There’s something we take for granted in life and way too often we tend to forget about it. What is this thing? What is the first thing we do when we are born? We breath in. What is the last thing we do when we die? Breathe out. Yet in between on our life’s rollercoaster we tend to forget to breathe. The breath – without it we are nothing.
I’m in the most fortunate position to have experienced the advanced level 2 Art of Living course. It’s impossible for me to explain how this works and how it cleanses the system and the mind. The word phenomenology has always been high on my agenda and the proof of this particular pudding is most definitely in the eating.
In 2008 I was residing in HMP Highdown in London and accidently stumbled upon a room full of big tough looking hairy assed eejits sitting on Yoga mats and one demure Spanish lady who wore an orange shawl. My curiosity got the better of me and the wee woman led me by the hand passed two officers who were not too amused that I would not be moping the floor that morning. The S.O. gave the nod so all was well. There is no point in me going on about this but what I will say is that I do not believe in the criminological or criminal justice word of Rehabilitation. As Red says in the Shawshank Redemption “It’s just a word politicians use.” I hear it time after time and all I can say is. Wise up and get real. How much longer must we listen to this garbage. There’s a notion that society is just and that the rules and regulations, human rights etc. are for all. Let’s get real here. They most certainly are not.
What I have discovered via my own phenomenological experience is that the answer to rehabilitation lies within and that prison is just a venue. One can dress it up in whatever way one likes but for me the buck stops here, with the clown looking back at me in the mirror. In 2008 I recall looking in the mirror and promising myself I would never lie to myself again, in turn allowing me not to lie to others. Again, the proof of that pud was in the eating also. I wrote this poem a few days after completing the level one ‘Prison SMART’ course (http://www.prisonsmart.eu). Prison SMART is run under IAHV (International Association for Human Values, www.iahv.org.uk) in the UK.
By Michael Irwin
HMP Highdown 2008
The sun sets behind the naked trees of winter
and a soft, hypnotic glow fills my room.
The air, cold but not quite freezing
Fills me with a quiet pleasure,
the pleasure of being alive.
I count six magpies sitting on the
Dark grey mass of the prison wall.
Like me, they are surrounded by
Barbed wire and fencing,
Yet they are free.
I think, ‘how often in your life
Do you see six magpies at the same time?’
The rhyme says ‘six for gold seven for a secret
Never to be told.’
I feel as if I have to let you into a little secret.
I have travelled half way round the world,
partying and having a ball. When I came
to prison, I wanted to die. I should have
already been dead; I was living a lie.
It is only now when I breathe in the air
I realise I was never really there.
A lady taught me how to breathe
Through Sudarshan Kriya .
I had been searching for something
To set me free most of my adult life.
Who would believe that one could
be set free in prison?
I have lost my guilt, my shame,
My pain and my angst.
My metal door has just been locked
With a resounding metallic thud and
The shouts and roars of men in prison
Fade slowly into the background.
It’s now deadly silent and I sit and smile
As the sun sets with its bright golden glow,
A glow I can feel in my heart.
I can rest my head and dream at last
Because I know this day has nearly passed.
I know it’s this glow that keeps me warm
And I know it’ll be there tomorrow.
The number one Governing Governor was shown this poem and he asked if he could show it to some MOJ officials. This was the same Governor who initiated ‘The Clink’ around the same time and who told me that his head was literally on the chopping block if things didn’t work out. This kind of thinking is the out of the box forward thinking required and by a man who was prepared to put someone else’s opinions first and take a chance on something that was way too controversial at the time. Look where it is now and how many lives have been changed by this?
For me, I still had five years of my sentence to get on with and this course gave me the tools to do so. It also opened up my mind to the possibility that my Life was not over at forty (hence my book title ‘Life Begins at Forty’) and that I hadn’t seen it all. I made it in the education department as I’m now a BA and sitting a Masters in a couple of weeks. I survived myself and prison by the skin of my teeth and as I’m being honest I have to say “I couldn’t have done another minute.” I was unable or willing to practice my breathing exercise once I returned to Northern Ireland and forgot how to do them after a period of time. Anger took over and fuelled me and in fact it was anger that kept me going. I vowed that as soon as I was free I would hook up with the Art of Living again. I did just that one week after getting out, repeated the level one course, did my exercises every morning and have now just spent four days up the Mourne Mountains and got myself well and truly back on track.
The answers are there folks, they are right under our noses – literally. It’s all about breathing and seeing the self for what it really is. We continually try to fix criminals and crime but all we really need to do is realise that all things in life are perpetually changing and that it is living and dealing with the moment is where reality is. I’ve always said that prison is reactionary. That being the case then why don’t they react to this simple Art of Living after all it does work but then I must end with a the question “Do they really want it to change?”