Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 1 No. 1, May 1983

Doing time: the temporal reality of the criminal's existential world

Eddy Withnell

Time intervals is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatsoever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy—that's the time that seems long in the memory. And that is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape durations on."

John Steinbeck East of Eden

In this paper I will be discussing the semiotic aspects of time and how the temporal reality of the criminal's (crim's) world is affected through various time grids. Following a new crim through prison, there are two distinct phases he passes through, both of which construct their own dimensions for time. The first phase is based on outside time (outside of prison), linked as it is to all the chronological events which bring meaning into free social life, thus is multidimensional. The second phase, however, is based upon the crim's sentence ('lagging'), which reduces the whole of a crim's time in prison ('the nick', or 'boob') to a meaningless suspension of time, as though a slice has been taken out of his real life, the outside image of self in existence, until he is released back into freedom. Thus, in the first phase the basic unit of time is the intensity of meaning generated within the crim's visits, with friends and loved ones from the outside. In the second phase the basic unit of time is measured in a 'rort', the time it takes to conceive, instrument and complete some assertion of self-determination in the face of a whole system geared to prevent just such actions. The two phases are linked to each other and only make themselves apparent as two distinct entities after the first basic unit of time collapses—the visits with the outside are no longer of sufficient intensity to maintain a temporal grid applicable to outside reality.

The new crim anchors the whole of his reality within the basic unit of his weekly forty-minute visit. There, through the intensity of communication generated between himself and his family and loved ones, he is able to bring back into existence the image of his self as it was in their world—the 'real' world of outside. It is there and only there he can transcend the caricature of criminality he has been reduced to by the courts and media. It is only there that he can transcend the anonymity of prison life, rise up from the garb which cloaks him in an appearance of common criminality, escape the constant negation of his individuality manifest in all object reducing prison discipline, and once again become a husband, lover, friend and/or relative—a full functioning meaningful human being. In those forty minutes he communicates more about his true self than the rest of the week put together, thus he lives from week to week, existing in the matrix of time based on such weekly units, surviving throuqh his visits.


The first pattern of time, over the basic unit of the visit, is the daily mail call. Each weekly visit is punctuated by the new crim's communication with the outside and his old image of self through the post. The new chums press forward at mail-call, those who are in the limen state between the two time phases hang uncomfortably back, whilst the old crims hang loose waiting for the moment to pass. Each man's stance reveals something about how precious each regards those vital moments as being. Time stands still for the new crim listening to the loudspeaker, the crowd growing around the grilled grate, hands reaching out, confusion over names, people walking away and having to be called back for more letters, and after causing such unnecessary delays receiving more and more letters, there's no justice, until the final words ring through and shatter the timelessness of it all: "That's it"! And the new crim closes down all communication with the reality of prison, losing himself in another world, awakening with the final kiss. The fairy tale world vanishes, the brute concrete world of prison re-emerges.

The second pattern of time structuring his world is the lock-up. That is, the new crim eagerly awaits the solitary hours, about sixteen a day, that he spends locked up in his cell. He is no different from any crim new or old, as their voices echo a common sentiment, speaking more to themselves than anyone who should care to listen: "now the mail call is over, for chrissakes lock us up"! The slamming of the cell door is something tangible, a marker, against which to record the end of another day. Another day off the lagging, another day closer to his loved ones, another day closer to the next visit. But the lock-up doesn't just mark the passing of another day, ushering in night despite the fact it is still mid-afternoon; rather, it introduces a different set of temporal relations.

