I stood next to the man lying in the dirt – he looked malnourished to me and those lash marks I could just see on his arms and legs seemed badly infected and colonised by maggots – and signalled the guard on the north west watch tower. Of course I used the prescribed signal for help – standing to attention facing the guard, heels together, toes pointing outwards at an angle of forty five degrees, the right upper arm parallel to the ground and in line with the body, forearm at ninety degrees to the upper arm, palm facing forwards and the fingers held together and pointing skywards, all as though taking an oath in a punishment court, while the left arm hangs at the side of the body with the hand holding the cap by its peak and the body of the cap hanging downwards.
You do it to the book, always to the book, and exactly to the book otherwise it’s to the cage, and the cage is no place to be.
I don’t know whether other punishment centres had anything like our cage; as inmates we aren’t allowed to talk to each other so I can’t ask any of the others, not that I knew whether or not any of them have been guests of the state elsewhere. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal, a whim of the Governor. But then, you never know, maybe the cage is found everywhere. It’s certainly efficient in that nobody wants to spend time in it, and that keeps the centre extremely orderly. Peaceful, as the Governor would have it.
It sits in the middle of the parade ground so every morning when we line up for roll call we all see it. We all see it and know we will stick to the rules, the standing orders.
It’s a simple construction – four twelve high foot steel posts protruding from the ground and wrapped around with razor wire; a flap on the one side for entry and egress.
So not too bad one could say. Except for the dimensions. Oh, there’s plenty of headroom; indeed there is no roof – none needed. It’s the floor area that’s the thing – three feet by three feet. So the default position for the occupant is standing. No room to sit, let alone lie down – all one could do is stand, stand still and stand straight.
We once saw a pigeon trapped inside. It had wandered in through a bird-sized gap at ground level. It was just before roll call and so we were all there, we could all see; all of us and the warders. Everything went quiet. We all watched and waited while the bird walked around in little circles behaving like a pigeon. We watched. And then one of the wardens threw a baton.
He got the reaction he was looking for. The bird jumped and flew straight at the razor wire. Within seconds it was just a quivering mess of blood and feathers hanging on a barb. They left it there.
So we do things to the book. The book is real. We each have a copy, and we read it, we study it. It’s the one thing that keeps us out of the cage.
So I signalled like the book says I should. To the book, always to the book.