Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t do the other. Fuck Off.

Chapter 4. As far back as 2003 I've been trying to lead a revolution. Got a right fucking painful brush off. As far back as 2006, teaching in prisons, I've been accidentally practising for the Reno memoirs. And the other night in Suzy Mousah's Moroccan influenced shed the future suddenly made sense to me.

Wednesday 22nd January 2020.

Another perfect day in our Whitworth exhibition. My mission is to release the voices. My mission is. It is about prison. It began in prison. It began with my mum opening that door in Tatton Park Orangery. The posh white middle class couple didn’t even thank her. She looked like their maid. Like she was supposed to do that for them. It’s about what Eugene Sobers said earlier in our writing workshop. He is at university. They do not understand his story because they have lived a different kind of story. Those people are in control of our stories. They are the metronome of our stories. They make people like us feel inadequate. They set the moral code and they don’t keep it.

2006.

I’m on a train on the way to Askham Grange Prison. My supervisor, can’t remember her name, says, ‘they might think who the fuck is she, who the fuck does she think she is?’ The inmates may well think that of me. But that isn’t why she’s saying it. She’s a fake posh person, and like all converts she has to try harder, she’s more evangelical. I don’t answer her. She’s just put this in my head for a reason. She’s on the side of the missionaries. I’m on the side of me and mine. She wants me to feel a cunt before I get there. She wants to fuck up my rhythm, because all I know is I am not gonna fail, there is no way I can fail as long as I am true to who I really am. You’ve already sold your self out, I’m thinking. You are already on the fence. And your nose is most definitely gonna be put out of joint when I succeed spectacularly you cunt. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t do the other. Especially don’t swear. There are always measures. But this is my first time teaching writing in a prison. The only fucking thing I have to remember is they have joined the writing class because they want to. You don’t understand that do you? I think she’s called Pat. You haven’t got that? And just like me they can see you are one of us, but you think. Exactly what do you think? You think they are better than you, the Cleanbreak lot, your employer, my employer. They have commissioned me to write a play with the inmates, that I will use as research to write a play of my own. Their mission is to give a future to women leaving prison. Hope. Hope to women in prison that there can be a future. Okay, I’m not who I am now, but I am definitely on the way. Looking back I had already started my mission. I am beginning it on this train. They will, the inmates, think who the fuck is she if I carry on like you. You carry the bread baskets for the real posh women, the real missionaries Mrs. And you’ve just shown your true colours. All your crystals and hippy gear has just dropped to the floor.

So we go into the warden’s office, this is the first time I will meet her. She shakes my hand, and opens my DBS, is it called now, the check into my background. She looks at it, then looks at me. I look back at her. It’s all a game. I know what she is looking at: I know why she is looking at me. I shouldn’t be there as a teacher, but it's too late now, you should have done your homework Mrs. You should have read that check before today. It’s only 5 years since my assault charge.

2001.

My dad goes mad. He’s smashed a hole in the kitchen wall beside the back door. You can see outside through it. He’s not been right since diagnosed with prostate cancer. Since his treatment for prostate cancer. My sisters take him to A and E. One sister is looking in her bag, the other is lighting a cig, when my dad gets off. He’s missing for 24 hours. They find him in a builder’s sand pit on Grafton St, the street him and my mum met, where I watched them dance in the moonlight. He’s waiting to be diagnosed when I arrive from the post office where I work. I’m sat on a bench outside, smoking a roll up, looking through the window at my tall strong dad, looking completely mad, not knowing where he is, looking down at my tiny mum, who has shrunk over the years, trying to feed him a sandwich that she has just bought off a guy wearing a basket round his neck named Simple Simon. An ambulance pulls up. A massive ambulance man gets out, leading a 5’ drunk. The 5’ drunk is shouting abuse. In the doorway is a woman with a baby. The giant ambulance man tells the 5’ drunk to stop swearing because of the baby.’

‘FUCK OFF.’

‘Stop swearing.’

‘FUCK OFF.’

‘What’s going on?’ Our Pam sits down.

The next think the giant ambulance guy has the 5’ drunk by the neck. He’s dragging him into space. He’s not far from us now. In open space. He’s sat astride the lad. Yanking him. Screaming in his face. Pulling him up and down. He lifts his fist to punch him. Me and our Pam rush in.

‘Stop it.’

‘Fucking stop it.’

There is a crowd. No one else is helping.

‘Stop it.’

The guy ain’t stopping. I have hold of his arm. The next thing out of the corner of my eye I see an ambulance woman running towards me. She twats me right in my face.

‘Are you fucking mad?’ I’m off the guy now.

‘Don’t Lin, please, please don’t. You’ll go to prison.’

I’ve dragged the ambulance woman down between two ambulances because I’m gonna fucking leather her.

‘Lin, please. Please, Lin.’ Our Pam is between us.

The ambulance woman’s top rips. I punch her once.

“YOU BLACK BITCH,’ screams the ambulance man, come to save the damsel in distress.

‘Fuck ‘em.’

