It was May the 1st, 2005, when Will sat in the dock of The Old Baily, flanked by a prison officer either side of him. Will ran his hand over his cropped, dark hair, and his tall, thin frame was slightly hunched as he sat in jogging bottoms, a tee-shirt and trainers.
The prosecutor Malcolm Reed outlined the charges against Will and he told Judge Royston, “Your honour, William Morris, thirty years old, of Earlsfield Road, Wandsworth, South West London, did an aggravated burglary at Welbeck Road, Richmond, Surrey, in August last year.
“He’d done the aggravated burglary with an accomplice in the early hours of the morning and had woken up the victims and had threatened to kill their two teenage daughters if the couple didn’t open a safe for them. The two defendants then fled the premises with forty-thousand pounds worth of jewellery and eight-hundred pounds in cash.
“William had been arrested for this crime and remanded in custody. However, William and three other inmates managed an audacious escape from police custody, then earlier this year he attempted to burgle a Penthouse flat in Knightsbridge, South West London. He was confronted by police officers on the roof of the luxury block of flats, then in sheer desperation and fear of going back to prison, he attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself off the roof and scaffolding lining the building. It was only by the grace of God that he survived with just a dislocated shoulder after he landed on a mattress in a skip containing builders rubbish.”
“Does the defendant have any previous convictions?” Asked Judge Royston.
The prosecutor continued, “The defendants offenses go back to the age of nine, when he was first arrested for shoplifting. And by the age of twelve he had regular court cases for crimes including burglary. He first got sent to a detention centre at the age of fourteen for burglaries and robberies where he’d snatched handbags from females, and since then he’s had a number of custodial sentences, the last being a three and a half year sentence, again for aggravated burglary…He’d only been released for six months when he’d committed the Richmond crime that he’s in court for today.”
“Thank you Mr Reed,” Said the judge, then he looked at John Hargreaves, Will’s barrister and asked, “Mr Hargreaves, what are your clients mitigation circumstances?”
“Your honour,” Said John, “My client has had a very difficult life. He was placed in care from the moment he was born and never knew his parents. He grew up in children’s homes, so found himself in the company of many other unruly children who committed crimes from a very young age, and due to peer group pressure he felt obliged to join in.
“He also took soft drugs from when he was a juvenile, and as an older inmate in prison he was introduced to harder drugs like heroin, crack and ecstasy. For many years my client had used these drugs, and became particularly dependant on crack cocaine and ecstasy, both of which my client says he was addicted too. And because of this addiction he felt the desperation to commit the crimes he’s in court for today. So his prime reason for committing these crimes was to pay for drugs.
“Your honour,” John continued, “My client knows he is facing a custodial sentence today and I simply ask that you deal with him as leniently as you can under the circumstances. My client is so traumatised by the years he spent in prison that he tried to commit suicide the last time that he was arrested, rather than face going to jail, and these kind of thoughts have not gone away. He is a real suicidal risk while he is in prison and I fear that a long custodial sentence may plunge him into despair and tip him over the edge.”
After a brief pause Judge Royston looked at Will’s barrister and said, “Thank you mister Hargreaves,” He then looked at Will sternly and said, “William Morris, I’ve listened to the prosecution and your defence lawyer. I understand that you committed the crimes you’re in court for today because of your addiction to drugs. However, you need to learn your lesson. You have a list of previous offenses going back to your childhood and you’ve had many sentences, the last being three and a half years, and you’d only been out six months when you committed the aggravated burglary in Richmond. You then had the audacity to escape from custody and you were arrested again after you tried to burgle a flat in Knightsbridge.”
The judge seemed to stare even sterner as he continued talking to Will, “People need to learn that if they commit offenses again and again, their sentences will get longer, which will hopefully be a deterrent. I therefore sentence you to five years for the Richmond aggravated burglary, and for the attempted burglary in Knightsbridge I sentence you to two years to run consecutively. Therefore you are sentenced to a total of seven years.”
It was 6.30 in the evening. Will was seated in a large holding cell in Wandsworth prison with about forty inmates who’d been sentenced that day. The sentences ranged from two months to life. Crimes that ranged from shoplifting to murder, and everything in between.
Every now and then inmates were called out to see a doctor and be processed through reception. When it was Wills turn to see the doctor, the doctor said, “I see you got seven years today.”
“Yeah,” Answered Will, emotionless.
The doctor then glanced down at Will’s file, then said, “It says on your record that you’re suicidal. How are you feeling now?”
“Fine,” Said Will, hiding his feelings.
The doctor looked puzzled and said, “You just got seven years. Are you sure you’re feeling fine?”
“Yeah,” Will said simply.
“Are you still suicidal?”
“What’s changed then?” The doctor asked, studying Will intently.
Will shrugged, “I dunno. I just don’t feel suicidal. I feel alright.”
The doctor looked at the prison officer beside Will and said, “He’s fit for the main.”
Will smiled slightly. His plan was working. He’d successfully avoided being put on suicide watch on the hospital wing and would be going to a mainstream wing. On the hospital wing he’d have been checked every fifteen minutes. On the main though the night watchman would look through the cell door spy hole about 9 Pm, then wouldn’t look through the spy hole again until about 6 Am the following morning. Will was planning to hang himself after the 9 Pm check.
After Will was processed through reception he was taken with a dozen inmates to B wing. The wings were four story’s high. There was the ground floor and level two, three and four had narrow landings about three feet wide, outside the cells and edged by four foot high railings. Stretching across from each side of landing one was safety wire mesh to prevent people trying to commit suicide by jumping off the upper landings, and also to protect any inmates or staff that may have been thrown over.
