There are parts of the world I only know because of the dull brown envelopes that fall onto the mat, telling me I must go there at a certain date and time. Camberwell Green is one of them. It doesn’t really look like it sounds, that children’s TV programme echo – Camberwick Green it’s not. For me, and some other unlucky souls who put on their smartest clothes in the vain hope that it will help, Camberwell Green will always mean the magistrates court. The slabs of concrete march all the way up the path as if they’re about to take over and cover the Green, the trees, the sky. Greyness prevails even on the sunniest of days, (and I’ve been there in all weathers so I know). You’re not supposed to be ‘guilty’ till a district judge proclaims it, but there’s something about that approach, the reluctant swing of the heavy doors, the dark wood panelling inside that removes everyone’s innocence as they enter. What did Foucault say?: ‘our prisons resemble our factories, schools, military bases, and hospitals-all of which in turn resemble prisons’. I am sure he included magistrates courts in that imagery. Its not the architecture of liberty, anyway.
I don’t know what I am or am not permitted to say about what happened to me in Camberwell Green. I walked into a vortex of semantics, where words become crimes, and describing my experience in a particular place could put me back there automatically, or somewhere worse. But maybe it’s ok to say this. Outside, just round the corner from the court building, there’s a greasy spoon called ‘Sunshine Cafe’. Not many legal types seem to go there. I mainly saw workmen having a brew in their breaks. The staff, probably middle eastern in origin are lovely, and it’s cheap. Not London prices at all. I remember Sunshine cafe because it’s where I sat, before or after or inbetween court sessions, taking comfort in the hot tea, the familiarity of my sister’s face, our ability to laugh inspite of it all. And I remember it because it’s the sort of place and people I’ve come to appreciate so much lately. Since the brown envelopes started to fall on my mat (will they ever stop falling?). In Sunshine Cafe I am treated like a ‘normal’, law abiding citizen. I am smiled at, respected, allowed to just be me. Now I know as some other unlucky souls know, who say ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ in their best voices in the vain hope that it will help, what it’s like to be the ‘suspect’, to be looked down on and cast in the role of criminal, outcast, pariah, I take ordinary moments of human interaction as the gifts they are. Train stations, supermarkets, swimming baths, suddenly seem filled with kindness and compassion. A world where nobody is perfect and we’re all just doing our best to get by. Sunshine on concrete. Light slips through the cracks and whispers about freedom.