Category Archives: prison life

And here is the Weather Forecast: Primo.

     And here is the Weather Forecast……………..Primo.




Northern Ireland in fairness has just skipped a severe bout of weather. Between the icy cold conditions in Scotland and the snows of middle England we have done well to escape the extremes of our changeable and ever present companion. 

In the cages of the Kesh we had more to worry about than the weather but on reflection we lived a lot closer to the weather than many of us do today.  Leaving the Crum aside for a moment I am talking about the cages the Nissen huts fo Long kesh. A look at this pages photo stream or a simple google search will giv ena idea of the type fo building we lived in for most of us over a decade of our lives. The catch from 1975 onward was that the huts were a quick ‘throw up’job after the big fire of October 1974. When the Kesh was burned literally to the ground except for cages 19 mainly UVF and cage 16 mainly UDA.  In terms of a thermal insulation rating which most homes are rated by today I can confidently say the huts rated zero on any scale. They were most definitely not built for comfort. To simplify we froze in winter and roasted in summer.       The basic hut was a semi round structure with 2 layers of tin corrugated iron.  Inside these layers was what was pinkish spongy stuff called insulation.  This trades descriptions act did not apply in the Kesh. Read more »


Music in The Kesh ( Continued )

Music in The Kesh-( Continued ).



To the uninitiated, Long Kesh-and I suppose the other correctional establishments of the time had a certain vernacular they could lay claim to inventing.  Common phrases of the time include…
“ Do your whack”-Be content in serving your sentence.
“ Do the beef”-Administering a sharp instrument to one’s wrists.
“ Dry your lamps”-Please refrain from crying.
“ On the box”-Staring into space and oblivious to all surroundings.

There are more of course.  Too many to mention here.  There are also abbreviations that outsiders-i.e. non jailbirds would wrinkle their brow at.
The big ‘A’-usually mentioned in a conspiratorial whisper and referring to the one thing that was hoped-and prayed-for the most, which proved to be mere wishful thinking-Amnesty.  Big ‘A’ must not be confused with the most common abbreviation-at least during my tenure in the various penal institutions.  The big ‘D’s-synonymous with feeling low, a plummeting of self esteem, missing of a visit-an expected but undelivered letter-or much worse-an Unexpected but delivered letter-the dreaded Dear John. 
Yes-the big ‘D’ stood for Depression.
If a fella closed his curtain and pulled a blanket over his head, ostensibly for an innocent afternoon nap-for all intents and purposes he was suffering from a bout of the big ‘D’s.
Another sure sign of the big ‘D’s was to see someone boul-walk-around the compound on their own.
  A dead giveaway for sure. 
But the biggest indication of an approaching double dose of the D’s was to glimpse someone stroll nonchalantly past with an LP under their arm-the cover portraying a gap toothed wholesome Texan or a bouffant laden Southern gal, who, if given the chance would relay their tales of pitiful woes to us.
It’s a well known fact-apparently-that if you were to play a country and western record backwards you get your job your wife and your dog back.  When a colleague is in the throes of the big D’s and his chosen elixir is a caterwauling country artist, you know you’re in for a couple of hours of tear inducing-toe curling and teeth gnashing renditions that could conceivably have you reaching for 
Blue Gillette yourself.
By the time Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner had strangled the last ounce of sentiment out of Jeannies Afraid of the Dark, you felt like sticking your toe up wee Jeannies hole.

And if you weren’t Crazy when you started out listening to Patsy Cline’s warbling you sure as hell were by the end of it.  And let’s be honest-if you seriously gave a fuck when Old Shep’s peepers were growing dim then I’m afraid all hope had been long abandoned.  You’d have been closer to turning the shotgun on yourself never mind the demented canine.
Should it be Hank Williams aiming to melt your Cold Cold Heart or the delectable Freddie Fender advising you what to do just Before the Next Teardrop falls, the feelings are just the same.

And to paraphrase our great leader of the time-A. A. Spence-true and abject misery.
This isn’t to make light of the bouts of darkness that overcame some of the guys during those long days and nights. No.
This isn’t to poke fun at those who felt that the best refuge in those downbeat hours was in the grooves of a lamentable dirge. No.
this isn’t to make little of those who sought solace in the comforting tones of a seasoned country performer. No.
When the exponents of this dispiriting and dismal form of popular culture were wallowing in their individual misery, I only wish they’d thought of the rest of us.
And, in deference to that country stalwart and he of countless, melancholic refrains-Hank Williams-when he claims, There’ll be No Teardrops Tonight-well-I for one beg to fucking differ!!



Home-Not so Sweet Home:Po McGarrigle

Home Not So Sweet Home

My home is number sixteen, situated on Bush2

There are no fancy carpets or no panoramic view.

