On account of my prematurely greying hair (trust me I stocked up with Just for Men for when I was released) and a hairline that is receding faster than the Dorset coastline, I am respectfully called ‘Uncle’ when inside. Sensitive about ageing in a young man’s domain, I grudgingly accepted the role of a wise prison sage, akin to Morgan Freeman’s ‘Red’ in ‘Shawshank Redemption’.
Like Red, my ear has grown accustomed to the orchestral melody of life behind bars. The clanging of metal doors, then the calm before the cacophony of noise erupts again. I have become desensitized to most aspects of the day-to-day existence in custody. However, I feel I have yet to succumb to the institutionalisation that Red contemptuously spoke about.
Doing ‘porridge’ still grinds my spirits like a pestle in a mortar. I feel the loss of freedom keenly. There are days when my emotions feel like a shaken Cola bottle. I fear loosening the cap and containing my fizzing feelings. Yet the contradictory nature of the human spirit means my moods plummet and soar in the empty lulls that are part of the experience of a serving prisoner.
I am still astonished how I got through those first few traumatic days back in custody some 22 months ago. I felt I had nothing left; I was devoid of hope. My self-esteem had been stripped from my being. I stood, metaphorically naked, clutching at the last remaining fig leaf of strength to protect my modesty. I am an agnostic but in desperation I called on a God I struggled to believe in to take the hurt away.
The bonds I had made in my prior spell in custody, were the binds that held me together, preventing me from completely unravelling into a despair of my own making.There are men in prison for the most heinous of crimes; the atmosphere can be fraught with tension that can erupt into a storm of violence, bigotry and intolerance in a nano second. Never is the capacity of people brought into distinct clarity than in the most forbidding of circumstances. Yes, I have witnessed the worst in people: prejudice, aggression and savage cruelty. However, in the same surroundings I have been the beneficiary of the sincerest form of compassion. The fact that seven weeks away from release, I am filled with vigour and determination to move beyond the shame, guilt and self admonishment that is the harvest of my past, is a testament to those that have been unfaltering in the positive regard they received me in.
In the scene where Red sat defiantly before the parole board, having wrongfully predicted their decision, he was asked if he thought he was rehabilitated. His response was,”Rehabilitation is a word designed to give young guys like you a job.” So, do I think I am rehabilitated? I know in my heart of hearts that I regret how my life has transpired and the ripple effect of my errant ways on others. Introspection is good as a tool to move forward, but I found my preoccupation with the past stopped me from seeing what I still possessed in my life.
I want to invest myself in activities that will have positive dividends for others. I want to be able to love without restrictions, live without guilt coursing through my veins and be a man of integrity and decency. Above all, I want a stake in my family to which I have increasingly become a stranger.