Do You Know Who You Remind Me Of?…

 

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If you’re gonna take the piss Gary…make sure you can deal with the consequences…

(Oh, how I would rue the above statement from my greatest of friends, Fitzer…)

Hello, and welcome again to another “Lost Chapter.” I am so taken aback with the reaction to this idea I had of sharing chapters that didn’t make the final edit of my book, “Joys of Joy, Finding Myself In An Irish Prison.” Since last week, my friends on Facebook have been voting between two “Lost Chapters”, and the chapter that follows won by a landslide. So, instead of me rambling on, let’s jump straight into a very embarrassing (but hopefully funny) time I endured during my shameful incarceration…

 

“Do You Know Who You Remind Me Of?…”

Life in Loughan House was notably improved with the arrival of Fitzer from Mountjoy. Even “Sarge”, our resident mood-swinger, seemed to stay up-beat and positive…and that is really saying something. Poor aul Sarge, a short, stocky Dubliner, with coal-black hair and a massive tattoo of the Liverpool FC crest on his belly, quickly earned the nickname of Kerry Katona due to his bi-polar mood swings. It was incredible to watch as he would go from unadulterated joy to “don’t even fuckin’ look at me” quicker than you could say “Atomic Kitten were shite“. And I should know, as he became the lad I shared a toilet with in our living arrangements in Pine Lodge. But his moods never stopped me from loving him. Alas, God love him, he would always put his hand out to be slapped….always. Like the time he lost a bet with “The Torment” (not a guy you wanna lose a bet to). Sarge’s punishment? He had to wear a dress for the day around the jail. It was fuckin’ hilarious. Miss Thornton provided said dress, and all credit to Sarge, he wore it with aplomb…in fact, if I’m honest, he wore it a little too well! I’m not sure if it was the separation from the opposite sex that I had to endure during my incarceration but, I remember doing a double-take when I first laid my eyes upon him in this figure-hugging little black number and thinking, “I’d bring her…I mean him…for a mocha choca latte and listen intently as he whined on about something or other…” – Snap out of it now Gary… come on man! 🙂 But Fitzer’s infectious, positive mood seemed to do the trick with good ol’ Sarge.

 

Fitzer wasn’t even in Loughan House a week, when he earned the title of “Jail Hero”. As he had only arrived, he had to double-up with another lad in the main house, which involved them sharing a room with bunk-beds. Luckily the lad in question also hailed from Dublin, and he was a nice (very tall…well over 6FT) guy to boot. This young man had explained to Fitzer that he suffered from a rare form of epilepsy, but that it seemed under control…so no need to worry. Au contraire, on only their second night doubled-up together, this poor lad had quite a serious seizure, and if it wasn’t for Fitzer….well I dread to think what might have happened! Fitzer just remembers hearing some strange noises coming from the top bunk…noises that woke him from his slumber. Next thing, he sees this young lad (who happens to sleep completely naked) trying to make his way down from his elevated bed. Fitzer caught sight of his face and instantly knew something wasn’t right. He jumped out of bed just in time to see the young lads face turn blue…he had swallowed his tongue! Without hesitation, Fitzer somehow managed to get his finger into the young mans mouth (something he knows he should not have done…but he panicked) and freed his tongue, just as the uncontrollable, and quite violent convulsions began. Fitzer had the wherewithal to know he had to let this young lad go through these convulsions, and so he just made sure there was nothing in the surrounding area that could have hurt him. Fitzer also shouted at the top of his voice in order to grab the attention of the officer on duty that night. And thankfully his cry for help was heard, as in rushed two officers just as the seizure was beginning to subside. The young lad soon began to calm a little as he slowly became aware of his surroundings…and aware of the fact that he was totally naked! Fitzer notes this, and not wanting the poor lad to feel any worse than he already does, he turns to the officer and says, “I’d say you got an aul shock when ya walked in…me in me boxer shorts, and this fella butt-naked shaking all over the place….it was not what it looked like officer…I swear!” This unites all in the room in laughter. Good man Fitzer.

But as for that poor young man, he had to be sent back to a closed-jail as Loughan House felt they weren’t properly equipped to look after him and his condition. He took the news really well I have to say. But he did something as he was leaving, and I know to this day he has no idea just how amazing his gesture was. He wanted to thank Fitzer, and so he left him with his iPod. You know the early model with the big wheel in the centre? That one. Doesn’t sound that amazing right? But it was the contents of this iPod that blew Fitzer’s mind. When I say this tiny device was filled with every song you can think of…every song…I ain’t exaggerating! It was incredible. All genres, all types of music from the best of today, to the classics of  yesteryear. And it couldn’t have gone to a better man. Fitzer’s love for music was the first thing that we both realised we had in common when we first met back in “The Joy”. I mean, he lives, shits and breathes music…and all types too. He seeks inspiration from every musical avenue, so this iPod had all the avenue’s in one convenient place. He was so elated. Every time you would see him, he would be head-bopping away as he began trawling through the endless tracks, each one making him 12% happier! The only thing he lacked were decent headphones…so I came up with a plan…a plan that was to blow up in my “jaysis” face! 🙂

 

I was on regular TR (Temporary Release) as I was slowly nearing my release date. These bouts of TR are, in my opinion, essential in a prisoners sentence, as it goes someway (sadly, not all the way) to preparing you for your return to society. I was heading home to see my Mam, and hopefully Antoinette, that particular weekend…but I honestly had only one thing on my mind…GET FITZER THE BEST DAMN HEADPHONES…EVER! I wanted it to be a surprise as it’s very rare you get to do anything for this bloke…he just won’t let you. And yet he is constantly there for everyone around him. So, I was fuckin’ chuffed with myself when, on the day I was heading back to Loughan House, I made a quick stop in “The Sony Centre” in order to purchase amazing headphones for my amazing friend. I even burned the ear off the sales guy, as I explained in great detail who these headphones were for etc. I’d say “yer man” was only delighted when I eventually decided on a pair…a “whopper pair” if I do say so myself! I boarded the bus from Dublin back to Loughan House, and as the driver steadily brought myself and my fellow passengers to our destinations, I allowed my mind to wander. I began thinking of just how happy Fitzer will be when he sees these headphones. How he will really appreciate the thought that went into getting them for him. I feel a sense of pride as I have just done something for him for a change. “Jaysis Gar“, I think to myself, “you’ve done it now pal. He is gonna be fuckin’ delighted when he sees these.” I arrive at the gates of Loughan House, and as I present myself to the officer on duty at reception in order to say I am back and to have my bags searched, I also inform him of the gift that I feel will keep giving. He seems impressed. He fuckin’ should be! He tells me I’m free to go, and so I bound over to Pine Lodge (Fitzer’s heroics had earned him a room in Pine Lodge…proper order!) and head straight for Fitzer’s room. I feel slightly nervous, and note that my palms are actually fuckin’ clammy.  Right…here we go. I enter Fitzer’s room and am met with a fantastic greeting. “Ahh Gar, me aul mucker…good to have ya back. It’s very fuckin’ quiet around here when you go home.” He bursts out laughing, but notes that I’m not joining in. “Everything ok pal?” he asks worryingly. Right Gar…now is your chance…hit him with your best shot… “Well bud, ya know the way we were both kinda blown away with the fact that you were left with the iPod that has it all”, I start, “and you know the way the aul headphones ya have are shite? Well, I wanted to do something for you for a change to show you that ya mean a lotnot just to me, but to all of us, ya bollox ya!” (“This is great Gar…hit him with them now” I think) “So, I got ya these. I asked the guy for a really good set, because I know how much ya like a nice round sound…I really hope ya like them pal…and thanks for being a deadly mate yeah?” My hands are trembling a little as I hand Fitzer his new headphones. He takes them off me…barely looks at them…flings them onto his bed…and says, “That’s grand isn’t it? Here wait ’till ya see this.” He then walks over to his open window where I can see he has placed a few slices of white bread. He begins pulling one of these slices apart and throwing the bits out the window. “Ya see?” he inquires, “All the cats come over to me now. They all know I’ll look after them…poor little fuckers!” WHAT?! ARE YOU FUCKIN’ SERIOUS? YOU WANT TO SHOW ME THE POXY BLEEDIN’ STRAY CATS??!! What an ungrateful bastard!! And when I point this out to him…well…he goes into a fit of laughter and basically slags the shite outta me (I later learned from his wife that, this reaction is just “his way”…the fucker 🙂 ). And the more angry I got, the more he slagged me. Next thing I know, “Gaga” has walked in and decided to join Fitzer in taking the piss out of me. Gaga is fuckin’ hilarious. A small in height, larger-than-life Dublin man with greying hair, he was a great man for the wind-ups…but he always…somehow…kept his nose clean. He’d get others to do his dirty work…and I was about to fall right into one of his traps! As all this “take the piss out of Gary” continued, Fitzer takes a mouthful from his water bottle…and that sent me over the fuckin’ edge. “Ya see you ya bollox?”, says I, “Ya care more about that poxy plastic 7-up bottle than you do about humans.” This brings tears of laughter streaming down Fitzer’s face. “Let me tell ya Gar”, he starts through laughter, “I got this bottle on me second day in The Joy…and it’s been with me ever since…I love this aul bottle”, and as he states this, he again erupts into a bout of laughter. “Well, fuck you and your bottle”, says I, as I storm out of his room, trying to stop myself from laughing…I didn’t want him to see that. And as I make the short trip across the narrow yellow corridor to my room, I can hear Fitzer and Gaga in knots of laughter. Two pricks! But soon, Gaga is in my room, and he quickly moves to say to me, “You should go in there when he’s not looking and rob that bottle and hold onto it for a while”.  Little shit-stirrer…but it worked. I couldn’t believe I was about to play a prank on the first true friend I ever had…but his ungratefulness towards my gift spurned me on. “Get him out of his room Gaga” says I. “Not a bother” says Gaga, “and when ya do it, put the bottle in my room…I’ll do the rest”. You see? Always getting others to do his dirty work. So, Gaga removes Fitzer from his room long enough for me to creep in, grab the little “bastard bottle”, and place it inside a black Nike sports bag in Gaga’s wardrobe. And it’s not long before Fitzer cops this. “GAGA YA LITTLE FUCKER” he roars, “Bring back me bottle now pal”. He is laughing as he says this, and all the while, all Gaga replies with is, “I never took your bottle Fitzer. I never took it”. And, of course, technically the little fucker was right…I had taken it…God…what had I done?…..

