On the 02/09/10 a notice went up on the wing stating: “from this day forth this cupboard [containing wing hair clippers] will be locked and you must ask staff to obtain hair clippers. Disinfectant spray will be kept in the class office and clippers will be sprayed after use by a member of staff. Under no circumstance’s is disinfectant spray to be used by a prisoner. Any breach of this order will result in… [blah, blah blah]”.
As I was reading said notice a PO and SO arrived along with a couple of officers and an acting governor (aren’t they all just acting?) and we proceeded to get into a light hearted debate about ‘elf n safity’. As is normal with banter between official/authority and non citizen, sense of humour becomes not sense of humour and these matters always end up turning nasty when light-heartedness inevitably turns to some sort of veiled threat. Especially when the joke has a jag and through humour one starts making too much sense. I asked the governor if he seriously believed that a member of staff would spray the clippers after each use i.e. quite often during association and weekends. The Governor’s assurance’s led me to make a declaration of my own “The day and hour I see one of you lot use the disinfectant spray on those clippers will be the day I cut my hair.” At the time I shaved my hair once a week, a number zero. We had been complaining for months about not having our own clippers, quite often there was blood; as some of the guys didn’t do it properly or had some sort of infection usually associated with poor health and detoxification. I left the duty of care of HMP on the 19th June 2013 and this was a direct result of the enforcement of ‘elf n safity’ at HMP
I found myself wanting to get my hair cut as it was starting to get on my wick. I’d hoped to use this witty tale of how much notice is paid to notices within HMP during a lecture or deliverance of paper but time and circumstance and a comment from my beautiful cousin put paid to that notion. I hadn’t seen my cousin since 2006 and she made a quite a profound observation – “So this is a protest then Michael. Your protest is now over.” It was said with a smile and a look of understanding and realisation that I still had so much trouble letting go. Then it dawned on me, this was exactly my problem. I couldn’t let go. Nor did I want to. I never want to forget what the ‘Duty of Care’ of HMP did to me and others. It was then I realised that I had no choice I had to move on. I can’t forget as I’ve recorded the past six years in my book (not yet typed up) but I do need to move on. Maybe it’s just my problematic ego?
So seven months after my release I find myself in the company of four beautiful women in a hair and beauty training school in East Belfast and the end result was –
I’ve been reading and commenting about how difficult it is to take back responsibility of ‘self’ after the ‘duty of care’ of HMP and how frustrating it is to make simple choices in life after this has been denied one for so many years. The fact that cutting my hair was a lesson for one of the lovely women was neither here nor there. I found to my amazement even though I stated how I hoped my hair-cut would end up, it made no difference what so ever. I mean really; what choice did I have when surrounded by four beautiful professional hair cutting/make up artists women. I must admit thought, I did feel a certain ‘duty of care’ offered by these lovely creatures but it bares no comparison to the one dictated by society via HMP.
I’ve managed to let it go and I’ve managed to hold on to the events of the past six years through my writing but mentally it’s starting to fade. My hair was my last protest and marks an end to my affrontedness towards the men and women who looked after me for so long. I’m now feeling lighter and looking as ugly as ever. Sitting in front of one of those big studio mirrors with lights down the side exposes one in more ways than I can comment on here. I felt exposed, vulnerable and like butter in the hands of these women. My cousin got it. ‘It’ was a big deal and when I sat staring at myself I remembered the guy looking back at me way back in 2007. Oh, how far we have travelled, how well have we done my friend. I’m now light-headed with the ‘Brylcream Bounce’ of yesteryear. Now I’ll have to bounce myself down to the gym a bit more often.
Each time I let go I loose a bit of myself. It’s as if something breaks in me, mentally, and I feel lighter each and every time. As I’ve mentioned before HMP does do a number on one but for me; it is getting better. There is much to consider here about how state ‘duty of care’ is much more like abuse yet people are meant to leave ‘it’ fixed and mended returning to society as model citizens. I mean really. Come on get real folks. For me, seven months down the line – My Protest is over. Or is it?