hark the herald angels sing

Prison life is made up of constant intrusions. one of most immediately obvious is the announcements made over the PA system. There would be at least a dozen of these announcements each hour – each one is preceded by 2 piercing ‘beeps’. an announcement will follow that the mail has arrived or that the canteen is open; it could be a request for someone to go to a particular unit, or letting the women know that it’s time for a muster, or a lockdown, or methadone treatment, or worship…

There are speakers for the PA in every space in the prison – it’s impossible to escape it. It’s loudest in the buildings – so loud that any conversation has to stop while the PA is being used. If there’s an announcement every couple of minutes, as happens often, and each announcement goes for 20 seconds or so, conversations are consistently interrupted. The women’s bedrooms each have speakers – which means that if you want to sleep in the afternoon, or if you’re lying down because you’re not well, you will always be kept awake by it. It drives me mad after i’ve been inside the prison for 10 minutes. imagine 25 years of it. there is no escaping it.

i’m sure you get used to it. i hate that getting used to it also means getting used to the fact that having an uninterrupted 3 minute conversation is a luxury, and getting used to someone always being able to intrude into your space.

It’s one of those things that’s necessary, of course, in a prison. It can also be a method of control and power.

the christmas worship this afternoon, for the women in mainstream, was in the programs room. this is a large hall, with rows of chairs. we handed out candles (tapers) which had to be collected and counted afterwards (inmates aren’t allowed candles). we dragged in a piano and sang carols – probably 60 or so of us. the first verse of each carol was sung with gusto, from then on it was mostly the chaplains holding voice.

my favourite moment was as we were singing “Hark the herald angels sing”. sure enough, in the second verse the PA makes its fingernails-down-the-chalkboard introductory beeps, and a long announcement begins – and as it does, the entire hall starts singing so loudly that it completely drowns out its sound.