"More fights break out over food than anything else," explained Nick as they waited in line.
"Other than in the gym," said Big Al.
Eventually Danny and Nick were told to join four others at the hotplate. Standing behind the counter were five prisoners dressed in white overalls and white hats, wearing thin latex gloves. "What's the choice tonight?" asked Nick, handing over his plate.
"You can 'ave sausages with beans, beef with beans or spam fritters with beans. Take your choice, squire," said one of the inmates who was serving behind the counter.
"I'll have spam fritters without beans, thank you," said Nick.
"I'll 'ave the same, but with beans," said Danny.
"And who are you?" asked the server. "His fuckin' brother?"
Danny and Nick both laughed. Although they were the same height, around the same age, and in prison uniform they didn't look unalike, neither of them had noticed the similarity. After all, Nick was always clean-shaven with every hair neatly in place, while Danny only shaved once a week and his hair, in Big Al's words, "looked like a bog brush."
" 'Ow do you get a job workin' in the kitchen?" asked Danny as they made their way slowly back up the spiral staircase to the first floor. Danny was quickly discovering that whenever you're out of your cell, you walk slowly.
"You have to be enhanced."
"And how do you get enhanced?"
"Just make sure you're never put on report," said Nick.
" 'Ow do you manage that?"
"Don't swear at an officer, always turn up to work on time and never get involved in a fight. If you can manage all three, in about a year's time you'll be enhanced, but you still won't get a job in the kitchen."
"Because there ur a thousand other fuckin' cons in this prison," said Big Al, following behind, "and nine hundred of thum want tae work in the kitchen. Yur oot of yer cell for most of the day, and ye get the best choice of grub. So ye can forget it, Danny boy."
In the cell, Danny ate his meal in silence, and thought about how he could become enhanced more quickly. As soon as Big Al had forked the last piece of sausage into his mouth, he stood up, walked across the cell, pulled down his jeans and sat on the lavatory. Danny stopped eating and Nick looked away until Big Al had pulled the flush. Big Al then stood up, zipped his jeans, slumped back down on the end of his bunk and began rolling another cigarette.
Danny checked his watch: ten to six. He usually went around to Beth's place around six. He looked down at the unfinished scraps on his plate. Beth's mum made the best sausage and mash in Bow.
"What other jobs are goin'?" asked Danny.
"Are yous still talking?" demanded Big Al.
Nick laughed again as Big Al lit up his cigarette.
"You could get a job in the stores," said Nick, "or become a wing cleaner or a gardener, but most likely you'll end up on the chain gang."
"The chain gang?" asked Danny. "What's that?"
"You'll find out soon enough," replied Nick.
"What about the gym?" asked Danny.
"Ye have tae be enhanced for that," said Big Al, inhaling.
"So what job 'ave you got?" asked Danny.
"You ask too many questions," replied Big Al, as he exhaled, filling the cell with smoke.
"Big Al is the hospital orderly," said Nick.
"That sounds like a cushy number," said Danny.
"I huv tae polish the floors, empty the midgies, prepare the morning rota and make tea fur every screw that visits matron. I niver stop moving," said Big Al. "I'm enhanced, aren't I?"
"Very responsible job, that," said Nick smiling. "You have to have an unblemished record when it comes to drugs, and Big Al doesn't approve of junkies."
"Too fuckin' right I don't," said Big Al. "And I'll thump anyone who tries tae steal any drugs fae the hospital."
"Is there any other job worth considerin'?" asked Danny desperately.
"Education," said Nick. "If you decided to join me, you could improve your reading and writing. And at the same time you get paid for it."
"True, but only eight quid a week," chipped in Big Al. "Ye get twelve fur every other job. Noo many of us like the squire here cin turn oor noses up at an extra four quid a week baccy money."
Danny placed his head back on the rock-hard pillow and stared out of the tiny curtainless window. He could hear rap blaring from a nearby cell, and wondered if he'd be able to get to sleep on the first night of his twenty-two-year sentence.
A KEY TURNED in the lock and the heavy iron door was pulled open.
"Cartwright, you're on the chain gang. Report to the duty officer immediately."
"But-" began Danny.
"No point arguing," said Nick as the officer disappeared. "Stick with me, and I'll show you the drill."
Nick and Danny joined a stream of silent prisoners who were all heading in the same direction. When they reached the end of the corridor, Nick said, "This is where you report at eight o'clock every morning and sign up for your work detail."
"What the 'ell is that?" asked Danny, staring up at a large hexagonal glass cubicle that dominated the area.
"That's the bubble," said Nick. "The screws can always keep an eye on us, but we can't see them."
"There's screws in there?" said Danny.
"Sure are," replied Nick. "About forty, I'm told. They have a clear view of everything going on in all four blocks, so if a riot or any disturbance breaks out, they can move in and deal with the problem within minutes."
"Ever been involved in a riot?" asked Danny.
"Only once," replied Nick, "and it wasn't a pretty sight. This is where we part company. I'm off to education, and the chain gang is in the opposite direction. If you carry on down the green corridor, you'll end up in the right place."
Danny nodded and followed a group of prisoners who clearly knew where they were going, although their sullen looks and the speed at which they were moving suggested that they could think of better ways of spending a Saturday morning.
When Danny reached the end of the corridor, an officer carrying the inevitable clipboard ushered all the prisoners into a large rectangular room, about the size of a basketball court. Inside were six long formica tables, with about twenty plastic chairs lined up on each side of them. The chairs quickly filled up with inmates, until almost every one was taken.
"Where do I sit?" asked Danny.
"Wherever you like," said an officer. "It won't make any difference."
Danny found a vacant seat and remained silent as he watched what was going on around him.
"You're new," said the man seated on his left.
" 'Ow do you know that?"
"Because I've been on the chain gang for the past eight years."
Danny took a closer look at the short, wiry man, whose skin was as white as a sheet. He had watery blue eyes and cropped fair hair. "Liam," he announced.