 

The next day and a half were filled with Gaga writing anonymous ransom letters to Fitzer demanding all sorts of things in exchange for the safe return of this 7-up bottle. As for me? I couldn’t handle it reader. Fitzer began confiding in me. “I know it was Gaga…I just hope he doesn’t ruin the bottle. I’ve had it for me whole whack Gar!” Bollox! He doesn’t even suspect me. And a day and a half later, I fold like a nervous poker player. I burst into his room, like an over-dramatic, over-zealous soap actor shouting, “It was me…I did it…I took your bottle…fuckin’ Gaga has it now…but I took it…it was my fault”. The guilt I felt was unbelievable reader. I just couldn’t take it anymore. But the shock and hurt on Fitzer’s face when he realised it was me…someone who always had his back…someone who didn’t take the piss out of him…ahh, I felt like utter shite if I’m honest. Gaga comes bounding in, “Jaysis Gar, ya burst like a fuckin’ dam”, he laughs. Fitzer looks at Gaga and says, in a cold tone but with a cheeky smile, “You think ya know someone Gaga huh? Aul Gary wha?…he’d never do anything like that on me!” Himself and Gaga join together in a chorus of laughter, as I am longing for the ground to swallow me up. “If you’re gonna take the piss Gary…make sure you can deal with the consequences” says Fitzer to me. Ahhh shite! What’s he got planned?

 

I didn’t have to wait to long to find out….

 

“The X Factor” was in full swing, and amazingly, all of the prisoners housed in Loughan were feckin’ glued to it. It was so funny seeing supposed “hard-men” argue about the vocal range of that particular years contestants. Everyone had their favourite. Even I was enjoying watching this years show…well at least I was enjoying it, until Fitzer came thundering into my room one Saturday evening and said the words I was going to detest for a very long time; “Here Gar? Do you know who you remind me of? I mean you were both separated at birth? Stevi Ritchie Gar….Stevi.Fuckin.Richie!!” When I say that Fitzer was in knots of laughter, I really mean it. There were snots pouring from his nostrils. “FUCK OFF FITZER!”, I counter, but I know my retort is falling on deaf ears. And I make the rookie mistake of showing just how unhappy I am with being compared to this fuckin’ gobshite! (*note…I am sure Stevi is a lovely guy…sorry Stevi 😉 ). This encourages Fitzer further. “You’re every spit of him Gar…every fuckin’ spit! hahahahahahaha!” For those of you that don’t think you know this guy, or can’t remember him…let me refresh your memory:

1413817365315_Image_galleryImage_Stevi_Ritchie

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(yes….he is a cry-baby like yours truly too 🙂 )

See what I mean? I was freaked.  But Fitzer sought his revenge…and boy did he do a good job. He got every prisoner in Loughan House…every prisoner….to call me Stevi. He also got all of the officers involved too, again with them calling me…in front of everyone…Stevi! There is an intercom system in Loughan House that the officers use when they need your attention. And of course, thanks to Fitzer, in my case it would be, “BING BONG BING….Would Stevi Ritchie please report to the dinning hall…Stevi Ritchie to the dinning hall“. Brilliant. As much as I hate to admit it…it was brilliant. I was fuckin’ freaked! One Saturday night, as The X Factor was being beamed into our rooms and Stevi “Jaysis” Ritchie was about to take to the stage to “perform”, I am met with tap, tap, tap at my door. Then silence. Then, tap, tap, tap again upon my door. “I can fuckin’ hear Gaga giggling”, I shout back. Tap, tap, tap once more at my door. I give in. I open the door, only to be met by Fitzer, Gaga, and Sweeney-Todd all standing in a line, with sheets of blue kitchen roll held above their heads, like the Liverpool faithful hold their scarfs on “The Kop”. The lads were singing “Go Stevi, Go”, with the same written in black marker on said sheets of kitchen roll.  I slam the door in their faces…and fall about my room laughing…I just didn’t want them seeing me doing that. It was really getting to me…which I knew was only fueling the lads further. One day I even cracked and said to Fitzer, “Come on man…Stevi “fuckin'” Ritchie? He’s accident-prone, clumsy, terrible looking, and he hasn’t a note in his hea…..” Fitzer is in stitches, and soon I am too, as we both realise I have just described myself…to a tee! “Ahh Stevi”, laughs Fitzer,” It’s alright. We all still love ya”. “Fuck off ya prick”, I laugh back. This onslaught lasted until Mr. Ritchie was eventually booted off The X Factor. But Fitzer and his beautiful, extremely funny wife, had one more trick up their sleeves…

 

Just before Stevi got the boot from the show, I was heading back to Dublin on TR, in order to spend time with my beautiful Mam, my incredible family, and the person I was falling hard for…Antoinette. Soon after I landed in Dublin and I was back in my Ma’s brightly lit kitchen, I located and launched my aging Dell laptop in order to have a snoop around Facebook. As I was still a prisoner, I wouldn’t post anything as I felt that would be disrespectful, but I enjoyed an aul snoop…well…I did…but not so much that day. Fitzer’s wife had decided to tag a fuckin’ photo of Stevi Ritchie on my page with the caption; “The bleedin’ double of ya Gary….GO ON THE STEVI!”. The little fecker! Soooo like her hubby too! The photo had a shit-load of likes and comments, and most were from my so-called friends and family. I rang her, only to be met by her laughing…very hard…down the phone….and soon I was too. Needless to say, I spent that whole weekend being called “Stevi” from my family and friends…everyone I knew in fact…except for my Mam. She was my rock…as always….though, I say “was”… that was right up until I was heading back to Loughan House. She stopped me in the hall of our home, and gave me the biggest of hugs. “Be safe” she began in that soothing tone of hers, “and take no notice of them slagging ya…you’re better than that…STEVI”. Well….she burst out laughing…and so did I.  What a legend!

 

So, Fitzer got his revenge for “Bottlegate”, which only started because of how ungrateful the bollox was when I got him his headphones.  Cats is it Fitzer? Well, I hope you and them mangy little shitehawks are happy together. Me? Jealous? NEVER!

COME ON STEVIE RITCHIE!!

The End…for now 😉

 

Thank you so much for making it this far, and I really hope this “Lost Chapter” did the trick for you. Yes, it is filled with funny tales, but we made our time as bright as we could. Myself, Fitzer, and all the lads we spent time with, made a conscious decision to block out the negative connotations that surround being incarcerated, and try to make what was a dark time in our lives, filled with shame and regret, seem a little brighter. Slagging included, I would have been lost without these men…especially my good friend Fitzer.

So, even in your darkest of times, if you look hard enough, you will find some light. Embrace this light. Let it wash over you. The power of a positive thought is quite remarkable….trust me…I know. And, as always, if you need someone to help you see your light, I am always here for you.

Thank you all for your continued support. You are all simply amazing, beautiful people 🙂

 

Over and Under ladies and gentlemen…let the light wash over you…you’ll be so glad you did 😉

Gar 🙂

 

If you would like to read my story, “Joys of Joy, Finding Myself In An Irish Prison”, it is available in Ireland in all good book shops, and online here:

http://www.theliffeypress.com/joys-of-joy-finding-myself-in-an-irish-prison-by-gary-cunningham.html

Thank you 🙂

 

 

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Joys Of Joy…The Lost Chapters.

I kinda have to admit something to you Gary….I sort of wish you served another year in prison…we could have got at LEAST another six chapters out of you!

The above statement came form one of my newly acquired Facebook friends (each and every one of them incredible in their own right), and it was a view they felt a need to express once they had read the final few words from my book, “Joys Of Joy, Finding Myself In An Irish Prison.” I laughed (quite loudly) when I saw first saw this statement, and although I am hoping that this person was feeling the need to digest more from my tale and not actually wanting me to serve more time behind bars, the above statement did give me an idea…..

