been. I therefore booked my self a daily session for the next week.
The facilities were amazing! Downstairs there was a huge indoor basket ball court which were also marked for tennis and badminton, and a full compliment of free weights — extremely popular with those brawny types who weren’t really interested in fitness, but liked to look muscle bound. They would hunt in packs and compare notes with each other and it was all a bit intimidating. There had been a number of options for booking sessions, but I had chosen cardio, which was upstairs, in a room which was decked out with 5 treadmills, bikes, cross-trainers and a couple of rowing machines, along with a full circuit of weight machines as well. The only problem was that apart from the treadmills I had no idea how the other machines worked, and as there were some thirty odd other inmates working out at the same time, I was too self conscious either to ask someone else for help, or to attempt anything other than what I knew for fear of being ridiculed or laughed at, so I was restricted to rowing, running or sessions on the cross trainer, but actually I was so unfit and out of shape that that would have probably been all I could manage anyway!
For the first time in my life I felt feeble. I still hated it, but every day I dragged myself out of bed to be ready for 8 am and made sure I used every session. I knew that the minute I skipped one, It would become a habit and I would not keep it up. Mark was also scheduling sessions, but later in the day from mine, so we would compare notes, about how much we had managed, and it had the effect of spurring each other on, competing as to who could run faster, longer further, and later on, what weights we were able to lift. He was a good deal bigger than me, but had been riding horses daily so was fitter,and what I hadn’t also realised was that as I had been so skinny when I’d been arrested, I had also been quite weak,and it would take quite some time to build up my strength.
On a more worrying note, my valuables still hadn’t turned up. I had sent off an app, and this time the prison had replied to say that Blackfriars Crown court had not handed them over so they must be still there. They recommended I ring them, but I had no access to their phone number, and when I asked Edd to look it up for me, and then tried to add it to my phone pin, they rejected it as a forbidden number. This sort of contradiction was to occur quite regularly throughout my stay here. This was mainly because the staff were either so stupid or so lacking in basic training that none of them knew what was and wasn’t allowed, and of course anything that implied any sort of blame apportion or anything which required a modicum of work on their part, was automatically denied, ignored, or lied about. Whenever you asked a question they would automatically look upwards to the left, avoiding eye contact and immediately stating it wasn’t possible. This was of paramount importance to me, as they had somehow ‘lost’ about £5000 worth of items, however it wasn’t so much about the cost. Items such as my gold cigarette lighter, and Cartier watch had immense sentimental value as they had been given to me as gifts.
Meanwhile Tom had finally managed to get his hands on my keys, but had not been able to access the flat, so he had rung the landlord, who had informed him that they had packed up all my belongings and put them into storage, but that I owed him two weeks rent of £840. It could of course have been far worse, but I was forced to give Tom my banking password in order to draw out the cash. I urgently needed to be able to collect those debts owing, but in here it was impossible to find anyone’s phone numbers. I had also given Tom my password for my iCloud, but he had insisted that there were only 60 contacts in it, when I knew there should have been over 3000, so something was wrong there too.
Tom had kindly offered to pay the £840, collect my belongings and store them at his place, however when he had been around there, one of the bikes had been missing and the others one’s brake cables had been cut. He had taken it home anyway and wondered whether he should get it into the mechanic down the road to have it fixed, however it wasn’t much use to me in here, so for the moment it could wait. I went through my lists with him over the phone and there were a number of things missing, but I marked off everything he had collected on my list.
It was clear that the landlord had stolen anything which could be used in their flats, so all my kitchen utensils, electronic equipment, bedding, television and small items of furniture were all missing, along with various unopened bottles of alcohol, and all my Louis Vuitton luggage.
I wasn’t so worried about this stuff. It could only have been either police or the landlord which had helped themselves to it, so I would simply file a police theft report and let them sort it out, but of course when I tried to ring the police on 101, which was a toll free number, I had to wait until I had added it to my pin, and when I finally got that done they charged me 19p per minute to call it, so by the time I got through to anyone, I had chewed through £20 of phone credit. I then had to put through an app to complain about that, and then a complaint form which came back advising me that 101 should in fact be a free call, however to this day they have never refunded the charges. I lodged a complaint form about my missing valuables too, figuring that at least it would force them to come up with a solution, but again it came back saying that they had no knowledge of it, and I should take it up with Blackfriars.
