Skip to main content

Falling Down

To Crystal Cornish

Her Majesty's Prison Peterborough

20th June

Dear Crystal Cornish,

I'm the reason you are in prison. Sorry about that. Please don't stop reading. Don't write me off as someone who plays tricks on convicted murderers. I know you're innocent because I know who caused your boyfriend's death.

According to my therapist, guilt is harder to process than anger. That's probably why I'm such a wreck. But, I'm not the one suffering in prison. I really am sorry about that. Are you getting pushed around in there? You looked like a tough person when I saw you in the courtroom during the trial.

I'm not tough. I even got a bull terrier to make me feel safer. Peterborough is not the nicest place to be after dark. Stabbings and all that. The thing is, I can't stop thinking about what happened on the car park roof. I can't just sharpen the end of a toothbrush and stab guilt in the leg. By the way, does that actually happen in prison?

There's no way I could survive in prison. I'm an administrative assistant who plays World of Warcraft online. Yesterday, when a man with a shaved head asked me for directions, I tried to avoid him in case he was a skinhead football supporter. Then, he told me he was a travelling monk and asked me if I wanted to know more about Buddhism. That's when I really panicked. The stupid thing was, I did want to know more about Buddism, but I'm so uptight at the moment, I can't say yes to anything. Sorry for going on, but it helps to write, and there's no one else I can talk to about this (apart from my therapist). You must feel the same like everyone is out to get one over on you? Well, I'm not. Honestly. I just wanted a chance to explain myself. Will you give me that?

Of course, I can't write what happened that day in a letter. I'm afraid that I'll end up where you are (well, not the women's prison, but jail). Does that make me a coward? The ladies in my office think I'm a pushover. They still treat me like a tea boy despite my promotion to Senior Administrator for Peterborough Council. They even have a running joke that I should transfer to Nottingham Council because of my name.

How do you deal with bullies in prison? You must have your fair share. Unfortunately, violence is frowned upon in government offices.

Anyway, I've added some money to your commissary fund and included a picture of myself holding this letter. That way you'll know I'm not some bent copper trying to catfish you. I hope you can write back and I'll tell you more about what I know.

Daniel Nottingham.

To Daniel Nottingham

17B Weekley Road, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

25th June

Dear Sheriff of Nottingham or whoever the fuck you are,

Is this some kind of joke? You think I'd trust you just cos you put a tenner in my prison account? I checked my back and there ain't no handle growing out of it so I'm not a mug.

You look like that bloke in the boner pills advert — a bit skinny, but quite fit. You wouldn't last a week in prison, men's or women's. Maybe you should get your lookalike to sign up with the Buddhists and tell you what they are all about. Have you ever seen him? That bloke from the erectile dysfunction ads. I'd be laughing at the thought of you visiting if I wasn't locked up in here with nothing to do.

Dunno what you're going on about, really. Are you saying it was you who was responsible? I told the police a thousand times. Erol fell. I didn't push him. No one did. Don't bother telling your lies to my solicitor. That slimy prick never believed me, so I'm getting a new one for my appeal. It doesn't make sense me wanting to kill Erol. He wasn't a gang member or nothing even though he did like to slap me about sometimes. I was going to dump him anyway because he just got sacked from the phone shop. He was even more broke than me. If you know so much about what happened, prove it. Tell me your version of events — and don't leave out no details about Erol, the car park, and the time.

You probably didn't even see what he looked like. His head came apart like a Cadbury's cream egg. I only recognised his bomber jacket. I told that to my therapist. They call them 'councillors' in here, and they make you go.

I don't know if this is for real, but I'll answer your questions. Is everyone out to get me? Well, yeah. I'm a mixed-race girl from East London who has no job and an abusive, but dead boyfriend. Not many people see things the way I do. You get me?

You keep paying into my commissary and I'll help you deal with those bitches in your office. One — grow a beard. Literally, grow one. You look like a teenager. Too well-groomed. You wouldn't mess with the blokes on that Vikings show, so grow one like that. Glue one on if you have to. Or you can tell them that sheriffs get to carry a gun.

Remember, write me back with details or this is the last letter I'll write.

Crystal Cornish

27th June

Dear Crystal,

I wish I could grow a beard. I already look young enough as it is, but when I go without shaving, I resemble a fifteen-year-old trying to get buy alcohol in a newsagent. The hair that grows is like hamster fur, and I'm even allergic to that.

