“You never stood on Belfast streets and heard the bombs explode or hid beneath the blankets when there’s riots down the road…” The inimitable words of Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers reverberate in my head as I listen to a person tell me what they think I should feel about my country. Is this critically criminology? Is this Political Activism? Or is it something else?
“Reading My Arse” is a short story by Ricky Tomlinson – the story is about a young man’s search for the Rock Island line, both the railway line and the origins of the Lonnie Donniegan song. It is a positive paean of praise for the power of reading and its ability to transform people’s lives, to keep them from depression and even to help them in impressing their girlfriends. One of the images form that book that’s sharing my head space with Jackie is of the image of the container/cargo crates the young man saw in America and the moment he released it would be the death of his city.
These images are also shared with Freddie Mercury the anniversary of his death on Friday past. So, I have Jake, Ricky and Dave Scotts portrayal of Freddie bouncing around in my wee head as the mists of Magners and Liverpool leave me. What will never leave me are the words and images of the past few days. Like the young man searching for the Rock Island Line I too was searching for somewhere to lay my hat.
When I left Belfast as a young man I went to London, where i was simply ‘Paddy’ at the end of “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish”, I went to South Africa where I was a ‘Sout Piel’ – +
Anyway, my point is nobody can tell me what to feel about how I grew up or what my experience of life and prison has been. What ‘we’ can do is put the two together and produce more critical criminology. Critics of critical criminology can kiss my critically and allegedly big ass. Went to the BSC eleven days after being released from prison last year, again in July this year and met some fantastic people (including Steve Tombs) who have become dear friends and will remain academic colleagues. However, something has happened to me here at Liverpool. It’s hard to explain. To laugh and chat with Steve about matters other than work, to see Phil Scraton beam with delight when he saw me beam with delight and ask him “where do I sign up?”, to have people laugh with, congratulate and applaud my words, to share a room and panel with Thomas Mathieson and to have Joe Sim laugh and compare my football affiliation to that of Hitler and Mussolini.
In the very serious business of critical criminology I found much more laughter. There is an undercurrent of friendliness in the cold dark recesses of argument. My European Group Virginty has been broken and I must admit sharing this with the some of the Scandinavian girls received a right belly laugh from the ensemble outside Kavanaghs. Laughter changes our face, laughter fills out soul, laughter builds and creates friendship, love and unconditional bonds.
For the first time in my academic life I feel as if I do belong. I want to thank Emma, Vicky, Annette and the lovely Kim, for making me feel most welcome. I want to thank the European Group for helping me find a place but my heart and my everlasting thanks go to Shadd Maruna for getting me to Queens, Phil Scraton for getting me to The European Group and to the my dear, sweet, lovely friend Toni Wood who has literally held my hand through all my anxieties at these events. Toni met me off the train at Wolverhampton when I was in full blown panic attack. Just over a year later we shared a stage at Liverpool.
When I sat on the panel of British Convict Criminology and watched a frail Thomas listen intently to my words I thought – Hopefully I can do what he is doing when in another thirty year. Telling people like me what I don’t yet know. I do belong and i will stay and the last voice in my head goes to David Scott and the magical and sadly missed Freddie Mercury “We are the champions my friends…”