Within his cell the new crim can dissolve his self into an illusion of totality. The heavy door locks out all condemnation, acting as a barricade against the constant condemnation of prison life, until the cell becomes a sanctuary. He divides his time between fantasy, letter writing, and sleep—sleeping up to fourteen hours a day, for as old and new crim alike quickly learn: "Sleep is all remission on your lagging". Within his fantasy he draws on all the alternatives he could have chosen in life, in order to avoid such an end, or constructs a magnificent future, using the image of self, with all the relationships and values he once held in the outside world. It is a construction of possibilities, based upon what he knows he once was, and so, time past becomes time present, whilst time present loses itself in the constantly stretching and growing fibres of fantasy. Finally, in his letters, as in their replies, a level of communication is established between him and his loved ones at a level never previously attained in their relationships. Both parties are able to transcend the roles they once assumed with each other, forced to examine the depth of their commitment, in the face of its very destruction. A self-to-self communication, in the gentle unravelling of doubts, fears, needs and motivations, which are somehow lost or misconstrued in face-to-face communication, allow them to understand how they arrived where they have—and the numerous possibilities suddenly opened up as to where they can head, once the lagging is finished!

The third routine is the check. Dissolved into the density of fantasy, writing, reading, or sleep, the new crim is constantly jarred out of his introspection by the regular cell checks. The prison officers ('screws') make regular checks, looking


in at the crim through a judas or peep-hole in the door, and sometimes, depending on the inclination of some screws, who are prepared to lie waiting for hours in a bid to catch a crim masturbating, will make irregular checks by creeping along the landing on stockinged feet. To the new crim each check is a sudden and brutal dislocation of his reworked time. Worse still is the sudden physical intrusion, in prisons where the screws burst in to issue a 'flogging', needing nothing more than the crim attempting to bring his self into existence, by such dangerous activities as having the gall to look directly back at the peep-hole during a check. It is as though he is snatched from his dreams and hurled back onto the laboratory bench, to come under the scalpel yet again, just when he thought he was safe. Every millionth of a second that the screw is at the peep hole, becomes an hour of indignity. He feels the full weight of biased screw perception zeroing in on him, symbolising his total exposure, a bug under a microscope with the mad scientist seeing only what his eye seeks to see, reducing a living, breathing, feeling being into so many dissected and rejected pieces, destroying the specimen in order to prove it was faulty. He wonders, fears, that his body is betraying him and flinching beneath the blade, desperately waiting for the moment to pass, dreading the lobotimising eye of authority which never leaves— then the screw moves on—leaving him clinging to his sanity and needing the next visit, the security of dream, like a junky needs his fix. Even in his sleep, the checks still come. And they can be worse then, as sleep is stretched into waking by the persistent tapping of the peep-hole, leaving him hanging onto a half conscious realisation of his situation right through the long early hours.

The fourth routine is in the yard. For the new crim time goes slowest and grates most upon the nerves whilst he is in the yard. It is there, waiting for either the lockup or working parades, that he is forced to confront the brute absurdity of his existence and the horrific possibility that, despite what his visitors state, he really is reduced to a criminal status with no hope of redemption. He doesn't want to associate with the hardened elements, and besides, all games or conversation are pointless: what is real and what is illusion? He could paint any image of himself he wished and whatever reference points, whatever props, could be used to verify the validity of his claims. With no way of locating the truth even he gets tired of attempting a reconstruction of his self, on its socio-historical base, by the use of anecdote. He wraps himself in his memory, hoping to avoid further criminal contamination, and ekes out the longest hours of the day by living for the night and his visits and the possibility of a letter at mail call!

The fifth time grid is the carefully calibrated periods of time which revolve around the parades. The new crim soon discovers that the whole day is divided into periods and hinged on the morning and afternoon parades. That is, after being unlocked in the morning, filing down to the yard to empty the 'shit-tub', filing back up with his breakfast, being locked up for half an hour, he comes down into the yard and waits for the morning parade. The parades frustrate him beyond belief. Ranks of men, confronted by screws who can't count, or can't remember where crims have got to, body searches, unbearable delays as the yards are searched, all crush the new crim deeper into his alienation. And as those screws who are so inclined begin to seek out some minor fault, a button not sewn on correctly, the new crim realises that the parade ritual is designed not to serve the same function as in the armed forces, but precisely the opposite. It is a constant reminder that a demarcation line has been drawn, with him doomed to the


negative side, with the screws constantly on the prowl to ensure everything he does will be seen as an attempted invasion of their defensive position. Thus, for the new crim, parades seem to drag on forever, reinforcing the hopelessness of his position.

