My prison diary - Part #1 – ‘Why?’

Andrew was 36 and had been locked "more than he'd be free" when he received his latest sentence. It was a failed suicide attempt that propelled him to start writing. In this first of a series of letters from prison, we hear from Andrew as he decides to grapple to understand his past and move towards a better future. 

Arriving through those big dark doors of Winchester prison in 2015 was a very painful experience for me, but it was nothing new. At 36, I had been locked up more then I’d been free. Jail was baby food to me and I never did it the easy way. I was disruptive, aggressive, angry and sometimes dangerous.

But the feeling of failing to survive in society without breaking the law had bitten hard this time. Why couldn’t I do what most people took for granted? I had a loving family and an amazing mum, who I had lost the year before. She only wanted me to live a normal life, but my existence to that point had been anything but normal. My behaviour was destructive, dangerous and sometimes deadly. I put my own life at risk many times, along with innocent members of the public. I knew I was wasting my life, caught in the criminality storm and revolving door of prison. Being intelligent didn’t help it; it made the pain of failure all the more raw. I wasn’t able to answer the one question my mum had asked me thousands of times - why? Why now? Why again? I ignored that painful question, blocked it out. I wasn’t prepared to bear the answer. The pain was too much and so my mind would seal it shut; out of sight. After each new time out of jail I’d convince myself that I would not get caught, this  time, but I always did - sooner or later and me and that prison door would meet with the loud echo of - why? Again, why?

But this time was different. After the doors closed behind the sweat box stinking of piss and fear, the question why? Refused to obey my command to ‘do one’. It echoed around my head, followed by flashes of memories past - painful memories, flooding my brain till I was shaking with adrenaline and fear. It was so bad that that I had to escape but I was in prison, in a cell with my, myself and I. So out came my response to it - extreme behaviour. I stole medication and swallowed it all down in the reception area of the prison. I awoke three days later in hospital, chained up to two guards. In my haze, I felt relief but Miss asked me: “Why did you do that, you silly sod?” and the answer was: “I don’t know why.” Lying in that hospital bed I decided I wanted to know why. It was there that I first decided to try and find the answers by writing about my life, my thoughts, my feelings. I was terrified at the answers I might find. But, it might sound strange, but I felt my mum’s spirit with me, and a sense that she would be with me on this journey. I was scared I might not come back to the me I had known, but I was emboldened to find the answer within.

Andrew's diary continues next month. 

PET recently made a submission on to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the link between between poor education and learning difficulties and the risk of suicide in prison. This can be read here.