By Harrison Abbott
24th Nov 2020
I used to think it was the birds that woke me up. But now I’m sure that I wake up for them. I used to hate being so near the window. Now it’s the only thing I have.
They say I could be out by next summer. My lawyer and the parole people, I mean. Due to my meek temperament. It was a lot easier to imagine freedom when I first came here. Eight years ago. Now I’m unsure of what to do when I’m released. Sure, I’m happy and all. I have a decent amount of money. Enough to keep me alive for a while. It’s just that I don’t know what I’ll do next.
Where I’m from, there were no woods, or birds. You got pigeons in the square, and the snarly seagulls of course. But those were urban birds. Not like the ones that I anticipate each trembling morning on the edges of dawn.
When I leave I hope I can find somewhere close to a woodland. A park would do too.
25th Dec 2020
I stopped being angry about my lock-up a long time ago. That was when I realised that I was not an innocent man. I’ve never believed in concepts like karma. You just have to read the newspaper to ignore such ideas. It wasn’t any direct crime that put me unjustly in prison. It was only poor luck and a knack for attracting violence. But this does not make me a good man. At least, I wasn’t before I got nicked.
In the first three years my face changed, my body turned brittle, hair went white. When I had that eureka moment – regarding innocence – I lost interest in my reflection.
They served the inmates a Christmas dinner earlier in the canteen. The food was actually pretty tasty. It was just that the men were all tense as hell. I think it was because most of them were remembering what Christmas was like when they were boys. What it was like with their families, mixed with alcohol, tantrums, unhappy parents. At least, that’s all I associate with Christmas.
I ate my food quickly because I was afraid something might spark off in the canteen. Of all the violence I’ve witnessed in prison, maybe 80% of the incidents have happened during meal times. But nothing happened today, and I returned to my cell with a settled stomach.
18th Jan 2021
Winter has always been my favourite season and I prefer the cold. This country has bipolar weather and there have been some summers, spent in my cell, where I’ve literally wanted to kill myself, it can get so hot. It’s an old-fashioned building and there is almost no ventilation.
But what I love best about winter is what it does to the woods. From my window I can see out beyond the campus gates, over the barbed wire into the patch of forest. Therein I watch the squirrels whizz artfully about the trees, the magpies and crows dashing about. And the ivy has thickened throughout my sentence, and I’ve had the joy of watching the whole woods grow, ever so slowly.
Some of the prisoners were released earlier this month. From my block. About a quarter of the men. So it’s been weirdly quiet in the vicinity since then. Though I know there’ll be new prisoners next month. When the volume will go up again. I’m just glad they’ll be arriving whilst it’s still cold.
22nd Feb 2021
I was walking back from the canteen earlier. And I made the classic mistake of eyeballing one of the new inmates. He was younger by maybe two decades and about a foot bigger than me. Having taken offense, he confronted me verbally. And I made the second mistake of not responding and attempting to push past him.
He punched me in the cheek. It didn’t knock me down, but my head’s still in a migraine. I let him get in a few more blows before the guards tackled him out.
There was no reason to retaliate. I didn’t care. Obviously I didn’t enjoy the event. But I had no desire to whack him back. Which is unusual because that’s the first time I’ve ever felt like that, after so many beatings. A fight wasn’t worth it. Why jeopardise my parole? Ruin a chance of leaving this place?
The important thing is that I didn’t feel like a coward. The attack didn’t goad my manhood. But, man, that first punch is still smarting. I should’ve asked for some painkillers at least. It’s hard to keep this handwriting straight, it’s that sore.
3rd Mar 2021
I have a little cousin called Catherine who is one of the few relatives I have in the world. She’s young and successful and in the past she’s been kind enough to write to me in prison. I wrote her a letter last summer and she never responded, so I thought she wasn’t interested or that she’d moved address.
But I got a letter from her today. She apologised for the late response. Our letters often shared a love for music. She was a musician herself: she played the violin and I used to go see her concerts when she was small.
I’d mentioned to Catherine that I could be getting released this year. She wrote back that that was great news. And she said she could put me up for a job at her husband’s business, if I wanted? He was an assistant manager at a manufacturing plant. Catherine seemed to remember I once worked in a factory, right? Therefore I had experience.