The new crim also discovers that the whole day's activities are hinged to those parades, with everything grinding to a halt whilst they are carried out. What should only be a half hour inspection can cause repercussions right across his day. For example, if a parade is late, or a particular workshop is held up, then the crims may well have to wait an hour or more before the screws sort themselves out, resulting in delays to visits, welfare officers, and the like. And when that occurs, because of the urgency of such events, the whole day is thrown into turmoil. Further, because all periods are hinged to the parades, such as work, gymnasium, showers and the like, a late parade can well result in the missing out of some activity—usually only the positive ones to the crim's advantage—such as the gymnasium or showers. Thus the new crim waits on the parades, wanting to see the first one done and over so that the final one will herald an approach to the end of his day, waiting like a man at the dentist's.

Within this time-grid, the new crim experiences both positive and negative periods. The positive periods, such as going to the gymnasium, speaking to a social worker and/or a psychologist, are no longer chronographically than the negative periods, such as work, in the yard, and/or the parades themselves. But the temporal effect of both are startling in contrast. The more he seeks out the company of social workers and the like, in a bid to find points of communicational contact which will help bring his own image of self into existence, the more time seems to shrink in those particular periods—whilst expanding within the negative ones. Thus, the day never grows shorter; only the few oases of normality. And in fact, it seems that the days grow longer precisely because of those all too few periods of redemption, when caught up in unprejudiced communication or self-determined activity, the negativity and hopelessness of his situation seems even more acute. He is left thirsting for his visits, his tongue whetted by the few positive moments, whilst the negative barren reality of his lagging stretches out over miles and miles of empty, meaningless minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years.

The sixth grid, a cover set, is the sentence itself, the lagging which encompasses the whole of the new crim's temporal reality. For him the lagging is calculated in old time—time as he structured it according to the outside reality. When the judge passed sentence, exiling him for so many years, the new crim took the outside, calendar concept of time and attempted to impose it onto his existence within prison. Thus it is, he ticks off in his mind the passing of the days, as they lead up to the close of a week, which ushers in both his revitalising visit and chips away at the corner of a month. The weeks are calculated by how they can be divided into months, the months into years, until a precise mathematical realisation of his predicament can be obtained. He strives to organise and control time, reducing it to manageable chunks, which can then be used as a fixed grid against which he can maintain the normality of the outside. If time can be so reduced to concrete terms, then each week on the outside will remain the same as when he was there, his position out there will never alter. The world becomes fixed—awaiting his return.


But things do change. There isn't a sudden snap, wherein everything reverses its order, but rather, a slow dislocation of time starts to occur. It begins with the new crim he encounters at work or at the gymnasium or in the yard, and realising they are not the vacant faces of deviant criminals, but the faces of fellow thinking human beings. In direct proportion to this recognition, and contributing to it a great deal, his visits become fewer. His old friends no longer visit, his wife or lover talks about people he has never met and things he has never seen, whilst his family only visit to inform him of how much they have suffered through his actions. He finds conversations, his self-reproducing anecdotes, have all been picked clean in his positive periods with the social workers and psychologists, until only their roles are left—he as the crim and they as the 'professional staff'. Then finally, the dislocation completes itself with a 'dear john'—a letter at mail call, from his wife or lover, telling him that their relationship is over. And for some reason, be it human nature, the letter never says "it's over because time has run out", but rather, "it's over because we're no longer suited", leaving him with the burden of deviance. He is no longer suitable, because everything he was and is, is criminal. The cut is complete, his anchor into the outside world has torn loose, he is all alone in a world where everything points to his abnormality and nothing affirms his self-worth. It is at this point he notices how the fabric of time has changed, beginning with a new basic unit.