I fuck off. I’m just walking around to release the adrenalin, when the paddy wagon pulls up. The policewoman slaps the roll up out of my mouth. I’m there for hours, no bootlaces. You know the score. They charge me.

 

In court, the solicitor who I have told the whole story too stabs me in the back. I’m really sorry, according to him. The status quo has to be upheld. I have to be in the wrong. The ambulance man is given time off. The ambulance woman has put in a claim for her ripped top. I’m to pay her compensation. And I get a conditional discharge.

2006.

I don’t tell the warden any of this. I’m looking at her. She’s looking at me. My assault charge could be for anything as far as she knows. I enjoy her panic. Because she can’t admit she didn’t do her job and check what she should have checked in the first place. And Pat, love, I can feel you looking at me, I am absolutely one of them. They may well think who the fuck does she think she is? They may have even been discussing who the fuck do I think I am. But it will only last for moments. And you should know better. Actually, what has put your nose out is you absolutely do know better, you were there when I scored spectacularly.

 

Earlier in the year, training for becoming Askham Grange Prison’s writer in residence, I have done a week-long workshop in Cleanbreak, for women who have just left prison. There are certain fucking things that I hate: all these cushy save the less fortunate than us jobs are occupied by posh white middle class women: university educated at the least; and all the women who use the facilities are fucking scared of them. They could batter them in a minute. It’s the chicken on the plate syndrome. Those in power are entitled to the white meat. The women just out of prison, who have come for help, are only entitled to the grizzly bits. No one has to say it. It’s centuries old. In fact, this is exactly what it makes me think of: a French avenue in the 18th century full of fallen women, which is occasionally visited by posh women with their enormous floor sweeping velvet skirts, who descend from their carriage to dole out stale bread from baskets, carried by the likes of Pat. And they’ll go home and have little tea parties, and congratulate themselves about their benevolence. Fuck you and your benevolence.

‘Miss have you got any paper?’

I want to punch the newly released prisoner who is asking in the teeth.

‘Over there Soroya.’

I want to punch the posh Cleanbreak bitch in the teeth.

All afternoon, on the first day of my arrival, my fucking teeth are on edge.

‘What are you doing in the big room?’

‘The big room is for . . .’

There is always a set of rules, just like the fucking Whitworth, there is always what you can and can’t do.

I go straight to Lucy Perman’s office. ‘We need the big room. We need to be left alone. We need to build trust. We need to have privacy.’

I’m laughing. She used to my confrontations, they've been coming across emails for months, describing what I want and don't want. One being I want a full price train ticket I'm not scrambling to make a train. 

'Lucy says we can have the big room.’

The big room is beautiful. Calm. Peaceful. We get the floor cushions out of the other rooms.

I’m straight up with them straight away. ‘You’re fucking stories are worth a fortune. They would love to be able to write a story like yours. They would kill for your material.’

The 12 are well wary of me. But they begin to lighten.

‘Put the cushions in a circle. We’re gonna build a circle of trust. And when they come to listen to our stories at the end of the week, we will stay in this circle. They will sit outside of us. They are outside of our circle.’

‘You may end up with one or 2 at the end of the week.’ Pat tells me on the break, to puncture mine and their excitment. 

All 12 stay all week. All 12 write glorious stories. One is from the point of view of her schizophrenia. We laugh. We swear. We cry. We identify. We eat and drink in the space, though we’re not supposed to. Ring any bells? Come to think of it, it is the forerunner of the memoirs. ‘Nothing you say is wrong. Nothing as long as it is the truth. Your truth. Our truth. You have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing to be ashamed of.’

On the Friday we hold hands on our individual floor cushions, waiting for the benevolent staff to come and give us their approval. Have we done good? Have we learnt the error of our ways? Have they rehabilitated us? Have we earned them this month’s mortgage.

‘Are you ready?’

They are all sat around us, behind us, less than us, our story is what is important. Incense is burning in the middle to give the appearance of a fire, a camp fire, our tribe. Our energy. We feel our energy swell into the room. The women like us, the facility users, the ex cons, are laughing, clapping, relieved, with us. The staffs' nose is out of joint the minute they enter the space and have no importance.  And I don't give a fuck if they think it is good or not good. We know it is good. 

Our hugs are genuine. I mean genuine. But what is gonna happen after I leave? Where will they go to tell their stories? Where will they go to feel as confident as they do today?

2006.

Maxine is Askham Grange's top dog.

‘Have you done my washing?’ she asks Carol her girlfriend.

There is definitely an air of who the fuck does she think she is.

I have to get control quickly I’m here once a week for 20 weeks.

Carol smooches up to Maxine.

They are sat around me in a semi circle.

‘I like your check shirt. Can I have your check shirt?’

‘Can you fuck.’ It’s not confrontational. It’s the sniffing contest. I’m laughing.

 Maxine's laughing too.

 

I don’t even want to be on this journey. I just want to be a playwright. I don’t want to save any fucker. I want to escape. I don’t even want to be with these people. I want to be someone. I want my fucking mortgage paid too. How the fuck am I sat here in a prison, running a workshop in a prison? How the fuck am I working for Cleanbreak at all? Because the powers that be have decided my journey for me. What I am entitled to.

