Chasing the Dragon in Jail

Chasing the Dragon in Jail - Page 2

By Rick Watts 12/02/11

Being locked up is an inconvenience when you and your mates crave heroin. One London prisoner and ex-user recalls that getting the drugs is the easy part.

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The nick is nowhere to be when desperately seeking a high. Photo via

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Somehow we got to sleep, but were woken at 3 am by Driscoll screaming at the police. He spent the rest of the night trying to kick the door down.

Saturday dawned and we’d had enough. As breakfast came through the flap—fish fingers, beans, bread, cold tea—we refused it. Then we demanded exercise and a shower, anything to get out of the cell to try to find some foil. “Later,” we were told.

We had no alternative. We took a leaf out of Driscoll’s book and started kicking the door and whacking it with rolled up blankets (this makes a terrific booming noise). The boys next door joined in. A senior copper came down, opened the flap and asked us what the fuck we thought we were doing making all that noise. We told him we were remand prisoners [not yet convicted] and that we had the right to decent food, exercise and a shower.

“What’s the matter with the food?” he asked. Pete described the crap we’d been fobbed off with. And right then and there, inspiration hit me smack in the face!

“Yeah guv,” I said. “We’re going to miss out on our weekly home-cooked meal.”

“What’s that?”

“If you’re on remand you’re entitled to one home-cooked meal brought in at the weekend.” This had actually been true ten years previously, but the entitlement had been abolished, due to the large amount of drugs getting into prisons this way. I was gambling that the coppers, who didn’t routinely house prisoners, had heard of the practice but were unaware it had ended.

“I’ll check,” he said, and disappeared.

That afternoon, Pete and I were taken out into the yard and allowed to walk round in circles for half an hour, closely followed by two coppers with dogs. Back inside, we were permitted to strip-wash in the station toilets, then banged up again. Then, to our amazement, a cop appeared at the hatch and asked what the procedure was for getting us our home-cooked meals. They’d bought it!

I was on it: “What happens in the Scrubs is my missus delivers it. The other two next door haven’t got any kin, but I’ll get something sent in for all of us if I can make a phone call?”

He unlocked the cell and lead me over to the desk. He dialed my then-wife Lola’s number, which they had on record, checked that it was her, then handed me the phone and stood next to me, listening:

“Hello, Lol?”

“Rick, what’s going on?”

“Listen, ring my mum’s house and tell her I need two Sunday roast dinners, not the usual one, and get them delivered to Canon Row police station, where I am; the police are okay with it.”

Lola had never heard of this practice, which had ended years before, but she never missed a beat: “Okay, I’ll ring her now.”

“Oh and Lol, make sure you wrap them up so they stay hot; there’s no way of re-heating them here.”

On Sundays, my mother would be performing her usual routine of doing the Sunday roast for at least a dozen people. My brothers and sister would all turn up with their families; no one got turned away and anything left would feed her four dogs.

Back in the cell I told Pete we might be getting some decent food—as long as no coppers made any inquiries to the prison. “Never happen,” he said. We got through that Saturday night by telling each other stories of our previous arrests. He was a natural storyteller and had me in stitches a couple of times; we even forgot our drug problem for a few hours.

That Sunday morning we had our half hour exercise in the yard at 10 am. Big Ben was only a few hundred yards away and chimed the hour. At 11 we washed, then at one O’clock, the cell door opened and a copper waved me out.

I looked down the corridor. There was Lol, standing by the desk with an enormous cardboard box, out of which was coming the fantastic smell of roast beef.

They let us have a ten minute chat on a bench by the desk while the sergeant inspected the contents of the box. Oh, that smell... I don’t know what smelled better—the food, or me wife.

When he was finished, the copper showed Lola out, while I was taken back to the cell, carrying the box. And there, to our relief, we took out two huge Sunday roast dinners. Both wrapped in tin-foil…

That night passed as good as any night in a police station cell could. We were full of home cooking and smacked out of our heads. Peace and quiet reigned. I’d wrapped four chicken legs, four slices of beef, two Yorkshire puddings and two roast potatoes in large pieces of foil and asked a cop to pass them to Driscoll and the tramp next door. He did. Once he was gone, I whispered to Driscoll that there was half a gram hidden in the biggest potato. I think he was crying as he thanked us.

We were back in Wormwood Scrubs next day. Pete and I were put on different wings, and shortly afterwards he was released—all his latest charges were dropped. I never saw him again.

Three years later I was finishing my sentence. By then I’d been transferred to Wandsworth prison in the South of the city and was working in the reception department, where new prisoners are checked in. I got talking to one new arrival, who said he came from Hoxton:

“Hoxton? D’you know a bloke called Peter Wolf?”

“Pete? Yeah, he was a mate of mine. He’s been dead nigh on three years.”

“What? Dead? How?”

“Massive OD. They found him lying in Highgate Cemetery with a set of works in his arm.”

“A syringe?”

“Yeah. He’d only been out of the Scrubs three days.”

Rick Watts is a British writer who is currently in prison. He has written extensively for prison publications, including HMP Pentonville's Voice of the Ville, and won a Gold Koestler Award for poetry. This is his first article for The Fix.