The reaction to my story has been simply incredible. I never in a million years anticipated such an avalanche of love, praise and best wishes…in fact, I wholly expected quite a negative backlash. My book, after all, is a little different from past tales pertaining to “life inside”, as I tried to write it with as much positivity and humour as I could muster. Thankfully my publisher David from The Liffey Press got what I was trying to achieve and took a chance on me! And as he delicately and skillfully began to edit my ramblings, he found the need to remove some of the chapters I had created, with him relaying to me that if he didn’t, my book would be comparable in size to the feckin’ bible! But I still have these chapters…and so I would like to share them with you…assuming, of course, that you would like to read them! 😉 I’ll let you all be the judge…and I don’t have great experiences of judges (lol). If you enjoy them, I’ll keep ’em coming…if not? I will delete this blog and become a recluse. Either way….everyone is a winner!

So join me as I relive my first meeting with a “Bullet”……..

 

Gettin’ The Bullet…

Working in the kitchen in Mountjoy Prison, although quite tiresome at times, was still one of the better decisions I had made during my incarceration. The men who worked alongside me were my family, and yes we did bicker (like all families do), but we were a tight bunch. Even most of the officers were really good-natured and would join in with our banter…once the work was getting done! We even had daily entertainment from our resident impressionist / singer / bringer of joy, Fitzer. Daily he would entertain the masses with aplomb and to this day I honestly don’t think he has the slightest inkling just how much he helped us all. He would be quick with a joke, would belt out a tune, and if you were very (un)lucky, he would take the complete piss out of you…which I was soon to find out for myself!

As I stated before, I had worked my way up the kitchens corporate ladder, and had cemented my position as a server at dinner-time. Myself, along with one other prisoner (either Beasey, Natoman, or B C) would accompany an officer in order to assist in the dishing out of that days delectable delights! Mountjoy is split into four wings, and I was picked to serve the lads housed on A Wing. So, everyday we would prepare that days slop dinner, load it into the mobile server, and make our way to the serving area on A Wing, just in time for the hungry men waiting “patiently” with their trays. A Wing is identical to D Wing, with its dull-grey walls and almost claustrophobic ambience, and so you could almost forgive the bad mood of some of the men who would approach us in order to collect their meal. My role was to dish out the veg, the gravy, and whatever desserts were on offer (usually fruit…but sometimes a small, delicious, ice-cream pot) The officer would be in charge of the meat, which was of vital importance. For you see, as a prisoner I would never say “no” to a fellow prisoner if he asked for, say, an extra chicken. And unfortunately it’s one per inmate. So we left it to the officer to be the barer of bad news…which he was…EVERYDAY! Yep…there would be daily running battles, as the prisoners would request “another bleedin’ chicken officer…fuck sake…you’ve jaysis loads of them“, only to be met with the same feeble excuse from the officer; “Ahh lads, we only have a set amount“, which was bullshit! So, needless to say, if the officer needed to turn his back momentarily, and you happened to be the lucky lad next in the queue, I always made sure to throw an extra protein onto your plate. Yes I ran the risk of getting sacked…but I’m a crazy mofo like that!!

I always tried to be as positive as I could as I served the lads their dinner, a trait I was learning from Fitzer. I would crack a (really bad) joke, or at least try to have a bit of craic with the lads. Some appreciated this…others not so much. But in prison you learn fast, and so I quickly ascertained who was “up for a laugh” and who wasn’t! But there was this one lad who it seemed would start an argument with his very own shadow. Everyday, this lad would approach with his hostile cloak draped firmly around his shoulders. You could tell he had no respect for authority and was always going to rage against the machine. On some occasions, I even got it off him for one reason or another, but I took it in my stride and never baited him further. He seemed to have enough going on! A thin lad, with coal-black hair and a slightly gaunt face, his presence was always felt as he approached the server. I have to admit, I found his bad moods fuckin’ hilarious, but I knew better than to poke him or annoy him further. But this young angry soul was to play a very funny part in my tale…for all the wrong reasons!

One day, as our angry friend approached in his usual “pissed off with the world and all she fuckin’ stands for” demeanor, I hear a fellow prisoner call his name for attention, and I feel a small grin slowly construct on my face as I note that our good friend here goes by the name of…… “Bullet!” Fuckin’ brilliant! Bullet is in particularly shite form today, and already he has attacked B C over the “fuckin’ size of them scoops of poxy bleedin’ mash“. Of course, the officer is next and true to form, Bullet rips him a new arsehole over the size of the chickens, insinuating that the officer had purposely chosen this particular one just for him in order to piss him off! I knew I was next in the firing line, and so I began filling his plate with as much veg as I could cram onto it, only to be met with, “HERE…Ya fuckin’ sap – did I ask ya for that amount of bleedin’ carrot’s?” Shit! I’m next in Bullet’s sights….quick Gary…think! Then I remember…it’s ice-cream day!! And so, as Bullet continues to insult me, my family, my pets, and my choice in women, I see my chance to grab a couple of extra ice-cream pots. I make eye-contact with him, raise my eyebrows as if to say, “shurrupp for a jaysis minute will ya? I have somethin’ for ya“, which thankfully Bullet acknowledges. So without the officer noticing, I give Bullet an extra two ice-cream pots…on top of the one he is entitled to. Bullet immediately ceases his onslaught of abuse, smiles and fuckin’ winks at the officer, and skips away from the server…happy as fuckin’ Larry. Talk about mood-swings! And as he’s walking away, Bullet can be overheard telling all in his path, “Here…are ya listenin’? Your man there (my good self!) is alight yeah? Extra ice-creams an’ all yeah?” Doh! I slowly lower my head, not wanting to make eye contact with the officer, Mr. Redmond, for fear I have just earned my P-45, but thankfully Mr. Redmond is one of the more understanding officers and so I get away with a slap on the wrist. But that was the beginning of a whirlwind friendship between myself and Bullet…and what happened next was very funny!

And so, as each day passed, myself and Bullet began the process of “getting to know each other”, which in prison usually only entails a couple of questions, “What ya in for?” and “How long did ya get pal?” So I decided to let my aul buddy Bullet in on a bit more about myself, namely that Fitzer and I were to play the aforementioned (in another chapter of my book) Christmas Concert up in the school. “Play?” inquires Bullet. “Yeah”, says I, “we’ve started a band, The Off#enders, and do ya know what? We’re not fuckin’ bad Bullet!” I say this with confidence and see that I have peaked Bullet’s interest. “Ahh nice one yeah? I’ll be there with fuckin’ bells on pal. Ya’s better be fuckin’ good!” Thankfully we were better than good, and more importantly, we blew young Bullet’s head off (there is irony there somewhere!).

The very next day after the gig, I was serving the dinner on A Wing as usual, and I see Bullet approach…but never had I seen him approach in this manner…he was fuckin’ smiling! His crooked, slightly stained teeth were on full show for all on A Wing to see. It was a little fuckin’ unnerving if I’m honest! “Story officer? Lovely fuckin’ day out there isn’t it?”, says Bullet to a slightly bewildered Mr. Redmond. “What have we got? Ahh Gammon yeah? Deadly! Nice one”, says Bullet. Now I know something is definitely up…nobody likes the fuckin’ gammon “steaks” (I use the word steak very loosely!). “Ahh Gar……DOIN’ YOUR WHACK…FUCK THE P-19’S, DOIN’ YOUR WHACK!” Bullet has roared these lyrics from the tongue-in-cheek song I had written for the craic pertaining to life inside. We had opened with it at the Christmas gig…and evidently it had done its job on my aul pal! “Here, ya’s are fuckin’ deadly do ya know that? Seriously pal…and yer man, what’s it?….Fitzer? He’s some fuckin’ voice pal! Gerrr-up The Off#enders! Ya’s have to do another gig soon pal yeah?” I inform Bullet that we are going to try record a few tracks, and this sends him into a spin! “I’m first on a copy of that Gar yeah? I’ll fuckin’ pay ya in’ all!” As he says this, you can visibly see the excitement course through his veins. I promise him that I will hand him a copy as soon as it’s done, which pleases Bullet. But little did I know, as he skipped away delighted with life, that was to be the last time I saw “me aul pal Bullet”…but was it the end of me and him?…

About a week or so later, as I was dishing up some veg and gravy, the absence of one person was very notable…no Bullet. “Maybe he has a visit, or he is under the weather“, I thought, but as the days went by there was still no sign of him. I began to worry as I knew he was a long way off his release date. I feared the beast that is Mountjoy had claimed another victim, either through suicide or drug-use. I was worried! I approached The Scouse, one of the cleaners on A Wing and a good friend, and inquired after Bullet. “Ha….did ya not here mate?” came The Scouse’s reply in his thick Southport tone. “He’s down in The Block (a punishment area for bold boys!). He had a massive run-in with an officer – slop-pots were “allegedly” thrown – and now he’s Balls Rough down there….hate that!” The Scouse erupts into a fit of laughter, as do I…kind of! I’ll miss my buddy…and I do hope he will be alright…but I didn’t have to wait to long to find out!

