This is an extract from the book PSYCHIC SCREW by John G. Sutton published on Amazon:
A Haunting Experience
At the end of the induction period I was issued with a Home Office Warrant Card and allocated a set of keys that opened the security gates and the cells. I was now officially a Prison Officer or ‘Screw’ as jailers are traditionally known. My permanent posting was to ‘C’ Wing where the Principal Officer scheduled me as part of the team on ‘C2’ landing. This was about as tough a posting as existed within the Prison Service, on this landing not only were there over two hundred inmates but also a number of Category ‘A’ prisoners on special watch. Such inmates had to be unlocked separately and each had a movement booklet that required completion and signing whenever the Cat ‘A’ was moved from place to place so it went with the escorting officer. The senior officer in charge of ‘C2’ was Scottish, big broad shouldered and a former NCO in the Army, similar to my own background except this character had served with the Special Air Services or SAS. The landing was really very busy as one may imagine with over two hundred prisoners all requiring attention. Most of the prisoners accepted that they were here by choice and had to get on with it, they called the officers Guv or Guvn’r. I did notice however that there was a slight degree of racial tension as approximately thirty percent of the prison population in Wormwood Scrubs was from ethnic minority groups. At the time the predominant minority ethnic group were the second generation West Indians with families from the Caribbean Basin, or Jamaica, ex colonial territories. There was prejudice and it was not, as far as I could see, initiated by the staff. The insults we received whilst going about our daily duties were mainly incomprehensible as the language in which they were delivered was not English but a form of Rastafarian patois. I was frequently referred to as ‘Bumbo clot’ or ‘Rass clot’ terms that actually meant nothing to me but they seemed to amuse the dread-locked wearing West Indian inmates that muttered these to me as I helped them into their cells and gently locked the door.
During the lunch time period when staff were given one hour to take a break and get something to eat, from 12:30pm to 13:30pm the prison was locked down and a vastly reduced number of officers patrolled the landings. I was on lunchtime patrol on ‘C2’ landing one day when at around 12:45pm I saw the Wing Governor walking up the metal stairs. This being highly unusual I watched closely as he went to the cell of a Category ‘A’ prisoner and unlocked the door. This being strictly against security instructions I went over and asked the Governor how I could help as he had just opened up a Cat ‘A’ on his own whilst the wing was in lockdown. His response indicated that I should mind my own business and get about other duties as he was the Wing Governor and I was the landing screw. This I clearly understood but he was wrong in doing what he did and had placed my safety in jeopardy as the man he unlocked was serving a seriously long prison sentence for a series of armed robberies and was noted as being not only a violent inmate but was also considered to be an escape risk or ‘E’ list inmate. I had observed that the Wing Governor had taken the Cat ‘A’ off the landing, walked him down the metal stairs and along the first landing where they had both gone into the Wing Governor’s office and closed the door. Now I was not entirely satisfied with the Wing Governors’ advice or his actions so I called down to the duty senior officer and reported what was happening. His response was that as the Wing Governor was the man who made the decisions and was in charge of the entire ‘C’ Wing complex then there was nothing further to be said. I did though make a note of this incident in my diary, date, time, names and all that transpired.
I had now been in Wormwood Scrubs for what to me seemed a reasonable amount of time and went to see the chairman of the branch of the Prison Officers Association. I need to ask how I went about applying for accommodation to bring my wife Mary to London. She was still living back in our rented flat at Leigh in Lancashire and I had been travelling home every other weekend. I had asked a few more senior staff about housing and they all said the best thing was to go see the POA as the Chairman sat on what was termed The Housing Committee. It seemed that the Chairman was in fact a Principal Officer whose duties included running the Staff Rota for HMP Wormwood Scrubs. I went to see this P.O. Mr. B. and asked if he could arrange for me to see him regarding the allocation of married families accommodation. He gave me a cursory glance and said something about I had only just arrived so there would be no point in me even applying. This just did not seem reasonable to me as I had understood that The Home Office provided housing for staff and their families on posting and I had been posted to London from Manchester. That, P.O. Mr. B. explained was not actually the case, HMP Wormwood Scrubs was my first posting, not Strangeways, Manchester so I was a very new member of staff and would have to wait my turn. When I asked how long I should expect to have to wait he smiled and said that a minimum of six months would be usual before submitting an application to the housing committee. It was now the middle of July and that would mean I could not even apply until the middle of November. That evening I telephoned Mary and told her what I had discovered, she was quite calm about it and suggested I have a look at finding some private rental, a small flat maybe, like we had in Leigh. I set off immediately to make enquiries and my landlady at Carlisle Avenue suggested I visit the local estate agent helping me to find their telephone number in the Yellow Pages directory.
Inside the office of the estate agent I explained that I was an officer at The Scrubs and wanted a small flat for myself and my wife pending the allocation of Home Office accommodation. For some reason the man I spoke to did not seem totally enthusiastic, I soon discovered why. There were flats to rent in the area of London West 12, one bedroom, or even two bedroom units but the monthly rental was more than the totality of my take home pay. I couldn’t believe it at first but when he showed me the listing for an attic flat, one bedroom, shared bathroom, shared kitchen at more per week than I was taking home a sense of utter despair almost overwhelmed me. I was lost for words and mumbled something about thinking about that then stumbled out of the door into the real world where the light of day shone upon me in more ways then one. How on earth was I going to tell Mary this, it just didn’t seem right us being separated but what could I do about it I did not know.
