Around this time last year, I wrote a blog reflecting on my highlights of 2019. Reflection – What can be! So, here we are again with a reflection blog but with a difference.
Hopefully, visitors to my blog are provided with a good sign regarding the work I do in campaigning for reform to our education and criminal justice systems. I say work but nothing is work if you love what you do and do it with purpose and that is exactly how I see it. Something else that I am passionate about, although for several reasons, is my hobby. Keef calls it more of an obsession than a hobby. I love researching and writing about the history of organised crime and have done so for a good number of years. As Mark Twain once said I did not let school (or lack of it) impede my education. 2020, the year of the lockdown, where even university students felt like they were in prison (hmm! How do you express sarcasm in words?) I have to admit has been pretty kind to me, especially on the campaigning side. However, my hobby has also followed my overall message, and one I will not tire of voicing:
What Can Be!
I mentioned that I love researching and writing about the history of organised crime and have done so for several years, but to begin with it was only the research side. Being creative was something I only did through crime or through lies, and creative writing only came about when filling out application forms or preparing my CV to hide a few things. However, it wasn’t until my last prison sentence where the creative juices really flowed, and I have one very specific person to thank for that. The former education manager at HMP Norwich, Deborah Stewart. I had dabbled over the years in prison with the creativity side, but that was more about doing my bird than it was in creating a future for when I was out.
In an ironic twist of affairs, the prison thought they were doing themselves a favour with security, only allowing me to have education as an activity. Apparently, suing the prison in which you are serving could prove detrimental to your progress. Alas, not for yours truly though, being made to attend education full-time (I worked AM shifts and PM I was in education) was probably the best thing to have happened to me. Funny how things can work out sometimes. They employed me in education as an education mentor, a job I have previously held elsewhere and one that I am not sorry to say made some of my prison experiences the most memorable of my life, let alone from my life on the inside. You can physically witness change in an individual in prison, especially in the education department which includes arts and crafts along with several other creative non-academic workshops and I have to admit it is a wondrous sight and chuck in the environment for good measure and it makes it that slightly more special. I hope, therefore, you would get a good sign from that of how extra, extra, extra special it is to have been directly involved. Honestly, it is incredible and probably indescribable, but I do know there will be people reading this who know exactly what I mean. It is that moment when you see the lights come on as they uncover/discover their own What Can Be!
I can waffle on for hours about prison education departments and about those who work within it. It was not just Deborah who believed in me and supported me in education at HMP Norwich. There was Richard, Gemma, Elaine, Steve, Miss F over in the hub and many more. Even the governor of education had my back to some extent, but it was Deborah that gave me that initial belief. The rest as they say is history.
So, on to my reflection of 2020 and the incredible experiences I had regarding my hobby of being an organised crime historian. As some of you are aware, I write for a website called National Crime Syndicate (NCS) where we purvey the history of organised crime from the Mafia to the Yakuza and from the gangs of New York to where the streets have no name; we cover it all.
I published my first article with NCS on the 9th May 2018 less than a year after my release from prison, and while I was living in supported accommodation, and still on licence. It was called The Cradle of Cosa Nostra–Exploring Sicily. NCS published my most recent article on the 15th November 2020 it was also my 38th article for National Crime Syndicate. They also involved me in the research of former Mafia boss and head of Murder Inc. Albert Anastasia for a YouTube video documentary created by my good friend and boss of NCS, Craig Timmins. The video premiered on YouTube on the 18th April 2020 and the last time I looked, which was just now, the views were at 991,934. The sense of achievement from my small involvement just from that has been immense this year. Thankfully, Craig allowed me to go off and put a couple of videos together of my own choosing for our YouTube channel. We published two last month. I’ve yet to scale the dizzy heights of the Anastasia video, but I am extremely happy with the engagement so far. You can see all three videos by clicking on the links below.
One of my favorite parts of writing for NCS is the opportunity to interview some incredible guests from around the world. A former female member of the Chicago based street gang known as The Latin Kings, a Russian drug dealer, a former Special Agent of the FBI who helped to decimate the power and influence of the mighty Chicago Outfit, a former corrections officer from America who uncovered an organised gang running amok in the prison in which he worked known as The Green Wall, but these gang members were not prisoners, they were prison officers. He also sets about changing Californian state law so he could share his powerful, and un-nerving, story with the world. I also interviewed England’s very own, and a former associate of the Kray’s, Chris Lambrianou.
Below, you will see links to the above interviews.
Not only evidence of the power of education in prison and of What Can Be! But I would like to think this part of my story, along with my campaigning, show that dreams really do come true.
We all have our own What Can Be.
The fun is in discovering it and then living it.
Last but definitely not least of the highlights from 2020 is the podcast I now do with my mates over in America: Ian ‘Pontiac’ Barr and Rob ‘Boston Rob’ Bailot jr. The podcast was Ian’s brainchild. We have such a blast as often as we can and go down the many rabbit holes that litter the history of the American-Italian Mafia, or LCN (La Cosa Nostra)