Hate is a terrible thing that eats and festers until something snaps. Normally brought on by alcohol or drug taking. Consequence jail. Some of you may be already aware of the short piece that follows but I cannot emphasis enough how this desistance is a daily battle and war of wills. Not resorting to previous type and filling my own psyche and consciousness with hate and fury is something i never want to visit again. I left HMP mad. Madder than I’ve ever been. I had a deep burning anger that was born from the bullyboy tactics of the institution. I fought them my whole sentence. Why? Because I’ve always been bullied. Bullying is like any form of abuse be it sexual or domestic until you step outside of it you don’t know you are actually in it. The day that you realise you are not frightened of the person or persons who controlled you is the day that you take your life back.
I am now a well read in the art of law, psychology, criminology, social policy, human rights and conflict resolution to name but a few. The trouble with bullies is that they don’t actually realise they are in a conflict and that their own cowardice is seen by others. “The law is there to protect you” at least that’s what i was told when i was growing up. My problem is, in certain areas I have to agree. I’ve spent years wondering about certain events that my occur in the future. The joy of prison is that one has so much time to work things out. Many years ago on a weekend visit I was on the lash with an old friend. In a drunken stupor he pronounced that he wasn’t frightened of me anymore. It hurt me at the time but I was too pissed to recognise it. What I do recognise now is that I had become the bully, the person who had been doing it to me made me just like them. Fears of old have been rekindled. It’s amazing how easy it is to fear. I shouldn’t have to fear but I do. But then I don’t. I get mad and my internal dialog manages to work things out. How it does this I have no idea but moments of clarity come to me way too often. I realise now that my fear was and is born of environment and the people in it. My saving grace is that I have been surviving in hostile environments most of my adult life and the last six years were the proverbial cherry on the cake. This has allowed me to realise that the law is on my side. If I never did anything bad in prison other than to challenge institutional policies and practices and win a few to boot. Then what harm can anyone do to me out here. My old friends hug and embrace me and let me in little by little. Some people, but they are in the minority, ignore me and pass me by. This is fine too because I realise now through my many explorations of self discovery is that other peoples problems are just that ‘other peoples problems.’ I have a great solicitor and barrister who, like me, believe in social justice and the right of the citizen to live a life without fear or prejudice. So the law will protect me no matter what. And if I ever disappear off the planet or am found in a back entry. I feel for the feckers who’ve done it. I fear no man or woman. Well that’s not quite true, certain women scare the beejeesus out of me because they make me pay attention… That will have to wait for another blog. MY point to all this is that I see bullying every single day at many different levels of society and walks of life. The trouble with hate and anger is that it is about something that has already happened (or not) and there is nothing anyone can do about the past as the minute it happens it becomes history. Why hate. The only person who suffers from hate is the one with the anger. That is why the innocent sleep well and easy and do not walk around with a knot in their stomachs. I’m so glad I lost my knots. I went for an endoscopy about two weeks before I left prison and I have no ulcers. Isn’t that amazing. After all that pent up anger and hatred I am ulcer-less. Mustn’t ave been that mad after all. I go to my bed tonight and I repeat the serenity prayer and sleep soundly without ulcers and look forward to taking another day at a time.
I used to have a wee print out stuck on my cell noticeboard that read “Do not be a football for other people’s opinions.”
By Michael Irwin HMP Rye Hill
‘Hello,’ I’m Michael, I’m forty one years of age and I’m from Belfast in Northern Ireland. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling and exploring in different parts of the world in the past thirty years. So, I can safely say ‘I’ve been around a bit.’ I’ve ended up in jail through nobody’s fault but my own. I made a terrible error in judgment and I’ve ended up paying the price for it, namely twelve years for drug trafficking. In a way I’m glad I got stopped in my tracks! I would probably be dead by now. I was taking three to four grams of cocaine per day accompanied by roughly half a bottle of brandy and ten to fifteen beers. I was getting into some very serious situations and it was only a matter of time before I ended up in serious trouble or a wooden box. So, when I ended up in prison it took me a month or two to get my sensible head back on. I was determined to give something back, to contribute something and to help myself by helping others.
I went back to school! I became a mentor at my first jail where I listened to other men’s stories and I witnessed some truly heartbreaking and mostly violent sights. I grew up with violence, murder and bombings; I grew up with being told to hate, murder or harm someone because they where a different religion. I listened to men of the cloth incite violence towards their fellow man, all in the name of religion! I started to speak with men and young lads from many different cultures, religions and faiths. I found a common theme in most of our conversations. It was intimidation, victimisation and bullying. Well, let me tell you, I was over the moon to hear this! I was definitely on home territory. After all, I grew up with all that crap. If anyone understood it and why people did it – it was me. I built up my confidence and I started to receive a bit of support from certain individuals within the system. Before I asked a question or sought permission about certain issues I always explained to those concerned what my intentions where.
I could see people’s eyes widen as they grasped what I was trying to achieve. With widened eyes they would let out a deep breath as ‘the penny dropped!’ I used to grin from ear to ear when I looked at a person’s face as they finally got it.
