In “Re-entry as a rite of passage” Punishment & Society, 2011, 13: 3 my dear friend Shadd Maruna states:
“Mary Douglas argues that, ‘There are some things we cannot experience without ritual.’ Ex-prisoner reintegration may be one of them. The punishment process involves an inordinate amount of ritual behaviour, from the drama of the courtroom to the elaborate de-individuation processes involved in institutionalization. Durkheim argues that these rituals serve a distinct purpose for society: engendering social solidarity and shaping penal sensibilities. Like the commission of a crime, the reintegration of the former outcast back into society represents a challenge to the moral order, a delicate transition fraught with danger and possibility. However, unlike punishment, reintegration is not a process characterized by well-orchestrated and familiar rituals. This lack might explain the failings of prisoner re-entry in contemporary society.”
Now, I don’t always agree with or pretend to understand some of the stuff my friend comes up with. I do however bow to his wealth of understanding and academic prowess. As I stood at the side of the stage, with my mother sitting directly behind me, I had one of those slow motion moments. On the stage where the dignitaries, Lord Alderdice receiving his Honorary Degree, The Vice Chancellor of the Open University (OU) Martin Bean, Mary Peters, Stephen Farry and many more including my Year 2 Tutor Dr Avril Roulton. Over to the left, in the audience I spotted the Justice Minister David Ford who was reading something on his lap. I took in the moment, the applause, the recognition… and there it was. Recognition. Not only in the fact that I had achieved a degree from within one of the most hostile environments on the planet but more of a realisation that I was now accepted as an OU Undergraduate; part of the OU family.
For the first time I felt as if I belonged. As I walked on to the stage I looked at Dr Farry, no recognition whatsoever, I glanced at Avril, she was beaming, switched my gaze to Mr Ford as my name was called out, he raised his eyebrows and glanced up and then down at his page again. Martin Bean beamed, bellowed and bantered me from the middle of the stage. This man ‘apparently’ was Bill gates number 3, whatever that means, but for me, he made the day, a complete superstar. As I walked down the aisle that held MR Ford, I stared at the top of his head as he was still in his piece of paper, wondering if he’d acknowledge me. Low and behold as I neared his seat he looked up, reached up, half got up, shook my hand, winked at me, smiled and said “Well done Michael you should be very proud.”
In his paper Shadd talks about rituals and states:
“Successful reintegration is a two-way process, requiring both effort on the part of the former prisoner (e.g. desistance, repentance), but also on the part of some wider community (e.g. forgiveness, acceptance). As such, reintegration appears to be an ideal candidate for the implementation of rituals that, by their nature, are supposed to generate feelings of solidarity and community among participants.”
For me, this ritual has been a bit one sided of late but yesterday allowed me to find it in myself to accept me as me and not allow any part them to get in the way of that.
It is then with great satisfaction that I can now release two pieces of work created here in Northern Ireland. One is a short play that was made by people who have been to prison and co written by someone who has also been int nick. The three week process was one of the most rewarding experiences I have gone through. It was therapeutic and we all felt the benefit of sharing our experiences and then to have them incorporated in the play is a pretty amazing feeling. A bit like young Natalie Atkins on BBC3 a few weeks back (Still buzzin Nat).
The second is a magazine created by prisoners and in this issue one of the guys wins Listowell Writers Week Ireland. I did this two years ago. So for the rocket scientists amid you that’s two serving prisoners from HMP Magilligan have won one of the World’s most prestigious and recognised writing competitions. These re-entry rites of passage, ritual and processes are for us and by us. Nobody will ever know how it is – but us. However, if you listen closely enough you will hear a common thread going through all of this.
I’ve shed another skin. Delved deeper into my own resolve and the fact that I’m now finished lectures for my Master’s allows me to focus on the next re-entry ritual in December.
This is the link to the play. Followed by link to Magazine.