Just Lino there for flooring and an antique for a bed.

Sure you’re not in the fucking Hilton son, just some place to put your head.

The food wont fill you fully, it will fill a gap or two.

A choice of main or salad, a soup or roll or stew.

The service isn’t with a smile you get a moan or a grunt.

You gonna lay all fucking day you lazy Derry cunt.

Not the smile or welcome that you know from family, friend and kin.

You can like or you can lump it, it’s your crime that put you in.

So stop your fucking greeting and grow a set young Po.

Two years are up the Judge’s, another two to go.

Photos, cards and letters are sent to raise a smile.

They help to keep your spirits up they’re sent from miles and miles.

From sisters, bro’s in England, Scotland and closer too.

There never that far away their hearts are always true.

I’m sixty miles from my place, just a bus or train away.

Until the Governor tells me so, this is the place I’ll stay.

So, heads up son and stand with pride you’ll never walk alone.

Realise it’s just a place, it’s home but not so sweet home.

Po McGarrigle


Crum Fun: Captain Webber

Crum Fun.

   The summer of 1977 was unforgettable. At least for a teenager who was embarking on his life sentence.  All the talk was of Paisleys rerun of the 1974 strike This time things would be different. There was not the same mood or drive in ‘77. It was not unexpected for 4 o clock knock as the security forces took a different line and many of the suspected paramilitaries should spend a while in the Crum that year.  Up to June  that year a grand total of 1000 men wandered (handcuffed) through the Crum’s doors.  I went to C wing where I had stayed for a while in 1974. This was totally different. Special category status had been stopped in 1976. And now the boot was on the other foot. C wing used to be loyalist,  now it was mixed; republican and loyalist. There was an arrangement between the two factions. Day in; day out. Day out was out in the morning for a wash. Out for hour in yard in the  afternoon. And an hour later in the evening,  either  TV room or the yard. The rest had the 24 hour lock up.

The longest day of my stay started off with loyalists on a day in.  We could hear the usual cacophony of noise outside on the landings as the republicans went about their day out. However there was a change in the atmosphere. Something was different.  I had a penthouse suite in the east side of  C wing overlooking the C wing dining hall. (Now gone if you visit the Crum. ) Things started to get lashed out of the windows onto the rec room roof. We were used to mystery parcels but this was different. Amazing just how much contraband there was. The new steel  doors were totally unlike the old doors I recalled from my stint in 1974. Once the door flap was down you only had the thinnest  of a slit between door and frame to look out.  I was kneeling looking out and could see no prisoners or the usual screws. Instead I spied an army uniform.

The army belonged outside on the external walls. Definitely something was up. The shouting started. This was a major search not the usual turnover.  We became aware that people were being taken from their cells. Doors clanged, keys jangled.  Cat calling started to reduce. Soon our turn came.  ‘You 3.  down to the toilets’. That way’ .  I walked out onto the landing.  The place was a mess on the 1s (bottom floor). Army uniforms and then surprisingly I seen a detective from the A squad.  One army guy had a black Labrador on a lead which was running about with tail wagging as if on a great adventure.

It turned out that all the loyalists were in one toilet at the end of the wing while all republicans were taken to the toilet at the other end. And so started a long day. At first it was a change to routine so there was a buzz and a laugh. As the day dragged on tempers would begin to shorten and the fun mood died off. Of course there was no chairs

Of course,  that amount of men  (maybe 30?) for that length of time, and  in a very small space the inevitable would have to take place.  Taking a piss was easy enough but soon someone needed a carp. (He was dyslexic). Nerves,  plus poor food and  little exercise made for poor digestion. Of course the poor  bonzo who needed to go would have the worst guts in the wing. Did I mention the toilets themselves had no doors?   So with a captive audience this poor sod had to answer the call of nature. And oh no,  it couldn’t be a gentle plop and splash,  more a squish and squirt. There was an instant fight to get nearest to the only window.   Any amount of cursing could not reduce the aroma. An argument started as to whether the guy had dysentery.  Some discussed punching a screw and getting taken to the boards. Anywhere but here. We started asking who this guy’s cell mates where. We commiserated with them.

The wrecking continued outside.  We wondered when, or if,  we would get back to our cells. Soon we were allowed back. The cell was a mess. It was as if a giant took hold of the cell and shook it. The beds had been taken apart literally. The mattresses were on the floor,  the sheets flung around the cell. Food was strewn on the floor, clothes were scattered, books tossed all over the place.  It took us some time to get a semblance of order back.

And so order and routine came back slowly.  Nothing of import was found. Sometime after I left the Crum, to go to the Kesh,  a news report said a bomb had gone off in a cell in C wing?

Captain Webber.


