Judith Ward, 44, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1974 for the murder of 12 people in the M62 coach bombing. She was freed on appeal last year after 18 years in prison. She lives alone.

IT'S JUST before waking that I realise, subconsciously, I'm free. In prison the screws come along at 7am, banging on everyone's door and telling you to get up. Then they set off the 'aggro' bells, used to call for help if there's a fight or something, so you are wrenched from sleep by this cacophony of bells and banging.

Now I have a tiny alarm clock that not so much rings as purrs, but most of the time I get up when I feel like it. I avoid a routine. In prison you do everything according to a rigid timetable, which is all part of the claustrophobia. It's great doing what I like when I like - lying in bed watching television until 2am instead of being banged up at 8 every evening.

It's also wonderful to sleep in pitch darkness. For the first nine years of my sentence, they left the lights on full blast in my cell all night. That's because I was a Category A prisoner.

They'd check me every hour to make sure I wasn't chiselling my way through the wall or something. It was very difficult to sleep. Unlike people who actually have committed a crime, I couldn't say to myself, 'You're paying for it now, so just get on with it'.

Sometimes I'd get so angry and so frustrated by insomnia and being stuck in this tiny box that I'd punch my pillow like a lunatic and pace up and down. The screws would squint through the eye-piece - 'Aren't you asleep?' they'd say. 'Of course I bloody am, I'm sleepwalking,' I'd reply. Later they put a plastic shade over the strip so that the cell was full of gloomy yellow shadows, which was almost as bad.

Did I dream? Unfortunately not. The reality was too harsh for dreaming, and I still don't dream much now. What I did do was fantasise about being somewhere else. I'd imagine I was on a desert island. I'd also think up ways to escape and we'd all discuss them during 'association'.

Sometimes women would set fire to their cells at night, and you'd hear the pandemonium and the fire engines wailing. Then it was really scary, because the fire could easily spread and there you are locked in your cell. People would panic, and panic is contagious.

But generally prison is extremely quiet at night. All you can hear is the keys jangling as the screws pace the corridor. After a while, I could tell which ones were on night duty because I recognised their footsteps. I'd call out their names - 'Evening, so-and-so' - and they'd be really paranoid because they knew there was no way I could see them.

Now, if I hear someone jangle their keys, it takes me right back into it. But I try not to think about prison too much. I haven't had much difficulty adjusting. I had always kept in touch with what was going on.

I did an Open University degree. I watched films, so I knew about technological advances such as answerphones and cash dispensers.

I got used to having a high profile as a lifer in prison. Nevertheless, I do sometimes resent the lack of privacy I have now. People recognise me in the street and I'm constantly being asked to give talks or get involved in somebody's case. I occasionally think, 'Why don't they all sod off and let me get on with the rest of my life?' But that's not going to happen.

It's hard to form personal relationships - nobody can really understand what you've been through - but one of the things I enjoy most about being free is mixing with men again. I love men and couldn't get enough of them when I first came out. I've met a lot of nice ones, but unfortunately they're all married. I'm still hoping.

When I was in prison I had a hysterectomy - 18 years of my life are not all that I have lost - and though I am not generally bitter, I fiercely regret that my chances of having a marriage and children of my own have been stolen from me.

'Ambushed', by Judith Ward, is published by Vermilion, pounds 9.99.

(Photograph omitted)