Life on C Wing was as good as we could make it behind bars. Myself and Fitzer rehearsed and wrote songs at almost every available opportunity. It gave the other men housed on C Wing something to listen to at night, and (I think) most enjoyed it. It was after one of our jamming sessions, and just after the officer had locked us up in our single cells for the night, that I heard my name being called out in the distance…”GarrEE…..GarrEEEEE” It was like a vendor on Dublin’s Moore Street. trying their best to entice you…”Apple’s or Pears…get your APPLES OR PEARS!” The “y” in my name seemed to be replaced with a few E’s, and these E’s rose in pitch as soon as this person hit them…”GarrrrEEEE”. It is important to me that you, the reader, get a sense of how this calling of my name sounded…it was fuckin’ hilarious! “Who’s that?”, I shouted back through the tiny gap afforded to me from my cell’s window. “It’s “Bullet” Gar…I’m down in The Block yeah?” He then begins to burst with a flow of laughter. “Here, there’s a few of us here Gar, in the cells beside me…hang on….HERE LADS? THIS IS YER MAN I WAS TELLIN’ YA’S ABOUT…THE FUCKIN’ OFF#ENDERS YEAH?” There is a pause, then amazingly I begin to hear a few others…“Ahh nice one”, “Deadly pal yeah?” and, of course, “Yiz are fuckin’ shite ha ha”. Bullet was then to utter a phrase that was to haunt me for the coming month or so…everyfuckin’night! “Here Gar? Give us a song will ya? For the lads on the block, ya know the one – “DOIN’ YOUR WHAck…FUCK THE P-19’S, DOIN’ YOUR WHAck!” No reader, your eyes are not deceiving you and I have not made an error with my typing. The c and the k in the word “Whack” are wrote in a lower case, again to try to give you a sense of how he was shouting it. As he neared the end of the word “Whack”, he would lower his tone, again comparable to a vendor on Moore Street. He almost sung it to me! It was so fuckin’ funny. And so, on that faithful night, I picked up my shiny black acoustic guitar, positioned myself as close as I could to the tiny gap in my cells window, and proceeded to play The Off#enders unlikely anthem…and the lads on The Block fuckin’ loved it…especially good aul Bullet. This would have been an amazing experience for me if it had have been a one-off…alas, Bullet had other ideas. And so…EVERY FUCKIN’ NIGHT, as soon as the officer would bang out my door, it would begin; “GarEEE….DOIN’ YOUR WHAck…FUCK THE P-19’S (note: a P-19 is a punishment form and goes on your record) DOIN’ YOUR WHAck”…. EVERY.SINGLE.NIGHT. I mean, they never tired of hearing the same song…ever! And if I dared to cry off with feeble excuses of being tired etc, I was met with, “Ahh Gar…we’re on The Block pal…we’ve fuck all else!” Clever bastard playing on my soft-side! And so it went on…and on…and on…and, you get the picture. I even started adding songs like Aslan’s “Crazy World” to the mix in order to entertain myself! Fitzer thought this was the funniest thing ever, and would laugh even harder when, just before we got banged out, he would see the agony etched on my face as I had to preform…again…for The Boys On The Block. “A load of me bollox this is Fitzer”, I’d say, which only made his laughter intensify…the fucker! Then, I had a brain-wave. “Fitzer?”, I began, “I’m gonna tell Bullet I left me guitar in your cell after we were jamming. I know it will break his heart, but I have a pain in me hole now at this stage.” Through his laughter, Fitzer nods and agrees with me. “Good idea pal”, he says, “That’s the job.” And so, on that faithful night, I said goodnight to the lads on C Wing, thanked the officer as he slammed shut the heavy steel door of my cell, and waited for the inevitable. It wasn’t long before Bullet pipes up with his usual cries and pleas. “Ahh, Bullet me aul pal” I begin, “I’m really fuckin’ sorry man. Didn’t I leave me poxy guitar in Fitzer’s gaff (cell)?” I am feeling a little guilty, but convince myself it’s for the greater good of my mental health. Bullet is about to reply, when he is interrupted by a new voice…well new to Bullet anyway. Me? I fuckin’ knew who it was…FITZER! “Don’t mind him Bullet…he didn’t leave any guitar in my gaff! He has his guitar with him buddy. Make sure he sings for ya!” The fucker! I can hear my good friends side’s splitting with laughter as he uncovers my lies to Bullet! “Nice one pal yeah?” comes Bullet’s reply to Fitzer. “Come on now Gar…..DOIN YOUR WHAck….”

And, thanks to Fitzer, that was how it went until the day they let Bullet back onto A Wing. But by that time I had ceased working in the kitchen and so I never got to see him again. I find myself wondering how he is getting on –  hoping that life is being good to him…or that he is being good to life. Good man Bullet…I will never forget you.

And as for Fitzer?…..Well…let’s just say I owed him one…and boy did I have something planned for my best mate!!

 

 

Thank you for sharing this blog with me. If you would like to read my book, it is available in all good book shops, or online here:

http://www.theliffeypress.com/joys-of-joy-finding-myself-in-an-irish-prison-by-gary-cunningham.html

 

Play nice folks…and look out for each other.

Over and Under,

Gar 🙂

What A Difference Two Days Make…

Wednesday, 14th June 2017 / 6.34am:

I have started this day in the same painful manner that I have had to start the last God knows how many days…in agony! My health problem (which I will come to later) is prodding my reserve…it is trying its best to find my breaking point, the point where I wearily raise the white flag and consent to defeat. But today is different…today I have an appointment that, as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards so beautifully wrote back in ’71, “Wild Horses, wouldn’t drag me away” from. I was amazingly approached by a wonderful lady, Valerie Burke, who is the Assistant Psychologist in both the Midlands Prison and the infamous Portlaoise Prison. By email, she informed me that they would be honoured to have me come into Portlaoise Prison in order to talk to a group of prisoners and maybe share with them my own thoughts and experiences of being a prisoner…of how I dealt with my time by writing my book, playing music, and learning the greatest life-hack of them all… “When you don’t feel good…TELL SOMEONE!” So, needless to say I jumped at such an amazing opportunity…in fact I felt incredibly humbled.

So, as I stood in my kitchen that morning, with my two greatest of friends, my Mam Lily, and my partner Antoinette, I knew I couldn’t let my irritating health issue be an issue. In no way, shape, or form, would I let down this wonderful lady Valerie, but I equally would never let down the men who so kindly signed-up to come hear what I had to say. So with as much vigor as I could muster, I limped down the high-ceiling stairwell of my apartment, slowly poured myself into the back seat of Antoinette’s car, under the watchful eye and assistance of my amazing mother, and positioned myself with a view to comfort as the drive would take about an hour. But I had the best company anyone could ask for on a road trip, so I felt lucky. “Hit the road Annie…let’s do this…

 

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We arrive outside the menacing structure that is Portlaoise Prison shortly before 9am. I say my goodbyes and get the most amazing onslaught of love and good wishes from my two ‘reasons’. I amble across the road, mindful that I don’t give away how I am actually feeling. I don’t want to show weakness as I hope to give these men a glimmer of hope for a brighter future, so keeping my health problem under wraps as best I can is paramount. It’s not long before Valerie comes to greet me. She is just as wonderful in person as she comes across in her mails, and she quickly moves to extend to me such a warm welcome, thus reducing some of my fears. Portlaoise Prison is a maximum security prison, which means it is guarded by the armed Irish Defense Force, who are positioned in high towers dotted around the vast campus. As we walked through the first of many scanners and locked gates, I catch my first glimpse of these trained men. It is quite unnerving, and I am glad when Valerie confirms this as she informs me that, even after all the times she has made this walk, it still makes her feel slightly uneasy. But these men are playing a vital role in the guarding of this historic jail, and I am sure if you don’t mess with them you will be ok 🙂

As intimidating as this jail is, the staff who run her are of stark difference. As an ex-prisoner, who wrote a different kind of book pertaining to life inside an Irish prison, I feel nervous when I meet with officers. I would hate for them, or for anyone for that matter, to be under the impression that I think I am someone special…that I think I am something I’m not. Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole ethos of my story is that most men and women that come from jails, both officers and prisoners, are really good people…don’t believe the hype 😉 From the first officer I met at the gate who handed me my pass, to the Chief who escorted me out after my talk, each and every one of them were friendly and welcoming, in fact, one even asked if I would sign his copy of my book (which I never got a chance to do..so I hope if you are that Officer and you happen to see this, you know that I am truly sorry). I was brought to the school, and into the staff room, where again I met such wonderful people. I am a fighter for the continued support of funding the education services inside of our prisons, and these particular teachers I met that morning are shining examples of why. They try so very hard to assist men, whom can feel completely shunned and useless…and that can be a tough ask. But they turn up for work each morning with the same positive outlook…the same want to make a difference. I salute you and all the teaching staff and trainers in all of our prisons. You all shine so bright in what can be the darkest of places…keep on keeping on 🙂