25 After 21: Primo

25  after  21.




England were playing Germany in a World Cup semi-final. Turin Italy 4th July 1990. England had a half decent team for a change.  Platt, Lineker, Waddle, Pearce. A solid team. But it was Gazza the clown prince. The flawed genius,  him that was daft as a brush that would live long in my memory. I had just been released from my life sentence. Terrorist.  Paramilitary.  Killer.  Some of the repeatable terms I have been called through my life.  Now I was embarking on a  new chapter in my life. And here I was in someone’s house watching this great match on a huge colour TV. Sort of engrossed in the match but making pleasant conversation with our hosts.  It’s hard to image that this memory is over 25 years old  and coincides  with my release. It prompted  a mini stocktake. What has happened to me in those speeding years? Is it really a quarter of a century?

I’ve never been in trouble since my release . Quiet the contrary.  I worked every day since release and at times had two jobs. I’ve been a volunteer again, this time helping with children, the homeless and those with addictions. I’ve lost two friends through suicide. I was married quickly, maybe too quickly,  which ended in a messy divorce. But I did have a great son and two young people who make me proud when they call me dad.  There was lots of new friends and travel. Amazing  new places, new customs,  languages and food.  Meeting people of every describable culture,  religion and beliefs.  I’ve been watching events around the world unfold, the Gulf wars, Ebola, 9/11, economic collapse, the rise of the internet, the ‘95 ceasefires , the GFA in ‘98. I went to the Somme twice. But the most moving place still has to be Auschwitz.  A place where hate and blind prejudice saw one group of people try to destroy another group of people in the most horrible way possible.

The highs and lows have been intense but there had been a never ending chain of funerals of both family and friends from Compound 21. I chatted many times with Billy Mitchell, Gusty and Davy Irvine but sadly, all too quickly,  I would be walking behind their coffins.  The Gannet,  Shakey, Swanner, Freddie S, Tommy the Burgermeister, Grouty, Frankie, and many more, all gone.

I lost a doting mother that travelled week in, week out, without fail  to that place just outside of Lisburn. I lost an aunt,  then another. I watch my elderly father, a hard working man all his life,  come to terms with old age, illness and the loss of his wife of over 50 years.  I meet and talk with the enemy – Provo ex-prisoners .  Lifers. Finally seeing at close quarters,  the people we regarded as the ultimate enemy.

I meet victims and their relatives.  I speak to many young people from “both sides”- about where violence can lead.  I ask them to think first and make up their own minds. The gutter press print the twisted truth and hurt my family. I’ve been sent to Coventry in certain jobs when people find out what I did as a teenager.  I have been barred from jobs once the great and the good find out what I am- someone who was involved in “The Troubles”- like thousands of others in those mad days.  I have been humbled and amazed by ordinary people who have accepted me as I am now. I try to copy their forgiveness and understanding.  I have never taken an illegal drug in my life.  I feel like weeping when I see the damage wreaked by drugs and alcohol in so many young people.

I Have shaken hands with both the First and Deputy Ministers.  I have met the President of Ireland.  I visit Dublin.  Enemy capital at one time.

And now the 7th decade of my life rushes on.  I thank God that I have my freedom, my health and that we live in relative peace.  I do think of my victims and their families and the devastation inflicted on them.  But I also recall all too well the dark days of the early ‘70s and what was done to friends.  I think we live in a good place with some bad people.  Of all sorts and types.  I still see some of the men  from Compound 21.  Nearly all have settled down, raised families, have jobs– and all the worries of free people.  Paying bills, the children’s welfare –grandchildren too, too much weight being put on— is my job safe, etc.

I really felt for Gazza that night.  If England had won, he had been booked twice and was going to miss the final.   I heard him speak recently about the course his life has taken since that night. We don’t have much in common except maybe one thing.  We’ll both remember 1990 as a life changing year.





September Rain: Jack H.

September Rain.

Compound 21. Long Kesh. A place of residence. But  never home.  I’ve been here over 8 years.   In special category.  Inside a cage of high wire, lights and 20 foot concrete walls. Escape is around the wire, not over it. Run every day. Gusty started the routine of running twice a day.  7 Laps to a mile. Round and round.  Past the screws hut. All lit up and quiet. Past the toilet block.  Stickie’s  on the right in cage 20.  Past the end hut, the middle hut, the half hut and the gym hut. Right angle corner at the end.  Up past the screws sentry box. Round by the open yard. The long straight. Can just about see the hills of Lisburn. Into the tight corner at the air lock – the gates. The gates to everywhere.  What to think of while I churn out the miles?  We have endless hours. Holding onto those previous memories that slowly get washed out. Think of anything; football; the troubles; music. For some reason school memories start to return. Never was one for poetry but some of that English literature stuff now floats back.  I get into a rhythm.  Nearly trance like. The miles roll on. Poetry. Not my thing yet it comes creeping in.  How does that go?

