Investigating Arson In A Jail

Jail Bars

Being a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) means we investigate crime scenes…..wherever they may be. Therefore when we got the call about investigating an arson in a jail we know one of us will be going to it, just as we would any other scene.  But hang on a minute, this is in a jail and isn’t even remotely like any other scene we examine! 

I drive past the jail occasionally and it’s safe to say it’s a fairly imposing building. With a massive wall surrounding the perimeter, it somehow manages to blend in to the surroundings and become invisible. However today I am fully aware of just how high the walls are, how tall the main building is and just how many bars are on the windows. The realisation that I’m about to be thrown completely out of my comfort zone is hitting me full force! Scared??? Hell yes!!

Prisons don’t have CSI’s, therefore when a crime occurs we are called to investigate and gather evidence. Because we are the nearest office it’s down to us to draw straws to see who is going. A job such as this would be fairly straight forward under normal circumstances, not so in here! At a normal scene you can go back and forth to your van for stuff you’ve forgotten whenever you like. Once you are in the prison you can’t just go, “Ooo sorry but I forgot something, do you mind if I pop out”? When you are in you are staying in until the end!

I’m Actually Going in a Jail!

Upon entering the jail it’s immediately obvious that you basically have to leave most of your possessions with reception. The fact I needed a camera and a few bags was already a bit of an issue, let alone me not really wanting to give up anything else. 

I hand over my radio - how do I call for help?  I give up my phone - again, how do I call for help? The Police Officer who is stationed at the prion is waiting for me, I’m signed in and off we go! I’m actually about to walk through the inner main door leading to the jail corridors! There’s no crying and turning back now, because I would really look like a girl then wouldn’t I! So far it’s very similar to what you see on TV; the door has heavy security, is barred and then is locked behind me. It’s very real now!!!!

Here we go!

I’m in a male Category A prison. I’ll also point out here I’m young, slim & blonde, and I’m thinking “Am I the most appropriate person from my office to be doing this”????? Not saying I would try & duck out of this job, however, could the fat beardy bloke not have gone instead?? 

Be under no illusion that just because I’m with a police officer that I’m feeling safe, because I don’t, I’m feeling terrified and I probably look it! We walk through the main building, out to a yard surrounded by what feels like 8 metre high fencing with barbed wire on top. There will be no escape from here, the arson investigation will be happening! Another gate is opened and then swiftly locked behind me. The further away we walk the better I’m feeling, because it seems we aren’t going to A, B or C Wings housing the worst offenders. I’m not sure where this deluded sense of safety has come from; clearly it will be short lived. 

The Officer and I walk down an outside path towards our destination, D Block. The path is approximately 5 metres away from the actual building, for good reason apparently as his words of warning (shouldn’t have) shocked me! I am in a jail after all.

I’m told to stay as far away from the building as possible because the inmates keep their urine & faeces ‘at the ready’ to throw out of the windows at passers-by! Oh how lovely! What a greeting! The inmates are all in their cells on lock down at the moment due to the fire. Therefore in my head they are all primed and ready with missiles to hurl in my direction!!! Ahhhhhhh!!!

Entering the Jail Block

I make it to the entrance to D Block thankfully missile free, so in we go!! I intend to make this a swift investigation however they are all in their cells and I’ve been joined by a guard for protection. My first reaction going in was that it looked like it was straight out of a set of a TV show. From the doors, the metal stairs in the centre to the netting stopping people throwing themselves off the balcony above. So surreal, IM IN A JAIL!!!!!!! Now where is my scene, I’ve got some fire investigating to get on with!

The arson was never going to be in the first cell was it? Nope! I’m led through the main area and I’m very aware there are many faces peering out of cell windows at me. A female, in the prison, how exciting! We then go up the stairs, down another corridor right to the end. Running out of here is not an option, I’m feeling very trapped! The inmates are all still in their cells so I can begin my investigation of the fire, let’s go! Camera out, photographs taken, I’m digging around in the burnt debris collecting what I need. It’s not the arson of the century thank goodness, as all of a sudden I hear a terrible noise.

The Familiar Jail Noise

Keys in locks, locks being turned, doors opening, as in allof the doors are being opened. Surely not, surely they could have waited another 10 minutes? I said I was going to be quick and I would have been long gone! But no, it appears that ALL of the inmates, two full floors of them are being let out of their cells! Funnily enough they are very interested in a little blonde girl with a camera in the fire cell! I am now terrified but am trying not to show it, and don’t think I quite pulled it off! Being stuck on the 2nd floor of a jail block, down a dead end corridor where there are many men trying to come and see what is going on isn’t my idea of a good time. 

I’m sure that it was just harmless curiosity but seeing what could potentially happen the guard asks me to pack up my stuff; quickly. Pushing past the now very large gathering crowd I’m swiftly escorted downstairs and out to safety. Well, relative safety, because I still have to run the toilet contents gauntlet once again but I can walk quickly carrying my gear, I have practice! Once outside the building, back in the safety of my van I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. I doubt I was ever in any real danger but it only takes a swift change in one person’s behaviour for events to turn.

I’ve ever been so pleased to leave somewhere! Let me go to the outbuilding break next time please!!!

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