Simply cannot believe that I just woke up. It’s now 10.30am. I think this may be a measure of how tired I’ve become. Don’t know yet.
As I sat in ‘The Great Hall’ last night listening to Kathy Reichs talk about combining creative writing with science it dawned on me that I had finally reached my academic destination. Looking at all of the grand portraits hanging on walls and busts on plinths I thought “Who are those people? What did they do?” It was then that my inner smile increased as I realised how relevant we are. In the bigger scheme of things we only really matter to those in and around us but if we make an effort we can touch the lives of others. I only truly recognised one of the portraits of the great Seamus Heaney. He touched my life, his words matter to me and inspire me so therefore the process of spreading knowledge continues.
Over the past year I’ve been bombarded by people telling me about writing academically, how important it is to talk in the third party and for the science how necessary it is to remain detached from the subject matter. Over the past three weeks however, it has become clear to me that there are other ways of speaking truth to power. As soon as I’m finished this blog I’m having a bacon and egg sandwich and then going dark for the next three weeks and a fully fledged academically dissertation will be produced. As soon as I’m done with that my book gets finished and sent to certain folk to see if I can get it published. I would also like to remind some of the academic writing doubters who have never read any of my academic work that I did achieve a 93% and 97% mark in two of my final year undergrad essays. As far as remaining detached from the subject matter I might have to examine that and set my sights in a slightly different academic direction that allows me to detach myself from the study of the lived experience by not trying to reinvent the wheel by sharing all of my life. I do now realise how dangerous and draining this is.
As I sat beside Toni Wood in my Liverpool Hotel room going over our presentation I thought to myself “Fuck me mate, you’ve done it! You’ve finally got to be critical and share about your life experiences to the great and the not so good.” I need to mention at the start of my book my goal was to get it out there. What is ‘it’? It was the balix that I was living in prison and the façade that is public protection. I’m now part of a European Critical Criminology mindset that has allowed me to quote Dr Andy Aresti’s favourite poem title of mine “Fuck em!”
So, with fuck em in mind I head to Oxford to deliver a talk about the insider voice in prison education and research. As I walk through Oxfords leafy parks, the morning mist trying to lift and the sun attempting to burn off the haze I’m absolutely bricking it. I can’t say fuck em. Can’t even think it. This is Oxford. It oozes education. I walked past wee nippers of primary school age and young undergrads in their fresher week. Everywhere I looked all I cloud see was education, the colleges, the churches, the schools of this and that. It was wrong of me to say fuck em. How does this get me to where I’m going?
My nerves didn’t quite get the better of me and I made it through my talk. Still reading from my script but at least that keeps me within time and I didn’t get told off by Judge John Samuels who was chairing the event. My last encounter of standing before a judge was not a favourable outcome. My fellow panellists where Dr Aresti, Dr Glynn and Helen Nichols and very powerful stuff. Jaysus! I thought how the hell do I follow that. Take a deep breathe and get on with it. That’s how. Stop dwelling. Stop doubting. Stop worrying. Stop giving yourself a hard time. So I said ‘fuck em!’ Not to the ensemble in Oxford, Liverpool, Academia or Criminal Justice but to the voices of in my head. The people who said I wouldn’t amount to anything, the officers who tried to fuck me up and the Governors who denied me at every juncture. You know what “Fuck You!” I have made it and I can write and I can deliver meaningful thought provoking talks that allow significant others too address their own perspectives.
Some of you may be unaware of the fact that there is always a wine reception after these events and this is normally followed by a wee trip to the nearest pub. During the wine receptions the serious business of the day is oiled with the vino collapso, tongues ‘n’ ties are loosened and the truth is outed and clocked. Friendships and heartfelt stories are shared ‘n’ aired and many of us speak where before we would never have dared. As, I made my way home much later, with much more cider supplied by Dr Jason Warr and Dr Kevin Warner, I sent a text to the man who taught me how to read and write both creatively and academically when I was in prison. A sense of complete gratefulness came over me. Too much cider probably but this man does does deserve the praise for all that I do. So, Mr John Brown of Norn Iron I say thank you and well done for getting me to where I’m at. He got me going he got me started, he helped me through the rough and the smooth and he should be very proud of the difference he makes to peoples lives. John texted me these words as I walked through the leafy roads of Oxford on a warm September night –
94 years ago, in Oxford, the poet W B Yeates from Ireland wrote: “Such Thought – such thought have I that hold it tight. Til meditation master all it’s parts, nothing can stay my glance until that glance run in the world’s despite to where the damned have howled away their hearts, And where the blessed dance, Such thought that in it bound I need no other thing wound in mind’s wandering as mummies in the mummy – cloth are wound.”
I’ll also leave you with Dr Aresti’s favourite poem. I will be back in a few weeks but needs must and I must get this bloomin dissertation done. Thank you European Group, Thank You, Prison Education Trust and thank you Oxford you’ve made me change my mind.
By Michael Irwin
Nobody will ever tell me they know what it feels like to be a prisoner
Unless they’ve been one,
It’s fuckin bonkers but not in the way the movies portray.
It’s all crap, all smoke and mirrors, all bullshit.
The more I educate myself the more I see through the bullshit.
The more I read, the more I’m asked my opinion
The more I want to say.
I’ll keep going but what of tomorrow.
Can’t believe how often I have to walk away from confrontation.
Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me.
Maybe I’m excited but frightened about my future.
Who knows, I sure as hell don’t.
Maybe that’s what’s got me.
Why am I so mad?
Maybe it’s because I constantly have to deal with bad people, fucked up individuals who have no sense, no rationality.
That’s not just the governors I’m talking about.
At a little do I had to help set the table
Maybe it’s because one of the women was about to hand out metal forks
Get them back into her back pronto, said I.
Maybe it’s because I had my first ever taste of Bannoffee pie.
Maybe it’s because all the goodies on the table reminded me of what it was like to be normal.
Maybe it was being around normal people again.
Maybe it’s because I’m so close to the end.
Maybe it’s because I’m frightened.
Met a young lad he’s waiting to do a university course.
He’s frightened to complain in case he gets his home leave cancelled.
The sort of rumour that officers fuel.
If you upset the apple cart the system will bite back.
Suppose they’re right, in a way but if you don’t complain what chance does the next guy have.
Say nothing keep the head down.
So it continues, nothing is done because everyone thinks it’s all right because nobodies complaining.
Hear it all the time.
You’re the only one who seems to have a problem Michael.
The only one with any balls to do something about it more like.
Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me.
Maybe it’s because there’s a guy who’s a whore, whose very voice makes my skin crawl.
I sussed him ages ago but didn’t have to see him too often, now I do.
Maybe it’s because I’ve watched a man’s hair fall out over the past year.
Maybe it’s because they took his childs photographs off him.
Maybe it’s because the system destroys people and nobody gives a shit.
Maybe it’s because the Welsh bird from ‘Gavin & Stacey’ said on ‘The One Show’ if somebody commits a crime then they should loose their human rights.
Maybe it’s because I make the Prime Minister feel sick.
Maybe they are right
Maybe I must feel as if I am nothing – a non person?
Fuck em, I aint ever going to feel that ever again.
I’ve been down, rock bottom and I’ve picked myself up and gotten where I am today by sheer bloody mindedness.
I’m off to bed