Sitting here listening to my central heating crackling away and looking at the dew on spiders webs glisten like a bejewelled blanket in the crisp morning sun. Still and quiet and indeed that is how I feel, there’s a warmth in me that ain’t coming from the central heating. Seventeen months after leaving HMP Holiday Camp I find myself wondering… I mean really what the hell? How on earth does time on this earth throw up such weird, wonderful yet contrasting scenarios. When I left da nick I’d just completed my final exam for a degree and was filled with such a sense of relief, getting out was also part of that relief. I think relief is an underestimated emotion and should be considered more often.
As I trundle towards Dublin on Monday afternoon I don’t know whether I’m more excited about seeing Slash and Myles Kennedy live, spending the evening with a very special girl from Dublin or knowing that on the day of my return the results for my Masters are due. I meet up with an Irish academic and we discuss the possibility of me doing a PhD. He’s on the coffee but I start off with a nice pint bottle of Bulmers with Ice; sipping it slowly as I know it’s going to be a long night. The academic leaves me with some food for thought and about half an hour later the wee girl from Lisburn appears at my shoulder with that everlasting smile that never ceases to light up my world (and many others). We hug and I think how tiny she now is, or maybe it’s just how bloody massive I’ve got. We had plans to go for dinner, to do this and to do that before the gig. Before you know it all plans have been cancelled and we just sit nattering and laughing. Total ease shootin the breeze. As it so happens the breeze and the rain have arrived in Dublin and we are nearly knocked off our feet when we get outside. Don’t know if it’s the Bulmers or the company, I just feel right, in this time and this place – that moment.
I’ve miraculously bought some great seats and one of my private dreams comes true. As I sit with stirrings in my nether regions; a live rock concert always gets me in and around that spot. Slash and Myles Kennedy were my friends for the last three years of my sentence. Once I put the headphones on I took myself out of my surroundings and lived in the notes and the harmonies. Now I could listen and watch with my eyes wide open. My rock chick partner and I didn’t have to scream and shout at each other as the volume was just right and we continued to sup wine and cider and natter away. Nearly fell off the chair when rock chick form Lisburn mentioned how the music got her in ‘that’ stomach area. God I’m so tactful sometimes. Dublin rocked, Slash and Myles rocked, rock music live is a gift that should never be squandered and the rock chick from Lisburn… Well let’s just say I couldn’t have been in better company. The rest of the world seemed to disappear for those few hours for both of us. We were kids again. Two teenagers, headbangin, laughing and loving being in the company of rock and each other. Totally natural. After nearly thirty years apart we were right back to doing what we did as kids. Well, not everything but you get my drift. We part in the taxi with a hug and smile and that’s all folks. No sadness, no what ifs no awkward just “Thanks for a great night and being in my life again.”
There’s no loo in the room so I have to make several trips to the toilet during the night and wake up feeling a bit rough and with a terrible itch on my elbow. I jump in the shower, not in the room either and it’s mingin. I mean really mingin. As per all minor irritants in life I shrug it off and head to the station. Large coffee and few paracetemol set the head straight. I look at me left hand and arm. I’m covered in flea bites. Head into the bathroom, take my top off for a quick gander. My whole left side has been feasted upon. “I’ll be writing a wee email to travel company” me thinks. Upon arriving home I get the fire lit and check the University website – no joy. Nothing there yet. Head to bed for a we lie down and wake up around teatime.
Lying on the sofa watching the Deadliest Catch and I get a message from one of my classmates. “Well? Are we going to graduation together?” she asks. I’m up like a shot and check out the website. All I see is the word “Pass” after “Dissertation”. This completes the empty box and completes the list of ‘Passes’. Holy crap I now have an MA in Criminology. I text my classmate straight back with the good news. Then it hits me. The relief. There is no melancholy, no anti climax, no jubilation or somersaults. What accompanies the relief is a bit like what happened after the concert. It left me wanting more. After, nearly all the gigs I’ve been to I’ve gone “OK, great show, loved it, seen it got the T-Shirt, Next…” The ‘pass’ in academia, like Slash and Myles has left me joyful and happy but know there is much more. If it was all to stop now I’d be content. I am content but there’s a part of me going gimme, gimme, gimmee, more, more, more, or as Freddie Mercury would say “I want it all and I want it now.”