I am unfortunately finding my pain-levels are under constant attack, and this only worries me as I don’t “feel” myself. If I have to defend myself verbally like I did in my last blog (please see below) I am afraid I won’t be able to articulate myself in a positive manner and invoke a proper response. But as soon as I am brought into the room where my talk is to be held, and I see the amount of men who decided to come and listen to me…well…let’s just say I found the strength. The amazing Irish Red Cross were in attendance also, as they run the Mental Health Week in Irish prisons (among other countless projects. The Irish Red Cross programme inside Irish prisons is exceptional), and I had the pleasure of an introduction by one of the heads of this wonderful organisation. As I took to the podium, I decided to break the ice by opening with this: “Howya Lads, my name is Gary Cunningham…but before we go any further I just want to let ya’s know, I am due to have an operation on me arse in the morning, so I am like a bag of Lego here…IN BITS!“………that did the trick. The lads had a giggle, and I could now move about a bit slower than usual without worry. The talk itself was, in a word, incredible…but not because of me…because of each and every man who attended. I knew they were not forced into this, in fact I knew it was eating into most of their gym-time, and I know how vital the gym is for a sound-mind. But from the off they showed me incredible respect. They listened as I urged them not to bottle things up. I had their attention when I spoke of the prejudice they will face upon their release…but I told them to keep fighting…because they too deserve to be happy! There were men who spoke during my chat from their plastic grey chair…and these men blew me away. From the young lad who informed me he plays both guitar and drums, to the young man hailing from Cork who spoke with such intelligence and integrity. These men were open to me about their past, but I again got the vibe that they will not let their past dictate their future. I spoke with a man serving life who was reading my book, and I promised I would write to him…and I can’t wait to keep that promise…but one man spoke to me during the short break for refreshments that stopped me and made me want to help…

This man approached me during the short break and relayed to me his fears for his future. He explained why he was currently incarcerated, and how he is trying to knuckle down and reinvent himself. But he is so weary of prejudice…so tired of trying to prove himself and being constantly knocked back. The words he used are as follows: “I just feel like I am drained…like I have lost the fight…sure what’s the point? People have made their minds up about me.” I could tell it took a lot for this man to disclose this information to me, and so I promised him also that I will keep in touch and will try everything in my power to get him back to feeling good about himself again. Of course he will meet a lot of “naysayers” but I will try my best to give him the tools needed to prove these people wrong. I believe in people and I told this young man that. But I also told him I believe in him, as ultimately it is he alone that must put in the work necessary to show how much he has changed. But his story, sadly, is a story most (if not all) prisoners who have a yearning for change can relate to. Please keep fighting lads. Remember, “The man who never made a mistake, never made anything at all.” And I am always around if you need my assistance.

As my talk drew to a close, I was presented with a guitar in order to sing for the gathered. I chose to sing my own song pertaining to addiction entitled “Addicted To Me” which is a song with angry verses…which I pulled off with aplomb as I was angry with the level of discomfort I was in! 🙂 This was met with an incredible round of applause and cheering from the lads…I was completely blown away. Then, what felt like each man who had attended, came up to me in order to shake my hand, give me a “man-hug”, and thank me for coming in to them. I was visibly moved. I really want to extend my utmost thanks to these men. You all made what was a nerve-wracking and uncomfortable talk for me, something completely different. I hope you ‘got’ something from our chat, as I know I got a lot form all of you. Thank you.

And I extend the same level of thanks and praise to Valerie and all the staff I encountered in Portlaoise Prison. From officers to teachers I was only met by ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for making such an incredible experience for me happen, and thank you for my treatment. And to the Chief who escorted me out…I hope you like my book! 🙂 What an amazing day…now…what has tomorrow got in store?…

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Thursday 15th June 2017 / 7.00am

And so I am back in my kitchen, about to embark on another road trip, albeit a shorter one this time. The day has finally arrived for my procedure in order to get to the bottom (please excuse the pun 🙂 ) of whatever the heck is going on with me! Again I have the pleasure of having my soul mate Antoinette accompany me playing the roles of driver, loving girlfriend, rock, and source of entertainment (she has got to be one of the funniest people I know). I feel no nerves as I slouch into the passenger seat, for I am so tired of this problem that has prevented me from having a life. I speak to Antoinette with gusto as I tell her that today is the beginning of the end….or is it??…

I arrive in Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan and as I enter the Day Ward, the welcome is almost overwhelming. I had been here two days prior to give blood and some of the girls that worked there had read or were reading my book, and so we all just kind of sat down and had a long chat about it. It was great fun. So when I walk in this morning, with a copy of my book in hand to give to one of these amazing ladies..well, the welcome was nothing short of amazing. As was how I was looked after and treated by the wonderful nurses and doctors and theatre managers that I encountered. Ok…look…I had built this procedure to be the start of the end of this crippling illness of mine. I actually broke down on two occasions as I told how my symptoms have gotten severely worse lately, and how I feel that I have no life. Alas, this procedure was only to explore, as (worryingly) they are not 100% sure what exactly is wrong with me. I am informed that I must attend some other doctors in order to rule out things, and also I need surgery on “that” area of my body…and it should only take two months to arrange this. And that reader, is when the wind got knocked out of my sails. I slumped back onto the soft blue mattress and wept. I have had no life for the past five months. I have launched a book, made an appearance on The Late Late Show, and I have not been able to enjoy any of it as I have been in excruciating pain. I started to go into myself…to feel sorry for myself…and THAT is why I am writing this part of my blog. You see, on my Facebook account, I invade people’s news feeds with almost demands of positivity. I urge them to keep the sunny-side out…to speak of their problems to others…and yet here am I, in dire need of a few spoonfuls of my own medicine. I have been quite low since Navan, but it is not the end of the world. Yes I have to endure this crap for a while longer, but there are so, so many in this world going through far worse than what I am. I needed to take some time to myself and re-evaluate things. And I suppose that is what I am trying to show. That even “Yer man Gary, who is positive ALL the jaysis time” has really shit days…gives up…but only momentarily. I am so lucky to have so many avenues of support, from my beautiful girlfriend and amazing family, to the growing number of friends I am accumulating online since the release of my book. And so I lean on these people…I tell them my fears and worries…and soon the fears and worries begin to evaporate. And I urge you, if you are going through a tough time, find someone…anyone…and pour your heart out. It may not solve your problem there and then, but it will make YOU feel better…and it is YOU that is important. And if you feel like you have no-one, then come to me…I will listen…I will help…I will never turn my back to you.

So, Navan was a little disappointing…or was it? I would never have got to meet such incredible and beautiful people had I not been there that morning, or the previous Tuesday morning. And for that I am so, so grateful. Every cloud……..

Thank you as always for making it this far. I hope you enjoyed this slightly somber blog, and that it has given you even some crumbs for thought. Let’s not be so quick to judge…and if we feel down…TALK TO SOMEONE.

Over and Under Folks…look after yourselves…look out for each other 🙂

Gar 😉

PS…if you are interested in reading my tale, it can be found in all good book shops, and here:

http://www.theliffeypress.com/joys-of-joy-finding-myself-in-an-irish-prison-by-gary-cunningham.html

 

A wake-up call…

I woke early, on what was a beautiful May morning, in my home town of Dublin, Ireland. As I picked out my T-shirt / Jeans combination (a very important decision, I am sure you’ll agree), I could feel my nervous energy hit a peek…in fact, if I’m honest, this nervous energy had been slowly smouldering away inside of me, ever since I received my invite to attend Wheatfield Prison, in order to have a chat with some of the lads currently serving time there…an invite I was completely honoured and amazed by. I decided to go with a black T-shirt and dark blue jeans…at least the lads good enough to attend my talk wouldn’t notice the sweat patches under my arms…hopefully!! 🙂  I got a kiss and a “hug for good luck” from my amazing partner, and just as I turned to leave she said, “Just be yourself Gar…that is what you are best at doing”. What an amazing woman!

I can only be myself…I don’t know another way…

I set off on my adventure, with Google Maps being my trusted guide, as I navigated a course for this immense prison. It took me two buses, and to be honest, I was glad of this, as it gave me a chance to run over in my head what I was hoping to say to these men. I have never done anything like this before…what have I let myself in for?? I arrive at the gates, and am met by a really nice Officer, who asks for my ID, and then directs me towards some lockers, in order for me to store my personal belongings. We make small talk, and this man again reminds me of the amazing Officers we have working in our nations jails. To him, maybe it was small talk…but to me…well…he was quelling the nerves! I was due to meet a lady by the name of Lorraine, and after a short wait, Lorraine appears with a warm smile and a hearty welcome…excellent. She leads me through a metal scanner, and then walks me towards the school of Wheatfield. As we saunter along, I find my mind begin to wander. Although there are not many similarities between this Jail, and the one that housed myself, the whole “closed jail” feeling begins to wash over me. I find that already I am feeling sorry for the lads I am due to meet, although, this is not a “pity-sorry”, I just wish they where somewhere else instead of here. Soon we arrive at the school, and I notice a small stage has been constructed, with chairs surrounding it in a semi-circle. Lorraine offers me refreshments, and then we sit and talk. We are joined by another male Officer and again, I am so thankful for their kindness and consideration…I am beginning to sweat a little less…thanks Officers 🙂 Soon, the incredible teaching staff start to arrive and the introductions begin. I feel slightly more adjusted….let’s do this…..