Once in Persia reigned a king, Who upon his signet ring,

Graved  a maxim wise and true, Which if he held before his eyes…

The rain rolls in from the west. Im totally soaked but I just run on.  The cloud lowers and there  is a feeling of running in a large grey box. Darkness descends. Feet beating out a watery tune.  September telling us what type of winter awaits. The mood of grey that covers the country outside. The real world. The free world. The rain bites into my bare legs. One good thing- the rain keeps people in the huts. There’s less of the mundane slagging/ bantering that goes on. ‘Hey you, get the lead out’ and ‘get the hump up, ye boy ye.’  Got boring after the hundredth time.  So many smartarses; so little space. I’ve lost feeling in my hands ages ago.  My breathing is laboured. The sweat top is getting heavier.  I can feel chaffing start.  Some of the men like Gusty have knocked out a marathon. Could I? I’m feeling good. So onto the half marathon.  Why not, not exactly going anywhere special to night.

Gave counsel at a glance, Fit for every change and chance

Solemn words and these are they, Even this shall pass away.

The compound life carries on around me but out here – I’m on my own.  For now. All but 2 of the 60 men do some form of exercise. Some are well into their weights. Big Rab, our Arnie. Some are into their boxing. The Mad Major.  But some excel at the running. We are allowed once a week onto the football pitch. It is a blessing to get out into a wide area. Less corners. More removed from confinement. Space.  Openness.  Some sort of freedom?  The miles mount up. The wind has picked up and the rain is smarting on my face. My old geography teacher would be proud of me.  Metrology on a Monday morning. Whoopee. This is nimbostratus.  A long and very wet period.  I do some maths. How many seconds in a year. In two years’ time I will have spent one third of my life in here. Nearly all my adult life.  Got to keep going.  Fight the wee voice that says ‘stop, that’s enough’.  The words keep coming.

Struck with palsy, sere and old, Waiting at the gate of gold

Said he with his dying breadth, Life is done but what is death


I finally finish.  I walk round to warm down. My breath streams out in front of me. Steam rises from my sweatshirt. I go to my cube, (room) get my wash gear and head for the showers. The rain is still falling. My hair is plastered to my head but I feel pleasantly tired.  Knackered actually. The warm water is a blessing.  It bites and stings at first. Some days there is no warm water. Bummer.  I have a towel wrapped round me.  I run round to the middle hut dodging the puddles. I get in, dry off and get something warm to eat. Most of us would walk 1 hour before lock-up at 9. Not tonight Josephine. One soaking a day is enough. Some brave souls do walk round. Screws are in at 9. They looked pissed off. And very wet. It’s dark now. One of those nights we are not too unhappy about being locked up.   The hut is a bustle of noise.  T.V. on, men playing cards, some chat, some make handicrafts, beds being made, letters written.

I’m in bed early. Always find that a soaking like that makes me very drowsy and tired.  I have an end cube. I have a window in the gable wall and I can look out over the yard. The lights struggle to shine in the menacing night. Rain pelts of my window. I read for a while with the noise of the rain as background music. It competes with the laughter of the men down the other end at the TV.  I finish reading.  Another means of escape.  I lie down and watch the rain run down the window pane.  The wind has picked up. The round roof is made of corrugated tin sheets.  It won’t be so quiet tonight.  The noise becomes deafening. The wind threatens to lift the roof.  The rain catches a loose sheet and sounds like some mad drummer having a breakdown.  I try to drift of but can’t get that poem out of my head now.

Then in answer to the king, fell a sunbeam on his ring

Showing by a heavenly ray, even this shall pass away.

Jack H.








A Lifetime of TV: JHA

A Lifetime of TV.

      Serving out a life sentence means obviously that one is not out in society doing all the usual things that people do. Therefore so much of the historic events that took place are viewed by the life sentence prisoner by the medium of TV.  TV viewing in the Crum was sporadic to say the least. I entered the Crum in  1977 when the ‘day in day out’  system worked. Republicans one day,  loyalists the next. When I say a day out I mean 3 hours out of the cell.  Washing in the morning. Walking in the  afternoon and TV in the evening.  The C wing rec’ room was a large drab room with a black and white TV high up in the wall fixed securely on iron brackets. The room was always awash with noise and tension.  I was in the rec’ room one evening when the news came on about a Provo getting a  natural life sentence.  There was a quietness while the news sunk in to many of us sitting there.  Only 4 natural life sentences  were given during the Troubles. And I had been speaking to Basher and Billy earlier.

