A New Beginning
by Pauline Hughes
“It is never too late to be what you might have been” — George Eliot
“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over” — Guy Finley
Joe was angry, angry at the world, angry at the screws, angry at his fellow prisoners, angry at the sheer boredom of prison life. But most of all he was angry at himself. He could not admit, even to himself, that he was the cause of his problems although somewhere deep inside he knew this to be the case. It was easier to blame his Mum for leaving, to blame his Dad for not understanding, to blame the fact that they had no money.
He had done well enough at primary school but, by the time he was twelve, he didn’t get lessons. It was boring. Same old stuff, day after day, too much writing, too much listening, not enough doing. The teachers spent all their time struggling to keep control. So he stopped going; just the odd day here and there at first, started hanging out with others who didn’t get the point of school. The school sent someone round to talk to him. It made no difference so he was put on the roll of a pupil referral unit. That was a good laugh. The pupils ran the place. You just turned up, talked to your mates, mucked about a bit. After a bit it seemed pointless. Started doing drugs, financed it by stealing and mugging. Collected an ASBO for dealing drugs when he was fifteen. Didn’t restrict him much especially after he cut the tag off. Took it out for a walk occasionally just to show he was on the straight and narrow.
Joe’s Dad was worried about him; tried to talk to him; tried to get him to give up the life, tried to tell him he was associating with the wrong people; that carrying a knife would get him into trouble; that he had things to offer the world. But Joe knew better. He didn’t exactly like his life, it didn’t make him happy but what alternative was there? At least people in his world respected him. That was what it was about – Respect. He was big, good looking; in his world people looked up to him. He was a leader, the one who kept the gang on top in the local area, seeing off any who wanted to muscle in.
That is until he stabbed a bloke. He’d deserved it, mouthing off, taunting. Joe had stabbed people before, but they’d always walked away with a minor wound. Just enough to make them back off. This time it was different, this time it was serious. The bloke almost died – would have done if some old girl hadn’t phoned for an ambulance.
The police had turned up at the flat mobhanded. After all Joe was known to them. Joe’s Dad was heartbroken. Joe was in bed but, before you could say “knife”, he was down the nick being fingerprinted, complaining that they had nothing on him. He wasn’t there. But he was; he knew it and the police knew it. They had some CCTV evidence – a bit flimsy – but they reckoned they had forensic evidence. They searched the flat but didn’t find the knife. It wasn’t there – Joe wasn’t stupid. But they took away his dark hoodie and his T-shirt. Turned out they found minute spots of blood. That, and the circumstantial CCTV evidence, was enough for a jury to convict him. Joe’s Dad cried.
“You’re better than that,” he said when he visited his son in the Young Offenders Institution. “You could make something of yourself. “
Joe was so angry that he couldn’t bring himself to co-operate. He got into fights all the time and lost his privileges, spent time in the isolation unit. That was how you got respect. You got taunted and mocked if you behaved. That made him so mad. He couldn’t help himself. He always lashed out.
Then one day, this guy turned up. Weedy looking he was, greyish hair. Said he wanted to start a choir. A bloody choir – in this place. Off his f—ing head. One of the screws reckoned Joe should have a go. No way. Joe was a hard guy. The inmates would be merciless if he joined in. He would lose what face he had.
Joe was in his cell, doing nothing when there was a knock on the door.
“Hello,” said the weedy looking bloke. “I’m Gareth. Can we have a chat?”
They just talked. They talked about Joe, how he felt about his life.
The next time Joe saw Gareth, he had a keyboard. He asked if Joe liked music. Could he write a song – about himself? So they spent a while playing around with words – Joe’s own words – and Gareth playing stuff on the keyboard. Gareth said it was good.
And that’s how it started. There were a couple of hiccups along the way. A fight that meant all the prisoners were locked down for twenty-four hours so Joe couldn’t see Gareth. Then Joe had a crisis of confidence and said he didn’t want to do it, but Gareth persuaded him, told him he was good. It ended with a concert – backing singers from the prison staff, solos from prisoners. Joe was so nervous, he didn’t think he could do it – sing his own song in front of all those people. But he did and it was just great. The applause was deafening. His Dad cried.
Joe wasn’t so angry now. He knew that his Dad had been right all along. He did have something to offer the world. It wouldn’t be easy but he knew he could turn his life around. He had something to hope for.
(c) Pauline Hughes 2020