The London Dungeon

’Twas a day in December, the year ’Eighty-Three,
When we left Brixton Gaol on the bus
For the short right to Wandsworth, our new home to be,
For a week or a fortnight, a month, two or three,
Most Draconian inn of the Queen’s Hostelry,
Judas hole ever spying on us.

“Take your hands out your pockets”, the principal screw,
And he’s talking to me, but he’s looking at you,
And at you, and at you - what a miserable sight:
The inadequate, rotten, the scum of the night,
And the junkies, and winos, the kiters and frauds,
The pushers, and dealers in kilogramme hoards,
And the tall, gangling spade who was here the third time,
A man not a stranger to bovver or crime,
Who said very simply, before he struck dumb:
“When Wandsworth calls: I come.”

First a meal in Reception, the doctor, then led
Through lab’rinthine tunnels; the old screw who said
“Grab a roll each, you lot”, then a jangling of keys,
And we’re marching to G Wing, and none are at ease,
Save the few who ’ave been through this gateway before,
And followed the screw down this dark corridor
To the ultimate scourge and deterrent to crime,
Wandsworth: foreboding, malign.

Gates locking, unlocking, and “Walk round the grille”,
If you don’t, then you’re nicked, and they get such a thrill
When they take down your number, and give you a sheet,
So don’t rise to the bait, have a care with your feet,
And don’t touch the hand rail, the static is strong,
Up the stairs, find the cell where for now you’ll belong
Until comes allocation - God hasten the day
When you’re transferred, released or in some other way
You get out of this Dungeon forever: Wandsworth,
How you can
Make a man
Rue the day of his birth.

In the morning, five thirty, the lights are switched on,
Then unlock, quick, hot water! too late, it’s all gone,
So you wash and you shave in the cold, and you rush
To the open latrine for a pony, and flush
Your bucket in turn down the sluice or the sink,
While you try to ignore both the sight and the stink
Of urine and faeces, but can you? No way!
Never mind, you’ll get used to much worse on your stay,
And you think of the tall, gangling spade, and go numb:
“When Wandsworth calls: I come.”

Quite the worst thing of all is the food: it’s disgusting,
But cons have no rights, so no use filibusting,
There’s a menu of sorts, and three choices you’ve got:
Eat all of it, some of it, or leave the lot.
Exercise is compulsory, save at weekends,
And there’s no television, so making amends
Is the gym of a night time, soft toys for the few,
If your name’s at the bottom you’ll have to make do
With the library every two weeks; such a grind,
But they’ve shackled your body, they can’t steal your mind.

Once a week there’s a shower, fortnightly a show,
The films are good, mostly, you might as well go,
For it’s five days a week sewing mailbags and stuff,
To prove crime doesn’t pay, so when you’ve had enough
You’ll walk out through the gate and you’ll never come back,
At least that’s what they say, but you think of that black,
The tall gangling spade and his rule of the thumb:
“When Wandsworth calls: I’ll come.”

If you’re lucky, you’ll leave G or H for the main,
And perhaps you will find prison life’s not a bane
In the laundry five days, or seven downstairs
In the kitchen, long shifts and hard work, but who cares?
A bird-killer they call it - the hotplate is too,
For time passes quick’ when you’ve plenty to do,
Or would you much rather just lie in your cell
Spied upon through the judas? No, don’t ring the bell,
Cos the screw won’t unlock, not for that, you think: Fuck it!
So you swallow your dignity, shit in the bucket.
The Dungeon, the ultimate sanction: Wandsworth,
How you can
Make a man
Rue the day of his birth.

On D Wing you’ll find them long term and Cat A,
’Cluding some who’ll forever be shuttered away,
And the E List, the schoolboys who try to escape,
While on J are the beasts in for noncing and rape.
All around you will sample humanity’s dregs
Till you look in the mirror, the question then begs
Are you any the wiser or better than them?
And you realise you’re not, nearly choke on your phlegm,
Then you lie on your bed in the dark, half past nine,
As the lights are extinguished one cell at a time,
And the eye of the screw through the judas appears,
And you’re left to the night with your hopes and your fears,
But mostly the latter: the spade sounds again:
“When Wandsworth calls: I come.” - refrain.

Now you’ve finished your sentence, you head for the gate,
And you’re thirsting for freedom, but still you must wait
Till you’re checked off and ticked off, the Firearms Act signed,
Then you’re back on the streets feeling no more maligned,
Just a sense of euphoria, breathing fresh air,
Leave behind all your worries, your pain and despair,
And walk back to London, but don’t turn your head;
If you ever go back you’ll be better off dead,
Leave the Dungeon for losers and spoilers because:
“I know that is something that I never was.”
Just a slip by the wayside, but now you are back,
And treading more firmly than ever the track.
You’re not like the tall, gangling spade, you’re not dumb,
Let Wandsworth call, but you won’t come.

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