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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison


The warden opened the heavy, steel door of the prison cell. He removed Jenny’s handcuffs and roughly pushed her into the narrow, claustrophobic space. The door closed, and the clang of the warden’s retreating footsteps upon the metal landing faded to silence.

Jenny noted the bare, stone floor and a small, barred window, high up on one wall. A bunk bed occupied half the cell.

A woman sat on the lower bunk. Jenny judged her to be of an age similar to her own thirty years.

‘I’m Sharon,’ said the woman. ‘What are you in for?’

‘Bins,’ Jenny replied.

‘Me too,’ said her companion. ‘Been here three weeks. Five more to do.’

Jenny sat beside Sharon and introduced herself. Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. ‘It was dark,’ she sobbed. ‘I thought I was putting that bottle in the blue recycling bin. I didn’t realise I’d put it in the white one until I was arrested by the recycling police.’

‘It’s so easy to make a mistake,’ Sharon sympathised. ‘When they only had green bins, it was easy. Then the Council added blue bins for glass and brown bins for food waste.’

‘Then yellow bins for garden waste and white bins for paper,’ listed Jenny.

‘And grey bins for plastics and orange bins for cans,’ continued Sharon.

Jenny stared blankly at the cell wall. ‘I have to park on the road, now. There are nine recycling bins on my drive - plus the red-and-white striped one for landfill.’

‘I started off really well,’ recalled Sharon. ‘I put all my washed rubbish into the correct bins as prescribed by the Council’s recycling bylaws.’

‘So did I,’ explained Jenny. ‘But it was taking a full day each week to keep up.’ She glanced at Sharon. ‘With a full time job and the kids and mum to look after, I was often cleaning and sorting rubbish into the small hours of every morning. I was exhausted.’

‘The tiredness led to my first mistake,’ Sharon confessed. ‘I put a can in the plastics bin, and the next thing I knew, I had a fifty pound fine and two penalty points on my recycling licence.’

‘The penalty points soon mount up,’ said Jenny.

‘Especially for getting the wrong collection day,’ agreed Sharon. ‘They used to collect the brown bins on the third Tuesday of each month. Then they swapped that with the fourth Wednesday when the white bins had previously been collected. I’d forgotten that this left the blue, yellow and striped bins to be collected on the second Monday.’

‘Yes, they dump all those in the same cart,’ remembered Jenny.

‘Anyway, I accidentally put the orange bin out with the white bin on a Friday and… well, they left the bins and brought me straight here.’

‘I’d only got four penalty points in six months,’ said Jenny, proudly. ‘I was just about coping until the Council signed that recycling contract with Hampshire and Berkshire and began dumping their rubbish in our gardens for us to sort. Even then, I only reached seven penalty points.’

‘Putting glass in the paper bin is a three point offence, isn’t it?’ noted Sharon, deducing what had taken Jenny to ten points and hence a mandatory eight weeks in prison. ‘Most of the women in here are serving sentences for recycling offences,’ she added. ‘Mavis in the next cell is one-hundred-and-three years old. This is her third spell inside.’

‘Third… I thought…’

‘Yes, but they commuted her public flogging to six months in solitary due to her age and Alzheimer’s. If we’d been in Oxfordshire, of course, she’d be on death row.’

‘My cousin was in a similar position, but luckily got away down the fire escape when the recycling police raided her flat.’

‘What happened?’

‘She managed to get across the border into the next county with the help of the Watford Maquis. The Council are trying to get her extradited from Essex.’ Jenny looked around her. ‘What’s it like here?’

‘Pretty grim. The food’s awful, and there are long hours in the prison factory, making and recycling recycling bins. There's a rush on at the moment to produce the new pink ones for fabrics and the green ones for pets.’

Jenny looked at the shadows of the window bars cast upon the grey, stone floor, and silently reflected upon her two month sentence. She had, however, already learned her lesson. In future, there could be no mistakes in sorting the household waste.