I didn’t even know Catherine had a husband. Yes – I worked in a steel factory when I was a goofy nineteen-year-old. I thanked her hugely for the job offer, and told her I’d love to meet her husband, and if he gave me the job I would commit myself to it religiously.
After I sent the letter I started doing push-ups in my cell. I’ve barely gotten any exercise in years. Will need some bulkier biceps if I’m to move into manual work when I leave.
10th April 2021
Something unique happened earlier. That boy who nailed me a couple of months back – I saw him again in the corridor earlier. Very close to where the assault took place. He was walking ahead of me with his friends. I was on my own. They went through the door to the canteen. And he held the door open for me … His mates saw it and there were seconds of silence. I was surprised. I muttered a thank you, and walked on by. Then the boy resumed speaking with the lads.
Usually when there is a fight between two men, there is either zero communication or a chronic feud following it. But this boy held the door for me. I went into the canteen and ate from my tray. His team sat the other side of the room, as they usually did. I no longer felt afraid of any further backlash.
It left me with a little sense of credence.
2nd May 2021
I received a letter back from Catherine today. I will admit, without shame, that I’ve been terrified she wasn’t going to write me.
But it came. And she included a letter from her husband – James – alongside hers. James’ letter was more like a note. It said I would be welcome to trial at his plant, and as long as I was a good worker, he’d give me a job.
Catherine lives up north. Where it’s cold. I feel like I can believe in a future. I haven’t finished writing the letter back to Catherine and James yet. I don’t want to sound too corny with gratitude; I don’t want to sound ungrateful if I can’t thank them enough.
5th May 2021
It’s getting hotter each day. They predict a heatwave later in the week. I saw it in the news earlier. The dawns are colourfully brilliant through the window. And the woods are just amok with life, the birdsong symphonies epic. But during the day I’m constantly afraid. The heat toys with my mind.
I have the meeting with the parole board in three days. Where they will decide if I’m getting out in July or not. I’ve been preparing what I will say to them for such a long time. Going over the words in my head. I’d thought I’d had it all perfected and memorized. Now under a constant throng of high degrees, I lose the words, and I’m terrified I’ll muck it all up on the day.
And of course, the parole meeting will coincide exactly with the heatwave. I got so worried about it earlier that I called my lawyer and told him my concerns. He’s a state lawyer – one that was assigned to me. A small, quiet man who I’d seen four times in the last eight years.
I don’t think he really understood what I was saying, as the line was fuzzy. And indeed I must’ve sounded manic. Sweat peeled off my eyelids as I spoke. He told me I should be more confident and he would see me soon.
8th May 2021
On the way to the parole meeting I had to be handcuffed and two guards had to escort me because the room was located in an area outside the main block of the prison. The metal wrangled my wrists. Guards said nothing the entire walk.
At one point we went out into the yard and the sheer blaze of the sun was sublime. Ultramarine sky. Black dots of birds hundreds of feet up. Then the wiry gates on all sides.
We got into the new building – where I hadn’t been since I first entered the prison. I was led to a door and the guards opened it. My lawyer was there and two women sat beyond him at a desk. I gulped, because they were women … The guards took the cuffs off and shut the door.
Clumsy handshake with my lawyer. The women looked tired and were assembling papers in front of them. One then looked up at me.
“Mr … Clooney?”
“You may sit.”
There were long giant minutes where both women read over the files. I could see my name at the tips of the paper.
“I understand that you’ve kept out of trouble throughout your sentence?” one woman said.
“Yes, ma’am. I was never looking for trouble in this place.”
“Though … I can see you had one incident, back in, uh … February. You were in a fight? What can you tell me about that?”
I blushed. But then my lawyer stepped in:
“No, ma’am, Mr Clooney was not in a fight. He was attacked by another inmate who was not aggravated. Mr Clooney did not retaliate.”
“Ah, I see,” the woman said. “That’s fine. All I had was a note of violence, so I was only checking.”
I thought my lawyer was the best hero that ever existed. It took some while for the blood to fall from my face. The other woman, who hadn’t spoken yet, had noticed the blush and she smiled in maternal understanding.
