I met Stephen in the summer of 2009. He was leaning against his door puffing on a fag and trying to look hard. He didn’t make the ‘hard’ cut in my book. I was the servery guy and I got chatting to him over the following days and he seemed well spoken and half intelligent. Eventually, he joined me and my German opponent round the scrabble table. Myself and the German guy were both in for drug trafficking and Stephen volunteered that he was in on a cannabis related assault or something. To be honest I can’t actually remember as I’ve never asked or wanted to know what a person was in for. And this is my quandary. Perhaps I should have paid more attention.
At the time Halward House in HMP Magilligan was the brand spanking new Restorative Based Drug free wing made up of fifty – fifty protestant and catholic. There were no sex offenders as those of that conviction had their own wing called Sperrin. Apparently a dormitory style set of portacabins due for demolition. That was 2009, they’re still there and in use just like the condemned, not fit for purpose, without in cell sanitation H-Blocks.
Over the next year or two myself and Stephen became pretty close and we shared a lot over scrabble, especially when trying to beat the German who kept destroying us at scrabble. My German friend departed and as is the case with any lengthy time in prison you start to have very small cohort of people you let in to your life. I gladly let Stephen into mine.
Stephen left not long after the German fella and I found myself totally engrossed in my own world of studying ‘Criminology and Psychology’. As a prisoner studying the very life I was leading I found some of the theories hard to accept and would argue that they are simply impossible to maintain in real ‘prison’ life. The issue surrounding sex offenders never really bothered me as I never knew what their actual crimes where. Apart from a few who got lambasted, verbally abused and spat on at every possible juncture by my colleagues and prison officers. If somebody was a ‘wrong un’ I’d know about it via the jungle drums or the staff that I’d now known for years.
Time had moved on, can’t remember how long had passed yet to my surprise and anger Stephen appeared in the education centre. He looked at me rather sheepishly and let rip with a stream of verbal and was very close to knocking him out. I was raging. We went into a study room with a cup of coffee and as I calmed down he told me what had happened. Apparently his missus had tried to stab him and when the police came he tried to protect her and ended up falling out with the cops and got nicked for assaulting a police officer.
Again, I didn’t really want to know as the story was quite hard to follow and the result was still the same. He was back in nick for another few months. To be honest it was breath of fresh air to have him back and we shared a study room together most days. Stephen was released not long before my home leaves and we agreed to hook up and have coffee. I think it was around Christmas time 2012. We walked round Belfast, shared our anxieties, fears and emotions in a bubble in the middle of a throng of Belfast Christmas shoppers.
Upon my release we continue with the friendship and recently have enjoyed a few days where alcohol was taken and much laughter was had. A shocking development happened a few months ago when Stephen told me his partners son had died in a hostel not long after release and asked him if he would come to an event I was organising (all of this is in my last few blogs). The last i’d seen him was the 27th November in a pub in Belfast and he promised to meet me after my Graduation (last Friday 12th December). Come Friday no sign, I texted and phoned – no reply. I thought, that’s not like him hope he’s OK. I still am out with other friends and classmates so a good weekend was had by all without him.
On Monday morning I get a text from another mate who was at the event and he asks me about Stephen as he’s just seen a disturbing news report –
This is where the bottom falls out of my stomach. What the holy fuck is going on here. This cannot be the same fella. I text him and phone him – no reply. Then I start to get mad. The police statement says he was identified as the perpetrator via swabs taken from the victim. I’m now not mad but horrified. That poor girl. How the fucking hell could someone I know, like and trust do this to another human being? All I see and hear are the words “it could have been worse” allegedly spoken by him.
Innocent until proven guilty and all that and some part of me is still hoping that I’ll get a text saying he was away somewhere and it’s another guy with the same name, same age who lives in the same area. I don’t think so. I’ve had two sleepless nights since and I am at a loss what to do or think. I don’t know whether I’m sickened at knowing him and the brutality of what he has done. It just does not compute with me. The words allegedly spoken, in the world of psychology and criminology, suggest that this might not be the first time.
I want to know and I want to understand but I also want to hate and hurt. He has hurt me, his partner, his Mum, his friends, my friends. My belief systems are under the cosh here and I’m not sure what to think anymore. There is no condoning justifying or explaining. There is just complete wrongness, horror, disgust. The thought of a girl being dragged by the hair to be abused… by someone I fucking know…
What is the criminological or psychological theory that describes what I’m going through at the minute. Should I have seen this coming? Could I have stopped it? Does what I study not allow me to understand this? Believe me when tell you I am completely out of any form of rationale or understanding on this subject. It’s wrong, it’s abhorrent and it destroys lives. All I actually see is the victims fear. All that I know and understand is being sorely tested at the minute and it breaks my fucking heart.
The thought that I could have been sitting with Stephen on Friday night, celebrating my Graduation, with my Mum, classmates and friends turns my blood cold. The thought of what the girl went through although not yet clear makes my very skin crawl. I had a recent debate with a Dr in Psychology and Criminology about allowing sex offenders into prisoner groups. I rationalised my argument in favour by saying if we deny then we are judging and that is wrong. My opinion has now changed. Am I wrong? To be honest I don’t really care at the minute. The Ripple Effect of Rape has well and truly contaminated me.