What I wanted to do was ‘TALK.’ To share my experiences with others, talk to fellow inmates both young and old about a situation or circumstance that may have been similar to any experience you had when you where growing up. By doing this, myself and others could explain why certain rules were in place within the system, that we are all in the same boat and that when you impressed upon a person that these rules did not make for a personal attack. Then nine times out of ten they would accept it. They may not agree with it, but they would accept it.
I moved from jail to jail slowly gaining the trust of others and watching people benefit from these actions.
Then the bullying started. I have found out to my cost that some people do not like change! Some people do not have the education, the understanding or the will to even listen. I was left alone, devastated and very vulnerable. I developed a fear, a fear of me, a fear of the anger that was building up inside me, a deep festering fear of what, I could and would end up doing.
I was frightened to talk to anyone in case I snapped. Inside I was a gibbering wreck who had been pushed to breaking point. I cried myself to sleep and stayed awake for days. My family was frightened, as they knew I was in a very dark place. I spoke to the chaplain – a kindly man – and he suggested that I came to his service. ‘I don’t believe in all that crap,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said ‘at least we can have a chat for five minutes after the service. ‘Aye, aye,’ I thought. Here we go, more bullying. He’ll try to brainwash me with God first, before I get my five minutes. So, off I went and for some reason or other there was a break in the service and I got chatting to a young man I had spoken to on few occasions before. He told me that he had heard about my problem and that the same thin had happened to him. Then someone else – who had overheard us – said, ‘same thing happened to me mate!’ The next thing I knew there where four or five of us sitting laughing, with wide eyes and shaking our heads in disbelief. We all had a chat afterwards and several others joined in. We all headed back to our separate wings, laughing and joking. Personally I felt about ten feet tall.
The next day I was placed in a very bad situation. I had to walk past the two bullies, only from behind. Everything was in slow motion; the venom oozing from every pore in my body was overwhelming. I could have changed the course of our lives in a matter of minutes. When I reached my cell I was shaking with adrenalin and was actually physically sick. After that, I stopped going out, I stopped talking to anyone and even stopped going to the library. The fear was back. Not the fear of the person or the people doing the bullying but the fear of what I might end up doing. I couldn’t sleep that night. I started to say the serenity prayer over and over in my head until I fell into a restless sleep.
God grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
When I awoke the next day I wrote letters to a few people explaining how bad I felt and how determined I was not to become a victim. I explained how I knew that all this pain, all this anger and all this hate would eventually go away. That’s when my penny dropped. I actually listened to my own advice. I knew that I could not give in to my fears. I knew that if I confronted my fear it would go away. I tried to talk to the bullies but they just ignored me. What a result! They actually ignored me. I started to laugh again. I then began to get replies to my letters; one person actually came to visit me. When we talked it was as if a great weight had been lifted.
I went to the church the following week and managed to speak to a few of the lads. Within minutes we were all laughing, joking, nodding and shaking our heads in disbelief, again. This was when I truly stopped being angry. I didn’t feel sorry for the bullies. I didn’t try to understand them. They simply didn’t matter anymore because I realised that they would only be in my life for a short period of time. They would always have their problem. Mine was gone and thanks to their bullying of myself and others, they will eventually be found out. I actually, eventually found safety through their bullying. I had a few more run ins with the main culprits but after a whole they just gave up. Further down the line things have changed for the better. Some of the lads have moved to different jails but we still keep in touch. It was a very dark chapter and I was in a very bad place both mentally and physically, but it’s over now.
There’s a song called ‘It’s Amazing’ by ‘Aeorosmith’.
I kept the right ones out and let the wrong ones in,
Had an angel of mercy to see me through all my sins,
There were times in my life, when I was going insane,
Trying to walkthrough, the pain.
When I lost my grip and I hit the floor,
Yeagh, I thought I could leave, but I couldn’t get out the door.
I was so sick and tired, of living a lie,
I was wishing that I, would die.
It’s amazing, within the blink of an eye you finally see the light,
It’s amazing, when the moment arrives you know that you’ll be alright,
It’s amazing, and I’m saying a prayer for the desperate hearts tonight.
That one last shot of irreverent indignation,
and how high can you fly with broken wings,
Life’s a journey, not a destination
And you just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings.
You have to learn to crawl, before you learn to walk,
And I just couldn’t listen to all that righteous talk,
I was out on the street, just tryin to survive,
Just scratchin to stay, alive.
It’s amazing, with a blink of an eye,
you finally see the light
It’s amazing, when the moment arrives,
that you know you’re gonna be all right.
Oh, it’s amazing,
And I’m saying a prayer for the desperate hearts tonight.
I sing it all the time. To me it sums up what has happened in my life and it makes me smile. I will always thank the bullies when I hear this song although I will also laugh, shake my head and grin thinking of all the desperate hearts that may be going through the same thing I went through.
Oh yeagh, did I mention the bullies where wearing uniforms?