Happy St. George's Day. Happy Shakespeare's birthday.
Tommy Ferris is seven years old. He is serving a sentence imposed upon him by society: he has been incarcerated for three years, and should serve another eleven.
Tommy cannot read or write well, but he knows the system. "You have to ask the guards for permission to go wee or the other. They sometimes won't let you."
The young lad works hard for six and a half hours a day without payment. "We turn in our work. Sometimes another inmate will steal your stuff - what you've worked on - or your coat or your shoes will get nicked... My mate's boots ended up in the shower the other day. He was devastated. They were new and his family can't afford to buy him any more."
"My work went missing yesterday. The gaoler wasn't half mad. She shouted at me, as if it was MY fault. I told her I put it on the pile and then it disappeared. They get mad at you if you make a noise around here. Tell you to stop talking. Punish you if you do whisper to your mate. Then they give you a special nark if you're too quiet. You can't win," Tommy says hopelessly.
Tommy shrugs. "Disrespect. You get disrespected unless you're big and tough and then you beat up on other kids. Or you go along with the strongest gang, and you're one of 'em and you make other kids laugh at someone getting it or you make someone cry because you hurt 'em."
What happens at mealtimes, I ask Tommy as his eyes slide past me, looking for the warden. "They're hell. If you don't eat up, they complain. If you eat too quick, they complain. Some kids nick your best grub." His voice drops. "Some kids throw food at each other. They push each other over in the exercise yard too."
Tommy doesn't want to be caught speaking to me so he slopes off with his friends who terrorise other children. I watch them as they go around picking on frightened children around them. Making other inmates lives hell. More hell than they already have in this prison.
"There's no freedom, that's the worst thing," Tommy told me this morning. "You gotta go where you're told to go. You gotta do what they say you should do. If you're sick, they say you're shammin' and they won't let you go to the doctor. Everyone else makes choices for you. Everyone is trying to survive and get out, but you gotta wonder if you'll make it. If you'll get out alive..."
Tommy is holding a small red-headed boy as two bigger boys loom over him and threaten to punch his lights out. The child is crying; his face is drenched and misery flows from his body.
How can we treat kids this way? I ask myself. What have they done that is so terrible?
There is no answer. There is no reprieve.
The bell rings, and the inmates line up for afternoon class. Tommy is lost in the crowd as he marches with his group into the shapeless formless ugly grey building which will be his life for the next eleven years.
"Good bye, Tommy," I say through the gap in the railings as I lock the gate behind me and walk away from Harris Bowdean Primary School. "And good luck."
(Tommy Ferris and the Harris Bowdean Primary School exist only in my imagination, and now here on this blog entry. There may be people called Tommy Ferris, and schools called the Harris Bowdean Primary School but they are not my person nor my school).