Walking through the hallowed grounds of Queens University feeling sorry for myself and I bump into a man involved with the Hillsborough Disaster. His parting words of wisdom are “After where you have just been and you have gone through there is no better negotiator of time than you Michael.” Perking up a bit I’m walking down Botanic towards the station chatting to a friend on the phone, who’s giving me some good news, two lovely young women walking towards me. Don’t pay them a mind until one veers in front of me as if to ask me a question, I look at her confused and am taken aback at what happens next. Her companion slaps her across the face pulls her to the side by the hair and starts screaming at her “How many times have I told you not to do that.” The busy street takes a pause and stares at me not at the two young women or at least that is what it felt like to me. My bubble is now well and truly burst and I have to tell the person on the phone I’ll phone them back.
I sit down on a wall, trembling signs of the ole panic attack rising from the pit of my stomach, unstoppable and uncontrollable. I’m there for about fifteen minutes sweating and screaming inside but unable to move and thankfully it passes. My breathing exercises get my centre back and my mind back to the reality of the present when I realise I’m sitting outside the Cafe where I spent my first hours of freedom with an ensemble of new friends and family. My head starts spinning again and I go over and get the train. It turns out I was on the correct train according to the platform information but this was incorrect and I ended up on the wrong train and flew past my stop getting home an hour after I was hoping to. Passed out as soon as I got to the sofa – sanctuary.
Later on, went into Belfast to see Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard & Dio fame. Vivian is going through Chemotherapy at the moment and is a testament to the ‘Life goes on’ theory. Met up with an old friend as he was unloading the van, his band were the support group. Got a big hug and ironically enough, it was just what the doctor ordered. Had a brief chat but he was buzzing with pre-gig excitement. Spent the night on my own sipping soda water and blackcurrant at £3.60 a pop – this really does grate with me as they serve soda in bottles and not on a tap – trying to forget about the negatives of the day. The thing is I probably knew people there but they are all old and greying, bald or and fat and I’m still stuck in my fit thirties and not fat at all. I stopped existing at forty, in the real world, so that’s where my ‘self’ is stuck.
It is common knowledge that if there are ten or twenty positive events of the day and one or two negatives. Then all you will remember are the negatives. Like punch after punch they or it keeps thumping you in the stomach. It was then I realised I’d forgotten to eat. So, maybe I was just suffering from wind! It was now ten fifteen and I’d seen and enjoyed enough and headed for the train and some food. Was only wearing a shirt and when I got off the train the heavens opened and I got drenched. But – and there is always a but – I loved it. The humid rain and the smell of wet leaves seemed to lift me; wash away the crap.
It was then that my thought process changed. Couldn’t get Friedrich Nietzsche out of my head “Behind every thought and feeling my dear brother stands a mighty commander, a sage, he is called ‘self’.” I’ve been tossing the values and stigma of labels all week and as per usual I get it but what I don’t get is why the hell people think you can simply forget and move on. I am moving on but I will never forget. The ‘self’ evolves because it remembers if it didn’t remember it couldn’t move on. Of course there is stigma and perception attached to labels that conjure all sorts of rottenness but when you have been referred to as number for x amount of years and were a non-person it may take more than a week or two to shake the label that actually took years to accept. The hard fact about that statement is that if one hadn’t accepted the label of number and non-person one would not be sitting here today talking about it. An old hand, right at the very start told me, “Paddy, you must accept what this is or you will go nuts.” I did go nuts, very nuts in fact but eventually I accepted what it was and that it would only be temporary. I’ve been writing VP4677 and C7874 multiple times every day for six years and that has been my label; my identity. I even put my prison details on the back of an envelope for a job application but thankfully caught my ‘self’ in the act. For the past few days I’ve been able to write BA (Hons) Crim & Psych (Open) and Postgraduate Student but that’s only been a few times and not yet ingrained.
Total agreement with other selves and structured reflection are difficult for me but I strongly believe that inter-personal dialogue (between selves) and reflection creates future knowledge by constantly revisiting narratives of where we once were and where we have been in our lived experiences; it is via this process that, consciously or unconsciously, we shape our ‘self’. By accumulating knowledge one is then in a position to recreate these structures by putting one’s ‘self’ in the very structures it was once part of; only, after the self has negotiated with this environment can this newly qualified ‘self’ approach these structures from a completely different perspective. The phenomenological transition from pupil to student, student to teacher, teacher to academic, non person to citizen to self comes to fruition by hard work, sacrifice and discipline. Although, when the self takes this lived experience and surpasses its original restrictions, the self becomes a more wisely, more learned, more patient self who’s main desire is to impart, create and assist others in discovering this ‘spark’, within themselves. Others feed and nurture the individual’s discovery of self until it eventually realises that it too has become the teacher, the passer on of learning, of discovery and of self. The self has become, or rather, is always becoming, itself.