“Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true” gently pours from the speakers just above my head. Mind you these lyrics quite often pop into my head as I marvel at some of the situations I find myself in. Eight months ago at this exact moment I was standing in front of one of the most supercilious pricks I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting. I had to keep my gob shut as he had the power to keep me inside for a few hours longer. I’ll not dwell on that time as it triggers a thousand emotions. However I can’t help but compare and contrast as I suppose that’s what we do in life. Remember where we’ve been where we are now and what we will hopefully be doing in the future. This day six years and eight months ago I was lying on the floor of a cell in Hayward’s Heath Magistrates court sick as a dog. This week has been no different. Sick as a dog since last Saturday and it is only now that I’m starting to get my strength back.
My Dad reckons these storms stir up all sorts of viruses and germs and transport them to us via the wind and and the rain. Don’t know if this is true or not but it is coincidental that the bad weather has many people on their backs with all sorts of lurgy. Luckily enough a couple of my Profs are sick too, therefore no lectures this week. I wish them a speedy recovery but not until next week eh. “Leaves are falling all around it’s time I was on my way… now it’s time for me go…” Ramble On stirs me beyond belief. I remember blasting this out when one of my colleagues from Magilligan was leaving. I still feel his hug, still feel his breathe on my ear as he whispered “God, I don’t want to go Mickey.” He’s dead now. Although my own feeling of euphoria takes over and instead I jump forward to my own release and listening to this on my headphones on the way in to Belfast on the train and sending it via Twitter to another ex colleague who served time in England. My dear friend Raymond Lunn.
When I met Raymond I was still inside and our eyes met across a smoky room. Joke, we met at a desistance conference at Queens. At the same event I met Pete White another colleague from Scotland. We all went for coffee in a non-licensed premises after the event as I was still under the cosh of HMP. Both these men warned me and advised me about the rigours of academia and the pitfalls. Poor Raymond looked as if he’d had enough but Pete was bubbling. I listened to these men intently and I took on-board their lived experiences or in academic terms “phenomenology.” Both Pete and Raymond are in separate jurisdictions but have achieved some remarkable success within their chosen endeavours. This has only been achieved via hurt and sheer bloody mindedness and a dogged pursuit of self belief. I’ve spoken with a few other colleagues from HMP and it has become abundantly clear that one needs to be “Superhuman” to survive and succeed in our chosen field. Especially after where we’ve been. I’m not saying I’m superhuman or even just super but what I will say is that on Friday last I submitted my PhD proposal to Queens University, I am half way through my second semester of a Master’s in Criminology and on this date in two months time I attend my graduation ceremony at the Waterfront Hall for my BA. This time, three years from now I could be a Dr and I intend to work with and alongside good people like Raymond and Peter in order to bring some measure of sensibility to this criminal justice system of ours and by doing so allow for a better process of public protection.
There are little things in life that keep me going and stir me in ways that are very difficult to explain. Sometimes they arise out of and in the most unlikely of circumstances. I’d just submitted my PhD proposal and had just finished laying down the template for a paper myself and dear friend Toni Wood hope to present at the British Society of Criminology Conference this year. We’d just got drownded heading over to the students union for lunch and passed polite casual conversation with an elderly well spoken academic looking type gentlemen at the table next to us as we sat down. During our nibbles we discussed our paper and were regularly interrupted by the gentleman beside us. When I told him we were students he looked quite surprised Toni, finishing a PhD and lecturer and me just embarking on one. He asked what our subject was and when I told him he said “Oh, so you’re all about criminals then?” I didn’t bite or ask him any questions but he inculcated his opinion and field onto us as we tried to eat our lunch. Psychology was his endeavour. He proceeded to mention the superiority of psychology over criminology and suggested that to be a criminologist one needed to have a bit of a word/phenomenon he loved to use as most people didn’t know what it was namely “schadenfruede.” You should have seen his face when I defined schadenfruede. I certainly did take pleasure in his pain and with that he was off. There was another event described to me by a senior academic who overheard conference delegates who had just listened to a paper presented by colleagues of mine who are now Doctors where the inference was made “sure who will listen to them they are after all only criminals.”
These are only two events worth mentioning here, there are many more, but they have left me with a feeling of self shadenfreude or loosely translated sado masochism but in the psychological sense not the leather clad clichéd image we all readily jump to. I recall the words of the governor who signed me out as a free man eight months and one hour ago “I take it now that your leaving we can all get our heads showered.” I think, just maybe, he too must be a Led Zeppelin fan for he’s certainly dazed and confused as are many more who think I will wilt and die. Don’t get me wrong I do feel like giving up and fading into the background, getting a menial job befitting my previous label and what the system really wants of me. However, there is one thing that sticks with me and that is the idea of being superhuman. Erwin James of Guardian notoriety once told a prison gym full of officials, previous colleagues and me “no person will ever understand the strength it takes to survive a day in prison unless they have done it themselves.” I survived six years and feel as if I’ve already developed a type of superhuman strength. Therefore, prison has taught me well and prepared me for the lonely walk of PhD. Many PhD students say it’s a bit like a prison sentence, your locked in a room for three years and told not to come out until you’ve discovered something about your ‘self’ and via your research. I can assure you it’s not and hopefully in a few years time i’ll be on the Stairway To Heaven of a Doctorate bruised, confused and definitely dazed.