Updated: Feb 20
In the autumn of that year I signed up for a sleepover event at Shepton Mallet Prison, and to the horror of friends and family I was planning to go alone. Not that I'd be the only one on site, it being the second quite popular event known at that time as Porridge. Essentially, it's the chance to experience a no-frills night in a cell of your own choosing, and the opportunity to do whatever you wish (within reason) about the entirity of the prison until the wee hours, in this case 8pm to 8am. In the early years of Porridge (now known as Night Behind Bars) inmates were given a choice of meals that were delivered fresh and piping hot from a local catering firm, and we'd hunker down in C Wing with our munchies, and get acquainted with our cells.
My first sleepover bedroom turned out just as I'd hoped, as on my first and indeed last prison ghost hunt (group, not solo for once), I'd developed a bit of a penchant for C1,08, and it was to this little space that I hurried and dumped my sleeping bag and gear, before anyone else had the chance to claim it.
Being solo caused a couple of heads to turn, but I was more than happy. By then I'd got used to being alone in the prison during my day visits, and to be honest I relished the chance to get in there after dark to try my hand at night recording. Next door to me a couple inflated their air bed, and a few doors down two older ladies began lighting sage, candles, and chanting. I devoured my dinner, and got on with the business at hand!
The night began well, and everyone seemed to settle into their own pattern. There were about three larger groups to which people seemed to gravitate, and a few clusters of odds and bunglers (my term for folk who were not quite sure why they were there at all) and then Annie-no-mates. After a time, I decided to join one of the groups up in Treadmill Infirmary to see what was going on, but it turned out to be a pretty sorry affair to tell the truth. I found myself sat on the floor in a circle with around ten other people, and there was much deliberation about cold draughts and feelings. I pointed out that the door to the outside was in fact wedged open, and that it was after all, gone midnight and we were sat on the floor of a very old building. This didn't really seem to generate much response if any, and I made up my mind to get on out as soon as possible. I found myself sat next to a rather hairy man who had obviously been drinking heavily despite the rules being that nobody should be partaking of alcohol after the allotted dinner time. Every time he spoke to me he leaned in a tad too close. But he had his can of 'whatever' next to him, and he swigged from it as and when the fancy took. Also a chap who was his friend, who sat to his left. Both made little sense, and aside from one of them profering a digital thermometer and randomly pointing it at the wall and ceiling, they didn't exactly illuminate the session with intellectual prowess.
There were a couple of ladies with them, but not in the coupley sense, for these women seemed rather more switched-on than the men, but I did not take to them at all. They seemed suspicious, a little rough around the edges, streetwise, and rather lemony, if that makes sense.
I wanted to be away, and after a boring half hour I arose and said that I was off on my own. The two fellas got up too, and said that they'd come with me. Well, I put a stop to that, and said, "I'll meet you up in the kitchens in half hour." which of course I had no intention of doing, but this seemed to satisfy their slow-moving needs, and so I scarpered. When I got to the bottom of Treadmill stairs, I was aware of a young couple waiting. They introduced themselves as Jim and *Chantelle. Apparently the second 'gentleman' had been sitting next to Chantelle, and had made inappropriate grasping motions. He also earlier (according to Jim ) actually urinated against a cell wall in A Wing, despite it being obvious that such a thing is disgusting, and that there are working toilets on site in Visits. Let's put it this way - this person is not particularly savoury. So, in a quandry, Jim and Chantelle didn't want to leave the event as they, like everyone else had paid good money, but wanted some genuine 'ghosting' experience - and so they wondered if they could join me. I was initially a little taken aback as I had been looking forward to getting on with solo recording, but I took an instant liking to the pair, and decided that I'd introduce them to the joys of the chapel and invited them in on my special privilege. They were worth it!
The chapel was off-limits to the other over-nighters, but site manager at the time Paul Toole, a true gentleman of old school manners, wit, and intelligence, had given me written permission to ask for it to be unlocked so that I could get in and away from other folks. I had approached a lady named Laura at the beginning of the night, and presented her with Paul's email. She was at first a little wary, and I get the feeling that I had possibly overstepped the mark and ruffled her feathers a little. Laura had been an officer at the prison when it was still actually a prison, and so to be presented with a request from a weirdo-whippersnapper such as myself, must have been a bit irritating. But, bless her, she agreed to lock me in as and when I so desired. Laura is now a good friend of mine, as is her husband Graham. Both of them attended my wedding in fact! They are the friendliest, most wonderful couple.
I decided that with Jim and Chantelle in tow, and all of us wishing to escape Hairy and Honky, that now would be a good time to deploy my right to the chapel. We trotted off to visits where we found both Laura and Paul, who then agreed to come and let the three of us into the chapel. We were to be locked in so that none of the other guests would be able to get in, so we were safe in the knowledge that it was just us. I was overjoyed! Some of the EVPs I'd captured in the chapel were incredibly clear (and not very nice), and so I was hopeful of a few more.
Paul gave us a walkie-talkie so that we could radio when we wanted letting out, but in retrospect, neglected to tell us the channel. This was to be our downfall!
In we went, at the bottom level through a side gate. We heard the chain being padlocked back on the outside, and we proceeded upward with our torches. Neither Jim nor Chantelle had done anything like this before, and whereas Chantelle was open to things, Jim was more resolute in his scepticism. That night, things would happen that would change his mind...
We entered the auditorium via the stairs doorway, and we laughed as we pushed hard to open it, as it reminded me of the sound of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, loud, booming, and screechy. Once inside, we split up, but I did around twenty minutes of recording in the chapel whilst Jim and Chantelle mooched about. It consists of the auditorium, gallery, and back rooms both up and down, and includes a narrow spiral staircase that is very awkward to get up, even as a size 12-14. Eventually we convened by the white and dusty bookshelves outside the auditorium, and decided to head back out.
