“There are a few things you need to know before we start,” said the officer as he led me to the computer screen in one corner of my new room. “Everything you will need is on this screen. All you need to do is operate this mouse to point to the item you want to use. There, try it.”
There was a small roller ball set into the steel table, alongside the steel keyboard. It seemed they had thought of everything to avoid vandalism. There were no visible cables, and no obvious way of anyone being able to destroy the equipment.
I tried the ‘mouse’ tentatively, and rolled the pointer to an icon labelled ‘News’. On came a recorded TV news programme from the day before. I clicked on ‘Exit’ and tried ‘Instructions’. There was a list of things that I should do the next day.
Another icon said ‘Tuition’ but when clicked just said ‘Unavailable until 8am tomorrow.’ The last couple of icons said ‘Contact’ and ‘Emergency’. The first produced a uniformed person on a video screen, with whom I was able to converse if necessary. The second produced the same person, but quicker.
“You have signed up for this rehabilitation programme, and there is no going back,” said the officer.
I looked around the room. It looked almost like a bleak cheap hotel room, with a small bed, a steel chair, a small tallboy unit and a doorway leading to the tiny functional shower room. Unlike most hotel rooms though, in this room the window was high out of reach and there was a treadmill in one corner, with this steel computer desk in the other. There was a flashing red light high up in the corner, indicating the presence of an observation camera. I’d been in a much worse room than this the last time I stayed at Her Majesty’s pleasure, albeit in a shared room. This room would do nicely, and I was looking forward to my training course. It would be better to be in a room on my own so that I could study in peace.
I had been told that this rehabilitation programme was a new experiment brought in by the government, in an attempt to cut down the number of re-offenders. Those offenders who were imprisoned for a second time were to be put on educational courses and could be released from confinement if and when they had attained their required qualifications, when they would then be found a suitable job working under parole for the remainder of their sentence. That had sounded good to me. I had signed up readily.
“Be aware that we will be watching everything you do from now on. Your meals will be delivered to you through that hatch three times a day, and your dirty clothes and linen will be taken away, and exchanged for clean ones. However this is the last time you will have actual human contact, and you will not leave this room until your course is complete.
“In this utopian experiment, it has not actually been generally publicised that prisoners are to be kept in solitary confinement. It has been considered that you obviously had too good a time in prison last time. This time, you will have absolutely no contact with other prisoners, and will never get a visit from your relatives.”
The officer left the room. The door clanged shut behind him. I was horrified. I was now beginning to wish I had not volunteered to take part in this ‘rehabilitation programme’. I was never very good at school, so I might not even pass the exam at the end of the three year course I was on, and I was not looking forward to the next three years totally alone. I vowed then and there that I would never be returning!