2005.

‘Cleanbreak want to meet you,’ says Contact Theatre Artistic Director John McGrath.

‘Who’s Cleanbreak?’

‘They work in prisons.’

I am actually insulted. I just want to write plays. I’ve just wrote a hit play. It transferred from Contact Theatre to The Royal Court. It is published by Methuen. I have achieved 2 of my dreams, my goals. I want plain sailing from here on in.

2003.

‘Eclipse want you to take part in their workshops.’

‘Who’s Eclipse?’

‘Set up by the Art’s Council to help black artists move from small scale to mid scale.’

We arrive, me, and Sonia. We’ve been laughing all the way down in her car. It’s fucking hilarious. It’s not really. Looking back, it’s fucking shameful. Who the fuck are they to decide how to help us make art: what level of art I should make? It’s segregation. And when I fucking arrive, 60 maybe 80% of the other 10 black playwright participants are talking with a fake posh accent. Fuck off. Will you just fuck off. They even know how to place their biscuit on their saucer. Fuck off. They are being encouraged to tell a black story. Fuck off. As long as they story is about the historic grievance between blacks and whites. Fuck off.

‘Why can’t it just be a story about playing in the park? Why has a black story …? Why can’t it just be a normal story?’

The posh accent fuckers already hate me. Fuck off. Sonia’s my mate though. And Sonia has the strongest voice.

‘Let’s play this game, 'says Monday’s black overseer acting as facilitator.

Fuck off. But I do it anyway.

'Let’s play that game,' says Tuesday’s black overseer acting as facilitator

Fuck off. But I do it anyway.

‘Let’s.’ Wednesday’s black overseer acting as facilitator.

Fuck off. But I do it anyway.

Come Thursday, I’m almost brainwashed. We’re at breakfast. We’re all well happy at breakfast. Chatting about the shit the facilitators are carrying on with. 

'Look how cheap we are. All the Art’s Council had to do was put our black arse up in a Travelodge and give us breakfast.' 

‘I wanna write about being a superhero,' David says. ‘I’d write about being a superhero. Proper nerd stuff.’

We’re really laughing.

‘Fuck off.’

‘Nah, man. I’ve always loved superheroes.’ His accent has snatches of normal now. I’ve won them over.

It’s not a black overseer acting as a facilitator, today, it’s a successful white female playwright. She begins to tell us her journey. We listen to her go from strength to strength. Writing about anything that takes her fancy. First a play. Then a soap episode. Then some work on a sitcom. Now a Channel 4 series of her own. 

‘Nobody has ever put you in a pen, to train you how to be you. You have always been allowed that.’

The room goes silent. I’ve just lost them. I’ve just lost them big time. I may as well have slapped the mistress across the face. Michael is the most vocal. His posh accent, and mannerisms the most pronounced. Come to think of it he has never been swayed by my anarchy. Not once. But I just thought that was because he is a stiff Norwegian/Nigerian. I’m trying but I can’t remember what he said. Something along the lines of, ‘don’t worry mistress we will kill the renegade if you want us to.’ Laughing.

I’ll never forget the walk of shame. Past Nottingham's beautiful old cemetery. The shine has gone off my paid Travelodge tea, as I join the others. Nobody talks about it. Nobody talks to me.

2006.

‘Fuck off.’ Is the opening line of the play we’ve been writing over 20 weeks. 300 inmates stand up and cheer. The warden looks over at me. I look back at her. It’s about domestic violence. A subject we all know. We’ve wrote it in class, in their cells, in their gardens, during getting their tuck shop, when they're playing pool, in their reccy watching Eastenders. Louise has designed them a poster. Trapped: a huge brain with our play’s description in it. They love the design. They love Louise. She’s one of us too. 

Friday 24th January 2020.

In Suzy Mousah’s newly extended shed’s ribbon cutting soiree, I suddenly realise the way forward. It’s exactly like we are being now. Music is playing. Susie P is dancing. Suzy M is being bothered by drunken laughing John. Karen and Dionne are in a loving lesbian relationship on the couch deep deep in girly conversations. [Pictured]  I’ve just listened to Debbie Laird’s real memoir, wishing I was wired so I can put it out. Now I’m talking about our future paintings with Carmen. I know for sure if there was another room me and Carmen would leave this one and draw up the plans. Most of us are on space cake. Some of us are pissed. The low cube tables down the middle of the room are laden with snacks. And I am imagining how fabulous the Whitworth exhibition would have been if this was the vibe. If our artefacts, our timeline, our huge Reno photo, all that huge room was full of us being like this.  If there had been no: Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t do the other.  Imagine them memoirs. Imagine the art that would come from that. You'd come and you wouldn't want to leave. 

Some Goddam sexy photos of us taken by Karen Rengeley, expressing our voice in our podcast. You can capture our pilot, where we do an overview of the weeks ahead, and ep 2, 'A Shameful Thing' where we discuss the Reno memoirs, here. 

https://anchor.fm/oneconversationplease/episodes/Episode-01-A-shameful-thing-eacbao 

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