Whereas once the visit provided the new crim with the intensity needed to affirm his self-worth, it is the rort which takes its now vacated place. That is, realising that all attempts to assert his self against the disciplinary regulations of prison are only self-destructive acts, he learns to accept the arbitrary format of behaviour. From there he then learns how to avoid the obstacles by creating the appearance of 'playing the game', whilst finding every conceivable possible way of affirming his own existence. The affirmation may take the form of anything from smuggling of contraband, either into or within the nick itself, to the acquisition of a shoe lace or cup of tea—when they are needed and not when someone dictates they should be needed! Thus, each day he seeks to determine his own existence and finds rorts everywhere through which to do it. The tougher, more regulated the prison, the more he has to rort. And his rorts expand the intensity of time, so that what would normally be just another minute suddenly becomes a pause in time—an opening up into timelessness until the rort is conceived, implemented and finalised. Everything grinds to a halt in order that a rort may be achieved. In the midst of a card game a crim will turn his attention to someone else who is, perhaps, offering the chance of a cup of coffee without him having to assist or participate in the scrounging up of the necessary items. It is the institution of prison itself, which creates the need to rort, that develops the concept of illegal activity and not some mystical contamination.

The first time-grid in this second phase is the same as the third grid in the first phase—the cell. The second grid of the first phase, the daily mail call, is now redundant. Without the intensity of an ongoing relationship with someone on the outside, letters are reduced in status in much the same way as when one receives a letter from someone in another country. It is interesting to hear from such a tourist, but tourists travel in a cocoon of illusion, and so, to the crim, those outside of the nick also exist within such a cocoon — they are 'squareheads', with their heads trapped within packages of authoritatively


dictated truths, caught up in their own illusions. Thus, finding self-affirmation through the self-determined action of rorting, the crim now finds sanctuary from his destructive daily existence in the retreat of his cell.

Within his cell the crim is finally able to distance himself from all the role playing, discipline-negating actions and self-abasement he has to demonstrate throughout the day. There he relaxes, but not in the way he did when he was new. He doesn't give himself over to letter writing and communication, there is no-one and nothing to communicate anymore. He tends instead to give himself over to fantasy, which, like rorting, expands to fill the time allocated, able to provide a totally alternative reality. And then, once again, there is always sleep.

Within the first phase the new crim found a time grid within the routine checks upon his cell. Those checks were symbolic of the institution's endeavour to lobotomise every trace of his self-worth, the relentless screw perception which grinds him down to an object embedded with a crime, but now they no longer affect him. The crim is now so in contact with his environment he knows when the screws are coming to make their checks. It doesn't matter how they come, whether simply doing their jobs or in the form of a creeper; every strange sound, the creaking of a board fifty feet away, movement where there should be none, all herald the screws' arrival. To the crim it doesn't matter any more, for he knows the screws will only ever see what they want to see, that he cannot communicate anything to them and that within his rorts, within the intensity he shares with the other crims, he exists in an invisible world they will never penetrate. Thus, here, as the crim has aged in time and experience, there is no temporal pattern of checks—the watchful eye; the surgeon's knife is always poised, it's merely a fact of life!

The second grid then, in this second phase, is equivalent to the fourth grid of the first phase—in the yard. Whereas previously the yard was desolate of meaning, thus all time spent in it became weighted and grating, the crim now finds meaning within various rorts such as betting or gambling on cards and the horses. Caught up in a game of cards he creates a wall of timelessness, wherein he cross-refers all the known traits of his fellow-players against their card techniques, delving into the truth and falsities of their self presentation. How a crim gambles, loses, 'lashes' (refuses to pay) or pays, all tell something significant about him within the enclosed environment of the nick. The density of character profiles is a constant source of communication, which allows for non-verbal communication to supplant verbal communication—a nod is as good as a wink! There are other aspects of gambling, which add weight to an understanding of the crims' condition, but suffice here to say, it helps refine their need to carry out risks and bluffs, in the pursuit of self-determination, right beneath the ever watchful eye of the screws. The yard becomes a place to hone up one's senses establish tighter communications with other crims, their friends outside the nick and retain an area of self expression which is impossible to invade. Thus, all intensified activities within the yard now expand for the crim and replace the intensity he once communicated on his forty minute visits.