1977. I recall the 1977 FA Cup Final. (21st May) Whether you were a  Liverpool or United fan (or other) this was a big match.  As luck had it was our day out that Saturday. It was pure escape for 45 minutes on what I recall was a tight game by both sides.  No goals by half time.  The screws let us see the first half then locked us up for the second half.  Nice one.   The rest of the match was listened to by radio. For those who had one.  The local connection for us was Sammy Mc Ilroy,   Jimmy Nicholl and wee Mc Creery.  All United men.

1978. The TV incident of the year for me was the Lan Mon house slaughter. (17th February)  By this time I was in Compound 21 awaiting trial.  The bombing took place at 9 pm  so the TV crews didn’t have time that evening to broadcast the devastation. But C.21 was very news aware and we knew that something very bad had taken place. I was in the middle hut. We had been locked up for the night.  We were used to,  ‘Here is a news flash’ , remember them?  There was a silence to hear what had happened, then a buzz of talk. People went to their cubes to discuss the latest atrocity. The horror of it was very visible the next day.  The dead , the injured. The funerals that would follow.  1978. A year to forget. I was given my life sentence later that year.



1979. ‘I don’t like Mondays’.  (Jan 29th)  I was settling into prison life by starting my degree, getting serious about my training and producing quite a bit of art work.  Life in 21 was still busy with high numbers and many characters that lifted the gloom.  We knew of the H Blocks and protests but that was still a distant worry. One way of coping with indefinite imprisonment was music. The Boomtown Rats had produced the album (remember vinyl albums?) – A Tonic for the Troops.  The main song I recall is ‘I don’t like Mondays’. (Although it was an excellent album all round).  Apparently this was said by a 16 year old Brenda Spencer to explain why she killed 2 and injured many children in a very American type educational shooting.  She walked into the Grover Cleveland Elementary school in San Diego with the Ruger rifle her father had bought her for Christmas.  Nice one Dad.   It was a strange event to contrast our ongoing troubles. Sadly the type of event would become common in the USA.  (Whatever happened to her?)





1980 Iranian embassy storming. (5th May)  The TV event of the year for me interrupted watching Alex Higgins in the final of the Embassy World snooker Championship in Sheffield.  Out of the blue the live coverage was disrupted by events unfolding at South Kensington,  London.  We knew of the siege but no one had seen what was coming.  The hostage takers had executed one hostage and dumped his body. A group of us stood around the TV in the middle hut wondering what was going on.
It was no surprise when the news came through that all but one of the 6 terrorists had been killed. It was a stunning success. All but one of the 26 hostages were rescued.



1981. ( 5th May. )   Those of us in the cages or compounds had Special Category Status. The British government had recognised the special nature of the troubles and granted those  involved in the troubles a recognition.  From the Crum’ most of the men,  Gusty leading the UVF/ Red Hand group, went to the Nissen hut style POW camp at the Long Kesh- an old RAF air strip. From 1976 there was a process of criminalisation or the blatant retelling of a plain fact that most of the paramilitaries were not criminals but those involved in inter communal conflict.  The H blocks kicked in around 1976. Various protests,   no work, no wash and dirty had taken place. There was only one protest left to bring the situation to a head. We were all too aware that was happening over the wall in the H Blocks would touch us sooner or later.  I recall that brinkmanship was the order of the day.  There had been one abortive hunger strike. Surely Sands would not die? I was up at 7am on the 5th of May. I took the only radio out of our middle hut to the study hut so that I would not wake anybody. I put Radio Ulster on and it didn’t take long. Belfast was alight after Sands had died in the early hours. The rest is part of our sad history.  There wasn’t a mummer in the cages.




1982  (23rd May) HMS Antelope.  The Falklands war was a TV war. We often watched the 9 o clock news to see what had happened that day.  There was one TV between 30 men. We would stand and listen before heading off to our cubes. There were many iconic images from that summer ; the HMS Coventry, HMS Sheffield,  Sir Galahad.  The Belgrano. We got used to John Nott,  Brian Hanrahan and of course Maggie.  A quiet year. Marking time.


1983.  25th September.  1983 was a strange year. The new romantics were shuffling of the stage while synthpop was making inroads.  It was a year of mixed music with UB40, the Police, and Human League all hitting the musical heights.  Sinn Fein were on the rise with Gerry A winning west Belfast. George Bush and wife visited Dublin while his government sent Cruise missiles to Greenham Common, England. The cold war was heating up.  The prison was relatively quiet after 10 republicans had starved themselves to death. It was a good summer with days spent in shorts and sandals. There was no immediate indication in the cages that something big had taken place ‘across the wall’. Sunday was always a quiet day in the cages. No visits, no classes, no football.  We didn’t even hear the shooting that took place. But the news soon caught up with what turned out to be one of the largest British prison escapes. One of the  consequences was even tighter security. For everyone.