Will had arranged to have a single cell and had lied to a prison officer saying he snored really loudly, and that in the past he’d ended up fighting with cell mates because his snoring had annoyed them when it had kept them awake.
About 9 Pm the officer on night duty started walking around the four landings, peering a moment through each cell door spy hole before moving to the next. Will was on the top landing, the fours.
As soon as the officer had looked into Wills cell, Will sat down at his small table and chair and began writing a suicide note to Jenny, his long term common law wife and mother of his children.
I’m so sorry babe. But I’ve decided to kill myself. I can’t survive in jail for another seven year sentence. I feel like I’m already dead. This sentence has finished me.
I’ll always love you and the children, but I just can’t cope with jail anymore. I’ve been in and out of jail since I was a kid, and now I’ve had enough. I feel like I’m buried alive.
Will stared a moment at what he’d written. Tears came to his eyes. He then picked up one of his bed sheets and tore a strip about an inch wide for the whole length of the seven foot long sheet. He then put his chair against the back wall of the cell, stood on it and began tying the strip of sheet around the cell bars set behind the small window, high up in the wall.
As Will was on the top landing he could see over the prison wall and in the distance he could see the tower blocks behind the Arndale shopping centre just over a mile away, with their lights shinning in the darkness. Apart from the time he’d spent in prison, Will had lived in the Wandsworth area all of his life. He’d had friends who lived in the tower blocks he could see. For a moment he stared at them, replaying warm memories in his mind. Memories of being with school friends when he was a kid, mixed with memories of getting high and scoring drugs from friends who lived there when he was older.
The darkness of despair came back when he suddenly remembered he’d been sentence to seven years. He shivered and started tying the noose to put around his neck. He was still facing the window and was about to put his head through the noose when he heard a soft voice say, “I love you.”
Will turned around, half shocked and half surprised. Standing in the middle of his cell was Jesus Christ. He was dressed in a white robe and Will had never seen someone shinning with such brilliance. And as Will stared into Jesus’s eyes he felt mesmerised by their beauty and warmth.
Will stepped down from the chair and just stood there dumbfounded and Jesus spoke again saying, “Do not kill yourself. Have hope. Follow me. I’ve got a good future for you.”
And then Jesus just disappeared. Will stood there for a moment, utterly stunned. Suddenly Will heard three thumps on his cell wall. Then he heard a voice out of the window from the next cell, “Yo next door.”
Will didn’t answer for a moment, and he heard another three thumps and the voice said again, “Next door.”
Will stood on his chair again and answered, “Whad’ya want?”
“You got any cigarettes?” Asked Frankie, the guy in the next cell.
“Nah,” Will replied, still feeling surreal from what had happened.
There was a pause, then Frankie asked, “Is that you Will?”
“Yeah,” Will replied, “Who’s that?”
“Its Frankie…Frankie Williams. Your old cell mate from Pentonville a few years ago.”
Will was deep in thought a moment trying to remember, then he said, “Frankie. Yeah, I remember you. How are ya man?”
“I’m alright,” Said Frankie, “I thought I recognised yer voice.”
There was a moments pause, then Will said sounding awestruck, “You won’t believe what’s just ‘appened.”
“What?” Asked Frankie, “What’s ‘appened?”
“I got seven years today and was just about to hang myself an’ Jesus appeared in my cell an’ told me not to do it and told me he loved me…I can’t believe it. He saved my life…I really would have topped myself.”
There was an awkward embarrassing silence, then Frankie asked, “You smokin’ some’ink?
“You on a trip?”
“You on an E?”
“Nah, straight up. I’m not on anything.”
Again, there was an awkward pause, then Mental Micky, a big fat black guy who’d been listening on his bed from the landing below, suddenly came to his cell window and shouted out the cowboy phrase, “Yee haw,” Then added, “Hallelujah. Jesus saved another soul.”
Frankie then said, “Oh no. You’ve started mental Micky off. ‘E’ll be talkin’ out ‘e’s window for another hour now.”
“I heard dat,” Said Micky.
Frankie then said to Will a bit quieter, “I’m gonna read my book now mate. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Alright man,” Will replied.
Frankie then said softly, “And don’t worry about yer seven year sentence man. With remission you’ll do just over four. Or if you behave yerself an’ your lucky you could be out on parole in less than three. It may seem depressin’ now, but its not that long.”
“I’m not depressed man,” Will said smiling, “I told ya, Jesus just came into my cell an’ told me I’ve got a good future.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Frankie replied suddenly sounding a bit irritated, “I’ll see ya in the mornin’ mate.”
“OK,” Will replied still smiling.
“Praise the Lord,” Shouted mental Micky.
Will got down from his window feeling slightly amused. He laid down on his bed. Mental Micky and several other inmates then started joking and talking out of their windows. You have never guessed that they were in a prison full of hardened criminals as some of the inmates acted like big kids.
As Will laid on the bed listening to them, he still had a smile on his face. But then he suddenly wondered if he was going mad. He’d been taking drugs for many years, and maybe seeing Jesus had been an hallucination. A flash back he thought. But then he just knew that Jesus had been real. And he’d never ever felt such a presence of love as what he was feeling now. Earlier he’d been so depressed and feeling such despair that he’d wanted to die. Now he was feeling so high and blissed that he felt like he was in heaven. And more than anything he felt hope again and he’d never felt so loved.
After a while, Will disentangled the strip of sheet from around the bars. He then changed out of his prison clothes, got into bed and closed his eyes. Forty minutes later for the first time in years he was sleeping without fear, without worry, without despair. He was sleeping so peacefully and so relaxed it was like he was a baby. He was in the safety and comforting presence of Christs love.
TO BE CONTINUED