The third temporal grid of this second phase is equivalent to the fifth grid of the first phase—the carefully calibrated periods of time which revolve around


the parades. Whereas he once found parades threatening to his identity and sought to rise up against them, by such subconscious assertions of individuality as arriving late or refusing to be 'correctly' attired, he now accepts them as an inevitable function of prison existence. And precisely because they are inevitable they no longer concern him. They still hold a sway over his existence in that the time they take to conduct, when calculated by chronological time, is short yet appears long. But, now the crim finds them a source of information gathering, whereby he scrutinises the screws' faces, postures and language, picking out their individual defenses and idiosyncracies. As though poised in suspended animation, each of their communications is easily decoded by the perfectly stationary crims. Hostility, fear, cowardice, casualness all transmit from the screws whilst the crims remain empty receivers. During the parades it is the screws that parade, and not the crims. Thus, the crim now resents new crims who arrive late, causing delays to an inevitability, exposing themselves and as a consequence him, to a sharper scrutiny by the screws. That is not to say he doesn't enjoy such performances for their own sake, as the parades are thrown into complete turmoil as screws froth and thrash about over a new crim's incorrect attire, as they provide deep insights into the nature of the screws as men.

By now the crim has learnt to rort fairly successfully, and so parades no longer impair his mobility or ability to make urgent communications. He has learnt the techniques whereby he can both avoid parades altogether or manage to 'twine' (make a mutual agreement whereby the crim achieves his desired aim) the screws into letting him go about his business as soon as the parades are over. And the same is true of the other periods of the day which are linked to the parades.

The crim's place of work is no longer a long drawn out affair, wherein the very nature of his work alienates him from his own image of self-worth, as he learns to rort himself either one of the very few worthwhile jobs, or a position in one of the numerous boring jobs from which he can operate a network of rorts. Work now becomes an interesting place for that purpose alone—work itself still remains boring, consuming time very slowly and painfully, but it is made bearable, intensified in bursts and patches, by the rorts he initiates. Meanwhile, whereas these once negative periods are now made bearable, some aspects of the once positive periods undergo a change.

Whereas the gymnasium had once been a place where the new crim could work on his old image of self, polishing it up, getting trim and fit so as to be able to present himself to his visitors and the outside world, keeping all appearances focused into that reality, he now finds a new source of intensity within the physical activity itself. Therefore, in contradiction to the myths about how crims build themselves up to impose or menace the screws, the crims find a tremendous amount of self-fulfillment in working against their own physical barrier—their body. Within the gymnasium, each crim knows the other's running times, his weight-lifting capabilities, his boxing prowess and/or his general level of dedication. Like cards, it reveals the depth of determination, success and individual confidence a crim possesses, all increasing the density of personal relationships on which crim communication relies. Thus, despite the adequacy of an hour for such physical activities, the intensity and self-affirming nature of gymnasium time always leaves the crims arguing that their gym time is too short!


The visits once made by the new crim to social workers and psychologists also take a new twist. Whereas once they were used firstly as a bid to communicate on a one-to-one basis with some unbiased person, then secondly, reduced to role-to-role communication as anecdote and general conversation lapsed, they now become threatening. They don't become threatening in the therapeutic sense, where an individual is driven closer toward his self after being confronted by his repressions, but rather, they become threatening through another form of bias. Because they are 'professional staff', the crim discovers they have brought their educated philosophies to the job and that, no matter how untrue, they will try and force the crim to accept their version of his reality. When he tries to explain about rorting, or how saying "thank-you" to a screw can evoke hostility, they try and impose their own values, which function in their reality where the self isn't under constant threat, thus negate his self-determination—the very thing that they are trying to encourage at a professional level. Thus, the crim either abandons those visits altogether, or simply gives the professional staff what they want, in the same way as he has learnt to act in the way the screws expect because they will never accept anything, they won't play along with any rorts until he does! Thus, with the social workers he may suddenly find his family problems, whilst with the psychologists he simply provides them with the cause of his repressions that they expect, or even demand, even if he knows it is not the real cause. And if he does remain with the professional staff, having discovered a good little rort there (whether the rort is favourable reports, a little support at the political level, an area devoid of screw penetration, a personal relationship without the usual constrictions of prison etc. etc.), once again the time seems to shrink accordingly. As a consequence he does his time harder, for he becomes dependent on his weekly 'therapeutic visit' in the same way as he was once dependent upon his weekly forty minute visit, once again reducing time into chunks of days, weeks, months and years.

