In the name of confidentiality, and my own amusement, I will rename the characters in this story Snap, Crackle and Pop. This is the story of the most successful escape I witnessed in my time on *Heron psychiatric unit.
Snap is seventeen, likes smoking and being right about things. She had been in the unit for the longest and during her time there her hatred had only increased for the way things were run. Known for her rebellious streak; she was the classic escapee.
Crackle is younger. She likes a bit of mischief but is generally cool headed. She was not thought to be the escaping kind.
Pop is new to the unit. She had already been in hospital once before and on her first night in Heron ward managed to climb the garden fence. She was very determined.
It was a normal October night and the day shift was drawing to a close. Well I say a ‘normal October night’ but for some reason Heron ward is always shrouded in either an icy veil or Saharan heat- alternating at oxymorons to the rest of the world. The night staff were in the handover meeting and the day staff were packing up for home. In the unit there was a slight tension in the air, like a precursor of what was about to happen. Most of the patients could be found whispering to each other: “what’s going on?!”
Go back to lunchtime. Snap is up to mischief. As the rest of the ward sits around the table scrapbooking she has snuck into the office. She has been doing similar all day, keeping the staff well on their toes. Most around the table don’t even realise she is in the office, a place forbidden to patients. When a nurse enters to find Snap pretending to type notes she bursts out laughing and merrily tells her to get out.
I have moved from the table in the communal area to the lounge with fellow patient D.
“What’s going on?” I ask after observing the tension in the air surrounding us. Mentioning it feels uncomfortable, itchy.
“I don’t know…” She replied. “But Snap, Crackle and Pop have jumpers on.”
“Jumpers?!” I ask as I rearrange my pyjama vest top. No one gets dressed on the unit. Pyjamas are our dress code and any layer of clothing of a thermal variety instantly attracts suspicion within the Saharan heat.
“Yeah…” She mumbles, miming taking a puff on a fag.
“Ah… Must be” I reply knowingly. The three had been known to sneak in cigarettes and lighters to smoke beneath the bathroom fans. The jumpers must have been so they had a removable layer that didn’t smell of smoke.
“Why have I not got a key on my belt?” Asked a member of night staff as they tried and failed to let a visiting parent out.
“Has anyone seen Snap, Crackle and Pop?” Asks another looking worriedly at the observation folder.
“Shit.” We say simultaneously. “They’ve got a key.”
After telling staff the ward was alive with an excited buzz. How long would it be before they were brought back? We took bets. Snap appeared to have used her time in the office well and had taken the key fob for the main doors from one of the staff’s key chains. We later found out that a lighter and cigarettes had gone for the ride too.
Police came in and out examining the mugshots of the three patients, taken from the front of the observation book. As I let Noodle out in the garden for her final wee we could hear a police helicopter circling above.
“I noticed Snap had jeans on. I thought it was odd!” A member of day staff exclaimed to the group, having stayed three hours after her home time.
At around half past eleven Snap and Crackle appeared looking quite morose. The rest of the patients were sent to bed early so that all staff could help in conducting strip searches. “That was the worst bit of the night.” Snap recalled days later.
Concerns were rising for Pop, sectioned under the mental health act and out in the dark alone. The helicopter circled and circled until eventually in the early hours of the morning I heard her bedroom door close and her returning to bed.
The key, which the three had claimed to have thrown as soon as they got out, was handed in by an anonymous source where it then spent some time in the office in a cup labelled “Do Not Use”. I’ll leave it to you to imagine where it was inserted in order to go unnoticed in a strip search. Management wanted it to be disinfected and put back on the key chain. Staff wanted it incinerated. Staff won and an automatic closer was put on the office door.