1984. 6th March. The  Miners’ strike.  Our numbers were starting to drop. A new name has started to enter our discussions. Apparently there is a brand new super prison that’s going to open at Maghaberry. Another disused airstrip. Is there not enough prison sin our wee country? Ronnie Reagan came to Ireland and  John stalker was looking at the shoot to kill. The prisons had gone of the front page.  Big Benny Redfern from Compound 17 died during an escape attempt in the cages. Many of our men were entering their second decade in prison.  Another power conflict was being played out in mainland Britain. It had the air of a war that moved on a daily basis. Arthur Scargill became the love him hate him figure beloved of the printed media.



1985 13th July   Live Aid. The last of the fixed sentence men left the compounds. 6 had been sentenced to 20 years each in 1975. We were left with only lifers.  The prevailing mind-set was that we were all staying until the troubles stopped.  However  this year seen 2 juvenile lifers being taken to the  Crum to prepare for release.  Did a chink of light just come on?  I had my first case review. I got knocked back 2 years. The prevailing mind-set was that we were all staying until the troubles stopped. We all had done something to raise money for Live Aid.  Make handicrafts and sell them. Money sent to charity. We did watch Barry Mc Guigan win the world title.  Nerves wrecked.  But the13th July was a glorious Saturday. Up early and to the gym to  get training completed.  An early run. And it was an early start.  A long day of good music.  A great excuse to sit in front of the box all day. Quo. Bowie. Cars. Queen. Even better we could watch the American part later on that evening.



1986 January 28th.  Challenger disaster. I recall the day as being bright and dry. The Mad Major ( our term of endearment)  had called me in and said ‘did you see that’.  I was into the whole space thing. This was through the day.  Could not believe what we were seeing on TV along with the rest of the world.  A strange year. Men were getting their cases reviewed but the sting in the tail was getting a 2 year knockback.  I declined mine. What was the point?  A long year that seen our numbers drop as some men voluntarily left to go to the dark side- the H blocks.  The Sticks (official IRA) had already gone to the Crum because they were down to single figures.  I got my degree this year and started on my Honours.



1987. 8th November.  The year starts with all sorts of rumours about the end of Special Category.  There are tensions as some men are due for release. Others are not.  I got another case review, I didn’t go out. I got put back another 2 years.  Most of us carry on training, studying and completing handicrafts. Much of it is now at a very high standard. Some have gained qualifications in football , coaching and athletics.  The Remembrance Day slaughter hits the world headlines. I recall Maggie T being there in Enniskillen. Hardly one of the main arenas for the troubles. Some of us wonder was it a deliberate act of revenge for what happened in Loughgall on the 8th May.  There is a feeling of going backwards. Some men wonder what impact these outside events will have on reviews?




1988.  19th March. A year to change everything.  I had just spent my 11th Christmas in prison.  The NIO had deniable talks with the prisoners in the cages. A gentleman’s agreement. Leave the Nissen huts, the jungle of  razor barbed wire and  go to the H-Block and out you go.  After a new set of reviews,  of course. Bit of a trust issue there but it was agreed by the large majority.   We ended up in H2. There were 3 events this year which just rolled into one. First Gibraltar, (6th March),  then Stoner at Milltown (16th March).  Then the true horror of what had been happening for years. Savagery,  barbarity, madness, suffering, death.  Two (more) humans are killed in broad daylight for the world to see.  Were things getting better or worse?



1989.  9th November. I was in the H Blocks but I had been granted, like most others,  Christmas Parole.  Amazing.  The world seemed to be changing with ours.  The writing was on the wall. Special Cat’  aka Political status,  was ending.  A new world waited. I was transferred to the Crum to prepare for release. My focus was on my family and settling back in but the Cold war had loomed large and heavily over all of us on the ‘80s. Yet here was a clear symbol of division becoming redundant.  The Berlin wall was breached. People crossed through unharmed.  Time magazine said it was an unparalleled year. South Africa, China, Iran, Poland. The world had changed. The Berlin wall was down.  The walls that had held me for over a decade was also down. I came out to a different world in so many ways.


The Visit: Primo

The Visit.

  I wake at 6am. My husband is sleeping sound. I hear the rain on the window. But I don’t need the blinds up to know its another rainy November day. I always wake up early – a left over from my days as a house maid. I have to be up early to get everything ready especially today. I’m seeing my son up in the Kesh. I go down stairs and get the porridge on. I set the fire for later. Some newspaper, sticks and coal. I put on the single bar electric fire. It does all right but its very hard on the electric. Hubby has the works van home and he will be in extra early to get his days load on and out. But he has an extra delivery today.  Sometimes these early dark mornings remind me of that morning 10 years ago when the police came to the door and took my son, our son,  away.  My beautiful boy becoming a man in that god forsaken place.  We didn’t even know he was ‘involved’. 

