I’ve been in prison a week and a stranger keeps telling me he’s going to kill his wife. Simon is my third cellmate. We spend twenty-three hours a day sharing a six foot by nine concrete and steel space that serves as kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. When I first entered Simon’s cell, I was struck by how unlike prison it smelled. No stink of sweat, or stale water in the steel toilet. Instead, the scent of soap and spices. He seemed nervous to begin with. I’m sure I did too; meeting a stranger you’re going to be confined with is tough. Will he be filthy? Will he be crazy? Will he be dangerous? Simon soon told me about his crime.
Now Simon spends most of our waking hours talking about his wife, usually through a mouthful of biscuits, or cakes, or sweets. He eats almost constantly, shoving handful after handful into his loose jaw, crumbs spilling down his grey prison issue t-shirt. When he isn’t eating, he scratches at the rash covering his arms, neck and back. I’m pretty sure the rash is caused by the scratching. He talks while he scratches too.
Simon’s wife, though. He became convinced she was having an affair with her cousin, and had been for years. Simon had his suspicions so he had tracking devices placed in both of their cars. This is a crime, of course. Stalking is a crime. Simon’s wife, that bitch, reported him to the police, throwing in an accusation of coercive and controlling behaviour for good measure. Simon was arrested five weeks ago and has sat on remand since. He’s already pleaded guilty, on lawyers’ advice, and will be sentenced next week. He might walk free, he might get eighteen months.
Simon’s somewhere in his fifties, an IT company director from Pinner. Never been in trouble with the police before, class and wealth shielding his recreational cocaine use from the law. I swear, I’m going to kill her, Shippers. She has to pay for what she’s done. His breathing is fast and short, his eyes bulge.
What has she done? They haven’t had sex in fifteen years, but marriage is sacred and something in this affair, in how he has been brought low, touched a pit of rage or shame. If he’s released, will he kill her? Should I say something? To who? I know what happens to snitches in prison. He calls his sons. One won’t answer; he’s sided with the mother. Simon calls the other every day, explaining his theory that she has borderline personality disorder, that she has destroyed their happy family, that she is the monster, and he is the victim. He’s calmer when he speaks to his boys, laying out the case. He never tells them he’s going to kill their mother. But he tells me. She’s turned my child against me. She’s destroyed our family. I’m going to kill her.
Simon’s in love. Not with his wife, but with a prostitute half his age. He’s been paying her for sex since he discovered the affair. He pays her £500 to stay the night. It’s more than the price on her website, apparently. Sometimes she doesn’t ask for the money but I give it to her anyway.
We’ve been confined together a few days when he tells me he’s been using prostitutes for the past fifteen years. I ask him if that means he cheated first. He’s silent, unmoving for the first time, and then he finds the explanation. That was different though. She wasn’t giving me it, and a man’s got needs.
“I’m David Shipley. I’ve sold fork lift trucks, been a recruiter, worked in corporate finance and produced a film. I also committed a fraud in 2014, which I was jailed for in 2020. I was horrified by the prison system I saw. It is neglectful, cruel and seems almost designed to maximise reoffending. In August 2022 I was released, determined to make a difference. Now, I write, campaign and speak on prison reform. I work as a consultant prison inspector, and I’m always happy to talk and write about my experiences.”