So I am sitting on a plane on my way to Skopje, to start a new mission with the council of Europe. As I sit here I felt, for the first time, a little unnerved about the whole situation around me. Maybe it is all this mindfulness stuff I am doing at the moment to try and curb the effects of the crippling stress and worry I am feeling, but it felt different….the lack of mobility, the lack of control over things, it just got to me. I don’t think it was helped by sitting next to 2 very sweet but incredibly noisy children. Don’t get me wrong, not only have I had my own noisy baby on a flight of doom, with everyone giving me the stink eye and tutting at my inability to control my child, but I am one of those people who try and catch the parents’ eye to give them a reassuring “I feel your pain, don’t worry” look. I loved how after 2 hours of screaming, the one babe fell asleep due to pure exhaustion and the dad took the cutest picture of his daughter asleep on her mum. That will be the memory, not the pain of all the anxiety and upset experienced by the child, the mum, the dad and the collective angst of all the passengers. This “brave face” reminds me of prison. From the strong hard nut of a prisoner, telling me that prison doesn’t hurt to the strong exterior of a prison officer saying he is “fine” after finding a prisoner hanging, trying to save his life for an hour, and getting to that dreaded outcome of a death in custody.
We enter some turbulence on the plane. It was that unexpected bumpy jolting feeling that scares the shit out of everyone, in a very silent way. I laugh nervously and that makes people even more edgy. People cling to the chairs, tables and one guy even grabbed the ceiling in desperation for some stability. I swear I am not the only one reaching for my phone and contemplating a text to my husband to tell him I love him as I fear that the plane will plummet towards the ocean. I see an old couple who are sitting either the side of the aisle, and how the lady reaches over to her husband as they hold hands quietly. I reckon they are both thinking “shit the bed, this is it love”. It makes me think of family visits and how these small ‘acceptable’ hand holds represent something so much more than they seem. That desperate need to embrace and kiss and be intimate, as they have the onlooking eyes of the officers. That unspoken fear and pain that cannot be articulated because then in some way it becomes real and people are not being ‘strong’. As I sit buckled into my seat, as a docile body, trapped in a flying locked space that I can’t control, it dawned on me I am not a fan of planes. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t even begin to compare this to the feeling of being locked in a cell that has no key on the inside, but even this is uncomfortable. In some senses at least I know (or I am pretty sure) that I am going to end at my destination. God knows what some prisoners might feel, particularly those on indeterminate sentences. I remember one guy saying to me “prison is like someone has asked to you to meet them at the supermarket at a certain time, in a certain location, but they haven’t given you a map, you have no means of getting there and you don’t know who you are meeting”. He has a point, I can’t imagine getting on a plane without a destination to go to, without knowing if the pilot will show and, based on the recent cuts, realising that there is no toilet, food or water in sight. My conclusion is that irrespective of what people have
done, it is no fun being in prison, irrespective of how “comfy” and “holiday campy” we make it. We have a long way to go, the destination is not clear and the flight is delayed.