Prison Officers working as Discipline grades in the jails are required as part of their duties to undertake night shifts. These operate on a rota and run for seven consecutive nights Friday to Friday 9pm to 7am. Inside the walls at 8:45pm on the Friday of my first tour of duty on nights I reported to the duty Principal Officer and was allocated ‘D’ Wing. This was the long term wing of the prison where many of the inmates were serving life sentences or terms in excess of ten years or so. I had been in and through ‘D’ wing a number of times during my day shifts but never before at night. What I was instructed to do was patrol the landings and at least twice an hour on the half hour turn a key in a metal box located at the top far end of the fourth landing and at the bottom opposite end of the first landing. By turning the key I registered a signal in the main office that was recorded on a scroll to show that I had continuously carried out my duties and patrolled the landings as required. Everything in ‘D’ wing was locked up and being on nights I had no keys. There was a telephone if I needed to call for assistance but there was no way I could let anyone in or out and all the inmates were secured behind their cell doors.
There is something extremely spooky about the inside of a prison after midnight in the witching hours especially so when you are on your own. I found myself listening to the silence and was completely convinced that I heard footsteps ascending the metal stairs as I walked along the dark shadowed landing of ‘D4’. Outside the silver moonlight shone brightly, filtering in through the high windows set into the end wall of ‘D’ wing. It was from within this very prison unit, through that very window, that the notorious spy George Blake had escaped in October of 1966. Behind the doors of these cells surrounding me now were some of the most dangerous prisoners in the UK. The Great Train Robbers were in there, Gordon Goody and Jim Hussey, there were members of the IRA and numerous murderers serving life sentences. There was an eerie stillness about the place, the odd scratching sound indicated something was moving, a loathsome rat perhaps clawing at the sewer pipes. A bell rang! Each cell had an alarm bell for the inmate occupant to press and summon a member of staff in the case of emergency. The location of the alarm call registered on a board indicating which landing and cell had summoned assistance. I checked and it was the very end cell of ‘D4’ landing. It took me a few moments to get there and I tapped on the cell door, it was extremely cold, preternaturally cold, distinctly chilly and a slight shudder ran through me. I began gently asking the inmate quietly and calmly what the problem was. I peered through the Judas spy hole in the door and saw in the dim light there the prisoner standing staring at me a look of terror in his eyes. ‘There’s a woman in me cell Guv!….a woman in a long grey dress sitting on me bed…get me out Guv! GUV!’ The man was obviously deluded this was an all male prison and there simply were no women at all within the walls of Wormwood Scrubs this dark moonlit night. I spoke gently to the poor troubled soul and explained that he was dreaming this was nothing more than a nightmare and he should rest all would be well. I told him my name was John and that he was absolutely safe, nothing could harm him as I was there. It took me at least twenty minutes or so to calm this man down but slowly he accepted that he had imagined the vision of the woman and agreed to go back to bed and get some sleep.
The rest of that first night passed completely without incident and at 6am as the sunlight streamed in through the windows I felt a strange sense of achievement. I had successfully undertaken my first night shift without a problem, or so I thought. The duty Senior Officer came in to collect the scroll from the main office that had recorded all my turnings of the key twice an hour on the hour and at half past, except I hadn’t. He did not look best pleased when he examined the scroll and called me over asking me to explain why at 01:00 hrs I had failed to turn the key on the ‘D1’ terminal. That was when I was dealing with the alarm bell at the end cell of ‘D4’ I explained and showed my entry in the incident book. ‘What did he want’ the Senior Officer asked and I just told him how the man had imagined he had seen a woman dressed in grey sitting on his bed and how I had explained that he was dreaming as this was an all male prison and there were no women here. ‘There used to be women here’ the Senior Officer replied ‘This wing, in the 1920s, served as the women’s prison and there was a suicide, a female inmate jumped to her death from ‘D4’ Landing, right at that very end. Many people, staff included, have seen her ghost. She is always dressed in grey’. A little tingle of fear danced down my spine as I looked up to the far end of ‘D4’ landing and for a brief moment I recalled the phantom footsteps and that mysterious unearthly chill that had surrounded the prisoners’ cell.
