I was informed yesterday that I can now refer to my ‘self’ Michael Irwin BA (Hons) Open Criminology & Psychological Studies or words to that affect. I’m not sure is I’ve shared my friend Paddy with you before, if I repeat myself apologies – if not I hope you enjoy. I must stress thought that all is not rosy in the garden. I’ve been assisting another guy called Paddy with his road from prison to University. He was turned down by a University at the last minute and was told he could definitely come back next year provided he was a good boy in the interim. When he asked for an emergency phone call to inform a UK charity organisation that he would not be attending he was not allowed the phone call as it was decreed by the head of the resettlement unit that no prisoners were allowed to make any calls (no exceptions) whilst the ‘head’ was away on holiday. Resettlement/dictatorship in a unit designed for the sole purpose of helping prisoners back into society. I have to ask the question. How much longer must we listen to this false dichotomy? It is sickening yet it all sounds so bloody plausible. Time to get real folks. I’ve just earned my academic provisional driving licence, stage two will take a year and then we get truly busy. Meet my friend Paddy 2010:
A group of people from the Prison Arts Foundation had a little get together yesterday and some of us from The Creative Writing class were asked to read the first page of our ‘Postcards from ….’ stories. Was fine when I got up, but started shaking as soon as I started to read. Thank goodness it subsided enough for me to continue. This is the first time in my entire life I have stood in front of a group of people and read to them. Couldn’t believe it. They actually laughed at the bits they were meant to and at some new bits. Was trying my damnedest to speak calmly, loudly and clearly. All I could hear were these people laughing. I was genuinely taken aback. My chest puffed out, I took a deep breath and kept going. When I finished they all started clapping enthusiastically. On the way back to my seat one guy catches my eye and says ‘well done.’ Found out later who he was. Mike Maloney. I must apologise to Mike I’ve gotten his name wrong on a couple of letters I sent. Anyway Mike is an antipodean who ran away to join the circus and see the world at an early age. He’s a now much travelled gentleman with boundless energy and enthusiasm; head of the Northern Ireland Prison Arts Foundation. His two little words will always stick with me and they have given me the courage and strength to pursue my writing endeavours. With the help and guidance of John Brown I’m sure I’ll produce some decent stuff in the future. Mikes words may not seem like much to some people but in a prison environment when you constantly have to scrape and bow to authority it feels good sometimes to have a bit of dignity and take a bow yourself. A feel good moment. The rest of the guys got up, but I found it really difficult to make them out. Hope I was clearer than they were or my feelings of triumph will be short lived.
Another group of guys, I think they were ex-prisoners from Italy and an Italian lady got up and did a short skit. The lady was really hard to understand but she was very funny, exuded confidence, passion and humour. It made me think about how much I’ve forgotten what its like to be in the company of the human race. I’m not saying we’re all animals and that all prison officers are bullies. They are not, however at moments like this it becomes painfully clear. When you look at the expressions of a face of someone who doesn’t live under the glare of the system, how unnatural our life actually is. In our case (prison officers and prisoners) every word, every action or reaction will be scrutinised, taken down as evidence and used at a later date to fuck you up. This observation, for me only exposes how the system unwittingly creates the animal that is ‘us and them’. Society vs. excluded and never the twain shall meet. It’s not natural and we (the system) can’t allow these men to associate with the society they have been removed from. The reason I say this is because we were escorted over half an hour late and removed half an hour early, before any purposeful interaction could take place. Mr Erwin James from the Guardian had just got up to speak and I was only starting to get into it when we’re asked to leave. Early lock up again for our wing. We’ve got toilets so it’s easier to lock us up and it was a lovely Friday afternoon (barbeque weather), all of a sudden no staff. Fuckin unbelievable Bob. The little bit I did hear Mr James speak about was enlightening. He’s an ex con who’s served twenty years and he was telling the ensemble how much energy it took for a prisoner to get through the day.
There is no doubt in my mind that not all ‘prisoners’ or ‘officers’ should be allowed to attend such gatherings. Some people do not possess the life skills, manners or social awareness to interact with others; that’s just the staff I’m talking about. Only joking I do get on well with most staff however, at the end of the day it boils down to a simple statement ‘I’m a prisoner and they are the system.’ We all play the game, put on the mask of roles which we act out on a daily basis. As long as a prisoner is treated as ‘non-person’ nothing will change. It was only when I watched the faces of the ensemble who are not entrenched in the daily political shenanigans of prison life did I feel a realisation of my own being. For the first time since I’d been inside I’d forgot about people watching me, I laughed, remembered how to laugh in the company of others without inhibition. It reminded me of what it was like to be me, the real me I found the whole experience touching and liberating. Need to be careful of that word liberty, after all I’ve lost mine and can’t be seen to be getting some of it back. These gatherings are all well and good but inside they are few and far between and as I’ve already said ‘they start late and finish early.’ I’ve discovered that education is my sanctuary inside prison – my safe space. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run and no-one to make excuses to. Just me pen and paper; me and the screen. Wish it could affect others the way it has me.