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Comparative Penology

Institute of Criminology

How can he sleep after what he has done?

 By Gareth Evans


“He must be knackered to just fall asleep like that.”

“People, if that is what he is, like that don’t care about what they do. They’d sleep as well as we would after a nice workout in the gym”

Two custody officers do the rounds in a dingy police cell ‘suite’. On the night that I’m arrested they chat as if they’re privy to an exclusive soap opera and never give a thought to the fact that they’re part of this nightmare. They are extras in a twisted biopic that very few people will see and even less will understand.

I wake up and it takes me a good few seconds to remember where I am. Then the realisations come in ebbs and flows. Trying to remember if I’d had the interview yet. I swear it’s a deliberate tactic to let you fall asleep before the CID arrive to ask you about what a twisted bastard you’ve become. “Yeah, let’s wait a bit longer so he is really disorientated when we wake him up.”

Three days into a five day wait at the police station. I’m not sure why they just don’t take me to prison. I handed myself in. I told THEM what I did before they even knew it had happened. Why do they need me for this long? At least I can have a fag (cigarette) in prison.

The next thing I know, I’m waking up again. I keep falling asleep.

I’ve been in many police station cells before. I’ve been in these ones a good few times and I’m not even from this area. I remember scratching my name and a message to all other transgressors, the last time I was here. It read: ‘here lies… out there- untruths!’ I was meant to be saying something profound but even with a clear head I haven’t been able to figure out what. No matter, I’m not even in the same cell. I share my company with profundities left by others. They don’t make sense either. Maybe we are all as confused about what we’re trying to say.

I remember hearing the custody sergeant’s comment. I know they think we’re all monsters. Anyone who can stab another man, stab him in the frenzied manner, like I had done, cannot be fully human. What is more I’m sleeping like a baby. I’m not exactly giving the impression that I am sorry, even though I am. I didn’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt anyone and that is why I handed myself in. But falling asleep when only a matter of hours ago, had I finished washing thick clotted blood off of me? I can see why people think I’m not quite human.

This cell is really cold. It may just be my imagination. I’ve felt cold for years but I never paid the sensation any attention. I know I have felt colder. I just can’t remember when. The hatch on the door slams down before I realise the severe guy on the other side is there. He seems to soften slightly when he offers me a drink. I ask for a hot chocolate. I haven’t eaten anything since before I hurt that guy and I become painfully aware of how hungry I am. But I’ll just stick with the chocolate. I feel rude just asking for that. I really don’t want to be a monster.

I wake up. Again. My hot chocolate has been placed by my indoor bench and it is freezing. No way of telling how long it has been there. No way of telling if its night or day. I think I’ve been here for four days now. The sweatbox (prison transport van) rattles my cell, from just outside, with the power of an earthquake. I still can’t remember the interview. I remember telling myself that all I can give them, to make what I have done better, is the truth but I can’t remember actually doing the interview. 

“You’re off to Mag!’” The custody sergeant announces with maybe a little too much pride.

I must have given an interview. I wonder if I remembered to tell the truth. Honesty has long since expired from second nature. I would have had to think about it. Why can’t I remember?

And Mag’ (or Magistrates court) won’t be the end of it. They don’t deal with me in mag’ any more. They don’t have the power to sentence me for long enough.

I do remember to look at the scenery on my way to the magistrates building. I know the outside world is gradually shutting its doors on me and I will miss the grass, and the cars and the hills and the people, the women. It’s almost summer so there are some pretty girls walking around as we leave the town centre police station. And they have some short skirts on. There are some loud and annoying people on the sweatbox (prison van), too. Those girls aren’t for me. As with the hills and the grass and all the other people, this is just a reminder of the world I’m leaving, if I was ever here in the first place. The moaning from the guy behind me symbolises the world I am entering. A world of hard-done-by, innocent criminals who can only protest at the world, not interact with it. I wake up.

