This piece was written for a reading at the Headingley Literature Festival presented by the HEART reading group in March 2020. The theme of the readings was sanctuary.

Lenny felt safe at last. He’d been shown to a decent cell at Millgarth police station. The solitary window was too high to see out, but it was round the back of the station near the market so quiet at night. He had been given a cup of tea and a sandwich. They had taken his clothes and insisted he had a shower before turning in. It suited him down to the ground; quiet, warm, en-suite after a fashion. Usually they let him go the next day after charging him with vagrancy or a breach of the peace, but this time it would be different.

He’d go to Armley prison for a while but he was banking on getting to one of the dispersal prisons out in the sticks. It didn’t matter where as nobody would be visiting him. He would soon fit in. He would keep his head down and mind his Ps and Qs. He was in his 60s now so he had little fear of becoming anybody’s plaything. He’d get on one of the education programmes, learn to read and write, perhaps get a job in the prison library, maybe the kitchen. He’d heard there are gardens at Full Sutton where the prisoners grow vegetables. That would be OK.

If his sentence is less than four years he might have to serve it all in Armley. He stretched out on his bunk and smiled. He was pretty sure he would get more than four years. He hadn’t meant to kill the young man who had pissed on him as he lay in his sleeping bag, round the back of Schofields. He had hit him on the kneecap with the hammer he kept handy. As the youth lay writhing on the pavement he thought, now’s my chance, what’s to lose? It was October and he wasn’t sure he’d survive another winter anyway. Every problem is an opportunity he remembers a magistrate telling him once. Well, he’d had a lifetime of opportunities by her reckoning. This time he wasn’t passing it up. He had put the kid out of his misery with one massive blow to the head and settled back into the doorway to wait for the police.

Terry Wassall

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