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.