Authors: Jim Dawkins
Tags: #bronson, #criminal, #luton, #bouncer, #bodyguard, #mad, #fitness, #prison, #nightclub, #respect, #respected, #prisoner, #kidnap, #hostage, #wormwood, #belmarsh
THE LOOSE SCREW
Forewords by Dave Courtney and Charles Bronson
First published by Apex Publishing Ltd
PO Box 7086, Clacton on Sea,
Essex, CO15 5WN, England
Digital Edition converted and published by Andrews UK Limited 2010
Copyright © 2005-2009 by Jim Dawkins
The author has asserted his moral rights
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition, that no part of this book is to be reproduced, in any shape or form. Or by way of trade, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser, without prior permission of the copyright holder.
Production Manager: Chris Cowlin
Cover Design: Andrew Macey
There are a great many people who have helped me over the years while compiling the contents of this book. I am sure that I have bent the ears of many that are close to me with my enthusiasm while writing it -none more so than my partner Natasha, who has put up with the last six years of research and rewrites. She was of course there when, disgusted with the constant aggressive and violent acts of brutality and vindictiveness that I witnessed on a daily basis being carried out by a certain element of power-crazy prison officers against prisoners, I felt I had no choice but to turn my back on what I found to be a corrupt and outof-control Prison Service. She has also seen the bouts of stress and depression I suffered as a result of the time I spent as part of that institution and therefore agreed that it was important for me to make my findings public so that others, who would otherwise be ignorant that such behaviour is encouraged and condoned by senior management in the Prison Service, could read about it. It has not been easy for her to put up with me, but she has always supported me and for that I thank you and love you very much.
I would also like to thank some men who have become very good friends to me and have offered me their support and wisdom while writing this book: firstly, my pal Charlie Bronson, who has been a great supporter and firm friend of mine for the last 12 years -Chaz, hang in there mate and I will see you for that pint in no time; Joey Pyle, who has become a good pal and by whom I have been privileged to have been made welcome -a true legend in the London underworld; Dave Courtney, who has been invaluable in sharing with me his experience of writing books and with whom I have shared many funny moments reminiscing about the time we were both at Belmarsh Prison; Tel Currie, who apart from being a very successful boxing promoter is also a very talented writer with a number of highly recommended titles to his name and a staunch and loyal friend to all that have earned his trust -thank you Tel for all your support to me and Charlie and Ronnie Biggs, and indeed all the others that you put yourself out to help in times of need -you are a true gentleman; Roy Shaw, with whom I have enjoyed many good times listening to his often hilarious and sometimes sad accounts of the time he spent in 18 different prisons, including Broadmoor special hospital, and who has kindly provided me with a glowing review; and Andy Jones, owner of the 'crime through time' museum at Little Dean jail Gloucestershire, who has been kind enough to display some of my uniforms and memorabilia in his collection. Special thanks must also go to Lorna Smith and the other members of the Prison Chat UK website team, who have all been very kind with their reviews and a great help in spreading the word about my the book -you are all doing a great job, so keep up the good work girls. Finally, I would like to thank all the other 'chaps' who have welcomed me into their trust and I know have all offered me their support, and everyone that has written reviews after reading the first edition of the book -they have played a very important role in boosting my confidence in writing this second edition.
FOREWORD BY DAVE COURTNEY
Hello people, it’s Dave Courtney OBE here. Please let me tell you about my pal Jim Dawkins. I have known him for some ten years and he was always known as a very fair bloke, even when he was on the other side of the fence, and seeing as though I met him while on remand in the special category A unit at HMP Belmarsh and he was one of the screws locking me up I would say that was the other side of the fence wouldn’t you, ha, ha, ha! Anyway, he became a very good pal of Charlie Bronson, Joe Pyle, and a good few of the other chaps and is known in Civvy Street, and has completed his first book and it is a fucking eye opening and very educational read as it looks at the situation of being in prison from the other side. Jim has more than done enough with the content of this book and the very disturbing documentary he has made with me, an ex-policeman and woman, an ex-traffic warden, barrister and magistrate and of course his good self as “The Loose Screw” to let me know the whose side of the fence he is on. I wish him well with this book. We all know that he is not going to be on the top of any of the authorities Christmas card list and for that Jim I think you are a brave man and I salute you. It is so important that this book is on the crime shelf, on a scale of one to ten I would give it – 10! It dot-coms all the other chaps books and what they say. Once someone like Jim writes a book it is very enlightening to say the least about the goings-on of a prison officer, it makes all our stories more believable and true. I personally have grabbed hold of Jim Dawkins, especially as there is a chapter about me in this book and now drag him around everywhere I go verifying all my stories and so have all the other chaps. Where we might not all get on with some of the other boys that have wrote books we all get on with Mr Dawkins because he verifies everything we are saying so read this book or fucking else… dot com.
