“You need someone to talk to who’s not yourself.”
Unfortunately, due to recent events, this anniversary blog is not the one I’d planned. I’ll cut to the chase and get it off my chest as always, getting it out there makes me feel cathartic-ally expunged.
Two weekends ago, on Friday 9th June, I thought I had food poisoning. Spent the whole weekend being sick and all the rest that goes with suspected food poisoning. As the super hero that I am I sucked it up and tried to get on with life. Come Monday, I was in so much pain I had to phone the Dr. The Doc told me to come to the surgery straight away. After a few prods of the tummy and me nearly leaping off the bed… Next stop Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast. It turns out I had a tear in my bowel which had developed an abscess caused by Diverticulitis. To put it bluntly, if I hadn’t have went to the Doc when I did I wouldn’t be here.
I was out of it for a couple of days on a constant IV drip of fluids, pain killers and antibiotics. On Wednesday night I had a complete mental breakdown and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) – “Severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts and nightmares are common symptoms of the illness.” My problem being that the hospital ward reminded me of jail.
It had been building for days. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was a nurse accidentally shining a torch in my face. This, combined with constant electronic alarm (my old mate Wilson) pushed me over the edge. This is not a bad thing in itself, but I’m lucky I’m not in a police cell. Unfortunately this triggered said psychotic incident.
I visualised with the most amazing of clarity that I was with American university students in a wooden lodge type barbecue building, smoking dope and sipping bud in that wholesome American way, then there were female black, not racial black but black black wonder women cats all sexy and slinky whose crooked smile turned into a sneer, then Devils and ghouls and indescribable apparitions who tore shreds, blood dripping flesh from raw…, more flashing lights I had to open my eyes. Dry mouth, sheer terror. It wasn’t real but where was I? What was poisoning me? Was it the abscess in my torn bowel seeping into my bloodstream and drip, drip, dripping like the IV in my arm, slowly into my brain. I thought I was in prison, I thought I was in a HMP Cell Spaceship, slits of light coming under the door. I felt my heart was going to explode but I had the wherewithal to put my hand on it. It was fine. I could hear people screaming and shouting and music playing from the cell next to me. Was it real?
Anyway, I was in mid acid rush, mid cocaine rush, morphine rush any type of rush I was in it, but it didn’t subside, then the fear hit, the panic – I was stoned simply stoned – then I got paranoid thought they’d fucked with my drugs. Who they? They, they the officers, was I not in prison? After two and half days inside the institution of hospital and duty of care there in I’d finally snapped. You see, what for the non prisoner amongst you who will blissfully cow tow to the every whim of the establishment and be totally unaware of is that everything on the ward and in the cell/room is exactly the same as in prison. Even the smallest detail is painfully mind wrenchingly obvious to the initiated. And let’s face it, how fucking initiated am I? It had been building in me for days. I’m so very grateful to the head nurse of whole hospital who recognised there was something array and made the connection. The nurses and Dr thought I had taken drugs that had not been issued to me.
And, they were right in a way because that is exactly how I felt. I was rambling and having cold sweats, furtively looking round the room for what I don’t know. It was horrifying. Every thought or question in my head was immediately met with a juxtaposition one. Every thought was a fight or flight one whilst at the same time I was trying to use my knowledge and experience not to explode and smash things to pieces and or run out the door to home and safety. But would I be safe at home? I knew if I left the hospital I would day. I also knew that if I stayed I might die or hurt someone else. It was simply terrifying. At one stage I reached out to touch the Head Nurse, he jumped back. You see, I didn’t know if he was real or not, if the conversation was actually happening or that he was a real human being standing in front of me. He had a small minors night light on his head and his phone went off, he turned the light on his head on and off and was apologising and asking me questions at the same time. I thought at the time he was playing at or giving me psychological test and then I thought he wasn’t real again.
There is much more but I’m saving this for a full blown academic journal. I’m home safe now and more or less healed physically but mentally? This, obviously explains a lot as to what’s been going on for the past four years. The plus side, something I always try to look for, is that I now know what’s occurring and will deal with it.
The NHS Doctors and Staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital wards 6B and C are amazing; can’t praise them enough. Thank you guys.
It’s 5.00am and I’m sitting here with a gentle summer burn after a couple of glorious days out and about in the sunshine, long early morning walks and much gardening trying to calm the rage that festers inside me. Ten years ago I had a similar type of glow but not so glorious as I watched a customs officer at Gatwick airport stick a spike in the side of my suitcase, white powder spraying all over my favourite blue shirt and the feel of the cold metal cuffs being slapped on the wrists. Fast forward to four years ago and I’ve been awake most the night, lying on top of my bed with the headphones on awaiting my imminent release.