On Saturday afternoons the inmates of ‘C’ Wing were given the opportunity to attend a screening of a film in a converted building some hundred or so yards from the exterior exercise yard at the side of the cell block. This particular afternoon I was assigned the duty of taking a Category ‘A’ prisoner under close guard to watch the movie ‘Vault of Horror’ which was supposed to be a gruesome ‘X’ rated shocker. Handcuffed to me was a Cat ‘A’ inmate recently convicted and awaiting sentence for murdering a number of prostitutes in central London and drinking their blood. The tabloid press had sensationalised his crimes and named him as ‘The Soho Vampire’ he looked the part, emaciated, tall, long grey straggly hair, sallow features, staring cold dark psychopathic eyes and prominent teeth. He said nothing as we walked across to the makeshift cinema and followed my instructions as I directed him to sit next to me at the rear of the unit close to the exit. The place was packed front to back with prisoners who were seated quietly waiting for the film to start. When it did my handcuffed Cat ‘A’ began a sort of deep guttural growling and started to get restless. No wonder as the first part of this horror movie depicted the murder of a beautiful young woman who mysteriously came back to life as a vampire. Her killer was subsequently captured by hordes of the un-dead who then proceeded to hang him upside down and insert a form of tap into his jugular vein from which they took turns to drink his blood. When my prisoner ‘The Soho Vampire’ saw this he started howling like a banshee, jumped up and tried to grab me by the throat slavering and gnashing his teeth. Around us all hell broke lose as inmates began running away no doubt fearful that they would become a victim of this mad man. I obviously could not escape as he was handcuffed to me so I fought him off, knocked him to the floor and attempted to subdue the man. Other staff ran to my aid and between us we dragged this screaming struggling inmate out of the place across the exercise yard and into ‘C’ Wing where we locked him in one of the empty segregated cells on ‘C1’. I was seriously happy to get those cuffs off, imagine taking ‘The Soho Vampire’ to watch a movie about vampires! Whose mad idea was that I wondered? Later that afternoon he was removed from ‘C’ Wing and relocated into a padded cell inside the prison hospital. I learned many weeks later that he had been certified under The Mental Health Act and transferred to a secure psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.
Working as a Discipline Officer on the landings of ‘C’ Wing in HMP Wormwood Scrubs was mainly a series of mundane tasks enabling the inmates to be contained, fed, accommodated and processed by the system. The basic duties were in themselves rather boring, supervising bathing, counting prisoners, organising library visits, counting prisoners, feeding inmates, counting prisoners and so on. It was the characters within the jail itself that made the job interesting and there were many of those. One such was a powerfully built Irishman called John C. He was a prison officer that had been posted in to The Scrubs following a series of unfortunate incidents at HMP Brixton where he had been serving. John C. was without doubt what you would term a dangerous man to know and I knew him. For some unknown reason he and I got on really well and I found him to be a highly amusing and entertaining individual to work with. But it was not always so, the very first time I encountered John C. he gave me great cause for concern. It was during a late evening shift that I was scheduled to work alongside John C. on the YP or Young Offenders unit located in ‘B’ Wing. This was a sectioned off unit of two landings containing approximately one hundred young prisoners, that is inmates aged between eighteen and twenty one years of age. The shift stated at 17:30hrs and ended at 21:00hrs in between that time John C. and I had to open up the inmates, slop them out, that is allow them to empty their pots and buckets, get fresh water and use the toilets then lock them in. Following this we had to take round a drink of hot sweet tea and a bun to each inmate, again lock them in and this was followed by counting them and calling in the total to the central control office. Straightforward and rather mundane duty you may well think and so it should have been, but I was working with John C.
All was going smoothly, it was around 19:45hrs we had completed the slopping out and John C. took delivery of the tea and buns for the YP unit. John C. counted the exact number of buns on three metal trays and three stainless steel buckets of hot sweet tea. There were two inmate orderlies that carried the tea and buns, I went first opening the cells with the orderlies handing out one bun per prisoner and scooping up the tea in a mug then pouring it into the inmates’ mugs. The whole process took around ten minutes till we arrived at the last cell and there was one bun short. Now John C. had counted all the buns so he knew exactly how many there were, one bun each for all the inmates of the YP unit. John C. was not amused by this I could see that. ‘Go lock yourself in the office’ he said to me. There being a glint of madness in his eyes I decided it was wise to do exactly that. So I went into the glass fronted office unit, closed and secured the door behind me and took a seat behind the desk from which I had a clear view of the YP landings. What I saw next astounded me, I could hardly believe it. John C. opened the first cell containing three young prisoners, all strapping fit youths, he shouted ‘Who stole the bun?’ no reply, then he proceeded to belt all three of the inmates slapping and punching them so hard they fell to the ground screaming for mercy. He then slammed the cell door shut, walked to the next cell and repeated the process once again ‘Who stole the bun?’ no reply, crash bang wallop screaming and crying inmates on the floor, the orderlies were hiding in their cells. I watched transfixed with terror as I feared he would seriously injure one of these young prisoners and they were not children, these were big hulking twenty year old thugs that months before had been mugging and robbing people on the streets of London now they were getting ten shades of shit beaten out of them by one huge and very powerful Irishman. I honestly did not know what to do so I called the duty Principal Officer and asked for advice as I was seriously worried that this maniac may decided that I had stolen his precious bun and set about me. The P.O. answered the ‘phone and when I told him what was happening he just laughed, ‘first time working with John C.’ he said, ‘you’ll get used to it’. John C. went on to batter ten bells out of every single prisoner on the YP unit till he came to the last cell, the orderlies’ cell. There he found the answer he had supposedly been looking for, there was the missing bun, the orderly handing them out had placed his own bun in his own cell before staring out to deliver the rest. John C. just shrugged his shoulders, locked them in and motioned for me to come out of the office. ‘You can count them now’ he said.