FOREWORD BY CHARLES BRONSON
I first came across Jim in the Max Secure unit at Belmarsh back in 1993. I was, at the time, flying around the jails like a lunatic with a rocket up his arse. Jim was one of those guys that stood out from the rest. It's very difficult to explain it, but some people just stick out; they're not the same as the rest. It's the same in any walk of life; some are just special. It's no secret what I think of the system and the muppets that work in it -hell, I've put enough of them on their arses -but when I come across a genuine guy, the guy gets respect off me no matter what he does for a living. My motto has always been: somebody has got to lock my door and if they do it right and don't annoy me who am I to slag them off. Fuck with me and it's war.
Jim treated me decent. Some days he would come in with a black eye or a tooth smashed out -he liked a battle. Still, what squaddie don't? Jim was just Jim, a man of the world, a fighter, and I liked the guy. He gave me a dictionary, which I've still got today. It's falling to bits, but I've still got it coz I do love a dictionary. It's only a small one, but it's perfect for me -a small thing to most, but massive to me -and I never forget such things. Jim was once on duty as the escort assigned to take me to another jail. Them days I travelled naked and wrapped up in a body belt. On that journey he snapped off my radio aerial. At the time I was fuming, but it was an accident. When we arrived at Bristol jail I was put straight into the strongbox and they took me out of the belt. I shook Jim's hand and told the rest to fuck off -the Bristol screws I never spoke to at all. I shat on the floor and covered the box with it -that's how I am.
If they was all like Jim I'd never be in jail today. I've now spent 26 years caged up, 23 years of that in Solitary. I've been at war for all this time. But I take my hat off to guys like Jim and, believe me, there are few like him. So when I do get to meet one, I won't take liberties. I wish him luck with his book as I believe he has a great story to tell, and it took bottle to do what he did. Lots would love to do it, but they've not got the bottle. They are dreamers; they only know one way: yes sir, no sir, three bags full of shit sir. Shall I kiss your ass now sir or later sir? They are grassing one another up just to climb the ladder. How can you respect such treachery? You can’t. Jim saw all this and said, “I’m off”. Now he tells it how it is for you all to see. That’s what I call bottle. Yes, it's shocking, but it’s about time somebody told the truth about our jails. Jim's a great guy, and a friend to me. He's earned respect. I admire a true fighter.
Dedicated to the loving memory of my grandparents and my Uncle Clive.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” -Lord Acton, 1834-1902
"You are fucking mad you are, Jim," Charlie Bronson said to me one afternoon while we were playing scrabble on the exercise yard in HMP Belmarsh's Category A segregation unit. "That's rich coming from you," I replied to the only man I know who has come out of Broadmoor with a certificate to say he has been certified sane. Many of you may agree with Charlie and think that I, a prison officer, must be missing a few marbles to be playing scrabble on my own with Charlie Bronson in the heat of a summer's afternoon. If you do, all I can say is that you obviously do not know Charlie as I have come to know him over the years. Hopefully when you have finished this book you will understand a little more about the man behind the myth.
That particular afternoon I was dressed in a grey prison-issue vest, a pair of blue prison-issue pyjama bottoms cut down to my knees and a pair of black plastic prison boots, so I may have looked a bit odd for a prison officer. When we first went out on the yard after I had agreed to help Charlie with a bit of training, I had forgotten to inform the control room of our plans. Consequently, when they saw me through the camera running around the yard with Charlie running closely behind me they raised the alarm and sent the mufti squad in as they thought Charlie had escaped and was trying to chase a nonce to give him a slap. Cheeky bastards -what were they trying to say?!
Of course, not every prison officer was privileged enough to play scrabble with Charlie, not least because most don't take the time to get to know him and build up the mutual trust and respect we have developed for each other. It took a couple of weeks for us to begin to trust one another, as I had only heard terrible rumours about him. Charlie, on the other hand, had only experienced mistrust by the Prison Service and had suffered terribly at the hands of some of my then colleagues, as you will read later. Over the first weeks after our initial meeting we swapped stories -some funny, some not -of our different experiences, and in doing so we formed an unusual friendship that has remained to this day.
It was Charlie who provided the main inspiration for this book and encouraged me to empty my head into the pages you are about to read. "It's going to blow them all away, Jim. It will be a number one bestseller," he would constantly tell me. "It's never been done before, Jim. No one else has got the minerals to speak out about the prison system, Go for gold." So I did, and with those words ringing in my ears I sat down in front of my ancient computer and began tapping away with both index fingers. I am no typist and the fact that half my life's memories have been drowned in cheap lager over the years has meant it has taken almost six years to bring you the finished article. I have focused on Charlie predominantly in this Introduction, as he has been such a big influence while writing this book, but please don't think that the book is solely about Charlie.
