I am not writing this to attract praise, far from it. I have that in abundance from those I choose to have around me. My inner circle so to speak. My reason for writing this and anything else I pen is more about highlighting #WhatCanBe rather than #LookAtMe. I suppose in a way it is why I feel compelled not just to write about it but also to provide visual or physical evidence because sometimes I don’t quite believe it myself.
I’d like to start and please excuse the pun with what has become my favourite subject by far, education. I have mentioned on plenty of occasions about my exclusion from the education system at age 14. It wasn’t because of a lack of intelligence, although sense may have been missing. In fact, for the majority of subjects, I was in the top classes and top of the class. However, once my attitude and behaviour changed I was put in what was known then as a remedial class for most subjects. I can honestly say with hand on heart that was mistake one of several mistakes made by the school. I do have to accept my responsibility and the more emotionally mature I became the more I could accept it. Which wasn’t always the case. I was representing my school at the district level for the district schoolboy’s rugby team, so I must’ve been doing something right. I also still loved learning. My favourite subject other than PE was geography. Taught by a lovely lady by the name of Mrs Hoare, and yet me even then didn’t take the piss. I loved learning in her class, but like I said I still loved learning. I knew where and was a regular visitor to the local library, it was just around the corner from my Nan’s house, literally, excuse the pun again. I was still malleable just a bit more challenging and difficult than others. They gave up, I didn’t see the point either and a new journey of education would begin, not so much of the academic variety though. It was more education in life. I had no mates my age to hang about with, they were in school. It was more a kind of a 1980s retake of Oliver. But, the majority of the cast were adults and not just the one playing Fagin. There were even versions of Bill and Nancy. And Bullseye the dog.
Kiting (credit card and cheque book fraud in its simplest terms) was my speciality. I wasn’t a bad exponent of TDA either. Commercial burglary was also something I became adept in. We only ever broke into empty houses. In those days you only needed two forms of ID to hire (well, permanently hire) and utility bills were top of the least. Deliveries were cheekily never an issue as long as the house stayed empty, a quick change of the Yale barrel, key sorted. Hiring a car and keeping it was a breach of contract and only a crime if you damaged the car or sold it on. Postmen and milkmen followed until opportunity struck. Plenty of cash to be made at Christmas collecting tips, just they belonged to others. I can’t lie and say all of this was the cause of my exclusion I was up to shit loads while I was still at school. They would show us a film on a new TV and video say on a Wednesday and by the weekend they’d be on sale down the local at a decent price.
One thing I could never understand was wilful destruction of property. Although hypocritically my first arrest at age 10 was for criminal damage where I had smashed a window. We may have destroyed the possibility of evidence but never destroyed property just for the sake of it. There were a few crimes that were a bit riskier than most. Not only that I was also accepted for who I was because of what I, me did for the gang/group/team/family (delete as appropriate). All before I was 15 and, of course, afterwards.
In 1985 aged 15 and a few weeks away from turning 16, the prison system became a new journey of education. It was where I learnt about that hint of grey that exists within our prisons. And I also learnt that you cannot fuck the system, something I took a few years to fully understand. However, a week down the block (or should I say the ‘old stable’ block) during a sentence at HMYCC Dover a few months before the hurricane of October 87 hit and just before my eighteenth in the September was when I really learnt that lesson (give or take some minor issues over the years).
Back to 1985 and HMDC Blantyre House. The shade of grey. After about 4 weeks of my 4 month sentence I was called into the office and told that my attitude and behaviour had led to me receiving trustee status, grade 3 they called it, separated from the other boys. We had our own small dorm, 10 beds, we had a TV room which also had a radio in there. The night clock was in our TV room so it was very much dependant on who the night clockie was as to what time for TV off. We were also called first for seconds in the dining hall, having said that the first time was inedible enough on some occasions, especially ‘tea’ on a Monday. Sunday roast, chicken, we received daggers from the other boys when getting up for seconds then. My promotion to grade 3 saw me promoted in my work duty. I would then be assigned to the works party whose workshop/office was outside the gate and where after being marched from the parade ground we would get our mornings orders from. On a few occasions we would be driven down the road to a prison officers house whose lawn may need mowing or garden weeding. The brickwork may have needed re-pointing. More often than not we would receive a decent treat. A small can of beer maybe, or some decent grub from the officer’s wife. Next door to the DC was the officer’s mess. Blantyre House seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and the officers mess doubled up as a local community centre hosting birthday parties and wedding receptions. It was the works party who would be called in to set up and called back to tidy up. Buffet leftovers, and a freshly poured half of bitter shandy as a thanks, “keep it to yourselves lads”. As it was a boys DC smoking by the residents wasn’t allowed. My 78p a week wages, eventual wage of £1.08 a week, being used to buy plenty of halfpenny sweets. More for your buck. Ah! Yes. Why did I mention we weren’t allowed to smoke? Well, a benefit of working this side of the fence was the large cigarette butts left by those visiting their loved ones. A few matches easily acquired along with a piece of ripped strike (so much easier if they were Swan matches) and you’ve got yourself a valuable little commodity. Bet many didn’t know that if you run a brown headed safety match with the right pressure and fast enough on glass the match will still work. Split matches are hard work to light that way though. I also learnt to sew at Blantyre House, it was best to.
Before Dover in 87 I had been giving a taste of big mans jail. I was on remand on a YP landing within HMP Canterbury. B4 we were located. Due to the overcrowding problems 33 years ago, those on remand going to court faced a lock out as holding prisons would only accept as many back as were sent out. If your court was a way out then the chances are you’d be on lock out, especially as those on lock out filled the next days available spaces first. I had obviously been in police stations before and overnight but never as a prisoner of prison. It was quite an adventure if I’m honest. You wouldn’t find out until last minute you was on a lock out neither did you know immediately what police station it would be. The police stations I stayed at were Ashford, Dover and the one which meant you just missed out Canterbury police station, but at least it meant you knew it was only going to be for one night, guaranteed. 99% of the time anyway.
Fast forward a few decades and after a few more years behind them there walls it was time to put all that education together and re-enter the academic world of education to prove right those many teachers who on numerous times would say or write “If only David would apply himself” and to do it from a position of absolute rock bottom. Twice!!!! As in 2015 I was again back in prison but this was to be the one that counted. A quick peruse of my blog a perfect visual portfolio of #WhatHasBeen up to this point. A read of a specific blog, Reflection – What can be! highlighting my previous 12 months up to the end of last year.
And this year?
Well, through lockdown (there’s irony) I have continued with my degree which produced some great results along the way in my most recent module and I’ve continued on my pursuit of #WhatCanBe.
Apart from physically turning up at events pre COVID-19 the majority of my campaigning for reform and sharing my story and experiences has been via my mobile or laptop using social media platforms.
I have had numerous personal successes, have been provided the opportunity and on a number of platforms to be able to share my story and to discuss reform. This being one such achievement.
And I’ll soon have another podcast to share where I was interviewed by someone a little closer to home but who was a worlds first and someone I used to watch on television in prison.
No doubt in the very near future I will cover them a little more on here, however, the following image, and I am confident that those I have previously worked with will not be offended when I say this but the image is a screenshot from that someone posted confirming one of the greatest opportunities that I have been provided with in the little over 3 years from when I re-entered society as a changed man. If the following image isn’t evidence of #WhatCanBe or even education making the impossible, possible then I may as well give up now. #MoreThanMyPast. I’ll leave you with the image along with the link to register.
And if you wish to read more on my experiences and knowledge of education along with my perspective of the government’s view of education in our prisons head on over to https://offenderagenda.wordpress.com/. Back soon.