Wow! It’s been a while. I’d hoped that ‘The Home Stretch’ would be a witty and observant countdown to the last day of my sentence on the 19th June 2109. Still don’t know at what time but have been assured that it will be in our system somewhere and that all will be fine. I’ll get back to that later.
As is the natural rhythm of life things don’t always go as planned. On Sunday the 24th February just after 3.00pm I lost my Dad – Samuel Hutchinson Irwin 1944-2019 (former RUC and holder of George Cross). He simply had nothing left to fight with and ironically the last piece of him to hold out whilst everything else had stopped working was his strongest feature – his heart. He died peacefully surrounded by family and that’s all we can really ask for I suppose. I’m not going to write an obituary as many of you will already know (if you’ve read my book) my Dad was the main man and I still joked with him, right to the end, when I got in trouble that “it’s all your fault anyway; you made me.”
As you can probably imagine my time in prison was a tad fraught as I constantly lived in fear of someone finding out that my Dad was a retired police officer. Especially here in Northern Ireland. Obviously, some of the older staff new my Dad from back in the dark days as there was a close affiliation between, in those days, of what would be called ‘the Security Forces’. In fact, I used to do his head in with all my challenges against the forces who held me secure. However, after a few shakes of the head he’d sit in the visits hall with a rye smile knowing that I couldn’t keep quiet because I was just like him and believed in justice and fought against injustice.
Like all family members it’s heart-breaking to see a loved one in prison and it was only when I got out, I realised the full extent this had on Dad. He knew how I was treated and how much it would go against my natural grain and the hardest part as a father was, he could do nothing to help me. I found it very sad when he told me he couldn’t even watch ‘Porridge’ anymore. That really hit home for me, as we used to roar with laughter at the antics of ‘Norman Stanley Fletcher’ and crew. Although, I do know that my Dad fought to stay alive in order to get me back on my feet again. Without him there’d be no Master’s degree, no conferences, no guest lectures in England and Scotland (some were part funded, Dad paid for the rest) something I shall forever be grateful for. In fact, when I look around me everything I have has been paid for by my Dad or donated by family and friends; even this bloody laptop.
The emotional side has been a bit strange to say the least. I’ve had a few sobs and few unsteady moments, but in general I feel very quiet and peaceful. I’m grateful that Dad is at rest and without pain. I’ve had my obligatory blow out alcohol days, but they have been few. I’ve spent the rest of the time sitting quietly at home and at peace with myself. My job was to get big Sam to the finish line with dignity and respect and alongside my brother, aunt, uncle and cousins I think we managed to do that. Therefore, it’s time for me to move on and achieve all the things I wanted to do and that would make my father proud. He never, read my work or watched me on the TV as he just couldn’t handle the pain of where it came from. The last thing he did was give me the money to have my operation which I just found out last night will be on the 26th of March. Eight weeks at home recovery and then, hopefully, all will be well with the world, the gloves are now off, and I will be writing and annoying with reckless abandon using my lived experience supported by academic research. Dads favourite saying ‘never look back. It’s a sign of weakness’. Of course I don’t agree, I’m his son for god’s sake. Sleep well Dad, I’ll see you on the other side…
In January I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with probation officialdom. I’ve only got one appointment left. We discussed the ritual of my last day. “Where do I sign?” “At what time of the day am I free?” This was met by tumbleweed blowing across the office and a rather long momentary silence. We discussed it further and I emphasised the fact that for the past twelve years I’ve signed every ‘ritualistic’/legal form thrown at me by the state. The only things I never signed where my adjudications (I beat each and every one of them). From my arrest by Customs, my release on license, to my latest probation criteria I’ve had to sign some piece of paper. Where on earth is the one that now says “Mr Irwin C7874 you have now completed your 12 year sentence?” I suppose the irony of there not being one is that I’ll never be free of the system as I will never have a spent conviction. “Oh, it’ll be in our system somewhere…” Will it really? Show me. I want a print out and signed by someone. What someone could it be? Surely not the sentencing judge.
I’ve never really been too bothered about probation as I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had two fantastic young women who got me and gave me no hassle, nor did I cause any and to be truthful I’m glad I had a reminder on my phone for my every two months appointments as I’d forget about them as soon as I’d left the building. In any case, I think I deserve my certificate, my badge of honour, not that I’m proud of what I’ve done to get there but for surviving, for going the distance without breaking the law again, helping others, making people pause and think; going the distance. I don’t like this idea of that it just is, that’s the way it is, suck it up and get on with your life. Let’s do something to change that. Ritual is important.
The rest of the home stretch will be of little consequence to me as to what has just happened, and I look forward to getting back in the books. Who knows? Another attempt at a PhD may well be on the cards…