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The lads from Wheatfield have taken to their seats, just as I make my way towards the stage. I get a wonderful introduction from the School Principal, which is followed by a nice round of applause from the attending lads. I introduce myself, and then quickly move to take the piss out of myself, in the hope that these men won’t get the impression that I think I am something I am not. I am ex-prisoner…and fuck all else! I explain that I have never attempted anything like this before, and so I politely suggest that questions can be asked at any stage, and not just at the end…and I am so glad I made that suggestion. Almost immediately, a young man sitting not two feet away from me, pulls me up on a reference I made in my book about another prisoner. I took the piss out of this particular man in my tale, which hand-on-heart, I meant it in a “tongue-in-cheek” way, but this young man in Wheatfield felt he needed to ask me why I had done this. Nothing wrong with that…except that this young man and his thoughtful and considered words, made me take a long and hard look at myself…and I was annoyed with what I saw. This amazing man in Wheatfield reminded me that I too am a recovering addict (the reference I made was one which called a prisoner, who in fairness had hit me, a “Tablet-Guzzling Zombie”…and as much as I meant it in a “joke” kind of way, how dare I make reference to his own struggles). He highlighted the real struggles that addicts face on a daily basis…but do you know what? What blew me away most about this young man was how articulate he was…how calm, concise and yet forthright he was as he spoke to me. He blew my mind. He made me realise I had “dropped the ball” when it came to this particular part of my book…and I feel like I have let myself down as a result…or at least that was how I felt…that is until, at the end of my talk as all the other prisoners dispersed, this young man hung-on…and I am so glad he did. He quickly made me feel more at ease, as he complimented me on the fact I admitted, in front of everyone, that I had “got it wrong” when it came to this part of my story. And then he began to tell me about his own band that himself and a few of the lads had created. Here is a man who has made a mistake and is paying the ultimate price for his wrong-doing…and yet, he stood before me and portrayed a man who was not about to let his past dictate his future. He seems to be the one that other prisoners gravitate to when they are feeling low…not an easy task by any means…but one which I get the impression he carries off with aplomb. This man made a very big impact on me today. He completely embodies a reformed character. He is exactly the type of man, I am constantly telling all who will listen, that proves you CAN change…you CAN reform. He’s last words to me related to his future…. “I’d love to work with kids when I get out of here…hopefully teach them how to play guitar“……wow! I am a true believer that people come into your life for a reason…I am just so glad that, for whatever reason, our paths crossed today. Thank you “A”. Thank you for getting your point across with such passion and yet in such a calm manner. Thank you for making me realise that I am still learning…I am still a work in progress. You made a huge impact on me today…thank you. My door will always be open for you…

Never judge a book by its cover…

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And he wasn’t the only incredible individual in attendance today. In fact, one lad completely knocked my socks off when, after I invited him to do so, he took to the stage and preformed one of the many raps he has constructed…and it was incredible…unbelievable talent! He took to the black stool sitting proudly in the middle of the stage, and gave it all he had as he “spat out his rhyme” that was so true to life. And, what impressed me even more about this young rapper, was his brutally honest answer to one of my questions:

Q. “So, do you find, if your feeling low…pissed off, or down in any way, that writing a rhyme makes you feel better?

A. Well…look…sometimes you just feel like shit, and writing ain’t gonna cure that…sometimes ya just have to deal with things….

What a breath of fresh air…I tip my hat to you sir 🙂

The talk ended with this group of men gathering around a projector screen, as we watched my band’s video to our cover of “Iron Sky”, and at its conclusion, it received a very welcomed round of applause. To say I was “chuffed” would be a massive understatement. These men, and the Officers I encountered today, are shining examples of what I am trying to achieve with my book. Today, I was giving a talk, and yet, I am pretty sure that it is I that came away from this more enlightened. I honestly cannot thank the staff of Wheatfield Prison enough for how welcomed they made me feel…and I know the Officers won’t mind if I reserve a slightly bigger thanks to the lads who were good enough to attend my talk. You are all incredible men in your own right, and I felt honoured and grateful to spend today with each and every one of you. And, upon your release, I hope that each of you leaves with your heads held as high as your neck muscles will permit, and that life instantly becomes the exact life that you want…it is nothing less than you deserve.

Everybody has a story to tell…take the time to listen…

And so, as I draw this blog to a close, I urge those good enough to have made it this far, not to be so quick to judge. Every single one of us is capable of making mistakes…some  mistakes are “worse” than others…but we ALL deserve a second chance. Take the time to listen to someones story….you will be amazed with what you might learn. I know, after my meeting with these men today, especially meeting “A”, I have learned so much. Let’s listen without prejudice…

Thank you as always for sharing this blog with me.

Look after each other…and play nice 🙂

Over and Under,

Gar 🙂

 

This Strange Kinda Life….

Phew! I sit here, mind slightly askew, and begin to recollect on what has been an incredible, life-changing few days! My smile, seemingly tattooed permanently on my face, is the bringer of so many positive and amazing feelings…a simple smile! I urge you, if you can, to read this blog whilst smiling. It really makes you feel good 🙂

OK…for those of you that don’t really know me, here is a quick run down on what has happened…strap yo’ self in baby….

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I only went and got my book published!! Wow…I note the tremble in my fingers as I type…I still cannot truly believe it. A wonderful and very funny man by the name of David Givens, from The Liffey Press, read my submission…loved it…and amazingly agreed to get behind me and publish my book! Watching such a master as he steadily edited my tale, with so much care and consideration, was truly amazing and inspiring. He has shown so much trust in me…has taken such a chance on me…and I intend being the best risk he has ever taken. The above snaps are of myself and some of my amazing family on the day I received my own copy…of my own book! I have never felt a level of pride that high inside of me in my entire life. To hold my story which, thanks to David and The Liffey Press (including his astounding wife Darina), had become this beautiful object, slightly heavy in my hand was incredible. I opened the cover and as the smell of a new book..of new print…rose and entered my grateful nostrils, I was instantly transported into book shops from my youth, as I’d trawl the shelves looking for another Famous Five adventure to sink my young, yellow teeth into….. I cried….quite a bit actually….well…no surprise there I suppose! Let’s move on…

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So, amazingly, on April 5th I had my very own book launch!! (pictures above!) I mean, come on! For a guy who, prior to his incarceration, had no respect for himself, and more shockingly anyone around him, to be in a magnificent room in the enchanting Freemason Hall on Molesworth Street, in Dublin’s fair city…and filling said room with friends, family, Niall Boylan whom was my MC, and is a fantastic and controversial talk show host on Classic Hits 4FM, ex-prisoners and high-ranking members of the Irish Prison Service…all blending together in what became a wonderfully satisfying, and very healthy smoothie. #carbs 🙂

To be able to stand in front of my stunningly attractive, and amazingly supportive partner, Antoinette…a woman whose love for me has never dipped, even through my bad health…and express my total love for her in front of everyone that is important to me, will go down as one of my proudest moments. Antoinette and my amazing family have been huge contributing factors in my eventual change…change that is achievable by all…but I’ll come back to that…

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The very next night…yes reader…the next feckin’ night…I appeared on The Late Late Show on RTE. Jaysis…thanks-be-to-God I’m off the gargle!! 🙂 But…this experience, as truly amazing as it was, has changed my life…and I am so overwhelmed…eternally grateful, please don’t get me wrong…but overwhelmed all the same. I have always believed the negative beliefs of others from my disgusting and embarrassing past..I would never amount to anything. So, as I’m sure you can understand, hearing such amazing and encouraging words of support and love…of requests for help, or just a chat…I sometimes feel that, “Wait…I don’t deserve this…I’m not meant to amount to anything…I did horrible things to beautiful people…I don’t deserve this” but people in this world are so good..and nice…and very persistent!! And by-God am I happy that they are..in fact, if you are one of these people who I don’t really know at all and yet you reached out to me…you have blown my mind and I am so grateful for you. Thank you……

So, there I am, about to walk out onto The Late Feckin’ Late, and this wonderful girl who works back stage, advises me to stop and wave…stop and feckin’ wave…like, “Hey everyone…you don’t know me, but I’m an ex-prisoner“, wink and cheesy smile included 🙂 But I took her advice, waved, and just as I was about to park my bum upon the soft, light-brown leather chair, my health problem decided that this would be a perfect time to attack me with its bloody pain batons! I was in a lot of pain…but determined to try my best to get my story and views across. All was going swimmingly…until the remarkable and incredibly friendly host, Mr. Ryan Tubirdy, asked how my shameful incarceration had affected my mother…try as I might to fight back the tears…my love, worry, and admiration for this amazingly astounding lady overcame me…I burst…and do you know what? I apologise to nobody for it. That is the most honest and true side of me, and I am not ashamed to shed a tear. There really is nothing wrong with it! I am who I am…sorry!

But having my mother and my beautiful partner sitting there in the audience as I bore my soul, was all the encouragement I required, as I tried to show an honest version of myself…of how I hide behind no long list of excuses of why I ended up in jail. I ended up in jail because I was a disgusting person…a liar, a teller of disgusting lies at that…a bad father/son/brother/uncle…and I was too selfish to acknowledge any of this…instead I drank my problems away…along with my family, my friends, and my self-respect. I really tried to show people that I was that person…but I am this person now.