Damn it. One of my last opportunities to see the world and I have fallen asleep again, only to be woken up in a shuttered garage where I’m cuffed and frog-marched to another, even dingier, cell. I’m there all day. I know this. I know I have to wait for everyone who is joining me in HMP tonight, to be ready first. For two minutes stood in front of the magistrates I have to wait here all day. It’s not like I have anywhere else to be, though.

“…and it hurts to know that you belong here… Yeah! It’s your f**king nightmare”

I like that song… nice and heavy like the weight of my head. It tells you that the worst bit about being in a horrible place isn’t that you are there, it’s that you know you deserve to be there. ‘Avenged Sevenfold’ is the band and the track is called ‘Nightmare.’

I wake up. “You’re in Court 1, Evans!”

And the magistrate tells me what I already know, in a tone of voice which suggests she’s trying to make a point of the gravity of my situation. I think to myself that if it has taken her pointing it out to me then there isn’t much hope for me where I’m going.

I’ve woken up just in time for my solicitor to wish me the farewell and ‘sorry I didn’t get you bailed.”

“Mate, if you could have gotten bail I would have been impressed,” I say. I mean to say I’d be afraid if you got me bail. This is one of those times when even I know bail would have been a bad thing.

I order myself to stay awake on the trip to prison. The promise of my first cigarette in five days is my motivation. I see some streets that I have never seen before. I see a Ferrari parked on a drive and marvel at its beauty, the way I marvelled at the beauty of the women on the way to court- appreciative, and yet bitter about what I had done to myself…bitter about what I was destined to be without for years to come.

I wake up at the gates of the prison seriously angry at yet another missed opportunity to drink in some reality- some normality- before despair and depravity become my normal.

The reception process is long, finicky and punctuated with several half-hour naps in various holding cells. I’m given my first night smokers pack and a bed pack, shown to a cell and left. Alone. I’m with my burn (tobacco), my toiletries and me. I don’t much like the last one. I roll a snout (also a name for tobacco- like how an Inuit has many names for snow, us cons have a few for tobacco), smoke it like it was the last one ever, snap my prison issue razor and cut a wrist- the left one, because I’m right-handed.

I really don’t mind if I wake up or not this time.

“How can he sleep after what he has done.” Their glib comments still ring in my head.

The trouble is, this is exactly why I’m sleeping. Okay, this charge is a step up from the other hundreds of times I’ve been in the cells, but I sleep every time. I sleep because I am on my own. I sleep because, apart from the severe décor and scratched names on the solid bench on which I sleep, I feel safe. I feel that others are safe when I am here. I can sleep knowing I’m not making the world worse.

I sleep for another reason. Five days of sleeping for twenty-odd hours each must mean I was tired, right? Of course I’m tired. I’ve been tired for years. Tired of the charades. Tired of the effort I have to use every day just to make sure people do not realise I’m weak, scared and alone. I’m tired of the sheer energy it takes to look fearsome every waking moment. It’s tiring to keep up the pretence that I am a monster, to make people believe I am a monster. But people are more ready to believe I am a monster than to think of me as one of them. I’m tired of trying to find my place in the world and realising there isn’t one. I’m tired of life and I’m tired of me.

I’m sorry for the people I hurt but I’m really tired. Please let me sleep! I don’t hurt anyone when I’m asleep.


Gareth Evans is an aspiring criminologist, currently studying at Anglia Ruskin University. Seeking redemption from a former criminal life, he hopes to help others to realise their value in this world. He has begun this mission with an appointment as a mentoring and alumni coordinator for Learning Together - an initiative which brings together university and prison-based students.

logo The Comparative Penology Group is led by Dr Ben Crewe and his research team who, since 2016, have been working on a five-year project titled: 'Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis'.

The research is based in England & Wales, and Norway, and involves four inter-related studies of (a) penal policymaking and the penal field (b) the experience of entry into and release from custody (c) the daily experiences of female prisoners and imprisoned sex offenders, and (d) prisoners in the most secure parts of each jurisdiction's prison system.

This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC).









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