Nikki Wade nervously picked up the slim document headed "An Investigation into HMP Larkhall - its implications for women's prisons," by Nikki Wade of the Howard League for Penal Reform, turning to her boss, Paul Williams for reassurance. She had written an internal report last September but since then, Paul had had second thoughts on how best to use it. It was apparent that his bright and hard working subordinate had uncovered material that cut deeper than he had first considered. It seemed symptomatic of the state of the deteriorating state of the prison service in general. Nikki had been both flattered and nervous when she was asked to expand on her original findings. Now she was going into print with a full-scale publication designed for wider consumption outside her organization.
"Is this really my work? It looks different when it's been committed to print."
"You underestimate yourself, Nikki. I've never wanted someone immersed in all the standard clichés to do this report. I wanted someone clear thinking, fair-minded and above all else someone who had been there. Even after all this time, you still have this lingering feeling that you need to apologies for your time spent at Larkhall Prison, don't you. You must remember that it is a unique grounding experience."
Paul Williams' clear penetrating eyes went right through Nikki. Of course he'd got it right. He was a guy in a million.
"You don't miss a thing. OK Paul, I promise to write that down as my mantra and repeat it to myself in moments of self doubt," she answered with that note of gentle irony. Paul knew that Nikki had listened very closely to him and was totally sincere in her thanks.
"This organization has so much to thank you for just being here. I see my role in giving you any helpful pointers and letting you fly by yourself. When this publication hits the streets, my job is to take the heat from the press and the political establishment. Just remember that I'm here to take the heat as I'm paid more than you and also, well, I like to think I'm a mate of yours."
"Thanks a million, Paul," Nikki replies, flushing with warm affection for the guy. "This feels strange and I'm still not too used to being treated this kindly."
"Don't mention it Nikki," was his casual reply, which neatly understated his feelings.
"I suppose the right wing press and the apparatchiks in the Home Office will be after our blood," mused Nikki aloud after a pause for reflection, neatly deploying her favourite John Deed phrase. Her sharp ear savoured the sharpness of the meaning so much that she had made the word hers.
"I've gone through it with a fine tooth comb and there aren't any cracks in it. We are truth seekers, unafraid of what we might find. We are armed with it. At least that's what I was brought up to believe. They've got much more reason to be shit scared as, deep down, they have that sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere is holding out on them. To be top of the shit heap in their institutions doesn't necessarily make them strong. In our organization, we look after everyone, including the filing clerk "
Nikki returned to examine the preface with which she had started the report. She recalled how Helen had been incredibly helpful and supportive and that Paul Williams had rigorously tested the report, that no conclusion remained unsupported by evidence. When she was done, it had been committed to print and, finally after months of slaving over the report, here it was.
"…There is a willful reluctance by the medical unit attached to the prison in abandoning the previous system of deploying freely available NHS medical records. It is difficult to understand why it ignores the obvious truth that prisoners have past lives in society. Instead, it operates by a biased and judgmental approach that categories and stigmatizes, especially where it cannot understand what is before it. Regrettably, this same mindset tends to permeate the wing I chose to select for study with the result that far too many prison officers are inducted into this culture when they are young and impressionable. Where the one part of the prison service could have enlightened and assisted the other, both sides end up confirming mutually shared prejudices. There are honourable exceptions, of course, but these officers are far too often marginalized and made to feel so. The lynchpin of this system is the Principal Officer who is a vital source of information and guidance - in both directions - between prison management and ordinary prison officers. Regrettably, this potential has been flagrantly abused in controlling and manipulating information for personal advantage, as I shall later demonstrate in more detail.
The management style is heavily focused on currently fashionable commercial ideas of profit, even after one attempt to privatize the prison most fortunately fell through. This was no coincidence . Publicity for a charitable presentation of a wheelchair for the disabled son of a prisoner was hijacked by Lynfords Security to boost their profile for the takeover only to be hijacked in turn by the spirited resistance of a group of prisoners whose only demand was that Lynfords should drop their this writer's background research on other privatized prisons, conditions for both prison officers and prisons have substantially deteriorated, as the humanizing side of the prison service is seen as a needless expense to be cut back on. Instead, it relies on the heavy use of surveillance cameras whose intrusiveness negates the attempt to create a secure environment. Even now, it pervades the management ethos- examples being the educational facilities which are not encouraged beyond the minimum, the disbandment of the 'lifer's unit' of which this writer has direct knowledge of. Most disturbing is the 'weekly spends' system, which should run on 'nil profit' basis is run on a profit basis for no clear reason. There is a critical period in the run up to release date when prisoners should be enabled to be prepared to find their way in the world outside prison and no resources are put into this area. This matches, in a disjointed fashion the cynical expectation amongst prison officers that discharged prisoners are expected to return there sooner or later. Consequently, both management style and the dominant prison officer culture are therefore at best irrelevant to the needs of a modern prison system.