Wednesday, arrives and I go to the Doctor only to find I’ve a trapped nerve in my neck and am sent packing to the Hospital for X-Rays. Meet my mate for coffee and he’s covered in bandages as he’s thought it a good idea to try and cook his hand along with fondaunt potatoes. I then rush into Belfast to meet the ex Director General of the NIPS and my colleague as we are still trying to get our “Citizens Discussion Event” off the ground. The place we see is perfect but here will be building works on the date we want; so it’s back to the drawing board. An hour later and we’ve got the green light from another place and the final preparations are made.
What I didn’t know is that this was the dream of a good friend of mine and we have made it happen. So, on the 27th of November in Belfast “A critical discussion about Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system” will take place. We believe that people who have been to prison have an important role to play in shaping the future development of Northern Ireland’s prison policies. This event is being held so that people who have been through the criminal justice system can share their experiences. Discussions will be facilitated by professional facilitators who have been to prison themselves. The ideas shared and discussed will then be used to lobby policy-makers for progressive prison reform. I then head off in the howling wind and rain to meet my wee Mum in Bangor. We have a great catch up and even though all things are not rosy in life, Mum and I remain joined in a way that can never be broken. Don’t quite know what that is but it can’t be broken. on the way back I’m lured to a Beer and Cider festival and have a couple of halves of real keg cider with a few guys from Queens. The cloudy stuff that makes your cheeks go numb.
Friday morning, on the advice of my brother, I hit the chiropractor in Dunmurry. Five minutes later and after much cursing, swearing and blatant abuse directed at chiropractor. I leave the surgery with the sound of several rifle like cracks resonating in my ear as certain parts of my back and neck where pulled and cracked. Spend the rest of the day sorting out the small print for the event and looking forward to meeting a DOJ official in the pub later that day to discuss the possibility of them actually being on board for the second day as it was indeed ‘they’ who suggested the bloody thing in the first place. The buses in Belfast had a wee bit of a problem on Friday afternoon and to cut a very long story short I arrived at bus stop in Royal Avenue at 2.00pm the idea being that I nip home, drop off my groceries and then head back into town to meet DOJ official. Two and half hours later I arrive in pub, just on time. I never left the City Centre. I had good retort via Twitter with @metrolink and the person replying had a sense of humour and got that I wasn’t ranting just having a moan.
So, the DOJ arrives in pub and we have a few drinks together. Best way to do business sometimes as at the end of the day we are all just people, flesh and blood. He did tell me something that made roar with laughter. Allegedly, he was in a meeting and had to announce to the ensemble that he had to leave as he had an appointment at 4.30pm in the pub. He was asked “who with” by a few of the gathering. Apparently some of them nearly had a heart attack and exclaimed “What!” For me that one word ‘what’ and the manner in which it was exclaimed belays shock horror and disgust. The loudest “what” allegedly came from a person I’ve never met. Yet they can be outraged at the fact that this official is even speaking to me. This, folks is why I smile, why I keep going and why I will never go away. These people, in charge of prisons, do not wish to follow their mission statement, the law or the ethos of public protection via rehabilitation. They simply want to be seen to be doing so and they merry dance continues. Costing ‘us’ the tax payer, millions in the process. I thrashed out my feelings, ideas and my rational with the DOJ person and they too got it. They too feel the same way on certain aspects. But, there are people who want nothing more than to maintain the disorder of our criminal justice system. It’s simple. If “we” start making sense and reducing crime and reduce the amount of people being sent to jail then a lot of people will be out of work. Anyway, as another two officials arrive I’m starting to feel a bit outnumbered and thankfully ‘my’ colleague Paul turns up. We have a good old laugh and swap war stories and end up sharing a taxi into town with two of the officials. Paul and I head off to meet another one of ‘us’ and they head off to meet a few more of ‘they’. Enough talking for one night… or so I thought.
We, the three amigos are sitting in Robinsons having a laugh and I think it’s best, to inform via email, the person who’s dream it was to hold this event i’ve been working on. Sometimes, dreams are just dreams and we will just have to wait and see if they come true or not. At the very least myself and my co-organiser have made the seemingly impossible possible and the event is going to go ahead. The word is out and at least thirty to fifty guys and girls with electoral cards will be sitting in a room with people from across the globe discussing, in the main, their experiences of criminal justice. Around about midnight myself and Paul make our way to the taxi rank. He hits, me slap on the shoulder and says “what a great night. And for you, What a great week.”
Things really don’t get much better than this. However, if there is one thing I have learnt from my Art of Living Knowledge it is that “Expectations reduce joy.” This is so true. I expected nothing of each and every day. Last week was made up of days I didn’t expect to amount to much but here I am at the end of it full of relief and joy. Have a great week folks. I know I will.