“Well, Mr Clooney. I can see you meet a good criteria. I understand that you’ve worked a little whilst you’ve been inside?”
“Yes ma’am, I have a modest of money.”
“Any plans for life outside?”
“Yes, actually, ma’am, I have a c-cc,” I stuttered. Everybody looked at me. I felt like a schoolboy. “I have a cousin. She has a husband, who’s offered me a job. Factory job – and I used to do similar work when I was younger, so I’m sure I’m qualified.”
“That’s brilliant, Mr Clooney. Well done. We will have your paperwork sorted out. The date should be, hang on a second … July the 1st.”
“The date for what, ma’am?”
“For your release, Mr Clooney.”
17th June 2021
I’ve been thinking about the crime which put me in here a lot recently. I was arrested for burglary and assault of a pensioner. The pensioner was severely injured during the break-in and left with injuries for the rest of his short life. The robber was seen fleeing the house by a neighbour who called the police.
I was picked up the same night by a patrol car. I matched the description of the assailant, and they rushed out and grappled me down. At that period in my life I was drunk and angry all the time, and often went out on walks at night to try and mellow out. I was walking along the street and suddenly two cops were attacking me for no reason. I panicked and tried to fight them.
They mashed my head in and I was concussed for a whole night in a temporary cell. It was as if being in a vibrant dream. In the days leading up to the charge I was too confused to answer coherently.
Unlucky. But I have done a lot in life to provoke bad luck. I think what I’m most guilty of is conformity. Most people conform. They bail on their friends, they switch allegiances, desert their family, choose the safer, selfish option. You can see it in everyday society.
I see all this now. And I hate that. But I was like that myself before everything turned on me.
I never went to my mother’s funeral. Last time I saw my brother there was a drunken physical fight after I threw a chair at him. Phillip, my brother, died when I was in prison and I never got a chance to apologise to him. I’m surprised that Catherine still had the grace to communicate with me.
Sometimes it seems like I don’t deserve to be leaving this institution in a fortnight.
1st July 2021
I’ve just gotten into a motel room. Today was a surreal day, and not only because I got kicked out of jail.
The release itself was so unceremonious there is little to tell. The prison building was so remote – as I mentioned – in an area surrounded by woods and hills. Down the hill there was one motorway, the guards told me, which would take me back to the nearest town. Which was 20 miles away.
So I found a rickety bus stop on the motorway and waited. And about an hour later, down a silent motorway, came an equally twitchy bus. I think the driver must have sussed that I was an ex-convict, and he didn’t respond when I put the coins in. I was also the only person on the bus.
Then the driver took off the motorway into these hilly wooded roads. I was liking the scenery. And then, with a slapstick cough, the bus died. There was a bang from somewhere in the engine and the whole vehicle just failed. The driver and I looked at each other. We got out of the bus and went down to the bottom of it. It was smoking. The driver pulled out the door for the mechanic innards. I could see what the problem was. One of the parts had fused. But it was easy to fix, as long as you had the right part to replace it.
I told all this to the bus driver. He asked me how I knew all this. I said my dad used to be a repair mechanic and I used to help him in his workshop. I could even fix it for him if he wanted? But he’d need to call a repair team from the town to come down with the replacement parts.
The driver looked up a mechanic address from the town on his phone. Then he gave it to me to speak to them. And I told the guy what had happened. He understood what I was saying technically, and he started laughing when he told me how far out we were in the wilderness. About an hour later the mechanic chap arrived. He himself didn’t know how to fix the engine. Only I did, and I showed them, feeling proud.
I was glad all that happened. There are still oily stains on my fingertips. The motel is cheap; has an air of black-and-white films. I haven’t eaten yet today: was too nervous to eat my breakfast this morning. There’s a supermarket just down the street where I can get some food. But I just wanted to get my diary entry in before anything else. Tomorrow I’ll get another bus out to Catherine’s town. Hopefully nab this new job through her man.
This room has a small window. Outside there are some trees in a tiny boulevard between the roads. Must be some birds in there. I anticipate meeting them at dawn.