I could feel my nerves building as I passed through gate after clanging gate, and the warder led me deeper into the prison. I’d expected some kind of interview room just inside the walls, whereas now as I approached the wing, the noise of the locked up men was becoming louder and louder.
I commented on it to the guard but he just shrugged as he rattled the keys in the final lock and opened the door to a surprisingly ordinary room. He’d obviously just got used to it.
Inside, I set up my kit. I’d brought a video camera on a small tripod which I’d not used before. There was nothing to do now but wait.
And wonder what the hell I was doing here.
I re-read the questions I’d brought in my notebook. I read all the official laminated notices on the walls. I practiced some deep calming breaths. I was tempted to crack open one of the small plastic bottles of water on the table but decided it would be better to wait.
And then he came.
Through the door’s reinforced glass window I could see down a long corridor to another barred doorway. It opened with a harsh buzzer sound to let through a guard, followed by a large man in a uniform of contrasting patches, with a second guard bringing up the rear and pulling the door shut behind him.
I watched as the warder in front turned and gestured while the prisoner stretched his arms out in what seemed a familiar routine, before the guard patted him down.
It was the first time I’d seem Damage in nearly ten years and he looked just as powerful and scary as he’d ever done as the three of them slowly filed towards the interview room.
Instinctively I stood up as they entered the room. I could feel Damage looking me over, checking me out. It was an intimidating gaze, the dark hardened stare of a convicted killer.
I stuck out my hand.
He took it in bear like grasp. ‘Good to see you again, thanks for coming.’
One of the guards left, locking the door behind him. The others remained, taking up position standing in the corner. I don’t know if he was there for my protection, or to keep an eye on what went on, or a bit of both.
Damage pulled out a chair and sat down, his eyes never wavering, a large intimidating presence even when still.
‘You waiting to be asked?’ he nodded at the chair with the ghost of a smile on his lips.
Feeling flustered, I sat down as he suggested. I could feel Damage sensing my nerves as I broke out into a sweat and somehow that made it worse, even if he was now smiling.
And all the time he was just so still, in control, calm. He reached out and taking one of the bottles of water he unscrew it and drank, his eyes never leaving me as I fiddled with my notebook and pens.
‘Do you mind if I record?’ I asked gesturing towards the camera.
‘I don’t mind,’ he shrugged, ‘Thanks for asking though, appreciated.’
I stood up again to turn it on, only to realise I’d forgotten to put a tape in. So I reached down and rooted around in my bag to find the supply I’d brought.
‘I review it first though,’ he said. ‘before it goes to anyone else. That’s the deal, understood?’
I nodded. I understood.
It wasn’t how I’d normally operate as a journalist but this wasn’t a normal situation or a normal interview. We’d had to agree terms beforehand, he’d been instant and as far as I was concerned they were the price of this gig.
‘The only reason for doing this is to tell people what I’ve learnt over the years. So keep it simple, don’t exaggerate it with the sort of crap that people always write about us.’
I’d found a tape now. Ripping clumsily at the cellophane tab I unwrapped it and peered at the camera for the release button.
‘I want it told straight, just the way I’ve told you.’
I slotted the tape into the opening and closed it with a click.
‘People can either take it for what it is and like it, or they won’t, in which case they can fuck off.’
I made my last checks. Peered down the viewfinder to find him looking straight back at me. Red recording light on. Everything running alright.
‘So are you ready yet or what?’ he asked.
‘Ready.’ I told him sitting back down.
‘So,’ he said leaning forward, ‘Where do you want to start?’