Finally, the cover set of the second phase is the same temporal aspect which controlled the cover set of the first phase—the length of the crim's lagging. But whereas previously the new crim read nothing more into his lagging than how it could be apperceived in terms of days, weeks, months and years, thus be assimilated into all the memories, experiences, hopes and joys that bound him to the outside world, he now realises how it binds together an alternative reality—the crim reality. Without an anchor to pin time to, without emotional intensity to bind him to another world, where days and weeks are important in terms of leisure, wages, family, friends, entertainment and all the things which go with freedom, it is pointless in measuring time. It is the lagging itself that counts. Thus, the crims coin phrases to account for that new concept of time, such as: where it doesn't matter whether you 'do time' in solitary, at an outstation, or in maximum security, 'it is all time'; where, in response to a question demanding that he should explain what he is doing, at his work or during a rort, the crim invariably replies, "doing time", or, in response to some request by the professional staff (which is no different than a screw's order, just masked in a politeness only they believe, for the crim is only too aware, that behind their 'professionalism' is the guarantee of instituted violence—politeness doesn't deceive them), where he is asked whether he could just wait a minute, the crim replies: "I've got plenty of time".


Each day's activity, no matter how the authorities attempt to spice it up, remains the same for the crims. They have a very long collective memory, for time has no anchor, the weeks flow into months and the months into years and the years into decades, with names, crimes and the length of someone's lagging being the only tangible thing on which to pin a crim's existence. A crim who has been released ten years prior is spoken of as though he only left the nick a few days past, whilst a crim returning for another crime, who may well have spent five or more years on the outside, slips quickly back into the flow of boob time. Thus, people's actions never die, a ghostly existence is continually maintained, with both crims and screws able to recount past escapades, make character judgements and keep alive myths that may well be decades out of date! One day follows another, with the crim existing from rort to rort, caught up in the timeless void of his lagging, patiently bearing the indignities and the emptiness of his existence until time runs out. And he calculates his lagging in accordance with how he perceives this ongoing quality of time, for: "you don't count the year you're doing and you don't count the year you get out in, so your lagging is only as long as what's left in between".

The long collective memory, amongst both crims and screws, makes itself felt at all levels. Crims collect and hoard all kinds of 'privileges', such as Christmas foods on the canteen, for they collectively remember when they weren't entitled to more than one meal a day, thus live in a form of paranoia that whatever gains they have made over the decades will be suddenly snatched away from them. Those who have stockpiled, like the wise squirrel, won't go hungry when the bitter winter comes. The paranoia is given credence by both the screws and the media's attitudes toward 'luxuries' for crims, and so, it extends itself right across prison existence, with every single new privilege being treated offhandedly. The screws always say, "one crim will always fuck it up for the others" ! But the crims say, "new administrations only institute new policies to suit their own ends, and it's 'first in best dressed', because as soon as it's no longer convenient for them, things go right back to the way they were. They don't have courage or integrity, only new fads"!