An amazing night, with amazing, friendly, supportive people…a fairy-tale if I am completely honest. All of which has driven the demand for my book to a level I could have only dreamed of…in fact, the last little photo in the above collage is myself outside an amazing shop, Clever Buys, in Finglas…the place where I grew up, as they proudly display my book….head = blown. Here’s the “crying gobshite” bit aswell 🙂

 

If this is lost…I don’t want to be found…

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So, there you have it. A quick synopsis on what has become such a proud time in my life. I am going to draw this blog to a close…I’ve really missed these musings and look forward to annoying you all with more of my ramblings…but before I say goodbye, please let me leave you with something to think about. When was the last time you told yourself, “You’re doing good here…well done“…when did you last feel fuckin’ great about yourself? The funny thing is, if I was to ask you, “when was the last time you felt shit, or down, or hard on yourself“, you would have answered straight away. Why do we do this to ourselves? We are amazing creatures that at the drop of a hat will jump to the aid of others in order to prevent them from feeling low, or pain, or shame, or guilt…but who looks after YOU? Believe it or not…that answer is simple…YOU looks after YOU! If you can’t be ok with yourself, how do you expect others to be ok with you? We all know that “it’s ok not to be ok“, and that is a crucial ingredient in your “I’m caring about me today” plan, but for those of you that feel trapped..that feel guilt over something they have done…or maybe not done…I urge you to talk about it….admit your faults…almost own them…if you are looking for an apology this will stand to you…own your guilt, understand it fully, and then you can show how you will change…and I promise you…if you truly want to change you truly will. Banish negativity…embrace the positivity…simple! Like, if this gobshite that is typing away here, wearing a dressing gown that is in urgent need of a trip to the washing machine, drinking cold coffee and, unusually enjoying it…yes…if I can change…anyone can. I served my time with the most incredible men…inspiring men that have become my greatest of friends…we all changed…yes it was hard at times…but if you want something so bad…nothing is too hard! And remember, I was a vile human before my eventual change…I respected no one and in turn had no respect for myself. And I am still working on myself…in fact I’ll never stop. There are still people so precious to me that I have hurt so badly…but I will try, ever so quietly, until my dying day, to show them how truly sorry I am. They are worth the wait.

 

So, please stay strong…and invincible. There is nothing you can’t achieve…nothing you don’t deserve. Just ask for it…believe…and I really do feel you will receive. And always remain grateful…it costs nothing…not a cent…to be nice 🙂

 

Thank you every single one of you…you have made my life overflow with love and happiness. I think you are all amazing…I truly do…so please…think the very same thing about yourselves.

Smile….it really suits ya 🙂

Take Care

Over and Under,

Gar 🙂

Book available in all good book shops, or online here:

http://www.theliffeypress.com/joys-of-joy-finding-myself-in-an-irish-prison-by-gary-cunningham.html

It’s been awhile…

Dear Alcoholic Gary…

It seems like a lifetime ago since we’ve talked…well…I say “talked”, but it was more like you talked and I obeyed. You had such a controlling demeanor, such a powerful, vice-like grip that took hold of me in what seemed like the blink of an eye. I bought into your cravings and allowed myself to succumb to your “way of life”. And recently I have found myself reminiscing on the early days of our first meetings. I remember being a foolish 13 year-old who cared not for authority, but cared immensely about the acceptance of my peers. A 13 year-old who knew everything…when really I knew nothing at all. I remember bunking off school with Mick Bass one day, and the two of us making our way like stealth ninja’s towards my home, which I knew was to be empty for the day. The plan was to sit in the house and do nothing…great plan eh? But it wasn’t long after we arrived that boredom kicked in and mischievous-minds began cranking into over-drive. “Here Gar, does your aul fella have a drinks cabinet?” enquired Mick. Now, I vaguely remember a sense of dread wave through my entire body as I was quite aware that the punishment for my actions would be quite severe…but then I thought “sure it will be grand” (a statement which I found you used quite a lot Alcoholic Gary) and so I proceeded to open the small, teak, squeaky door of the drinks cabinet in my sitting room. As the door dropped open, myself and Mick’s nostrils were met with an aroma of musty furniture and high-spirit alcohol all blended together. We had no idea what the percentage of an alcohol meant, nor that it was highly recommended that you do NOT mix these toxic beverages together. Drinks like vodka and malt whisky. But…of course…myself and Mick did just that! I remember instantly hating the feeling of having lost control…control of my body…control of my mind…control of the contents of my stomach which ended up covering quite an impressive segment of my mam’s prized carpet. It was horrendous. We both felt like rung-out tea-towels, we were caught not only bunking school but drinking too, and we were barred from hanging around together. So, you’d think this would put me off the “demon drink” for life…but you had other ideas Alcoholic Gary…

As I grew into an even more obnoxious 15/16 year-old, the pressure from my peers to “go drinkin'” was intensifying. Though, truth be known, I didn’t really feel that much pressure…you took care of that Alcoholic Gary didn’t you? So I began drinking every Friday night in parks and lanes all dotted around the area where I grew up. Getting the drink would always pose a problem, but we somehow always found a way. I began to really look forward to buying my “six cans for a fiver” deal, and struggling to get through four of them before I passed out. I even made sure to get myself a little job on a Friday afternoon after school, doing the milk-money collection with the local milkman, thus ensuring I had sufficient funds “for me gargle“. I need to ask you Alcoholic Gary…was it in these early days that you began to manifest? Is this where you began to assume control? Please forgive me if I seem to be pointing fingers here…for I know I am not blameless. But the Friday Sessions continued, and my tolerance for alcohol grew and grew. And then something amazing and shocking happened…

As you know Alcoholic Gary, at the ripe young age of 16 I became a father to the most perfect and amazing child I have ever known and her arrival into the world completely ceased all communication between me and you. The only drinking I did, was to drink in the strength and beauty of my little girl. I was so happy…alas it wasn’t to be… As you are also aware Alcoholic Gary, my daughter passed away after six months. You are aware of this because it was around this time that you got back in contact with me. You saw an opportunity and you took it, and this time you brought new personality traits that you planned testing out on me. But, again, I can’t just blame you. I was weak. I used the fact that my beautiful and amazing daughter had died as an excuse to become a carbon image of you. I hate myself for that. I hate that instead of mourning the passing of my baby girl, I refused to accept that she was gone, and set out on a one-way road of total self-destruction. And this is when you really took control…

I began telling lies…constantly! I told disgusting, irresponsible and despicable lies and cared not about who I said them to. I hurt and destroyed a lot of people with these disgusting “Walter Mitty” musings, and I have most probably destroyed any chance to even beg these people for forgiveness…and I can’t blame them…I don’t deserve it! I became aggressive…but none more so than when I “had a few drinks in me”. I spat vile and hate and hurt from my drunken mouth during arguments…words that could never be taken back. And that is where I began to detest you Alcoholic Gary. For you see, when I’d sober up…come back to myself so to speak…I would be filled with so much remorse. I would cringe in embarrassment as people would recall what I had done or said. And sadly, most times, the damage I had caused was too severe to mend with apologies. I would make empty promises to get rid of you once and for all…but I was weak. I allowed you to regain control. And the funny thing is, once you had control you were useless! Ok, some of the lads found you funny…the odd time. Yes you could hold your own in a conversation pertaining to Dublin GAA or Liverpool FC. I will say that you were a very generous person, but I do feel that this was me shining through you. But other than that, you were useless! If you were lucky enough for some poor unfortunate woman to feel sorry for you enough to maybe think about spending the night with you…you were fuckin’ useless! You would convince yourself that you could drive…you idiot! You never knew when to stop drinking, with the fear of god running through your body at last orders as you survey your current number of pints, and calculate how many you need to see you home. And then, as you hung around the next morning…lingering…your presence on more that one occasion prevented me from going into work. I’ll never fully know how lucky I was to have my father as my boss. As much as I tormented him, he still gave me work. I was so lucky. And then I abused this luck and his trust even further when you introduced me to cocaine…and “shit got REAL”

Of course I’d end up taking coke…it’s what idiots like me do isn’t it? So now Alcoholic Gary is adding coke to the mixture…well…my brain just frazzled. I was now completely lost in a haze of regret and sorrow. Of anger and hate. Of sparse highs and constant lows. But you never let your grip loosen did you Alcoholic Gary? Even when my Father passed away? When I lost my job and my source of income to try to keep up with the addiction which you had so (UN)kindly bestowed upon me, diminished? No…you kept at me and at me and at me and at me and…BANG! What needed to happen in my life happened…an intervention, although at the time it felt like the end of the world. I was arrested and sent to prison…and it was the beginning of the end of me and you. Prison saved my life! Its high, grey walls topped with barbed-wire were enough to keep you away from me for long enough for me to realise how much I hate you. Yes, you tormented me in the first few months of my incarceration, but I grew strong. I wanted you out…gone for good. I’m just so disappointed that it took me to end up in prison to finally get rid of you. But rid of you I am…

I still take each day at a time…

So, Alcoholic Gary, as I draw this catch-up to a close I feel empowered, for I have been able to “speak” with you throughout this letter, without having to put up with you butting in and interfering. Again, in the sport of fairness, I would like to reiterate that the person I was back then is not all your doing. I played my part by being weak. For allowing such bile to leave my mouth. For always having excuses. Excuses, in my opinion, are for the weak. I today feel I have no excuses for my past actions, I just have the honest reasons why they happened. But I can’t lie Alcoholic Gary…being free from you has been the best feeling I have had for a very long time. I don’t miss you one bit…although you still try to mooch your way back in on occasions. But I am ready for you. And I will remain that way thanks to the love of an amazing woman and her family, and my own amazing family. So stay away.

You could argue, “Hey…we had some good times me and you” but do me a favor…go back, just as I have many, many times, and think about these “good times”…trust me…they weren’t that good.

Regards,

Sober Gary.