There are, of course, numerous other stories featured that relate to my experiences so far as well as to umpteen other prison-related incidents that do not involve Charlie but are drawn from every area I have worked in within the three prisons in which I was employed. I have devoted a complete chapter, for example, to a man who was once just as feared as Charlie, both in the prison system and indeed outside, but who since leaving the service I have been privileged to call my friend -Dave Courtney OBE. Dave has been a great influence and a great help to me while writing this book, and I have also had the pleasure of being made welcome at his home and sharing some very funny times since appearing in the many shows he performs all over the country and attending numerous book-signing and charity events with him. So I am sure that any readers that have experienced prison life, or indeed have friends, family or loved ones who have spent or are still spending time at her Majesty's pleasure, will be able to relate to what I am saying. I only hope that by writing these memoirs it may shame the bad element that is still rife in our prisons and encourage those prison officers who do wish to carry out their duties professionally to have the courage to stand up to those who don't. I know it is hard, and I have been guilty myself, as you will read later, of not being strong enough at times to make such a stand, but I have learnt my lessons and made my decisions and remember the words of a wise old man: "The strongest man you will ever meet is the man who has the courage to admit his own weaknesses".
Although I initially intended to write solely about my prison experiences, I found it easier to start at the beginning and surprised myself at the variety of memories I unlocked along the way. I have not described all my exploits or had chance to mention everyone I have met in my life, and I have also abbreviated or changed the names of some of those to whom I have referred in order to protect their privacy. It has never been my intention to embarrass or offend any particular individual, so I do apologize if I have. I wanted to write the book just as it came out of my head, and all you read are my own personal views and opinions of my experiences as I remember them, with no outside influences.
I have not had the benefit of a ghost writer and have had the entire book published with nothing changed from my original manuscript, apart from a few spelling mistakes, but I hope this will only add to the realism of its contents, and indeed many of the reviews I have received to date reflect on the openness and honesty that are so apparent in the pages within. This was my intention -to give you my true views and opinions and highlight my flaws and mistakes, thereby giving a totally frank account of what I have witnessed, warts and all. I am sure that certain people will not agree with some of my opinions, and others, particularly the elements involved in some of the cowardly acts of bullying and mindless, unprofessional violence within the prison system, who will no doubt cross me off their Christmas card list, but as the old saying goes: " The truth hurts".
I hope you will warm to the humour within these pages, but I also know you will be shocked by the accounts, all of which are true, relating to the behaviour of certain prison staff that I have witnessed. As Charlie predicts, it is extremely unlikely that a book like this will ever be seen again, as it is just not the done thing for prison officers to write about what goes on within our prison walls. So read on, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
"OUR GANG'S BIGGER THAN THEIR GANG"
My shirt was soaked with sweat and clung uncomfortably to my aching body under my heavy black fire-protective riot overalls. My head was pulsating painfully and felt as though it had swollen to twice its normal size and was about to explode from the tight confines of my riot helmet. I wearily surveyed the wreckage, which had until about two hours earlier been the contents of spur three on the high-security Category A unit at London's notorious Belmarsh Prison, through the visor of my helmet. Not that I could see much, as my vision was almost totally obscured by the moisture that had collected on it from my erratic breathing, and it was still in the down position as I could not muster the energy or the motivation even to raise it up. There seemed little point, as there was nothing worth looking at through the Perspex glass that screened me from the scene of destruction on the spur. I had originally left my helmet on to muffle the sounds of protests being shouted from the now full segregation unit, but even they had ceased, as the prisoners who now occupied the strip cells within were probably as fatigued as I felt following the battle we had just fought. They knew the drill only too well and would by now have realised that their shouts would be to no avail as no one would go to answer them for hours yet. It was standard practice just to leave them to tire themselves out in a cooling-off process and they would by now be huddled in the corner of their bare cells, naked apart from the canvas strip suit they would have found on the floor of the cell, disoriented and licking the wounds that most would have received during their transit from the spur to the segregation unit.
Everything seemed eerily quiet after the din of the events of the past few hours: the calm after the storm. Such eruptions happen to often in our prison, usually due to poor management of a situation that has evolved from a petty matter that could so easily have been dealt with in a professional manner in order to avoid the type of destruction I now surveyed, as well as possible injury to both staff and inmates. As I sat alone in the spur observation office desperately trying to reset my breathing to a rate of normality (I had chosen not to join the others in their ego-boosting victory celebrations in the officers' mess), I thought back to the events of the day that had resulted in this latest unnecessary confrontation.
