I Was Only Kidding………..: Mea Culpa

I was only kidding.


 The place is the middle hut of Compound 21 in the Kesh prison. It is 1981. We are 90 odd loyalist paramilitary prisoners.  We have special category status.  We live as prisoners of war.  Each hut has an officer in charge and overall is Gusty. Our OC. It is a life of tedium,  conflict and uncertainty. Studying, the gym, weekly visit, locked up at 9pm, card schools, TV, football and so. Same old pattern every week. Some of us are life sentence prisoners. I am a lifer. We are going nowhere. The long termers have a mix of fixed sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years. They know their release dates. Some are serving short prison sentences like 8 and 10 years.  So anything to relieve the boredom and tension is to be welcomed. The odd ‘stand to’ with the screws. Well nearly every summer something happens. They just can’t do their time the way we can.  The odd prank to get tongues wagging and some poor sod humiliated.  Daily slagging about football,  girlfriends, mates and so on.

One stunt I pulled concerned the old style Belfast Telegraph. Only one copy came in that night and the screw shouted on me from the compound gate to bring it in. Before leaving it out for reading I went to the study hut where my typewriter was. It was an old Remington with black and red  typewriter ribbon and keys that flew up and down as you typed.  The typeface and size just matched in nicely. The Tele usually had, in those days, a blank column- ‘Stop Press’ -on the back page,  bottom right hand column. It usually was filled with details of the latest atrocity in N.Ireland.  It was blank tonight and I proceeded to type that the NIO had granted two thirds remission to all prisoners in NI. (This was the situation in England at that time) Fixed term prisoners in N.I.  had half of their sentence knocked off,  ‘for good behaviour’.

I left the Tele  on a table in the end hut and said nothing.  No one was about. Thank heavens as it turned out. It wasn’t long before the buzz started.  For any lifers this was not relevant or important news so they didn’t join in. However for any fixed term man this was electric news. For some it would mean they effectively had served out their term and could be released in days. For the 20 year men it meant years knocked off their sentence. The place was alive with speculation. People asked for radios to hear what the local stations would say. The 9 o clock news was on every TV to see what commentators would make of this audacious move.  The brass were puzzled as they usually had a sneak warning of important stuff coming back the track.  They had been speculation in the media but nothing serious. But here it was. In black and white. In the papers. And the Belfast Telegraph no less. It had to be true.

Well,  talk about throwing petrol on a fire. Very earnest conversations took place between the short termers as calculations unfolded about possible new release dates. I knew I was in the shit when I heard someone  talking about spending Xmas at home. Whoops.  Some were bursting to get a message to their family as soon as possible.  Someone asked me if I had heard anything about the two thirds being introduced.  ( I had a reputation of being a news junkie)  I said ‘no’.  Which in a way was the truth. I certainly had not heard that the two thirds was coming in. But I had doctored the paper to say that. No one asked had I done this and I didn’t feel like enlightening them just at that time.  I did spend some time thinking I should own up and say it was a prank. And maybe we would all have a good laugh and a chuckle. hmmm. Maybe not.  The local news came and went. Nothing. The morning papers, Newsletter and Daily Mirror came. There was a bloody queue to read those papers. Scoured back to front.  Nothing.

Theories  abounded. Maybe the paper leaked the story but it was so politically sensitive that it is being kept under wraps? Or. Maybe the screws had done this to wind the prisoners up?  The usual nutters muttered about mind games, British intelligence and black operations working on the loyalist prisoners.  As time went on, peace and quiet returned slowly.  I never did own up to any of the fixed term lads. Of all whom were released in due course. Some of them were good friends.  So now, after 30 odd years,  a belated apology to all. Sorry.  I was only kidding.  Better late than never.

Mea Culpa


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