Spring at HMP Shepton Mallet brings the epic overnight event known now as Night Behind Bars, it used to be Porridge, now it's NBB.
I did four of these as a guest, laden to the gunwales with ghosting gear, the last being in July 2021. I chose cell B2,16 as my bedroom for the second time (previous abodes were C1,08 and B1,08) but due to the copious amount of squiffy people kicking off and sobbing in equal measure, decided not to attend again. The presence of a 2hr bar seemed totally inappropriate and at odds with the night as a whole, I could never understand the logic, but I'm guessing that's what people want? I personally think that it encourages the wrong crowd and enhances negative behaviour. But, drunkards aside, it's an absolutely fantastic opportunity to experience a real prison at night and to sleep in a real cell. Not everyone is there for ghosting opportunities which always surprised me, but each to their own. Some of the best photos I've captured have come from NBBs early hour jaunts. It's an experience quite unlike any other.
Fast-forward nine months and here I am working the event! Yes friends, 13.5hrs of chaperoning the masses. To be honest though, it's not so bad. Kate and I have other staff assisting for the first 4hrs before we're left alone. The guests so far have on the whole thus far, handled their booze rather better than in the past. Even the hen party that panicked that they only had 2hrs drinking time and were necking triple vodkas like tap water. True, to date I have only worked two NBBs but there are heaps more scheduled right up until October, but I think that my colleague Kate and I now have a bit of a handle on it, and after the supporting staff (for the bar and tours) have departed at midnight, the two of us muddle along like it's a normal paranormal shift. Some guests bed down, others ghost hunt. Much like a para' shift, but with 'normal' people on site too that are surprised that 'ghost hunting' is even a thing. Really! What the hell? Kate and I normally do - 7pm-3.30am, which is now a whizz and no-brainer. Then came the intro of the monster 13.5/14hr NBB shifts, and suddenly we had to shift gear, physically and mentally.
A 14hr shift during the day (not that I've done one) would be arduous - but factor in the body's natural lack of lustre during the night-slash-morning (NBB runs 8am-8am but of course staff have to arrive early and leave late) and it's flipping hard. By the time the bar detritus has been cleaned up and the recycling put out, by 11pm my back injury is screaming and I just want to roll on the floor, and by 2am let's not mention the eye bags. Kate works two other jobs and has no chance of a snooze in the afternoon before, and consequently is a walking zombie at the beginning of the shift. Coffee doesn't even touch it! Luckily her main job is as a beautician so she looks stunning even grovelling in the bin.
Officially we don't have a scheduled break, but given the hours, Kate and I have a nap rota whereby she'll nip off for a time and I'll remain in Visits manning the little shop, coffee machine, and ensuring that the loos are supplied with bountiful bog rolls and aren't in a disgusting state. Honestly, some people's toilet habits are gross. If you do a number 2, kindly flush it? And gents if you pee all over the seat and on the floor, wipe it up. There's nowt quite like finising a monster shift and having got rid of all the guests, entering the loos and finding a major clean-up job on your hands. We actually made up a song called Pebbledash (to the melody of Country Roads) to get us through the tough times. It's actually rather good even though I say so myself, and our next in command who is a classically trained singer, actually sang it the other day. Proud? Err yes!
But where do we go to hide away during a monster shift? Aha! Many guests have curiously queried this, and I have successfully diverted their guesses. The last thing we want is to be inconveniently barged in upon mid snooze. Given that there are upto 76 folks meandering the wings, nooks and crannies of the prison, you might think that there'd be nowhere for a sleepy bod to lie down and close their eyes for a bit. Wrong! I had racked my brains thinking of where would be appropriate. Had to be nearish to Visits in case Kate needed assistance, and yet away from the noise. In the end I settled upon the now derelict and unused (aside from stashing the odd box of bits and parts of mannequin heads for the displays) Gate House, just inside the massive gated entrance. It has a chain and padlock, so we can lock ourselves in even if the door is so swollen it doesn't shut properly. And let's be honest, at 4am who cares about the odd mousey coming to investigate?
Once inside there are several weird little rooms including a kitchenette and toilet. We have turned what was Charlie's old office into our bedroom, and with a string of fairy lights, a foam matress, roll mat and our respective sleeping bags, it's not a bad little boudoir! Just having a place away from everyone and everything, is priceless. We have several moustraps for company, quite a few house spiders (yes, I found one on my sleeping bag, actually ON it...)
and of course, the spirits.
You don't think I'd pass up the opportunity to record?! I normally leave the recorder running for around twenty minutes before switching off, just as I'm getting really bleary-eyed. Now, you might think that such a little building with not that much going for it would produce the goods - but that's where you're wrong!
The EVPs that have come from our snoozy-bunker may not be the clearest (the only two I can actually decipher are the same man saying "Jesus is risen") but wow, they certainly are chatty in there. Pretty much non-stop. I'll post them at the bottom of this blog if you care to have a listen - HEADPHONES ARE A MUST!! Far from feeling weird about being in there alone in the wee hours, I now find that the thought of having a little invisible company in the bunker is a comfort. Frankly by snoozey time I'm so crossy-eyed and spaced with delerium that even if a full blown apparition rocked up I wouldn't give two hoots.
Even Kate, who has come on leaps and bounds with her acceptance of the spirits being ever-present at work, merrily gets her head down and gets a decent sleep. I have had about ten minutes I think, and after a time, trot off back to Visits still feeling weirdly distant, but at least marginally rested.
You can't run from the entities here. I know their power and I know that they are all around all the time. It's like when I'm locking up solo at 3.30am some times, I whizz around each door and hurridly strive to to get that key in there as fast as humanly possible, especially when it comes to the horrible old entrance/old gate lodge foyer where you have to lock yourself INTO the dark, head up the governor's old staircase, and out onto the yard. I hurry, I feel my heart beating rather too fast, I can feel my prey animal instinct revving right up and I want to run...
Why? If they're with you, they're with you. Hurrying won't solve anything! I suppose it's because I know that if I saw something in the moment I'd freak out, and that would be that. I was employed because I know the site inside and out, because I know its reputation and am comfy with it being haunted - it's my job to try to be brave.
So I just have to knuckle down and get on with it. Kate's doing amazingly - from not knowing the site at all, being afraid to walk around even with me in the light, she's now doing solo shifts and doing the lone lockup too. It sounds like nothing, but trust me, I've had to grow a pair to do it. Even the commercial ghost hunt team leaders say that they'd not walk around the prison alone!
As the birds begin to chirrup and a vague grey light starts to illuminate the bunker-slash-boudoir, I can take a deep breath. Once the day returns a natural bravery re-ignites, and from my bed I crawl, brush my teeth and attempt to resurrect my face, before heading back to Visits. At 7am we wake the guests with a ln emergency bell on the wings, it's quite marvellous! Then it's the home run...to actual home. As I leave the bunker I thank Them for their time and acceptance...mad? Nope!
That's the thing about The Mallet, you're never alone.... even in the bunker ;)