Saturday, April 16, 2011

Remember the Alamo

The Yank is dead, found early one morning having hung himself.  In such a small community it sounds surprising that I hardly exchanged a work with him over the years; we just mixed in different circles.

Very quickly the standard prison humour asserted itself: "It's as quiet as a morgue on this wing...., who's having his lunch?...Did he have a PlayStation?"

I didn't rise above this, although I felt unusually bitter at this death of a man I barely knew.  It isn't as if death is unusual here.  With the highest age profile of any prison in the country, people falling off their perch due to heart attacks or cancer is hardly rare.

So why did I feel uncomfortable, bitter even?  It took me days to realise that it was because The Yank was the first man to kill himself in my 5 years here.  A "medical" death is one thing - shit happens - but suicide is another matter.

Are there many Lifers who haven't, in the small hours, at least once contemplated the solution that is offered by the razor blade, the torn bed sheet, or sleeping pills?  Who knows; no-one has ever asked.

And I don't know what enticed The Yank to adopt the most permanent of solutions to life - or Life.  Perhaps we will never know.  People who spoke to him that evening before bang-up say that he appeared to be fine.  Hours later...

Maybe I'm bitter because it seems such a waste of that most valuable of things, life itself.  Maybe it's because I fear that it was his sentence, his prison existence, that became just too much to bear.


  1. This subject has triggered so much for me Ben, although I doubt whether what I have to say will be of any comfort to you or anyone who Knew Yank, I am sorry about it, and it is tragic, as is any suicide.

    Living as I do among mentally ill people, I have known and been very close to many people who have committed suicide, everyone of them had a poignant story to tell, a tragic loss of life, some of them I still see in my dreams ... and yet it is a brave act.

    People often say that it is selfish, many attempted suicides are indeed a cry for help, and some go wrong where they accidentally kill themselves, but I know that when you are so low, in such depths of despair, you have gone beyond caring about your family and friends altogether, you just want out.

    I maintain it is that persons choice and of the many suicides I have known, there really are no tell tale signs that the person is even contemplating it, maybe it is for the other persons protection that they don’t let on.

    Contemplating ways and means of killing yourself can go on for very long periods of time, and its very private, like a gruesome fantasy. That person feels no pain, they are numb to the pain or have gone beyond it, but it takes some doing to actually go ahead with it and it is always extremely tragic, it drives home the reality of the painful place that the person was in and for a time then we contemplate our own realities.

    Talking is the best way of dealing with suicide, although it can be difficult to do.

    Stay strong all, and best wishes.

  2. Perhaps he needed help a long time ago; perhaps unfortunately that was not addressed there.....

  3. I agree with Anon @ 6.29pm. The sad truth of the matter is that the Prison Services don't give a damn about the mental health of inmates. Only thing they seem to care about is making sure prisoners have as rough a time as possible, all in the name of 'Justice'.

    It is such a shame that Yank felt his only option was suicide, yet who can blame him? My only wish is that he now is at peace.

  4. I still remember being in the Bridewell beneath Leeds Town Hall, in April 1971, being 20 and just having been sentenced to 5 years. There were a couple of youngsters, brothers, and one asking how long I had got. When I replied "5", he asked "Months?", and I said "No. Years". He responded "Fucking hell! If I get owt like that I'll top meself". He 6 months to 2 years Borstal. At the time I thought it was a throw away remark. A couple of days later as I queued up for breakfast, undertakers wheeled a bodybag on a stretcher past the breakfast queue. It was insensitive. The uneasy silence was broken when some wag pointed to the departed and asked the screw serving the cornflakes "Can I have his as he won't be needing them now?". The gallows humour broke the tension and we could have a laugh. On the Centre a screw marked the passing with "One off!", and the youngster's name was taken off the roll board. For the survivers, life goes on.