Free again: and although this was the 25th time that I'd walked through the prison gates full of bright ideas and great expectations, the sense of schoolboy glee was as palpable as ever.
The previous night I sat up, wholly incapable of sleep, restlessly pacing the cell (much to the annoyance of my cell-mate who wasn't going anywhere), packing and repacking my boxes, willing the moon to fall out of the sky and the sun to rise in its place. It was the type of electrifying devil-may-care excitement of boyhood revisited.
Responsibility, you see, is one of those abstractions that disappear from your life the moment they clap the handcuffs on you. At least, that's what the unmitigated recidivists will tell you. The actuality of imprisonment miraculously "pickles" you - psychologically, if not physically - in a state that somehow holds back the natural processes of deterioration. I think of my prison sentences as long, uninterrupted submarine voyages, because nothing of much import ever really happens while you are out there - in there - hermetically sealed from reality, bored to death by the unutterable sameness of it all. Thus the final day of your sentence seems to follow on seamlessly from the first without any recollected in-between.
Uncashable postal order
Since skipping happily down Brixton Hill, the far more practical problems of existence have consumed my attentions. There was, for instance, the case of the uncashable postal order, which had arrived just before my release, from Druglink magazine for my regular column. Instead of cashing it for me and crediting my prison account as normal, some bright spark in the finance department placed it, unrendered, into my "valuable property" with a note that read: "Can be cashed across the counter at any post office." So, after spending a tiresome 40 minutes in the queue at the Brixton GPO, I was less than gracious to the poor woman who had to tell me that, as this was a "crossed" postal order, it would have to be placed directly into a bank account.
Fair enough, I suppose, as we move inexorably towards a cashless society. Trouble is: I've not been part of this brave new world for the past quarter of a century. One thing they definitely do not give you in prison is access to a bank account. The postal order in my hand suddenly became as useful as a piece of lavatory paper to a constipant. In the meantime, the cupboards are bare and there ain't a penny in the pot. Talk about the writer's garret. Wonder how many other wordsmiths know what it means to be absolutely broke?
Last night, reacquainting myself with some old haunts in a Soho almost unrecognisable in its self-conscious respectability, I met up with a friend from inside whom, like so many others of our ilk, had nowhere to go after being released from prison. My Bloomsbury lodgings are less than salubrious, but they provide me with somewhere to lay my weary head at the end of each day - unlike poor old Michael, whom I immediately invited back to spend the night so long as we could sneak him past the night porter. Sauntering down Rupert Street, I heard a vaguely familiar voice behind. "Out already, Peter?" came the decidedly resentful tones of Detective Sergeant "Sniffer" of the West End Central Crime Squad. "If you wouldn't mind showing me what you've got inside that bag . . ."
Luckily for me, all it contained was a pair of Calvin Klein 365s and my parole licence ("to be carried with you at all times") for supervised release. For once, the policeman had to retreat, tail between legs. But he'll be back. I know he will: lying in wait around every corner. If this was an example, as "Sniffer" implied, of a new proactive policy to rid the streets of "undesirables", then it doesn't augur well for those who will not - or cannot - toe the line.
Sure, I'm going to do my best to try. But look at my track record. Of the past 30 years, I've spent 24 inside. I'm going to be brutally honest. I don't think I'd be first in the queue to put a bet on my future success.
Peter Wayne is a writer, recently released from HM Brixton Prison