It’s the morning of Saturday 10th October 2015 and I need to get all my stuff ready to go. I can only take the following: Sleeping Bag, Air bed, Pillow, Water bottle, 1 book, Clean underwear, PJ’s in a black bin liner along with Toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant in a clear bag.
I arrived at Tesco, Shepton Mallet car park for the 10.30am check in and was given my INMATE jump suit. I had to hand in my car keys, phone and watch. It was time to say goodbye to the outside world for 24hrs!
All the inmates were chained to each other and to the sound of a beating drum we were marched by Prison Officers and Avon and Somerset Police PCSO’s from Tesco's through the town to the prison with on lookers cheering and clapping which was a great feeling. We arrived at the big wooden doors of the prison and the walls were so high and I suddenly had this feeling of "this is real!".
We were marched around the outside of the cell blocks, BBC Somerset were reporting live on the radio our arrival. We were then showed B block and to our cells for the night, 1st floor cell 29 was mine. We then had a roll call and had to answer "I sir" every time.
We then were pushed in our cells and the door was slammed shut!
So what to do now?
I made my bed and set up my cell for the 24hrs. The cell was small around 10ft long by 6ft wide with a white metal bed screwed to the floor, a sink and a toilet although we could not use the sink or toilet as these were not in use, as the prison had been closed for 2 years.
The prison was silent the only thing I could do was think about stuff and read my book (The Shack). The cell was really cold!
We then were called out of our cells and had to stand in the door way for roll call again. We then were led out of cell block B to the exercise yard and had to walk anti clockwise around it until told to stop. This was a strange experience but it gave time for the guys to have a cigarette. Then we were led back to the our cells and more time on our own to read and contemplate life!
Next came lunch in our cells: a cheese or ham roll and a packet of crisps with water. Great, how exciting! Then a knock at the door and a voice commanding us to stand in the door way. We’re off to our first task. We were led to the visitors room of the prison, split into 3 teams and given instructions to make tags from recycled card and coloured stars for special prices for the SOS Africa shop. The team that got the most could choose this evenings entertainment. Our team had 2 pencils, 1 black marker, 1 ruler, a stencil and a pair of scissors. We had to stencil SOS Africa on a 5cm card cut from a long strip of card and make multi coloured stars! Having to share the supplies with my teammates, we had a good production line going.
We actually came first so we got to choose that evenings entertainment but not till later that day.
Then, you guessed it, back to our cells.
Our next task, we were led to the exercise yard and we had to learn a dance routine to an MC Hammer song, this did prove that I can NOT dance! Then again, back to our cells this time it felt like ages!
Time for roll call again and some more time in the exercise yard followed by time in the cells!
It's dinner time and we were all very hungry. What are they treating us with tonight for dinner. Great, jacket potato, cheese and beans (I hate jacket potatoes by the way) but this time a nice warm cup of coffee which was good as it warmed us up. Now was time for this evenings entertainment. A movie, our choices were Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile or Hot Fuzz. I wanted The Green Mile or Shawshank Redemption as these were longer movies meaning more time out of the cell. However, more wanted Hot Fuzz (still a great film), but before we started watching this we were shown a personal video from the children we are raising money for in Africa thanking us for spending time in prison for them to be educated, this was a great video and reinforced the reason why we are all here (you can see this in this weeks resource).
We then watched the movie and, you guessed it, back to the cells to go to bed. This was the bit I was dreading.
It was a very cold night with only the light from the cell block creeping through the gaps around the door to light the room. I was feeling so nervous and a bit scared it was so quiet with only the guards walking around outside the cells.
Every time I tried to get off to sleep there was noises like someone screaming/shouting. This then made my mind work overtime after hearing stories about how the prison that was built in the 1600's was haunted. Now I don't believe in ghosts but you can't tell your imagination that!
This gave me plenty of time to pray and to get closer to God by having no distractions and also to think about those who occupied this bed or this room and what crimes they committed.
I drifted off to sleep and then woke up about 5 times during the night. Not knowing the time it was hard to guess when in the night I was awake. I was awoken suddenly, I felt like someone was pulling me off of the bed by my feet, now I could not feel that anything had hold of my ankles but it scared me all I could do was keep my eyes shut and pray like I’ve never prayed before!!!
Now this could of been the end of a dream or something else, I feel that it was a dream...or was it.
The sound of a horn it was time to get up, now did I sleep much? I don't know it was amazing how much we rely on clocks.
I did not have time to get dressed properly so chucked on my jumpsuit over my PJ's it was exercise yard time, it was still dark outside so I guessed it was around 6am. It was very cold before going back in the cells and we were told to get ready for cell inspections. It was now time to quickly get dressed and get my gear packed up and make sure the cell was tidy for the inspection.
After the inspection we had to stay in the cell then we were called to the door way for roll call then it was off to the first task, a wonderful exercise session in the prison gymnasium starting with a warm up followed by 5 stations each containing 4 or more exercises like pull a tyre from one end of the gym to the other, skipping from one end to the other, kettle bells, lunges, burpees, beating a tyre with a base ball bat, flipping a tyre from one end to the other and back again and loads more. It was so tiring and used muscles that I never knew I had. We were all sweating and ready for a lie down. This time I was happy to go back to the cells. Shortly after we could have breakfast. No fry up but a yogurt, croissant, fruit and a coffee.
After it was time for the exercise yard again! This time we were given a basket ball and we all played a game, no idea where we got the energy from but it was a good laugh.
Then it was time for the next task; the dance routine from the previous day with the other 2 floors of inmates and the prison guards it was funny what a morning of exercise.
Then another game of basket ball for our floor while we wound down from the experience.
After this we were treated to a guided tour around the prison in different areas by 2 ex-prison officers from the Shepton prison. It was really interesting to hear how much history there was. Over 300yrs of history from hangings to firing squad, from being used as a place to store the Crown Jewels and dooms day book during the war to present day. Now this prison is closed and is owned by City and Country who plan to develop the site to luxury apartments I hope they do it justice, ha ha.
Over all this was a great experience and I am glad I did it, aching muscles and all.
Seeing those children on Saturday night in the video makes you think it was only 24hrs of my time to help these children and the money raised would fund 100 years of education, that's 100 students for 1 years education. (Which is not much if you split it down that’s just over 3 classes of 30 students for 1 year).
The best moment of the experience was meeting with others and spending the night in the cells for this great cause, just 24hrs of our time to help the children of SOS Africa project for years ahead. It was worth it. Best moment after was seeing my wife and my son, oh and of course getting my phone back.
Check out this link along with the resource below.
SOS Africa "Nominate An Inmate" Charity Event Documentary.
Inmate 81 Hill, Darren
This week’s resource…
Video: '24hrs in Prison'
Can be found: Catalyst Youth UK YouTube Channel - https://youtu.be/YG5VKMv7wpQ
About: A short video I made for this blog!