The collective memory works against the crims whenever they come before a prison board, whether for work release, parole, or simply a change of security rating, where the panel recall a crim's past actions and judge them as though they had only just occurred. No account is taken of maturity, education, or any other influence upon his life. He is kept in a state of suspended infantilism, kept reduced to his crimes, denied his adulthood. Then, suddenly, just before he is due for release, the boards and screws panic, saying, "he's been here for a long time, we'd better shove him off to an outstation or something before his parole comes up". It doesn't matter who runs the prisons, whether the screws through their puppet administrators, or the administrators, or even the professional staff, they all have their own brand of infantilism to which they reduce the crims. No matter what pre-release schemes they concoct, like all such schemes within prison, all such new 'fads', it neither makes an imprint on the timeless reality of the crim's existence nor alters the way they perceive him through their timeless bias. To him, they remain the same, whilst to them, he remains the same —only the beginning and the end of his lagging counts for either of them. To both, the end of his lagging is the sudden be-all-and-end-all of all their problems.


It is simply a matter of filling in time, or to use a boob phrase, 'settling into the lagging', until time runs out.

The crim learns, once he has entered this phase of his lagging, all the rorts, all the tactics, all the truths of his new reality. The collective memory recalls all the deceits, hypocrisies and violence that have been used against the crims in the name of all the causes justified by politicians and screws or prison ad ministrators. A head of the prisons system will be known, personally, for his every weakness and machinating tactics, and the knowledge passed on to the incoming crims. Nothing is forgotten about crims, screws, 'jacks' who are either on the take or can be 'slung' (bribed), politicians who are corrupt, as each crim passes on to the next everything he has heard within the timelessness of the nick, as all information lives on and is never discarded. Thus the hierarchy amongst the crims themselves is strict, for someone who 'was no-good can never be a good bloke' (someone who has informed can never be accepted as a member of the crim's world), for each indiscretion is recorded for posterity. And so, the crim puts to the test the things he has heard, checking out the self-delusion, hypocrisy or cowardly delegation of violence used by the whole prison system, and always finding them to be correct. The updated information reinforces a historical profile of the whole community in which the prison exists, thus the crims become conceited and entrenched in their perception of society, for their truths have withstood the test of time, whilst the squareheads have run from pillar to post, with one new fad after another, trying to avoid the reality of their own existence. To the crims it is the squareheads who are the evil ones, for they have no consistency, they are without ethics which can stand the test of time.

Finally, it is not just the micro aspects of time which can be elicited from a lagging, but also the macro aspects that supply value judgements within the crim world itself. For example, the length of a crim's lagging indicates something of his character. That is, the courts never sentence anyone purely on the seriousness of their crime, as the jacks and the prosecution continually make deals behind the scenes, wherein informers, or crims who have 'signed-up' (made a written confession), or those who save the court time by pleading quilty, are generally given lighter sentences. Thus two men in the nick, for the same type of crime, yet one with more serious implications, such as more violence, may have a huge disparity between their laggings. Investigation may well show that whereas the crim who used no violence has the longest lagging, whilst the crim who used excessive violence has a shorter lagging, it is because the latter 'co-operated' with the jacks in some way. Thus, a crim who enters the nick with a shorter lagging than his crime usually warrants is immediately subject to close scrutiny. Even if there is no apparent evidence to believe he is 'no-good' a long and thorough investigation of his past, by reference to court transcripts, other crims, friends outside, will be made before the hand of friendship is extended. In contrast, a crim who receives an excessively harsh lagging, in comparison with other sentences for the same offence, is immediately recognisable (once his credentials have been ascertained) as someone who has ethics and character in the face of adversity.

Lastly, the crim learns that it is only those who enter the nick with big laggings that will ever be initiated into the crims' world. Those who are doing less