It was at this point that I recorded an absolutely horrible EVP. I apologise for the language but I've starred it out, but it was a rough male voice saying, "The c***s. CUT THEM ALL!"
However, being a true EVP we heard nothing at the time, and we made for the stairway.
Down we went, to the bottom. We then realised that we did not know the channel for the radio to call Paul, but how hard could it be? I began by switching to 1. "Hello, Paul? Can you hear us? We're ready to come out now!" 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.... and so on. Nothing came back. NOTHING!
We all had a go, each of us desperately hoping that Paul's calming voice on the other end would splutter into life, but it didn't. The time was half past two in the morning, and just to make things even more fabulous, all three of our torches began to fade rapidly. Chantelle tried to ring Jailhouse Tours, but unsurprisingly the phones went directly to voicemail. We kept on. And on... and on.
By now we'd been trying for nearly an hour, and just when we were getting really desperate (Chantelle was a little unnerved by now) something happened to snap us out of our situation - and make us desperate to get the hell out.
The big old noisy door at the top of the stairs, at the bottom of which we now stood - swung open and boomed shut. We heard it clearly in the silence of the hour. The door that sounded like a T- Rex had just been pushed open, and swung shut. But there was nobody else there. That was not all. As we all stared in the dark, firstly at each other and then up at the dark, pitch dark stairwell above us, there came footsteps coming down...
What the ****?!
You may well imagine the fear that suddenly coursed through each of us, as tacky as that sounds, but it did. There genuinely was something coming down the stairs towards us, but we were the only people in the building, the only people in the chapel. It was locked off - and we were standing by the door waiting to get out, except that we couldn't.
As the heavy steps got closer, like a miracle, the radio in my hand burst into crackling life, and Paul asked if we could hear him. Channel 10! We had tried that one over and over!!
We said that we could, and that we were VERY ready to come out, and he said that he'd be just a moment.
The footsteps were still above us as Paul unlocked the chain and we all burst out, running from whatever had been coming down the stairs towards us. We were all fairly shaken.
We checked of course, we asked if anyone else had been let in, had Paul been trying to scare us and have a bit of a joke?! No. Absolutely not. Both he and Charlie had been involved in a Ouija session in C Wing, when he suddenly realised that we'd been locked up for a long time, and he thought he'd come and find us. Thank goodness he did, for I think we'd have needed a change of underwear if he hadn't! He also said that not once did the walkie-talkie sound. He had been listening out for us, but he'd not heard a thing.
Whatever had happened in the chapel, the weirdness wasn't over for the three of us, not yet. We made for the morgue and healthcare corridor, black and horrible, at least we weren't locked in! Everybody else was engaged in Ouija upstairs, and so it was quiet and calm. We still had the walkie-talkie though, just in case, and Jim and Chantelle had it in one of their pockets. I was done with the damn thing.
It was at around half past three when the fire alarm sounded somewhere in the main body of the prison, and with that, the walkie-talkie erupted and Jim responded. The voice, who we presumed was either Charlie or Paul, told us to "Get out". What with the alarm and with the scare we'd already had, we duely did. Except when we got outside, not only was there no alarm, but neither Paul nor Charlie had made the call. They were still doing Ouija on the wing.
As we breathed deep sighs of relief into the icy night air (and it really was incredibly nippy!) we came across the two men from the disastrous Treadmill 'seance' and their lady friends. The woman to whom I really hadn't taken, nodded and said, "Where did you get to then?" rather sarkily, I said that we'd just off and about, and she looked suspicious and replied, "Ah, we thought you'd tried to get away from us - go somewhere you weren't sposed to be maybe." She smiled slyly. She knew the deal, and yes - I had ditched them. But there was a bad feeling emanating from them, and mean as it may sound, I'm very glad that we had genuinely Done-A-Runner!
Things seemed to happen with Jim and Chantelle, not just that night either, but afterwards too. Whenever I met with them we had physical, in-the-moment things occur often several times in one visit. Photographic anomalies (see my gate lodge photo, and the shadow man on B Wing) and some fantastic EVPs. Both of them purchased Sony recorders with a view to doing their own investigations, but sadly they have now split up, and seem to have left the world of weird behind them which is a shame for, as a couple, they had the right attitude and good success rate.
What I do know is, that their very first night of 'ghosting' left them impressed and a little scared, and also rather addicted. It was the first adventure we had together but it wouldn't be the last! We attended another Porridge event in May 2018, and this time I had C1,08 as my cosy bedroom and the pair of them chose the cell opposite, C1,19, the very cell that was used during the filming of David Tenant's Des two years ago. Since then they've not returned to the prison as a couple although Jim has independently, and now when I stay over I opt for B2,16 which is proving highly profitable.
The times have indeed a-changed though, for I now work at the prison as one of the night supervisors during paranormal events most weekends. Instead of being able to bunk off, record and snooze as and when I like, these days I must be all professional and alert in the early hours, something that I'm still learning to cope with. I'm not a late night person, nor a morning person! One may ask, what sort of person am I ineed?! But it's the privilege of being able to look after the old girl, and by that I mean the prison herself. She is a wiley old thing, but blimey, does she have teeth. Being on site and in a position of guardianship is what it's all about, so although I may not be able to sleep, I may be tired and headachey, but I DO have keys to the place, and that makes it all worthwhile.
Swings and roundabouts, as they say... oh yes, and copious pairs of undies that may yet be needed ;). Until then, sweet dreams!
*Chantelle is a pseudonym*