I wake in the darkness bar the orange light shining through the wired glass. It is deadly quiet. The tin Nissen huts are freezing. It’s a Thursday in mid-November. In Long Kesh prison Camp. Compound 21. The doors will open at 7.00. Today is different. It’s a visit day. Instead of getting up and doing chores, then studying and some craftwork,   I will train first ( a 5 mile run) and get ready for the half hour visit with my mother. My weeks allowance. Even though I’m in the 10th year of imprisonment these visits are still special. The only good thing about the 10 year mark is that I’m half way through my stipulated sentence. I’m on the home straight. I may be 27 but I’m still mothers youngest.  I’m more proud of her each year that passes. I thought she would never get over my arrest and sentence. But each year she seems stronger, more confident. Assertive. She was never like that at home.

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What Did You Do This Weekend?-Lindsay

What did you do this weekend?

Serving a life sentence or not there was a routine to be followed in the Special Category Status or cage section of the old Long Kesh.   I was in Compound 21 from ‘77 until ‘88 when we left to go to the H Blocks. Saturdays was when many men got their family visits.

Only one Saturday visit per month although that changed towards the end days. No football of classes on a  Saturday and no visits -bear legal visits – on a Sunday.  Our routine was that there would be a ‘muster’ parade on a Monday morning. This meant your room or cube had to be cleaned, top to bottom ,and you had to have your black uniform in tip top condition. So you had a choice, either Saturday or Sunday,  you could ‘bung out’ your cube. Most of us were doubled up.  So either both do it together or do it week about.  Getting a cube or room of your own was a most prized situation.

     ‘Bunging out’ was literally taking everything out of your room and cleaning, wiping and  scrubbing what you could. Some chancers may bluff their way but were easily caught out.  So after doing the chores in the morning.  Every morning. (Clean the shower unit, the hot plates the centre floors, clean outside the huts,  etc) many would start the task and get it out of the way.  The centre part of the floor in the hut middle would be a scene of activity.  There were only so many deck scrubbers. Loads of Vim and wire wool.  The vinyl floor tiles would be scrubbed until there were ultra clean. We would make someone with OCD proud.

The wire wool disappeared after the powers that be found it burned with  a brilliant brightness and heat.  Green scouring pads became the norm.   The timbers or the inside of the curved walls – corrugated iron actually – were all wiped  down. All clothes came out of your  individual steel locker.  Getting extra shelves was seen as a blessing.  At one time I had 5 shelves.  Wow. Fold your clothes them up and wipe out your locker.

The problem now was what to do when your floor was drying. Go for a walk around  the wire?  I wonder how many will remember the cage chorus when on the wire. ‘Do yer whack’?  Or go and do a bit of training? (If you had a visit this process could be done on Sunday. I recall bunging out  on Sunday afternoons with the radio playing top 20s from years ago. In summer time the sun would stream into the centre of the hut from the many half windows. Windows would be wide open to assist the drying of the floor. The hut was lit up and  alive)  Or you could go to the study hut and study or write a letter.  Of course you could always slide into someone’s cube who wasn’t bunging out.  ‘What about ye mate.  How’s you? And start an innocent conversation as subtly as possible. And maybe even get a cuppa out of it!

The point of all this was Monday morning. Never mind the drill and parading round the yard.  Our uniforms, boots,  buckles and badges would be inspected out on the parade. When finished that,  we all had to wait by our doors for the inspection. One of the brass would come in and go into every cube. He would check lockers, floors, beds, etc.  Run his hand over ledges and surfaces. We made bed packs every day. Bed packs is were you made blankets and sheets into a standard British army bed pack. I was hacked off once when my cube mate left a cig’ butt in an ashtray,  which he had hidden. (Not hidden well enough!) I got the punishment for it despite never having smoked a fag in my entire life. Punishment for having failed the inspection (despite the inevitable slagging) was usually a half hour fatigues. This entailed some menial and boring task.  Picking up butts, sweeping the yard, etc.  When the inspection was over then it was get out of the black gear and get back into your own routine. Usually there was a rush for the single water boiler that served 30 men. Who all wanted a cuppa.

OK, many of us bitched about this little part of Kesh culture but it gave us a structure. A purpose.  Discipline. And it meant that cleanliness was very high on the agenda.

Of course today I still do this at weekends?  I don’t think so.  That was then. This is now.  But our home sparkles.  I got the love of my life.  Who has OCD.





Stuck Outside Of Lisburn With The Long Kesh Blues Again: Beano

Stuck Outside of Lisburn with The Long Kesh Blues Again.