than three years, on their minimum term before being eligible for parole, tend to maintain that vital anchor with the outside. Those who are doing more than three years on their minimum term, considering their credentials, are all prime candidates for the crim world. There doesn't seem to be any method of verifying that time span, the limit of three years, other than through experience and perhaps by reference to the previously stated phrase—wherein the year being served and the year of release aren't counted. Three years is the time it requires to arrive in just such a state of suspension. Thus, the new crim who enters the nick with a big lagging tends to resist harder, initially, the intensity of the crim world, struggling to retain his old image of self—his inherent differences to their criminality. Later, when he must turn to the other crims he tends to offer his self more totally, because he is subconsciously aware of his earlier rejection of them, binding himself to them voluntarily with a greater commitment, to absolve his own guilt. The new crim with a short lagging, on the other hand, tends to be less concerned about the possibility of the future, thus doesn't need to either reject the other crims quite so determinedly in the initial phase, nor turn to them later. The chances are he will retain both his link to the outside and his image of self, which maintains he isn't really criminal, whilst the crims themselves will not be so keen to accept him into their ranks because his lagging is too short to guarantee an adequate transition between the two realities (unless the short term crim has done a previous lagging and already established his 'good form').

In summary then, the new crim goes through two phases of time. Initially the basic unit of time is located within his visits, with loved ones, which binds him to the temporal reality of the outside world. When he loses that contact his basic unit of time becomes located within rorts, the time it takes to assert his self worth and determine his own existence in an environment that denies him those choices. In both cases he is bound in by the largest cover set of time, which is his lagging. But whereas initially he reduces his lagging to the time concepts of the outside reality, once his basic unit of time changes, so too does his conception of his lagging change. He becomes caught up in a timeless void, wherein it is less emotionally destructive to abandon all links with the outside concept of time (which is why crims find study, the pursuit of legal appeals, etc., so draining), giving himself over to a huge gulf between what the crims know their reality to be and what all external observation attempts to dictate what it is. Within the void nothing on the external level alters, whether it is the way the screws or administration continue to treat him or the image he is compelled to adopt due to his crime so as to avoid that treatment, but within the void, beneath the external appearances, he exists within an entirely different world. An unchanging, collective memory, unrelenting density of character analysis, are all aspects of that world. And he can only enter that world if his lagging is long enough to ensure he will pass through phases discussed here. Thus, in closing, the crim learns the names of laggings, coming to think of them in terms of a chunk of time and not the carefully calibrated units of control such periods of time designate in the outside world. The names of laggings are:

Indefinite detention at the governor's pleasure: The Key
Twenty years, or a Life Sentence: The Lot
Ten years: A Brick
Five years: A Spin
Two years: A Swy


One year: A Sleeper
Six months: A Zac
Three months: A Drunk's Lagging

Generally speaking, anything under one year and including one year is lightly regarded as being a drunk's lagging. All laggings are perceived as a chunk out of a man's life, thus the suspended animation which occurs in the second phase of the crim's existence in prison becomes a period, like a slice of life, to be skipped over in a bid to pick up the other dissected half of life. Life doesn't exist in prison—existence merely clings to life. Life remains an aspect of freedom, something to initially cling to, then later, when it slips the crim's grasp, to be picked up again upon release. Thus it is that the days go swiftly in the nick, as there is nothing of value by which to measure their passing, yet, the weeks go slowly, the months slower still and the years drag on without anything to remember them by on looking back. The crim leaves the nick and attempts to pick up his life right from where he left it off, as everything within his experience in prison is geared precisely toward that aim. Both the crim reality and the authorities' reality, enforced through the screws reduces all growth, suspending the crim within the moment of his being sentenced.

Finally, the crim discovers on his release that he is not the only one to perceive his lagging in terms of suspended animation. His old friends do also. They act as though he has returned from a brief trip to the toilet or out of town for a few hours, even though he may have been in the nick for a decade, greeting him casually and then going about their business. All their actions and his own expectations point to a resumption of where he left off years before—but the time continuum of the outside world, with its quantitive measures for growth, has layered all the relationships he has retained within his suspended animation. He simply cannot comprehend the social, communicative, or physical connections of what is in reality a completely new and foreign environment. Thus it is, the recidivist crim moves to assert his image of self, as it was prior to the nick and as it was proven, chipped and refined down to within the nick, imposing it on a hostile and unaccepting environment—compelling it to acknowledge him in the same way as the screws did, so that he may then go about his business. But the recognition he receives only determines that he return back to the nick!

New: 20 May, 1997 | Now: 22 April, 2015