A tale of yeast.
One of the more annoying features of Long Kesh life was the weekly search. Or worse still, getting 2 searches in a week. A search disrupted the daily routine. All of us, to 60 men, would have to go to the canteen hut (the hut without a toilet) for up to 2 hours. The search team would then be able to search and wreck our rooms, called cubes, at will. This routine became a bit tenser at the 12th July and Christmas. These where the only two times of the year that the UVF/RHC allowed alcohol to be made and drunk. Of course the screws knew this and the cat and mouse game of hiding and finding the hooch, fire water or more simply, poteen, would begin.
One year I was asked to secrete in my room a bag of yeast, a vital component in the manufacture of the mountain dew. To say it was potent is an understatement. We were all issued with plastic mugs for drinking tea, etc. Over time the inside would be stained. A certain amount of scrubbing was needed to clean the mug. Not so when the moonshine was about. A drop of the stuff in a mug, swirl it round and it would clean the inside in a flash. I was told that it could be set on fire!
My room was a veritable library. I was doing my degree and had loads of papers, books, folders, etc. Never mind the boxing and football mags. I long suspected that not a few screws just read the sports mags. Which was as well as I had no porn mags! The thinking was, that with a wealth of hiding spaces, that we would take the chance that screws would not search too long amidst this mountain of paper. Some of us had started a book club. A few of us subscribed money and when we bought books we would all share them reading one after the other. I was on ‘The Zebra Killings’ which was actually a factual book about racial violence in the USA. Another rule about the cage was that beds could not be left unmade. So we had the standard British army bed pack. One blanket to cover the mattress. The blanket was to be made ‘hospital style’ i.e. neatly tucked in! The rest of the blankets and sheets were to be folded, neatly, and wrapped by one standard blanket to form a bundle which was left at the top of the bed. It was a minor annoyance to find this wrecked upon returning to our cube and it had to be made again. No one could go to bed before 9pm, the official lock up time.
I decided to hide the yeast in a pile of papers about history, psychology and politics, The boring stuff. I thoughtfully left out some National Geographic mags with the football (Match) and boxing mags, ‘The Ring’ and ‘KO’. The clear plastic bag was about the size of a potato crisp bag and not too bulky. I thought it was well hidden. We went to the canteen leaving the hut in the hands of the professional, highly trained and motivated human sleuths. Sometimes the search team would be ‘clumsy’ and we would find personal items broken, pulled part and trashed. Private letters (censored of course) obvious read and threw down after reading. However, the Long Kesh searches pale against one search in the Crumlin. Truly the worst ever. It involved the army, sniffer dogs, RUC detectives and of course the prison search team. All the Proddies were kept in one toilet with its severe lack of seats! We spent most of a long hot summer day there. The search was deemed serious enough to forget to feed us although we were grateful for the one mug of tea. They wrecked cells from top to bottom. I returned to find the steel bunk bed taken apart. Food was on the floor along with clothes, books and anything else in the cell. It was as if a giant took the cell and gave it a good shaking. Although strangely and worryingly they didn’t find the explosives that went off later in the month.
However, after the search I retuned to my cube to find it disrupted. It was obvious someone was in and had a good look. Books were displaced, my folded clothes were disturbed, and the bed was messed up. I went to the pile of papers and looked for the yeast. It was gone.
I had a look around the floor, just in case, but a vain hope. I went to the man who gave me the yeast and told him the bad news. He shrugged and said no problem. Just need to smuggle more in. Win some, lose some.
I went back and tidied my room. It was lunch time and later I would go to the study hut to work on an essay. The rest of the day was non-eventful. The gym for an hour with some light exercise and sparring. Dinner around 6, watch the news, an hours walk before 9pm – lock up time. Lock up was a head count. Everybody around 30 would rush the boiler to get a cuppa. Some made toast. Later the hut would settle down to the TV watchers, some would be writing letters, some doing craft work and others just chatting the evening away. Lights out would be 12. I got my final cup of tea, had a talk with friends then decided to get my bed ready for an early night. I stripped the blanket of the mattress. I then grabbed the bed pack to pull out the sheets. A package fell at my feet. The yeast had been secreted in my bed pack. Obviously by the person who had found it. I had no idea who had searched my cube, but it was someone who had a shred of humanity and decency. While the men drank the poteen (twice a year) and got drunk, no violence towards staff was ever exhibited during my stay of 11 years.
We had our differences with the staff on many occasions and while the battle went on for control, for respect, and even among the highest security, the tensions and potential for violence, there were small glimpses of kindness and humanity. A late thank you is better than no thank you. Thank you.