For those lucky enough not to know, Serco vans are the sizeable white people carriers built for transporting prisoners from the court to their new home. If you live in London you've probably passed one this week without a thought, but inside they're cauldrons of emotion filled with people going through all kinds of shit that most will never have to deal with. A couple of years ago I found myself doing a trip from the Old Bailey to HMP Belmarsh (and back) in one. Here's a few thoughts that popped into my head.
I Wish I Could Stretch My Legs
The inside of the van is made up of individual mobile cells only just big enough for an average-sized person to sit up straight, arms by their side. You can't lean forward or stretch like you could in a car. It's fine for 10 minutes, but after half an hour you suddenly feel very claustrophobic. I understand they're not going to pick you up in a Rolls Royce, but that doesn't stop it being a pain in the arse.
I'll Never Take My Freedom For Granted
You can't see who's in a Serco van because the windows are blacked out, but believe me, they can see you. Staring out watching people go about their day makes you realise how much of a gift the simplest thing can be, like having the freedom to walk down the street, or pop into a shop, or get the bus. Every day I can leave my house now without being handcuffed to somebody is a blessing.
I'm Not Doing This Again
Being in the van is usually the first time you're alone with your thoughts after being told you're being sent down. Oddly enough there can be a strange sense of relief in finally knowing the outcome of a decision that's been hanging over your head for months, sometimes years. However you take the news, you promise yourself this will be the last time. Unfortunately for many people it's easier said than done.
I Hope Everyone's Alright
My main concern wasn't going to jail, it was family and friends worrying on my behalf. I felt like I could deal with whatever was around the corner, I didn't want my situation to affect them worse than it did me, and not being able to contact anybody just made that thought stew in my head for the whole journey.
I Wonder What He's Done
It's important to remember not everybody who gets sent down is a hardened criminal. Some people just make bad decisions in irregular circumstances. I got taken in with a public schoolboy who'd been done for fraud. You could tell the whole process - the waiting, not knowing what to expect - was eating him up. Other times you'd look at someone and their eyes would scream "lunatic".
Some People Are Great At Their Job
Having to manage people at their lowest point five days a week would take its toll on anybody's morale, but many of the wardens, drivers and officers I encountered on my trips were genuinely good people who'd go out of their way to have a laugh and keep spirits up. That soon changes once you get to jail.
Radio Is Crap…
Listening to hysterical teenagers telling a wacky radio DJ about all the lolz they're going to have in Oceanas that night gets really fucking tedious when you're on your way to prison. The same goes for cabbies moaning about football and immigration on TalkSport.
…But Music Is Amazing
One morning the driver stuck on Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite on the way to the Old Bailey for sentencing. I started banging on the door shouting "CHOOOOOON" telling him to turn it up. He did. That album has never sounded so good.