The Crum: Patrick Greg.
It was with interest that I started to read this book given that a) I have spent 4 separate spells in the Crum, courtesy of the Troubles and b) it is written by an ordinary spud who worked there. I have to say that I hated the Crum. The noise, the filth, tension, food, hated, etc. So that’s my background when reading this tale. The first thing that strikes me is the human element, the reality, honesty and openness that the author brings to this book. I liked his style. And while he and I were on different sides (literally at times) I respect his honesty and motivation to tell this tale. I do have criticisms of the book but overall this is a good read.
I enjoyed his character sections talking of the celebrity prisoners like Paisley and Mc Guinness. Also there is realism by talking to the likes of Gusty Spence, the Martin Meehans, and Davy Ervines.
I already knew a lot about the executions in the Crum but his section on hangings is an excellent summary of those events. I assume that serving as a screw is a bit like being locked up there. You don’t know what it’s really like unless you done it. I like the author’s warts and all presentation. He doesn’t gloss or moralise. I accept his fascination with the building although as I said I hated the place. There are the funny moments which gives a more realistic view of life in there. While serving at Magilligan he tries to be undercover which he goes for a drink outside. The locals take about 5 seconds to suss him out. I really like his honesty about his colleagues (or ex colleagues). Prisoners are not exactly blind to what they see going on with staff. We knew the drinkers, the sleazy, the nasty, the weird and the decent ones. For anyone who has never been a prisoner this should be an amazing insight into their world.
On the negative side I was really disappointed about the naming of two of my friends who I had served a long time with. I think he could have written the book and got his story across without naming them. In this website we have the opportunity to name past staff. So far that has not happened. Nor would I want it. The author knew the victim who they had killed. So he got a bit emotionally involved by dwelling on this one event among thousands. And yes I appreciate what he says about the effect it had on him personally. It is one thing to name Gutsy and Gerry Kelly who are household names but these two men got back into society and done well. He makes the point about prisoners trying to condition screws. Maybe in the Crum but in the compounds we wanted things quiet and there was no need to condition anybody. However there was often conflict and that was very up front.
I completely challenge his assessment of loyalist prisoners although I assume from his book that he never served in the compounds section. He said the loyalists where not as disciplined as their republican counterparts. He should have spoken to some of his compound colleagues. One day during a protest the prison sent in their riot squad. They stood in ranks of 3 demanding to get into our compound. I know because I was standing on our side of the wire. Our man in charge said come on in. The prison staff stood down. We were highly trained, fit and motivated. We drilled, took orders, cleaned out rooms (cubes) every week, cleaned the toilets, painted, gained Degrees, kept fit, sent out high class craft work, everything. We were as disciplined as it could get. I can’t talk about the H Blocks as I never was there as an ordinary prisoner. Special category went there in 1988 but as Special cat prisoners.
But overall a good book which helps add a bit more realism to that aspect of the Troubles.