This was not what I wanted.
January 14th, 2009, I did not want to see February, in fact I didn’t want to see another day for as long as I lived and if I had my way then this would also be the case.
At the time of my suicide attempt I was a serving prisoner and had never felt so alone, useless and surplus to requirements as I did that night.
I was a Listener in prison just before the attempt on my own life. The Listener scheme is a peer support service which aims to reduce suicide and self-harm in prisons. Samaritans volunteers select, train and support prisoners to become Listeners. Listeners provide confidential emotional support to their fellow inmates who are struggling to cope. The first Listener scheme was introduced at HMP Swansea in 1991. Now, nearly every prison in England, Scotland and Wales has one. There are an increasing number of Listener schemes in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland too. Listeners are not paid and do not receive any form of benefit for their role. Over the Christmas period of 2008/09 there were three self-inflicted deaths in the prison in which I was serving. I used to work in the reception area of the prison as both an orderly and when needed, which was often, as a Listener.
On Saturday December 20th, 2008 at 12.30pm we had a new reception come in with a 14-day sentence, this meant he would be released the following Thursday due to it being Christmas the following week, however by 5.40pm that evening he was pronounced dead after taking his own life.
The policy on confidentiality is the same as it is for Samaritans volunteers. Knowing that the service is completely private often gives prisoners the courage to ask for help and talk about what is getting to them. Even after a Listener has left prison, their work as a Listener must remain completely confidential.
However, in this case as with the next dire situation I will discuss, I am free from the confidentiality policy, if a prisoner allows we can disclose the information they have provided us with, this is usually when a prisoner wishes for you to discuss with staff what the issue is. Adam (I won’t use his last name) had indeed released me from this policy so that I could speak to staff on his behalf. A year later I was subpoenaed to attend the inquest into Adams death.
Just over two weeks later January 4th, 2009 another prisoner took his own life. I had worked with Martin as his listener for a considerable amount of time and it was this death that had a huge detrimental effect on my own mental health. I had been struggling a bit myself, what with it being Christmas and New Year plus I had a few personal problems at the time which I was trying to get sorted. I had been one of the first to find out about Martin’s death. Being a listener in prison, unlike a Samaritan on the out we got to see our clients daily and Martin and I had become good friends.
Following Martins death everything started going personally wrong, mentally I went into free fall. I’m usually a strong level headed individual but not this time, I felt somewhat responsible which I know was irrational, but irrationality for me at that stage was the norm. I had had a rather upsetting phone call with someone that I thought was there for me, how wrong was I.
I wasn’t one for taking prescribed medicine although I was on many tablets in relation to my mental health, all of which had an adverse effect on my daily functioning by dulling my senses, however, though I wasn’t taking my medicine I wasn’t giving it away either and so had quite a stock in my locker.
I remember laying there, in tears, looking at where I could hang a noose from. I also remember becoming frustrated that I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) find anywhere. I was scared by the thought of hanging myself, what if it went wrong and I survived but with limited movement or brain capacity. Hanging myself clearly wasn’t the option, all three guys over the mentioned period had all hung themselves and maybe that was why it was upper most in my irrational mind. Then I remembered the tablets I had. I laughed at myself for being so stupid in forgetting they were not only there in my locker, but they were also there in numbers, enough to do the job that I had so intended.
This may sound strange, but a feeling of calm came over me, I had felt comfortable about taking an overdose, nothing other than not being able to keep the tablets down could go wrong, and even if it did I wouldn’t be left in a vegetated state for the rest of my life, a life I knew I didn’t want in any form. So, surrounded by inner peace I started to take the tablets, Zopiclone, Mirtazapine, Co-codamol and Olanzapine, quite a cocktail, a cocktail I was convinced would do the job I ultimately wanted. This was no cry for help, I had told no one. However, my jail neighbour at the time and I usually have a little chat through the pipe, this is a big metal pipe that provides heat and runs, continuously, between all the cells on each landing. There is usually a gap where not only can you hear each other talk, but also where things could be passed.
In the period leading up to my own attempt it was clear that I wasn’t in a good state of mind. I had in fact gone on hunger strike over the suicides demanding a public inquiry as to why three self-inflicted deaths should happen in such a short space of time, a fruitless exercise that ended with the threat of being sectioned and put on a drip to be fed. So, with my neighbour concerned he had pushed his cell bell to say he was worried about me as I hadn’t spoken for a few hours. According to reports I was found collapsed on my cell floor, fading in and out of consciousness, I was made to drink a concoction of charcoal fluid or whatever it was. I remember waking up in the ambulance with loads of people around me before blacking out. The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital bed in quite a state that I had in fact woken up, I felt rubbish as it was, and now I felt worse because I couldn’t even kill myself properly.
That was then, and I am so grateful that I was not successful. The subsequent period had a few ups and downs, especially as just over a week later there was another prisoner who had taken his own life, this led to the prison I was in ghosting me out to another prison, let someone else deal with me.
Not only did I attend the inquest for Adam, I was also subpoenaed to attend Martins. Martins inquest was a very emotional experience, his brother and sister were both asking questions. They also informed me that Martin had told them all about me and what I was doing on his behalf, and thanked me for everything I did, an extremely, in equal measure, sad yet proud moment in my life.
I was released from prison on the 9th June 2017, though this was not the same sentence. I had in fact committed a crime on purpose in 2015 for me to go back to prison and turn my life round as I was living on the streets and was being turned away left, right and centre searching for support but that’s another story.
However, on my last sentence I embarked on a BA hons degree in criminology and psychological studies with The Open University and am pleased to say that I am, come May this year, half way to achieving this aim. I am also in the process of creating my own support company, DRB Support, of which I already have a group with the same name on Facebook with over 200 members where I am providing information, advice and guidance to my members on many issues relating to prison. I also provide written submissions to many agencies, including the justice select committee, in relation to what I believe needs to change within the criminal justice system and our prisons. I was invited to speak at a seminar at the University of East Anglia (UEA) for students on resettlement and reintegration for one of their modules. I was invited to speak at this year’s War of Words at the UEA run by The Norwich Radical, where I tried to educate the audience about the real realities of prison life and not to believe everything the media tells us. I am also, at the time of writing, the focus of a documentary, entitled Be of Good Behaviour, where I am being followed on an ad hoc basis as I progress in my life on licence and the obstacles and challenges people in my position face whilst trying to become reintegrated back into society. I want to inspire and influence others, by using my experiences, to change the path they are on, something I am achieving daily. I have also, since October 2017, been blogging about my life on WordPress, my blog site is called Journey of a reformed man.
I am so grateful that I was an abject failure in attempting to take my own life.