Prison

Prison

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Death in Custody (Guest Post)

The latest in a series of guest posts for this blog is a new poem written by Patrick C. Notchtree. Patrick is the author of a ‘fictional biography’ - a trilogy now published as The Clouds Still Hang (2012) - as well as Apostrophe Catastrophe And Other Grammatical Grumbles (2015). His previous poem for this blog, The Visit, can be found here.

At a time when suicides and self-harm in our prisons have reached an all-time high, it is vitally important that we recognise the terrible impact of deaths on prisoners' families and loved ones. This poem expresses just a tiny fraction of the pain and sorrow that lie behind the routine Ministry of Justice statements that 'every death in custody is a tragedy'. This is a timely reminder that every death in prison is actually the loss of a human being and that the pain goes on hurting.

Patrick is currently raising money in memory of Stephen to support the work of the PDSA. Anyone who would like to contribute is invited to click on this link: PDSA - Stephen Quinnell


Death in Custody

In memory of Stephen Quinnell (aka James Phillips) 1981-2016

They called my name, approach with care
Why have they come, do they care?
Two sad faces with the news I dread
My love, my friend, at his own hand – dead!
They take their time, let the news sink in
A fight in my head, I struggle with reality
Will I never again have the joy of
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And all too briefly, the touch of you?
And I so want as well
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

Condolences come from far and wide
Friends, both real world, and online too,
Our solicitor, even, who knows us both well.
And flowers from those who the visits provide.
But all I can feel is knowing that I
Can’t have again
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And all too briefly, the touch of you.
And I so want as well
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

Police on the phone, coroner too.
So much grief but so much to do.
In a way it helps, it keeps you still there
Somehow ‘alive’, your short life to share
Just thirty-five, not really got started.
I’m pleading, begging, that I might yet view
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And all too briefly, the touch of you.
And I so want as well
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

Why did you do it? I know only too well;
A lifetime of grief from that childhood abuse.
And may that man, still free, yet rot in hell.
Your own errors too, compounding the damage
I weep and I cry, but what’s the use?
Despite all I could do, it wasn’t enough
I know I will miss, however tough,
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And all too loving, the touch of you.
And I so crave as well
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

I set it all down, five pages long
The trials of your life that led to this end.
From shattered boyhood you tried to be strong,
But the nightmares remained, but even your friend
Was not enough and you did reoffend.
You never hurt anyone, I know that is true,
But that terrible legacy was the downfall of you.
My life goes on but from now on without
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And all too loving, the touch of you.
And I so crave as well
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

They sent me the letters, written that night,
That you left me, re-living your pain.
Long letters, page after page
Outpouring of grief, torment and rage.
So hard to read, but they show you were sane,
‘Balance of mind’ intact, it’s quite plain.
But now I must live without, for an age,
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And all too loving, the touch of you.
And I so need as well
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

I went to the prison to visit your cell,
The place where you ended your private hell.
I had imagined it Spartan and white,
But the reality was far from bright.
Rough plaster, painted dark grey,
Small and drab. Like an underground cellar.
A pigeon hole for a human being.
I sat on your bed, where you used to lay
But which you then used, on end, for the noose.
Your only way out from the torment of abuse.
I picked up your glasses, so personal, so you
That’s when I cried, despite the accompanying screw.
Was this the last place that ever had known
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And all too much, the touch of you?
In there I could sense
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

They held a short service in memory of you.
You had said they would, with prisoners there too.
You’d asked me to go, so how could I not.
A Christian service, as no doubt you knew
Which would have amused you, as you believed not one jot.
But is was warm and loving with many kind words
The prisoners spoke well of you, their pain seemed real too
I spoke about you, with words well received
About childhood abuse and the legacy it leaves.
Then I went away, they back to their cells
Unlike me though, they won’t miss
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
And oh so much, the touch of you.
And I mourn for as well
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

I wanted to see you, they offered the chance
To see you again, a final chance.
Steeling myself I entered the room
Curtained, quiet solitude, I held my heart numb.
As I got closer I saw your dear face.
As always the sight of you made my pulse race.
But then I was by you, and you were so still.
I stroked your hair: “Wake up!” I wanted to shout
I thought you just might and brush me aside
“Gettoff me hair”, and give me a clout.
Your hands were so cold, and I saw your slim chest
Misshaped under clothing, where post mortem had messed.
I realised again that despite this last look
This was the last I ever would see
The sight of your face.
No sound of your voice,
And cold, too cold, the touch of you.
No trace now forever.
No scent of you,
No taste of you.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
I sorted your funeral, as I knew I must.
As next of kin, it’s all mine to do
I did my best, to honour you.
More people came than I thought might
I hope you think I got it about right.
As the curtains closed round with you in the coffin
I tried not to think of the coming cremation
As the shell that was you met its conflagration,
Knowing that now, never again
Will I ever again have the joy of
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
The warmth, the love, the touch of you.
And I try to imagine
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

It seems unreal but I must face
In my life there is an empty space
I have my family, in which I am blessed
Unlike yours, who left you bereft.
I have the ground ashes, all left of you
I will take time to think what to do.
Maybe the stadium where your loved football team play
Some for a ring perhaps, so I’ll always have you
Perhaps on the Med, where we spent such happy days.
But whatever I do, I will always love you
And do my best to remember
The sight of your face,
The sound of your voice,
Loving and kind, the touch of you.
And I’ll keep in my heart
The scent of you,
The taste of you.

© 2016 Patrick C Notchtree

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