Consequently, there are a multiple set of problems which each feed off each other in the prison organization – before this writer even starts to describe the plight of the prisoners."
She looked at it and thought, yeah, it's pretty fluent and smiled at the final sentence, which combined her analytical style with her sense of irony. She shrugged her shoulders and concluded that if Paul was so enthusiastic, it must be good. All the same, she had that
strange feeling that she'd assembled together a stash of dynamite and that the force of the explosion would surprise her more than anyone else.
"So here you are at last, sweetheart. Your first publication and I would bet, not your last," Helen said, in tones of glowing pride for her partner. She felt as positive about it as much as if she had written the report.
"I could never have done it without your encouragement. It feels a bit off in taking all the credit."
"Nonsense," pronounced Helen." I'm not greedy for the spotlight. Let's face it, I would have extreme difficulty in writing about the prison service, which dumped on me from day one. I wonder you can contemplate it and be so objective after what you've been through. I'm happy to cheer you on from the sidelines."
Instantly, the dark haired woman's thoughts slid into a parallel dimension. The time they had lived together had been such that life before that date seemed unreal and had slid into another dimension. True, Nikki thought, her life with Trisha had had its special flavour but it didn't interfere with the here and now, especially as they were such good friends. It wasn't even the case that the first period of living together was one of lustful sex that had gradually diminished over time. Instead, their love and friendship had become more intimate and had explored depths of shared experience while the feelings of sexual desire had become more knowing. She could never believe that Helen had had any reservations about her sexuality, which fitted over her like a glove. When Nikki had laboured long and hard over her work, she had felt Helen's presence always nearby and this spurred her on to elaborate or revise parts she'd been doubtful about. For a reason Helen couldn't put her finger on, she had refrained from directly intruding on her partner's efforts.
"A penny for your thoughts, babes," Helen said into her lover's faraway expression on her face.
"You can have them for free, darling. I was just thinking about how you're always there for me," pronounced Nikki, veering round to give the smaller woman a lingering kiss on her lips before carrying on in a more reflective tone of voice. "Thinking about it, I got to know much more about the prison system than the average prisoner. I'm not sure where my own observations stopped and where conversations with you began. Still, it's only the icing on the cake."
"So that is all my expertise is worth, Ms Wade? You have a lot of making up to do for that remark," Helen protested, her arms linked around Nikki's waist and grinning from ear to ear as she mischievously teased her partner.
"And won't I know it? I know just how long making up can take. My tongue gets tired and I get a crick in my neck, " groaned Nikki
"Ah, but there is a reward at the end of it. Come on, admit it, babes you love it."
"Is this a punishment or a proposition?" Nikki asked, carefully setting the slim document down out of harms way. They had eaten and had got cleared away and that feeling started to rise up in her that the evening was theirs for the asking.
"Whichever way you want to take me," came the sultry answer as the smaller woman fixed her lover with her green eyes.
Immediately her pulse started racing. Helen had that turn of tone and phrase that look in her eye that never failed to rouse her, especially when her lover was now delicately caressing her curves. Nikki reached forwards and twined her arms round the smaller woman's neck with a blissful smile on her face. They were in paradise. They were both feeling especially bonded by the good news of Nikki's publication so that making love tenderly flowed naturally out of their feelings.
Helen pulled the taller woman forwards and her soft lips pressed against Nikki's and her tongue eagerly sought out the other woman's. They tumbled sideways onto the large, comfortable reddish patterned sofa, Helen on top of her lover. The taller woman sighed blissfully as their mouths met and her fingers stroked the well-known contours of her face. It was as if she could so easily sculpt an image of Helen, so well did she physically know her. In the meantime, Helen's fingers expertly unbuttoned her shirt with smooth facility and those lips tasted the smooth silky skin that her senses desired. In the meantime, Nikki expertly unzipped her lover's casual top and felt her hands guided to her lover's gorgeous breasts. A rush of desire swept through Helen as she felt how physically and mentally attuned they were to each other. They could wait until they got to their bedroom, Helen considered, as she let Nikki unclip her black lacy bra but that would be just too much. In no time at all, their clothes were strewn on the floor in an untidy heap and Helen ran her lips and fingers all over Nikki's body. They whispered sweet endearments to each other, the sort of stray thoughts that had lingered in the backs of their memories and now naturally coming out of their mouths. Finally, Helen's fingers slid down Nikki's flat stomach and edged their way into where her desires were concentrated while Nikki's arms cradled her lover. The taller woman writhed her way finally to a climax and was dizzy with happiness.
They couldn't remind each other how good it felt to be free to express their love for each other in the most natural way possible as they finally slid off the sofa and Nikki landed on top of the brown haired woman. She owed it to their love to kiss and caress Helen as they lay there on the soft carpet.