I’ve been asked to write a piece for a prison magazine about my experiences thus far of being free. There is no way I can think of to keep it short but I will make an attempt at a brief overview of the past four months.
“It’s been emotional.” There we go, I’ll leave it at that…
On a more serious note it has been a rollercoaster of emotions and thankfully I’m starting to find my way and slip into some semblance of normality. I then have to ask the question when I sometimes think of it?”what is normal about my life or life?” There is a lot of new discourse floating around concerning the “returning citizen.” I first heard this a couple of weeks back at a meeting up on “The Hill” with the powers that be. I thought to myself this is a bold phrase and a very clever move at attempting to normalise an abnormal set of circumstances. The more I study and read (obviously!) the more I learn and what I gather from this little phrase is that there is a deep rooted and political shift in how politics and authority are addressing the issue of “non citizen/prisoner/offender/person who has been in prison…” Are we really returning citizens? Where did we go? And if we did disappear is this then not an exclusion of a certain percentage of the populace?
I’m not going to get embroiled in the shenanigans and human rights arguments that have been parried and sparred over in public and in more private corridors of power. Many people believe that if one commits a crime that one looses all rights as a human being. I’ve looked long and hard but for the life of me I cannot find this written anywhere. I have also heard that when you go to jail you should be punished. Well, one is punished and often but this falls under the guise of militaryesque regimens disguised as institutional practices in order to maintain good order and discipline. The pettiness of this is actually very hard to describe. It all seems so meaningless when one is now on the outside looking in but in there it is a matter of life or death and this is not overdramatising or sensationalising. I wanted death way too often. I “Listened” to men who wanted death way too often. So rest assured general public/fellow citizens we are punished.
With that in mind I need to ask another question as i am now a returned citizen namely “Is this what I want for the community I live in?” The answer is simple “No” but the rationale is a bit more complex. Again I won’t get bogged down with the pointless tooing and frowing of political mamby pamby pish. My observation is simple. Do we (Citizens) want men and women to leave prison fixed? Cured of the social ill that got them there in the first place. If the answer is “yes” and indeed the purpose of prison is to achieve just that then how can this be achieved if one is being punished on a daily basis. Punishment does not demand respect. Punishment allows knowledge. If you stick your hand in the fire you won’t normally do it again and this is the rationale behind prison. Fingers burnt, once bitten and all that. I left prison with a burning anger that I’ve never experienced in sobriety. Some might say i was never sober enough to experience this but that’s a different story for a different day. My point and final question is this “Do you want to sit in a restaurant, cinema, concert, pub, cafe, bus, train… and feel safe in the knowledge that if the person sitting next to you had ever been to prison that they left it fixed – a returning citizen. It took me over an hour to walk the twenty minute walk through Belfast from Royal Avenue to Queens University. I met and spoke with seven men, some on home leave and some returned citizens like me. They are not “ALL” fixed. I have to wonder “Why is that?”