Honest to God, I promise you I'm not a Nigerian Prince scammer or a member of Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Also, I believe a prison psychologist is called a counselor. A 'Councillor' works for the local government, like me. I mean, who would make up Senior Administrator for Peterborough Council as their job? I'll tell you the exact time it happened because I have the exit ticket from the car park. 1:58 pm. I can show it to you when I visit. He was wearing a green bomber jacket, that's all I know because I only saw a crowd of people around him on the ground. That was the problem. I heard him something up there, but I didn't see him.

Please let me visit. I'll keep applying to the prison until you accept the request. I have to tell you my version. The therapist told me to stop coming today. I know it's been a few months since the incident, but I think the guilt is eating her more than it is me. Once she figured out I wasn't deluded and I'm telling the truth she said I shouldn't incriminate myself and we should stop sessions. I didn't do anything illegal that day (apart from being five minutes late back to work).

The police wouldn't listen, nor my therapist. I don't have a girlfriend or a wife. Even my dog, Bilbo, won't listen, he's deaf in one ear. And before you say I'm lucky to have a family, I can't tell them either. It would break my mother's heart, learning that her son is responsible for such a tragedy. She won't even admit her son looks like the 'degenerate in that awful penile health advert'.

I'll keep writing even if you stop. You have to hear me out. We can help each other. All you have to do is keep reading. So, the same day I was dumped by my therapist I was forcibly removed from Peterborough Magistrates' Court. They told me I was banned from requesting case notes because I'm not a lawyer. Does my new job title at the Council count for nothing? They've even processed a restraining order against me. Are you flattered that I care that much? I may not have a girlfriend, but I never thought I'd get a restraining order slapped on me by a building. You'll have to tell me what's going on with the appeal in your next letter.

On the way back to the office, two teenagers gave me the crooked index finger, you know the sign the guy does on the advert. And then I read your letter not believing me about being a real person? I thought if I got any more nonsense I'd have a 'Falling Down' moment — you know that film about an office worker who goes on the rampage? Sorry, I didn't mean to mention falling again, but here we are.

Sandra (the office manager) ticked me off in front of my boss for clocking in three minutes late. I told her I came in twenty minutes before her this morning, and she was so miffed that she threatened to make it an HR issue. That night I was too jumpy to go out. What more could go wrong? I mostly stay in. I've ordered pizza three nights in a row so I don't have to leave my house. My dog is happy with the pizza but less so with the lack of exercise. That's how my life is going. How is your day today?

I've added some more money to your commissary fund. What did you spend the last lot on?

Yours, David.

P.S. Trust me, I'm not going anywhere.

2nd July

Dear Michael Douglas,

Don't get your willy in a twist. I thought you was a chicken who couldn't survive in prison, now you're chatting about going on the rampage? Fair enough, I believe you were there. Who else would be sad enough to make a visitors request every week? My mum has only come to see me once. Imagine that, your own mum thinking you are guilty. She loved Erol like a son.

Sorry I didn't write back till now. I was in solitary for three days for fighting. That was your fault and all. Girls tried to take the stuff I bought with the money you sent, so I used your idea about the toothbrush. It drew blood and everything. Now that fat bitch can't walk for a week.

It felt like three weeks in solitary. No exercise or TV or nothing. I dunno what they expect you to do; think, I guess. I just kept thinking about how my cellmate Natasha Greaves and her mate Curly kept helping themselves to my stuff. It was only a little bit at first, chocolate bars or skin wipes. A few days ago I find out she's been handing out my pack of tampons, paying off her debts like they're her cigarettes. Daft cow probably tried to smoke them too. I stuck her with the toothbrush when we were outside but Curly told the C.O. before I could get her too. They gave me three days in lock up and Natasha has a week in hospital.

So, here is my day so far. The C.O.s took me to my new cell. They were alright about it, bagged up my stuff, even the tampons. My new cellmate is a little pussy-mouse called Chloe. She won't tell me what she did, but I don't care. She speaks so quiet I can barely hear her. Makes a change from Tash with her foghorn Scottish accent.

We had exercise at eleven. It was good to be outside. You don't know how you miss it until you are locked in with these slimy walls. 12:30 was lunch — chicken and mashed potatoes, but not proper chicken. I didn't kill Erol, but I could murder a KFC. In the afternoon I went to my English class. We get paid less than if we work, but you just have to read. I used to like books at school. English Lit was one of the only ones I passed. One of the other girls said she already spoke English, so she shouldn't have to come. The teacher mugged her right off. She said 'that's debatable.' I don't think the stupid mare knew the word. Evenings are worst. After six it goes quiet. No TV, no pub, not even chat. Got nothing better to do than write to you.

