Inside story: a living, breathing miracle

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The Independent Online
Today, a very special and rather magical story:

"It's a miracle!" said the doctors.

"It's a miracle!" said the mother.

"It's a miracle!" said the prison governor.

And at first sight it did seem like a miracle. A baby boy was born to a female prisoner in one of our biggest women's prisons. That in itself was not a miracle. But shortly after the birth took place it was realised that the baby was wearing tiny chains and a small manacle, just like his mother. That was surely a miracle.

"There is no case on record of a baby being born wearing any kind of accessory, fashion or otherwise," said a rather shaken chief government health officer. "Babies have always been born totally unadorned. This is quite unprecedented."

The government chief medical officer spoke as if he had done some heavy research into these things, whereas all he had done was ring an old obstetrician pal and ask him if babies were ever born with accessories. "Yes," said the pal, drily. "These days they sometimes appear with drug addictions inherited from their mums and start having withdrawal symptoms ... Is that the sort of thing you were thinking of?"

It was not. He was thinking more of things like chains and manacles. "Sort of punk birth?" said the obstetrician. "New one on me."

"There's a rumour going round," said the chief medical officer, "that because the mother had regularly been chained and shackled, the child has inherited these characteristics. Now, this is plainly impossible, but that is what people are saying."

"Then people are talking through their hats," said the obstetrician.

The mother, however, was not convinced.

"It's a miracle!" she said. "This is a very special baby. I'm going to have him christened Michael Howard."

"Is there a special reason for this?" asked a journalist, who had been allowed in on condition that he was chained to a security guard.

"Yes," she said. "I just feel very grateful to the Home Secretary for having allowed this miracle to take place. If it hadn't been for him, I might have absconded. Run away. Skedaddled. I might have just cleared off and committed my offence again."

"What are you actually inside for?" asked the journalist.

"Non-payment of TV licence fines," said the mother. "I persistently failed to buy a TV licence because I couldn't afford it, and they fined me, and I couldn't pay, and so they put me in prison and quite right, too, because it's taught me a lesson."

"What lesson has it taught you?"

"That Michael Howard is absolutely right. That prison does work. That when you are in prison, society is protected from your urge to watch TV without paying a licence fee. You can't imagine the number of times I've had this urge to run out of prison and reoffend. Often, as I was led away to hospital for antenatal treatment, I have blessed the moment that Mr Howard ordered me to be chained. Lord knows how near I was to running away and watching TV without a licence."

"But surely the Home Secretary wasn't thinking of prisoners like you when he issued those orders?"

"He must have been. Almost all female prisoners have committed offences like me."

"Do you think any other female prisoners will give birth to miracle babies?"

It was at this point that the policewoman, to whom the mother was now chained again, spoke up for the first time.

"Excuse me, but there is no miracle. This baby was not born with chains. They were put on him after the birth."

"By whom?"

"By me."

"Why?"

"Orders of the Home Secretary. All babies born in prison to be shackled until further notice."

"But the babies have committed no offence."

"No, but it diminishes the likelihood of the mother absconding if she would have to leave her baby manacled behind her. That is the Home Secretary's new official policy."

Disappointed at the melting away of the miracle, the journalist nevertheless contacted the Home Secretary for a comment. He got it.

"Chains work!" said the Home Secretary. "This proves it. People in chains do not escape. Shackles are go! If you chain everyone to something, no one can escape! In Saudi Arabia, they chop people's hands off! That works, too. Watch this space ..."

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