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Thanks as always for stopping by. Ok, so to quote a “prison phrase”, this weeks blog is a bit “balls rough!” In other words it’s a bit sober…I mean, somber…but I suppose there is no funny side to addiction. My particular drug of choice was alcohol, which progressed onto cocaine. They both had such a hold over me that I felt I was living in another world, and I suppose in my mind I was. But I was a great man for excuses. I always had an excuse. And it’s my opinion that, if an addict can quell their excuses, they are on the right road to beginning recovery. Yes it WILL be hard…but I swear to you it’s worth it in the end. To have your life back in your OWN control is a pleasure you will never want to lose again. If you are suffering from any type of addiction GO…TALK…TO…SOMEONE! You will be amazed how understanding people can be. And that’s where everyone else comes in. If we can show a basic level of understanding maybe we can assist an addict into recovery.

Whilst I was in Mountjoy prison in Dublin, Ireland, and I was coming to terms with the fact that I was an alcoholic who wanted to change, I wrote a song called “Addicted To Me”. The verses are the addiction talking, with the chorus being the addict talking. These words have since been put on display in Merchant Quay in Dublin, which provide counseling  services for addicts. I hope you like it…and the “dodgy video” of me singing it. The song is murky and so I wanted the recording to coincide with that.

Addicted To Me:

(Verse 1)

Just a taste you will see,

You’re addicted to me,

Your problems gone, but not for long,

As I still hold the key.

Ease your troubles away,

Well at least for today,

But soon you’ll crack, then I’ll be back,

Maybe this time I’ll stay.

(Chorus)

One hit, takes away all my pain.

Your grip, helps me, breathe again.

Whats real? Whats fake? I can’t tell,

Oh, save me…from this hell.

(Verse 2)

Let the terror begin,

Now I’m under your skin,

Your only friend, until the end,

Your deadliest sin.

You have sold me your soul,

Its left you down in a hole,

The deals been made, and now you’ve paid,

With your life put on hold.

(Repeat Chorus)

Thanks again for dropping by. I really do think that each and every one of ya’s are “bleedin’ deadly” (or for those not living in Dublin, “quite superb”) 🙂

Look out for each other.

Over and Under.

Gary. 🙂

The End Is Nigh…or is it?

Well…what a week that was!

Mr. Donald Trump is to be the next president of The United States Of America. A man who has spouted some terrible views on numerous matters (I’m sure by now everybody knows his opinions on certain topics! ). A man who comes across like a caricature of an evil villain in the old Batman TV show from way back when. Only this time there is no Adam West in questionable underwear to “save the day”…holy presidential race Batman…KA-POW! And yet, he won the race to the White House, some would say, with relative ease. Ok, one can argue that he was “the best of a bad pairing” as his opponent didn’t exactly emanate a brighter future for America. But America spoke…in fact America yelled, “This is the man we want.” What Trump seems to have tapped into is Middle America…the ordinary “Joe America” who has grown weary of being forgotten about…of being over-looked. It seems that on certain issues Trump was saying what a vast majority of Americans wanted to say, but where too afraid to. Do I personally agree with some (almost all) of what this man has said throughout his campaign? Absolutely NOT! I find most of his views repulsive. But in no way would I want him censored…and that leads me onto this weeks blog…

Thank you as always for dropping by and having a nose. I am sure to ruffle a few feathers with this particular blog. In fact, I wrestled with the idea of not publishing it, for fear of being vilified, of being attacked by the Lefty’s and the Snowflakes that have grown in numbers like a herd of rabbits. But the fact that I questioned myself, actually spurred me on…so here it goes!

For those that don’t know me, I live in Dublin, Ireland…and I love it! Every Friday our National Broadcaster airs an entertainment show called “The Late Late Show”, and it has almost become part of our heritage at this stage. Guests can vary from A-List celebs and sportsmen and women at the top of their game, to up-and-coming musicians and budding authors…and everything else in between. On last Friday’s show, the controversial newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins, who seems to have no filter when she speaks, was to be interviewed. She has been extremely vocal in her support of Donald Trump throughout his campaign, and so one would think she would make for a great guest to speak about the happenings of the preceding week…or maybe not according to the 1,300 complaints that RTE (the national broadcaster) received in the days leading up to her appearance. Now…just like our good friend Trump, I would agree with less than 50% of what Mrs Hopkins has to say. I find some of the things she said in the past to be insulting and disgusting, and not very well thought-out. But these are her opinions…and the last time I checked we are all entitled to our opinions. And this is what has got my back up reader. It seems that unless your opinion conforms to the Leftist strict criteria, or the impeccably high  standards of the PC Brigade with its army of Snowflakes, then you “best keep that opinion to yourself!” God help you if you stray from the righteous path of the preciously perfect people and their idealistic views on how we should act and behave…for this is a sin of great magnitude. They will ensure that you are singled out and made feel like the lowest of the low for speaking your mind and “saying it like it is.” Being branded a racist or a bigot is something that doesn’t come out in the wash…in fact it sticks. And yet, most people are only sharing their views…their opinions! Most wouldn’t have a racist bone in their bodies. But just because they speak up and don’t conform, they are branded and vilified. And it really pisses me off! The very people who tore strips off the RTE for having Katie Hopkins on their show, describe her in such a vile and disgusting way, using language and descriptions that are quite cutting…this from the same group of people who say she shouldn’t be heard…her opinions should be quelled…as she spouts nothing but bile and hate…hmmmm…pot? Kettle? What colour?? Or is it ok for them to refer to Mrs Hopkins and Mr Trump in whatever fashion they please as they have “clarity of the heart”…they are “fighting the good fight”? It’s hypocrisy at its most highest level in my humble opinion.

Ok, let’s face it…the majority of the things that emit from Trump and Hopkins mouths are not well thought out ramblings, and misguided bullshit. They are fully aware that they are striking a chord with the general public…good or bad! But they are not the only people who share their views. Look at the election result in America! The polls got it so wrong and it was put down to the fact that, when asked, the majority of Americans standing in the voting lines that were interviewed lied about who they were voting for…lied because of the fear of being judged…or being branded! I really feel we need to hear ALL sides of an argument…even if what you are about to hear “offends” you. For only then can we mount an educated and articulate response. Whether we like it or not there are some strong-minded people out there with some views that may shock. And these people don’t need a television camera and a microphone pointed at them to express how they feel (and I do see the irony that I am doing just that as I sit here typing this blog!). I really fear that we are raising children today wrapped up in cotton wool. Forcing on them an idealistic image of a “perfect world”. I’m sorry, but this crazy planet is far from perfect! This is why I feel so strongly about allowing these people, like Katie Hopkins, to air their views…what might shock you is how many people agree, in some part, with them. Just because you don’t agree with something, doesn’t make it wrong! Each and every one of us has been afforded the gift of free speech. Those that abuse this privilege and incite hatred, racism, bullying or violence deserve facing the full wrath of the law. But those that express an educated opinion…no matter how “right-wing” or controversial it may seem, should be afforded the same respect that is given to the left-wing conservative views. We should all try to listen without prejudice…listen without being offended. And when your “opponent” has finished giving their view, you can have your say. We all might learn a thing or ten!

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Call me a hippy, but I really do believe the above statement…

I am two years released from prison now, and I have enjoyed getting to know this world we live in once again. I found my love for writing (maybe keep looking, says you) whilst incarcerated and I love to sit here at my small wooden desk and type my stream of consciousness. I felt, and rightly so, like such an outsider two years ago. I struggled to see where I’d fit in. I blamed no one but myself for feeling like an unwanted reject…and then the people of Dublin, and of Ireland, saved me! Bit  of a strange statement I hear you say? And yeah, I would agree…but let me explain. I am an avid listener to daytime radio and I love to listen in on the talk shows that grace the Irish airwaves. In fact, I was listening to Niall Boylan on Classic Hits 4fm today…and who was his guest? Only Katie “bloody” Hopkins!! Brilliant. I urge you to find the podcast and give it a listen…it was pure radio gold.

Anyway, back to the Irish people saving me…

So I would spend my days listening in on whatever topics that were chosen for that day, and I was blown away by the intelligent and well-rounded opinions being shared. I would find myself laughing out loud…or getting angry..I LOVED IT. And so I plucked up the courage to phone into one of these shows and I shared my opinion on some topic pertaining to Irish jails. I surprised myself by blurting out that I had shamefully spent time in prison…and the people didn’t judge me…in fact those that know me know how well received my story has become, as I keep plugging away trying to get my book published. I have been humbled by the support of complete strangers…and yet, I would hazard that some of these people maybe started out by having a negative view of me…which they are entitled to have. But I opened many dialogs with these people, and through honest conversation, and respecting each others views, we both got a result we were happy with. Is it really inconceivable to think that if we open our minds to others opinions…no matter how vile we think they are…then maybe we might actually get somewhere? And I have faith in the people of Ireland today, that we can all find a common ground, regardless of our differing views. So, maybe next time, listen to the argument…no matter how uncomfortable it may be…and absorb the information. This will become your greatest weapon in your arsenal.

Oh…and if I offended you with this blog….F_ _ _ Y _ _ ….I jest. If I did offend, please just try to remember, offence is taken not given.

Over and Under guys and gals….listen to each other.

Gary 🙂