Recent events aside, life is bit weird as it’s been a pretty great year. Four years after my release on the 19th June 2013 and ten years after first putting pen to paper I’ve finally got my book published ‘My Life Began At Forty” available from L.R Price Publications, Amazon and Amazon Kindle. I’m very proud of the fact but I’m sure I’m starting to do some people’s heads in. Tough! I’m already getting great reviews, all positive and it is changing people’s perceptions of prison and prisoners and in my world that can only be a good thing.
So, what have I learnt from four years on licence (two to go)? Not quite sure really as at this precise moment in time it’s all a bit of a blur. All I know is that prison has given me a life sentence. There is a prison rule in legislation that states ‘No person shall leave prison worse than they went in…’ or words to that effect. The politque of the alleged governments in both jurisdictions (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) in Northern Ireland were is served the last four years of my sentence –
“Aim of the prison service – The overall aim of the Northern Ireland Prison Service is to improve public safety by reducing the risk of re-offending through the management and rehabilitation of offenders in custody. Its main statutory duties are set out in the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953(external link opens in a new window / tab).
The Prison Service, through its staff, serves the community by keeping in secure, safe and humane custody those committed by the courts and, by working with prisoners and with other organisations, seeks to reduce the risk of re-offending and in so doing aims to protect the public and to contribute to peace and stability in Northern Ireland” (DOJ Website – online https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/articles/about-northern-ireland-prison-service).
And, of course, there is David Cameron’s Prison Reform speech in 2016; despite the fact that he felt physically sick at the thought of me having a vote when I was a prisoner –
“In short: we need a prison system that doesn’t see prisoners as simply liabilities to be managed, but instead as potential assets to be harnessed… Prisons aren’t a holiday camp – not really. They are often miserable, painful environments. Isolation. Mental anguish. Idleness. Bullying. Self-harm. Violence. Suicide. These aren’t happy places.
It’s lazy to subscribe to the idea that prisoners are somehow having the time of their lives. These establishments are full of damaged individuals.
But here’s the point: 99% of them will be released one day, back into our communities.So we should ask ourselves: is it a sensible strategy to allow these environments to become twisted into places that just compound that damage and make people worse?
Or should we be making sure that prisons are demanding places of positivity and reform – so that we can maximise the chances of people going straight when they come out?
Think about it this way: being tough on criminals is not always the same thing as being tough on crime (MOJ Website, 2016, online – https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prison-reform-prime-ministers-speech).”
This has always been a bone of contention with me and somewhat contradictory. How in the name of fuck can you help someone whilst at the same time causing them harm, pain and misery and giving them a mental illness! Shall I be revisiting my Judicial Review of 2011? What do you think?
I will however, seek the help I need and use the past four years of experience on the out to deal with what life throws at me. For me, at present it’s like day one post release, ground zero. I’ll get there, wherever ‘there’ may be, after all I made it this far.
There are well intentioned people out there but at the end of the day it’s all about one’s self. There is no way on this earth that anyone who has served a lengthy time in prison walks away from it unscathed. If they say any different they are lying or masking what’s really going on in the old napper. I’ve spoken to so many people who have been to prison over the years and, as it’s me, they open up and I can assure you I’m not the only one. I am however, one of the few who has the balls to write about it and get it out there.
I cannot emphasize enough my appreciation of friends and family. My circle of friends (most of them half as mad as I am) listen to my ramblings, make me laugh and keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. My family provide me with unconditional love and a roof over my head and with mental health issues aside I consider myself a very fortunate man. Without this support would I or could I be sitting here sharing this with you lot?
Over the past few years I’ve been reunited with many old friends and it always amazes and humbles me how true friends forgive, accept and love you for who you are. I’ve been rejected by a few but they are dead to me now. Since my little stint in Hospital I’ve been re-united with two certain people (who shall remain nameless) who have warmed me through and through and I simply cannot express how I feel to have them back in my life again.
So, it’s getting to that time of day when I head off for a two hour walk down the tow-path and River Lagan, listen to the birds cheap and watch the fishes (at least I’m not swimming with the fishes), and very excited to be going to see Alter Bridge in the Ulster Hall on Wednesday night (with two other lunatics), Raised On Rock in two weeks, Irish Open Final Day at Portstewart (courtesy of a very special friend), Muse in August and Queens of the Stone Age in October, book launch in London in August and on the calmer side Art of Living Silence course in September.
Who knows what the next year will bring? There is only now. Be kind to yourself and those around you. One never knows, really knows, of the individual battles we fight on a daily basis but remember one thing folks (my favourite quote) “Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty commander, an unknown sage – he is called Self. He lives in your body, he is your body (Nietzsche, 1883).”