Dispelling The Myth of The Knuckledragger: Primo

The University of Anti terrorism.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison”,  Victor Hugo

As it became obvious that I wasn’t going home for a while I started to turn my attention towards education. I was a loyalist life sentence prisoner in Compound 21. I had begun my sentence by completing a fair bit of art work. It was a discussion with Davy Ervine that led me to veer towards education as a full time ‘occupation’. He said to pick one or other and give it my full attention. I picked, thankfully, education. ( I would keep on doing some art work over the next 10 years  as a pastime). I started off fairly easy with an ‘O’ level in Art.  At this time some of the men had started their Open University courses. I was prompted to begin a Social Sciences course and started this by undertaking D101 Making Sense of Society. Quite ironic really, when I reflected on my life experiences to date. The course involved some geography, some psychology, sociology, etc. I passed it and decided to go for the Degree. At this time we were limited by what the prison would allow us. This course was a full credit and we could only do one credit per year. Later I would do 2 half credits in a year. That was a lot of work.

The next course was an introductory Technology course, ‘Living with Technology’. I really enjoyed this and came away with a top class mark. But I now decided to select Psychology as my basic degree. There was Mathematics (I wasn’t bright enough), Computers ( had not a clue), Philosophy ( still less of a clue) and so Psychology it was. As well as academic studies there were other courses available. Evening time classes involved a teacher coming in and delivering various courses such as English, Maths, etc. Some of the men in the cage learned their own foreign language, German being a common one. Gusty already had some men learning the Irish language.

One course I do recall was the Football Coaching course as run by the IFA. This was demanding, required a high level of fitness, ability to understand football theory and then a fair degree of social skills to implement and interact while being assessed.  This was a tough course which happy to say I passed.

In the Open University I moved onto the Introduction to Psychology which I found surprisingly difficult. I may have passed but no top marks. Within the O.U. there were basic sets of courses that would get recognition by outside bodies, so from here my courses where easily chosen. The next course was the most difficult; Cognitive Development: from Birth to Adolescence. It was heavy going that required a lot of reading, rereading and writing. Next was ‘Personality and Learning’ which was informative and applicable to myself and others.

Passing it I went onto what was regarded as a very difficult course called the Biology, Brain and Behaviour. It was amazing and a new world opened up. However I loved this course and fared well. By this time I had run foul of the security department of the prison who seemed to thrive on blocking and annoying students at every turn. One of the funnier times came up over a plastic model of half a human brain which outlined all the different parts of the brain, occipital lobes, medulla, etc. This was held by security for some reason. The joke was that some of them wanted it for themselves. So it was M.P.s and petitions to Governors and what not. What a farce. So compare and contrast visions of men at bomb classes against me learning about a human brain. ( As a side note, I never once seen one of these bomb, gun or terrorist classes.) The O.U. courses involved meeting with a tutor on a monthly basis to go over essays and other issues. I found all the tutors very intelligent, dedicated and of a great help to me.

I started on level 3 courses. I began the Social Psychology full credit. Here was the real meat of the course.  This was superb and parts of it could be applied to my prevailing situation. How do we all interact? Why do we follow certain people and ideas? Why are we social animals and why does conflict occur between individuals and groups?

Possibly the most interesting course and relevant (in a way) was the course ‘Crime and Society’. This of course was geared to the British system of Law and Order and not our lovely little spot with its Diplock courts, internment (although that was used in the war years on the mainland), scheduled offences, supergrasses, hunger strikes, etc. However here was a clear and systematic explanation of the normal criminal justice system. From the police to the courts, from the law makers to the prison and probation. I was of course interested in the stories about lifers in G.B.

An interesting course (A Level) was Government and Politics. Here was one of the few times that 3 of the factions could study together. Due to declining numbers of Special Category prisoners a compound came free which was turned into a study place. Both the UDA, the Sticks (Officials) and UVF/RHC could study together. A few of us on the politics course had discussions. Of course ‘real’ politics was a faraway cry from N. Ireland.

Another funny event was when one of my evening time teachers said he was getting a new job and would not be back. I wished him well and thanked for his time and effort. Shook hands and said goodbye. It was a short time afterwards that I saw him walk back into the phase accompanied by lots of staff. He had got another job all right. He was now an assistant governor! I laughed. We did speak later and I still held my respect for him.

At this time I was undertaking many courses to help pass the time and there was quite a variety. I studied Yoga (pretty good) except I was so relaxed I kept falling asleep! But very useful when I was on punished, by being on the boards. I took up Statistics following on from my Psychology stuff. Next I completed an ‘Awards for All’ in Weightlifting. I finished an Athletics coaching course with one of the senior instructors from outside. A few of us completed a Boxing course with an absolute gentleman who was the Irish boxing coach at one time. Some of us tried our hand at Irish History. Quite a laugh.

A decade of captivity had passed now and with a shift to the H blocks away from the cage/compound I undertook ‘A’ Level Art and ‘A’ level Statistics.  But I have to admit I have easily failed ‘A’ levels Maths three times!  I was very happy at passing the ‘A’ level Statistics which required a lot of revision.

However at this time I had gained my Honours Degree in Social Sciences (Psychology) and had to decide what I was now going to do. Fairly simple, start another degree! This time it would be Science as other lads had blazed the trail. So I started S101 but I was not to finish it. Events moved quickly and I was to be released. However I had been paid into the course and I was pushed to undertake the Summer School part of the course.  None of us ever had completed a summer school while in the Kesh for obvious reasons. Of all places I had to go it was Stirling, Scotland. I had never been to Scotland before.  I had been to England once and never out of the British isles.

So while still technically a serving life sentence prisoner I went to Stirling University which was brilliant. The people there knew nothing of my background or circumstances but I made friends and we had a great time.  However, I would not finish the course as life events over took it. I was back at home, had a job for a year, was building up new relationships and getting back into the real world.  During my workout phase I began a Creative Writing evening course in QUB. That was really good, but a bit odd. On Monday night I would be sitting in a class in QUB and the next evening I would be back in the Crum ‘work out’ unit locked in a cell.

Being a glutton for punishment I went for some reason to QUB to do of all things an MSc in Computer Science. Not one of my better choices. Totally flunked it and went and got a job in 1990 at the grand wage of £50 per week.

So my time inside was not totally wasted. One funny recollection concerns the term ‘University of Terrorism’. As I said above not once did I see a bomb or gun class. There was no talk of armed conflict and the use of terror. Obviously I have missed all that. I had people like Davy Irvine, Gusty and Billy Mitchell all urging us to use our brains. And I did discover, the pen is mightier than the sword (or gun).

I came out with quite a few qualifications which was satisfying but meant nothing in the face of prejudice, ignorance and discrimination. I have carried on my education and training since then and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I enjoy studying and learning. I can only hope to pass that attitude on to the young people (and older ones) that I meet and work with.



2 Responses to Dispelling The Myth of The Knuckledragger: Primo

  1. Once more, some fascinating reading from LKIO about the experiences of former prisoners. This article by Primo certainly dispels the much propagated myth of the thoughtless Loyalists who were apolitical. The accompanying articles present a much different story and not only reflect the visionary political thinking of those incarcerated at the time but also of the importance they placed on education – something the general public know little of.

  2. South Belfast

    Totally agree with William is the time now right to get messages like these to the wider community. The real life experiences of Loyalists politically engaged in a conflict is well documented but within the minds of individuals and certain groupings. Certainly makes much better reading than the sunday liars.
    Well done Primo and to G. Igitar for some fascinating articles.

    South Belfast