Still no word about an appeal. It's getting boring now. They was in such a rush to lock me up, but now . . . I used to rage to the C.O.s about the broken sink in my cell, or about Tash and Curly. Don't even have them now. Just little mouse Chloe quivering away on the bottom bunk.

If what you say is true, then I'm not angry at you, Daniel. I need to hear the truth about Erol, about that day he jumped. Maybe none of this was your fault but you have to tell the truth. I'm beginning to wonder if you even have erectile dysfunction.

See you next week.


10th July

Dear Crys, (can I call you that? it's just Crystal makes me think of meth. I've been watching a lot of Breaking Bad and we all know what happened to that guy.)

Seeing as you appreciate my sense of humour, I would like to make a 'time of the month' joke about your hell in a cell fight with Tash. Then again, I certainly don't want to get on your bad side. Keep sticking it to 'em anyway.

Thanks for letting me visit. I feel so much better after getting my side of the story across. I'll try and fill in the gaps in the story in this letter. After just thirty minutes, I feel I know you so much better than from your letters. You really are quite sweet in person.

I wish I'd known what to expect from a prison. Nobody told me I'd feel so nervous like they were going to find out and not let me leave. All those metal detectors and forms — it might be harder getting in than breaking out. It's lucky they allow books because I don't think the Count of Monte Cristo would have fit up my arse. I remembered you studied it. Have you started reading it yet?

I didn't tell you during the visit, but I nearly didn't come. Thought you might still be angry. Well, you were a bit angry. It was rotten of your family to cancel their visit without telling you.

Thanks for telling me I'm more handsome than the erectile dysfunction guy. You are not so bad yourself — even prettier than the older lady with the stomach problems in the Senokot ads. Anyway, I can assure you, everything is in order down there. From what you told me, there's more sex going on in your prison than in my one-bed flat. Mind you, it's been a while since my girlfriend ran off with her girlfriend. Honestly. She'd probably fit right in in E-block.

I said I'd answer your questions about my version of events, so here goes:

That car park has no CCTV or number plate recognition because the Council won't pay for them to be installed.

The owner of Tasty Toasties identified the guy who looks like me (possibly Mr. Floppy Cock) from the camera footage outside his shop. That's when they threatened to arrest me if I didn't stop wasting police time.

I was watching the news because I don't have friends (well, non World of Warcraft friends) and there was nothing else on the telly. I saw the report about Erol falling from the top of the multi-storey. Recognised his green jacket, and one of the witnesses I saw on the way out. The reporter said they were holding you under suspicion of murder.

I'd heard a bump, but when I looked out of the rear-view, there was nothing there. Sometimes you imagine things, so I just drove off.

When the report had finished, I picked up the phone and went to dial the police station. But how could I be sure? How could they check? Was it a good idea to show up after drinking two glasses of red wine like some tipsy reverend. I needed more time to think.

The next day, I sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair for two hours while they checked my story. I told them I wouldn't be seen dead in that sandwich shop because they put gherkins in their tuna melts and short-change people. The detective told me to leave. He must have thought I was your 'bit on the side' wanting to take the blame. I drove home in the same car that . . . you know.

Whom could I tell? Mother? My workmates? The World of Warcraft community? It would all just get more complicated. So I told my therapist and even she washed her hands of me.

You are an inspiration, Crys. I really enjoyed my visit with you. I hope you enjoy the book. You will get out, and when you do, we'll visit the town library, or maybe go to the cinema. I don't suppose you like online role-playing games.

Dan. (a.k.a Walter White).

13th July

World of Warcraft, Daniel? You better not be into any nasty dungeon master shit, or I'll stop writing.

This whole situation is so ridiculous. The police, the courts, nobody wants you to make the case more complicated. Except me. You have to share what you know with my new solicitor. He won't tell no one. Client-attorney privilege, that's what he tells me.

You can't keep it bottled up. I've seen girls go mental in here because of what's locked up in their heads. Maddy 'nine-fingers' nearly lost another one by kicking off in the dining hall. She's wrong in the head. The C.O. smacked her legs up with the stick, but she got it on the hand trying to protect herself. Maddy told them that she was going to sue, which gave us a laugh. If my conviction gets overturned, I won't see a penny. Know that.