The day had begun in exactly the same way as every other Saturday had done when I was on duty. I had dragged myself out of bed at 0600 hours with a serious lack of motivation as I looked forward to another ten-hour shift on spur three, and prolonged the journey from home to Thamesmead for as long as possible, eventually arriving at the prison car park at 0715 hours. I passed through the main gate and the mandatory search area before picking up my keys and trudging through the depressing surroundings of the main prison towards the high-security unit. Once there, I passed through the two electronically operated gates and yet another search area, and with my body in autopilot I went upstairs to the tearoom to grab a cup to take with me to my place of duty.
By just after 0800 hours, I and my colleague had unlocked the twelve inmates on the spur, passed out the breakfast meals and taken, from those that had them, various applications or requests, such as booking phone calls, arranging to change bedding or simply handling mail to be posted out via the Cat A censor's office. This was typical of the Saturday morning routine on the unit and, looking around at the inmates going about their usual business, there was no indication that this would be any different to any other day. The rest of the morning dragged past slowly, interrupted only by the comings and goings of a couple of inmates who had visits, numerous breaks to visit the tea room and the odd walk round the spur to chat to some of the guys.
My partner for the day was a fella called Stu, a Yorkshire man, who was about fifty-odd years old but looked about ninety and had the personality to match that of a grumpy old silverback gorilla. I think he only knew two words of dialect, which he used to answer me when I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea: "two sugars" -that's all I heard him speak all day.
Consequently, I welcomed the arrival of the lunchtime meal at twelve, as it meant after serving it the inmates would be locked up for an hour and I could get off the spur for a break myself.
All too soon I was back unlocking the lads for the afternoon period, which would follow much the same routine as the morning, or so I hoped. At approximately 1400 hours, two visits officers arrived to collect the prisoners for the afternoon visiting session. That particular afternoon three inmates were collected: two of the IRA inmates on remand for the Warrington bombing; and Gary Nelson, a large Jamaican inmate accused of killing PC Dunne. With our numbers reduced to nine, the afternoon passed peacefully with most of the inmates spending the following couple of hours writing letters, reading or watching the Saturday afternoon sport on television.
About an hour and a half had passed when the three inmates on visits returned, and I could tell by the expressions on the escorting officers' faces that all had not gone well. Nelson went straight to his cell and slammed the door against its frame, but the bolt was in the open position so it could not close fully, and the two IRA men both headed straight for Dingus's cell. I knew something was wrong, but decided to sit back and hope that it was just a case of a bad visit and they would sort it out among themselves rather than risk antagonizing them further by following them into the cell and demanding to know what had happened.
I did not have to wait long for answers. Within a few minutes of the inmates returning, Dingus, the highest-ranking IRA man on the spur at the time and a man with whom I had actually been able to build up a fairly good working relationship, approached me at the desk. No sooner had the words, "The boys are not happy, I think it best if you get off the spur for a while", left his lips, one of the Warrington lot who had been on visits came charging out of a cell wielding a plastic chair above his head. He made straight for the CCTV camera mounted on the far wall of the spur and, using the chair, began smashing at it. At the same time, Nelson and the other IRA man came out and began to dismantle the pool table and throw the TV off its table onto the floor. I looked around for some support, just in time to see Stu's hulking frame squeezing out of the second door leading off the spur, but not before he had locked the first one behind him, leaving me alone and locked in with a spur full of very irate prisoners. I spun round again to look into the observation office and saw to my horror that the officer in there was facing the other way on the phone, apparently unaware of what was happening. Luckily for me, Dingus was still by my side and he ushered me towards the door of the spur, shielding me for just enough time to allow me to fumble with my keys and escape into the sterile area between the two doors that led off the spur. I froze there for a moment, in the safety of the locked passage, to let my panic and fear subside a little and take stock of what had just happened. All my training had suddenly gone out of the window, as is so often the case when you finally become involved in a real-life situation. My colleague had deserted me and my observation officer was clearly not observing me, and I am convinced that, had I not been the man I was and taken the time to build a good working relationship with most of the lads on the spur, I would not have stood a chance of getting out of there without sustaining very serious injury or worse.
The warbling sound of the alarm bell ringing snapped me out of my frozen state. The observation officer had obviously finally heard the commotion and raised the alarm. I glanced back through the door and felt relieved I had got out when I did, as by this time the other inmates had joined the fray and were systematically destroying all the furniture and fittings on the spur. The noise was incredible as it now echoed around the confined space of the upstairs of the unit.