As I couldn’t reach them on the phone, I decided to wait until my court hearing in three weeks time and deal with them direct, but I also worried that the longer they were missing the less likely it was that they would be found.
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 ninth instalment in the serialisation.
We want to hear your opinion
“In a fictional universe I would wield magic”
I caught up with artist Stefano Junior to talk art, illustration, and super-powers.
When did you start to explore your passion for illustration and art?
I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. According to my parents, I drew a very convincing female figure from my imagination at about three or four years old. From then on, when I wasn’t at school, watching cartoons, or voraciously reading comic books, I’d be drawing. My parents eventually enrolled me in a fine arts weekend program at a local college — I studied there for several years while going through grammar and middle school.
What is it about superheroes that appeals to you?
In hindsight, apart from the obvious colourful allure of superhero adventures, it was the transformative nature that is the basis of most superhero narratives. As a child, in suburban 80s America, with my penchant for the arts, girls toys, and a foreign name, I was bullied extensively — superheroes provided a means to escape, I could imagine that I might one day extricate myself from that oppression.
Books like Chris Claremont’s X-Men, which were ripe with soap-opera-like drama, reassured me that my ‘latent’ powers weren’t things to be ashamed of. Roger Stern’s run on Superman affirmed my beliefs that though people could be cruel and misguided, it didn’t mean that I should have to sacrifice my ethics and sense of what’s right. George Pérez’s Wonder Woman — that she was an immigrant appealed to me as a first-generation Italian, and she never lost her compassion for even her greatest foes.
Growing up with older sisters and a strong Italian matriarch may have influenced me gravitating to female heroes. But there was also the allure of the outrageous 80s feminine glamour of heroes like She-Ra, or the many fantastic mutant women of the X-universe who all played such pivotal roles in the series while donning fantastic costumes created by amazing artists like Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, and Marc Silvestri.
I love your drawings of Sorceror Stefano — is that an alter ego?
I’ve been developing an illustrated version of myself over the years. I’m currently studying cartooning at the School of Visual Arts — comic legend Phil Jimenez was one of my instructors my sophomore year. Our mid-term assignment was to create a fictionalised life drawing of ourselves in a turnaround. So I photographed myself, and further developed the design of my Sorcerer self. As an artist, the process of creation feels like sorcery, so were I to exist in a fictional universe, I would definitely wield magic. I’d also like to be physically invulnerable.
Who are some of your art heroes or inspirations?
My inspirations are pretty vast. From the art world it includes Bernini, Gabriel Rosetti, and Waterhouse. From comics it includes Esteban Maroto, Garcia Lopez, Marc Silvestri, Brian Bolland, George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Adam Hughes, Colleen Doran, Art Adams, and especially Alan Davis — both for the aesthetic beauty and elegance of his art, and as a draughtsman and storyteller.
If you could do a life drawing of a male super-hero, who would you choose?
Henry Cavill as Superman.
Your moustache game is pretty strong — what does your moustache say about you?
At its most base, it’s a homage to the machismo of the 1980s — particularly my hero, Tom Selleck as Magnum PI. He’s the epitome of masculine idealisation.
I grow it and shave it constantly — it’s spawned its own cartoon of my creation. You can follow the exploits of me and my moustache — Mr. Mustardo — on Instagram. It’s absolutely vain, but it allows for me to be humorous in a single panel cartoon form that deviates from the more representative work and superhero storytelling that I’ve primarily been focused on.
What are some of your goals and ambitions for the months ahead?
I hope to further develop an original comic that I started in the Fall, that centres around a complex heroine and a magical discovery. Plus there’s some newer humorous cartoons that Id like to serialise online somehow — one that follows the exploits of a majordomo in an early 20th century hotel, another that follows a boy through multiple mediums and circumstances that end badly.
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