I thought about you a lot after your visit. I'd go to a library with you. Course. There's no free WiFi here and my cellmate is always asking me questions I don't know the answers to. What else am I going to do when I get out?

I'm not going to tell you about the appeal date. If you show up at the courthouse, you'll get done for violating your restraining order, and that will delay the trial. I can't be doing with another three months in here. I trust my new solicitor, Mr. Moncrief. At least he's got a posh name. He seems confident 'we' can beat this. I told him 'we' don't have to look through our porridge for roaches or wonder where the carrots and cucumbers have been before they get put on our plates. 'We' don't have to keep a shiv gripped in our hands during yard time in case Curly or Tash try want payback.

Moncrief says he got hold of footage from a ticket machine showing me coming past with a cig, two minutes after Erol's big splat. The witness who said he saw us together on the top of the car park is going on the stand again. If he admits he was wrong, I could be out of here.

You best print me a library card ready for my release. I hope you are senior enough for that, Mr. Administrator.


To Crystal Cornish

Flat 8B Cambridge Heights, South Bretton, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

3rd August,

Dear Countess of Monte Cristo,

Congratulations on getting out. I knew they couldn't keep you locked up in a maximum-security after the case fell apart. What a turn of events at the hearing! Did you recognise me in my Hasidic Jew costume? Sorry, I didn't follow instructions, but I had to see you, to know what would happen. I would have loved to see the faces of the crown prosecutors, but you know . . . I got forcibly removed.

This is the first time they've allowed me to write a letter. It's been two days since your release and my incarceration. Most of the guards think it's stupid writing a letter. I only got seven days for breach of the restraining order, so I might reach you before the post does. Still, I didn't actually think they would follow through on the threat to imprison me for attending a trial. The bloke in the costume shop said no one would recognise me with the wig and the beard, and the hat and robes. I've probably lost the deposit on it too because I didn't return it. It's in the personal effects lockup with the rest of my stuff.

I'm glad I'm not in a maximum security like you were. I was terrified when they transported me straight from the courtroom to the lockup. That's what they call it: lockup. The guards couldn't stop laughing about the costume. It wasn't so funny for me.

It's not as dangerous as HMP Peterborough. In fact, I'm probably safer here than out in Peterborough city centre on a Friday night. My cellmate is a secretary one of the other men is an HR representative serving time for filing false sexual harassment claims. We're all administrators. I may as well start my own gang because I've lost my job by now. I'm a criminal. No self-respecting council in all of England will employ me.

They don't assign short-term prisoners a counselor. So, I went to church and saw the chaplain. The man was very pushy, asked me a hell of a lot of questions about my beliefs. I thought it best not to tell him about the disguise I wore to get into the court or my subsequent removal. I didn't tell Mother why I can't answer my phone, or why she has to feed Bilbo for the week. I told the chaplain I was in prison for violating a restraining order, so at least I haven't lied in the eyes of God. I just hope Erol forgives me.

It takes a week to get clearance to request library books, so I've got nothing to read, apart from a copy of the Bible the chaplain lent me. Maybe that's how they get you. Have you read anything or done anything amazing since you got out? I bet your mother was glad to see you. Have you forgiven her for thinking you were guilty? I could always come over in my Rabbi outfit to convince her of the real story. People respect Rabbis.

I can't wait to see you, Crystal. I can't wait to hug you, to make plans about what awful jobs we ex-cons might manage to get. You can meet Bilbo, we can eat pizza together, and maybe take a road trip to Nottingham.

What do you say?

Inmate 1596A

9th August

Dear Inmate 1596A,

This letter should be waiting for you when you get home. I'll be around this afternoon to meet Bilbo and welcome you.

Life has been alright since getting out. It's been nearly a week now. Mostly I'm getting used to having a phone again and eating what I want. My mum is so jumpy around me now I've been inside. It's like she's not sure what I might do. You might be the only person who understands what I went through (even though your prison sounds peek).

I owe you one for the info you gave Moncrief. He proved the witness who saw Erol fall would have seen me on top of the car park, too. Only I wasn't there. Can't wait to tell you more about the trail this afternoon when the pizza arrives. I'll get a bottle of red wine too, even though I prefer rum and coke. We could even stay in and watch that Michael Douglas film. What do you reckon?

British writer, global citizen. Featured in Fictive Dream, New Pop Lit, Fabula Argentea. Winner of WOW Flash Fiction Prize. 'Foreign Voices' author.