Bob Dylan was one of those artists who had a universal appeal amongst the Loyalist Prisoner population throughout my tenure at Her Majesties various establishments during the seventies and eighties. 

When us young ones started getting turned on by the Zimm—that’s seventies hippy parlance by the way-in the wake of Dylan-Planet Waves and the live Before the Flood which appeared in 1974-Before The Fire-many of the auld hands let us know that Bobby D was in fact old hat and that they were humming his protest songs ten years earlier.  They bored you with the stories that Dylan ripped the Seegers off or that he  was poor man’s protest singer compared to Tom Paxton.  We weren’t deterred.  Of course we had our own recollections of the Byrds Tambourine Man or Blowin in the Wind by his auld flame Joan Baez.  Come to think of it there was hardly a song of his she didn’t cover but that was the one that was best known I suppose.
By late 75 there were new songs in our rapidly filling Bob repertoire.  From Planet Waves we were introduced to Forever Young and from the masterpiece Blood on the Tracks in early 75 you could have your pick of classic songs.  If you overdosed on Shelter from the Storm or Idiot Wind sure you could always fall back on You’re a Big Girl Now-which of course could arguably contain one of the greatest lyrics of all time. “ –with a pain that stops and starts—-like a corkscrew to my heart” —a corkscrew to my heart….You could almost feel it piercing your skin.   A true wordsmith and genius at work.  There was talk in mid 1975 of a proposed massive tour coming later in the year.  The Rolling Thunder Review.  A huge tour with a wonderful ensemble of musicians-a travelling caravan of troubadours as it was described in one music magazine. The tour was split in two..and the first half kicked off in the North West states and Canada in the autumn of 75.  The southern states and the west coast welcomed the troupe in the Spring of 1976.  In between times the epochal Desire was released-January 1976.  It received the highest of critical acclaim and this was echoed through sales.  Almost forty years later it continually ranks in the top ten of Dylan albums in polls.  In 2013 a reader’s poll for the prestigious Rolling Stone magazine listed it as the 5th best Dylan album of all time.

There are no sub standard songs on Desire-many of the compositions on the album are character driven-either real or imaginary.  There is an 11 minute biography of famed Mafia don Joey Gallo and the album closes with a tribute to Dylan’s long suffering wife Sara.  Many of the songs were co-written with Jacques Levy-who was, amongst other things, a songwriter-a theatre director and a clinical psychologist.  But it is the opening track that will linger longest in our retrospective catalogue.  From the first, immediate staccato lyrics—“ “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night-enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall”-
we are flung head first into that maelstrom of a night in The Lafayette Bar and Grill, Patterson New Jersey in 1966.  For those of us who who didn’t know the background to the song it led us to search for that information.   We revelled in the story that such was Dylan’s interest in Carter that he organised a concert in Clinton State Prison in December 1975.  This led us to thinking that maybe we should request Clubsound or Big Tom and the Mainliners to play for us in Compound 21.

Soon we were experts in the injustice that Dylan  sang about-of the racially motivated and wrongful conviction of a man who but for unlawful imprisonment could have been—“the Champion of the World”.  According to The Bard.  Hurricane became much more than a modern day protest song and developed into somewhat of an anthem.  The 8 plus minutes provided enough snippets of catchy lyrics to satisfy the best of us.  The song was a veritable timeline of Carter’s supposed crime-his trial and subsequent “false” imprisonment.  In the early months of 1976 and stretching long into the summer the soaring strains of Scarlet Rivera’s violin could be heard swooping through the huts.  The Dansette played on repeat-Desire and in particular Hurricane was rivalled only by The Eagles Greatest Hits and the tearful wrench of Lying’ Eyes.  One was favoured by the young, energetic and champions of the underdogs rights.  The other by the Sad Sack brigade whilst writing letters back home.  The energetic types used the track as a timer of sorts for a bout of activity in the gym-as they did with Bat Out of Hell a couple of years later-due to the length of the track.  A sustained attack on the heavy bag reduced a man to a sweating, quivering rack by the time Hurricane morphed into the second track-Isis-a tale of unrequited love -the Mexican kind.
Hurricane sustained us and gave us our fix—many by now had fallen to this fresh addiction…like the junkies we were we went in search of the old tablets-the vinyl pills that would get us through.  The Dylan register was exhausted.
Of course us new found Dylanites- or in the case of the more extreme-Dylanologists-were open to stick from the more staid-old fashioned-side shade-checked shirt brigade, who taunted us with versions of Benny Hill’s Go Round Again.  But do you know what?  See even if you listened really closely to Benny..and even if you admitted that he had a passable nasal twang..and that he could cram loads of words into the one sentence..he wasn’t a patch on the Master.