On the 10/03/09 – exactly seven years ago and at the same time 5.45am – I sat in my cell in HMP Maghaberry and penned my recollection of the previous morning –
“I’m now shackled to the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) or are they plain clothes cops? I don’t know, they haven’t spoken one word to me. No friendly banter, just the hackneyed poker faces of the system. Welcome home I thought. I pray they’re not all going to be like this. Feel a sense of oppressiveness and a definite change in attitude, for the worse, I might add. I’m stuck in the back of a freezing cold prison van. Still cuffed. At least they take the cuffs off you when you are actually in the van on the mainland. ‘This is Northern Ireland we do things differently over here.’ If only I had known, my attempt at self enlightenment, personal humour, will haunt me in the years to come.
‘What have I done?’
I thought of ‘Al’ at ‘Rye Hill’ out in the yard that cold misty morning when he said ‘What have we done Mick?’ I felt it now.
A sense of tiredness swept over me as we trundled through Belfast, a wave of despair as we approached the Westlink exit to the Grosvenor Road roundabout and the start of the M1. My final stretch of tarmac before HMP Maghaberry. As we went under the motorway bridge at Dunmurry my heart sank. I stared at the cuffs, looked out the window to the wee track leading from the bridge to Lady Dixon Park , childhood memories. So close to my home, to my dad. Yet strangely enough I thought where is my home? It’s certainly not with my Dad. The last family house I lived in was sold long ago yet I still attach myself to there, to that place in time or is it the memory of there; as it was from there that I headed out into the big wild world. I had a flat in Areema for while when I was about twenty two, but I left that and headed back to London and never really stopped until now.
Was he sitting at home wondering where I was? Started to sob. They weren’t sobs of self pity. Just sobs of emotion an overwhelming realisation and an accumulation of circumstance. It didn’t last long and in a way I’m glad I got it out as I felt I little bit better. I am only human after all.”
I travelled the same stretch of tarmac yesterday but under a totally different set of circumstances. I’d just been to the Royal Victoria Hospital (that shall remain private for now) and trundled along the M1 in my Dad’s BMW. I stick to the rules now and can’t go above 45mph as I’m still on ‘R’ plates but it does get one’s goat and is highly fekin embarrassing when someone whizzes past one with ‘L’ plates on. Life in the bus lane eh! There were road works at my turn off so later that day (my 2nd trip to Royal) I decided to take an alternative route.
Nearly home, I’m greeted by my first police roadblock since about 2005. As I pull up to the officer he asks where I’m headed. I follow procedure as I know it and discover there’s a bomb scare at the bottom end of the road. They don’t call them ‘bomb scares’ any more. They’re now more politically correct and known as ‘security incidents’. After all, Belfast has just been named ‘Best City in the UK’ and there’s an election coming up. Can’t have the words ‘Bomb’ and ‘Scare’ in our wonderful we spot of the world now can we? The news later announces that it wasn’t a hoax but a pipe bomb found in a garden outside a library and nursery school and across the road from a Bar predominantly frequented by people from the nationalist community. A catholic primary school had to be evacuated last week and a bomb was placed under a prison officers car. It only partially exploded and the officer survived. Yet again these are the legitimate targets in the fucked up minds of these handful of fools.
Prison Officers have yet again become easy targets for the fanatics in the approach to the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. This of course has ramifications for the normalisation of the prison service here in Northern Ireland. How on earth can prison reform and normalisation happen when the threat to the staff is (in security terms) classed as ‘above severe’. How can officers be normal around prisoners on the wings when they know that any slip of the tongue or semblance of familiarity can put their lives in danger? Is it any wonder attitudes toward prisoners are perfunctory?
There are only a handful of people in this country who perpetrate this assault on our society. Like, in prison there are only a handful of prisoners who are ‘separated’ (political prisoners) yet the level of security needed dictates to the rest of the prison population. But, like the ‘bomb scare’ yesterday the people of Northern Ireland are resilient and will always find a way round these temporary blips in daily life. I’ll leave that part alone for now.
As per usual, I’m sitting pondering this last night when my phone rings. My mate from jail. He’s out for good next week and we look forward to hooking up for a beer with a few other reformed characters. We recount the day we first met in England back in jail in 2008 and laugh at the memories and how long ago it was. I suppose that’s my point really. It was all so long ago. I went out for a beer last week with an old mate I haven’t seen for twenty five years. We got a bit pished and when he asked me about my crime and prison I found myself saying “God mate, it was all so long ago.” It was a short conversation and we moved on to better things.
I’ve had a long winter due to lack of sunshine and a recurring virus that left me drained of any sort of motivation. On good days I forced myself to go out and meet up with pals, old and new, who always put a smile on my face. The highlight was going to see my mate doing a Gary Moore tribute night. Like the good old days, during the bad old days, people from different communities enjoyed a night out in Belfast via the genre of ‘Rock Music’ and religion was left at the door. It doesn’t even come into the equation now. Belfast is my home and like any City it will have its troubles. Ours are scary and frightening sometimes but we improvise, overcome and adapt. I’ll be driving that same stretch of tarmac later on today and hopefully all I’ll be thinking is that I’m home. My Home Sweet Home.