It is June 1988. A little part of prison history is taking place. Set inside the history of the troubles this event does not rank high. However we are the remnant of the men who conducted the violence of the early 1970s.
I am special category prisoner, a lifer who has served most of my time in Compound or Cage 21 of the Long Kesh prison camp. But today we are leaving that all behind. We remaining lifers are going to H 2, across the wall. We have packed all our stuff in boxes that have been sent on ahead. We are taken, a small group at a time, in the prison mini bus. The windows are covered over ‘for security reasons’. There are many mixed feelings. Firstly there is fear. We are placing ourselves in the hands of a prison regime that for years was hostile, vindictive and political in it treatment of us. We are now trusting them to honour an under the table deal that sees us go to a H Block in order to end the compound system and the reward is that we will get out sooner.
Another feeling is excitement. We are going somewhere new. Over the last decade we have walked every square inch of this space. We watched summers come and go, endured the winters which painted the wire white with hoar frost. The rains that battered the round tin roofs. We seen 1000 sunrises and sunsets. And on a grey overcast day with the greys of concrete walls we were like in one giant grey foreboding box. This move is a step along the life sentence.
Another feeling in this strange mix, and one that puzzles me, is one of sadness. How can I be sad to see the end of this? My dream was to get out of it? But this place has seen a full decade of my life. I came in as a teenager and now I’m leaving as a thirty something. I suppose its the memoires. God knows there was some dark times. Days of fear. Fights, disputes. A furious rage as maturity takes hold and you know what you are missing. But it is the memories, the good ones, that outsiders won’t understand. We had good times. We had to make the best of our situation. And indeed there where many more good men here than bad. There was the joker s, the fools, the wise, the deep, the psychos and the rest. This is where you find true friends. I recall on night crying with laughter at the antics of some of men in the hut. Wee H from the Bay playing the waw waws. A from of music that will never reach the charts(I hope). But this still is a hard place. Kindness and softness aren’t in abundance here but they exist between friends. We were a small community bounded by our past deeds and beliefs. Our common purpose. A meaning that will survive these walls.
During our time here, and through all our protests, we seen the hunger strike pass by. Only 500 yards over a wall but a million miles from us. We watched and cheered in ‘85 as Mc Guigan took a world title. We watched the space shuttle burn and crash. We spent a Saturday watching Live Aid, first in London then New York. A great day. We had raised money for the charity by donating money from handicrafts. We enjoyed the Boys from the Blackstuff. We watched in with disbelief as Stoner done his thing. Feeling and anger was stirred as we watched 2 men, 2 soldiers, being slaughtered. Supergrasses trials came and went. The screws strike. Stand offs with the screws. An attempted escape ending in death. The Cup finals and Matches of the day. Men released never to return.
I got a Degree and also learned how to fight properly. Met up with an American Kennedy and men from the International Red Cross. We learned about ourselves and the ‘other side’. The endless drilling now a memory. How many wallets and purses where produced in those years? All the visits from family and friends. The many times we cleaned those toilets, the study hut, the canteen and our cubes. Painting the huts. All those searches. The Christmases. Snowball fights and pushing weights. A unique jumble of memories. I leave this all behind. I am sad. I am happy. The mini bus door shuts. I will never be back here.