Death is a horrible thing and it tugs at all sorts of strings. I’ve been lucky in the sense that it has always happened to someone else and even though I’ve known loads of people who have died whilst I’ve been in prison this is the first time that it’s left me wanting. Death in prison highlights the impotency of the individual. This is where the control of the system kicks in and the feelings of extreme helplessness are exasperated by institutional practices. Over the years, I have watched and listened to many men talk about their experience of death in the system. I’ve had my own harshness with Pauline Campbell (Howard League for Penal Reform) in 2008 and a close call with Dad in the same year. I always say it’s hard but it’s just the way it is. Prison cannot be letting people in and out every time someone dies it’s economically and procedurally unattainable. Where does one draw the line? With the prison service its immediate family and I suppose for many that’s all that really matters and it’s acceptable to assume, to think, that’s fair enough. Until, that is, it happens to you.
Mr Mike Moloney, Australian, Director of the Northern Ireland Prison Arts Foundation died on 20/04/13 after an accident at home. Mike was responsible for bringing the Arts to Prisons in Northern Ireland and the wider community. He was a well known character in the City of Belfast and beyond. Mike and the Prison Arts Foundation embody what the system doesn’t – humanity and hope where creativity can bring positive change by being able to discover one’s self from ‘the inside’. I’m unable to attend the funeral as I do not fit the criteria even though I’m a ‘D’ cat, spent twenty five days released on temporary license and rule 27/2 for a couple of hospital appointments and two resettlement days, ironically, for Prison Arts Foundation events. I’ve two home leave days left in my last eight weeks and I leave prison after six years on the 19/06/2013 never to darken these doors again. This final humiliation has left me numb as Mike was responsible for enabling me to speak at our parliament (Stormont) last December and has been fighting for and supporting prisoners and their families in Northern Ireland for the past thirty years; yet serving prisoners like myself are not allowed to attend. The Chaplaincy is hoping to organise a small memorial service which we will be grateful of. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mike for helping me turn my life into some sort of purpose via my poems and my writing.
I’ve been at home now for one week and am loving it. My friends wife, the lovely Celeste, (Celeste Botha R.I.P. 26/06/13) has just lost a twenty year battle with the Big C and of recent years she bought a motorbike and turned out to be nearly as mad as Steve on the two wheeled demon. My friend Ollie died in April and I found out he was so proud of what i’d acheived. I talk, a lot, about suicide and the problems attached to that i’ve known several people who have died in the past few months and it irks me to know that I still have these feeling when i should be soaking up and enjoying my life. Of course, I am, but my life is peppered with these mad rushes of fear, melancholy, panic, anger, palpitations, suicidal thoughts and… did i mention fear? These people, my friends, where also living in fear but they lived their last as free and as full as they could.
The end is enivitable but it doesn’t have to be as a direct result of the duty of care provided by a society. We turn a blind eye because the system is the system. Some fo my friends fought the system of a biological process for twenty years and they finally succumbed to the natural process but in doing so they have demonstrated the resolve of the human mind and body. I will never insult the memory of these brave people. I will live and i will fight the fight of those who cannot. Northern Ireland has extremely high rates of suicide. Why is that exactly. I know what the UK does to it’s prisoners and how it affects family and friends and i simply refuse to sit back and let more people die because of a prison sentence. I would like to remind folk that punishment for crime is ‘loss of liberty’ for a period of time deemed appropriate by a judge and jury of our peers. It is not a death sentence. How can we call ourselves a moral and just society when we turn a blind eye to state sanctioned murder. I’ve seen it and been in it. When i spoke up I was told I was a scaremonger and all of a sudden all sorts of institutional bullying was intensified and luckily enough I rode it out and am now gone from it.
In prison the words suicide, having problems and depression cannot be mentioned in the same sentence. The Safer Custody Standard Operating Conditions kick in and the ever so plausible processes are administered to the letter by staff who fear culpable manslaughter. This process is horrific and not one person, in my six year experience, has come off a SPAR saying ‘thanks you saved my life’, not one! They still have the same problems and for certain prisoners, upon release, they still have to deal with social services and fear the intervention of those institutions as they have children and can be deemed ‘unfit’ to be a parent because they’ve been having nervous breakdowns in prison and sought help.
I could go on but out of respect to my friends I will leave this with a question ‘where does duty of care and torture start and begin?’
FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK WE SALUTE YOU.