Me, Myself And Fly

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“Jaysis Gar….ya look like a massive bag of shite buddy.” This wonderful assessment of my person was provided to me the other day by (believe it or not), a good friend of mine. Hmmmm… with friends like that, who needs enemies? But he was right. I’ve looked terrible lately….I’ve felt terrible lately. But the most shocking thing for me is, I allowed myself to manifest into this negative entity. I gave up. I stopped trying. I felt sorry for myself. And as a result, I made all the problems I am currently dealing with, worse than they truly are. Lately, the majority of my thoughts have been of the negative variety – “Why is it always me?” / “Why can’t I catch a break?” / “Why won’t someone help me?” I hope, by the end of this blog, that you will understand why I was asking myself such sad and negative questions. But, I also hope, in fact I pray (and I’m not even slightly religious) that you will see how, initially, I gave up…initially, I became an even bigger gobshite than usual. But, I have been working so hard to eradicate those feelings of self-pity and sorrow, and I now feel like I am emerging from my “bunker” – the war is coming to an end. How very dramatic!

I am a firm believer in sharing, and those that know me, know how I try with all my might to champion the idea of talking about your problems. I always offer myself to others, in the hope I can help them through the “shitty times.” But lately, I have found that I’ve been unable to follow my own advice.

So, with that in mind, I decided to write this blog. A blog I can promise, is wrote with honesty. Yes, this blog deals with my current situation, but I really, really hope, that it may help someone who might be experiencing some “shitty times” themselves. Sometimes, just knowing you are “not the only one,” can be a good place to start your rebuilding. This is how I’ve dealt with my problems, and it may not be a good fit for all…but hopefully it might just help someone emerge from their own “bunker.”

And for those who may read this, and are lucky enough to be quite content with how their life currently is, maybe reading this blog will make you more aware of those around you who may be struggling, so you can offer yourself to them and help them get through it.

Either way, I just really hope you enjoy the read…and I hope you enjoy meeting “Freddie The Fly!”

So, here we go: Me, Myself and Fly 🙂

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“Your health is your wealth…” Well, if that’s the case, then I am currently flat-broke! I find it hard to remember when it all started. Sometimes it feels like the pain, discomfort and feelings of “meh” have been around forever…but that’s silly right? I have always tried with all my might, to push-on through my current health situation, and up until recently, I feel I’ve done a pretty good job. I have been blessed to be able to launch two books, one year apart, but it was the launch night of my second book, Life After Joy: A Prisoner No More, that the mortars started flying over my head.

That night was one of the most amazing nights I have ever experienced in my life. I got to meet some incredible people for the first time, and (I hope), we all shared a really special evening together. My only glitch on the night, was the fact I was crippled in pain…the same pain I have been experiencing for quite some time now, but on this particular night, it seemed to be more uncomfortable than usual. I remember standing in front of all these wonderful people, as I gave my “thank you” speech, and read a chapter from my book. I remember feeling like I was actually going to pass out…the pain and discomfort was almost unbearable. But I got through it. Myself and my partner Antoinette headed home that evening, and as we sat in the back of the taxi, I cradled my head into Antoinette’s lap, and felt an immediate comfort from her soft touch, as she slowly and lovingly stroked my head. “Fuckin’ hell Annie…I’m in bits,” I say to her as the tears come streaming down my face. “I know Gar, I know,” came Antoinette’s soothing reply. Little did we both know, that the war had only just begun….

The next few days and weeks began to amalgamate into one great-big blur. The pain and discomfort was increasing, yet I refused to give up. You know what I mean here folks…I’m sure you have been there before. The thoughts that flood your mind can really weigh heavily: “I have to keep pushing…” / “I’m becoming a nuisance…” / I CAN’T GIVE UP!” With my own situation, I sometimes find walking to be…well, to be a massive ‘pain in the arse’ if I’m honest! But, I had convinced myself that I needed to keep going…keep pushing. I just hadn’t factored in the damage I was inflicting on my mental-health, until it was too late. Every day felt like a battle of sorts, and the day I retreated to my bunker, is one of the most embarrassing moments in my life.

I had decided to go for a walk. Easy right? I am currently out of work, and it is driving me insane, as I am not the type to just sit around and expect things to just happen for me. So, I headed out for my walk, fully aware that I resembled a John Wayne inspired cowboy, as I walked with my legs further apart than usual. “I don’t give a shite what people think,” I thought to myself. How very wrong I was. Twenty minutes into this walk, and a complete stranger approaches me from behind on a very busy Dublin street. “Here mate…can ya stand up again’ the wall there?” says this guy to me. “What…are you fuckin’ An Garda or somethin’?” came my ridiculous reply. “Mate…yer destroyed in blood man…all around yer arse!” I froze. I was completely rooted to the spot. Myself and this lad shared the most awkward of silences, neither of us knowing what to say. Eventually I mutter an embarrassed “thank you,” and then I began my personal “walk of shame” back to my apartment, feeling every single set of eyes from the people passing me, bore into my soul. I have never…ever, been more embarrassed in my life. I got home, and the very first thing I contemplated doing was drinking a bottle of whiskey, and as a recovering alcoholic, this wasn’t my smartest idea. Thankfully, I have chosen to remember the damage my drinking caused in my life…and I never want this world to see that gobshite again. So, I trudged up my stairs, and I entered my man-cave…my room where I write and create…my “happy place.” But, what this room offers my soul was about to come under heavy attack. Depression, self-pity and “acting like a wanker” were all circling overhead, ready to strike. The war had begun.

I slowly dissolved more and more as each day passed, my only comfort (not including Annie) coming form my interactions on Facebook and other social media platforms. I always try to inject a bit of positivity into the worlds of my Facebook friends. They are an amazing bunch, and have buoyed me with their love and willingness to share their admiration for my books…and their lives…with me. But as I hunkered down in my man-cave, or my “bunker”, I began to realise that I had to be honest. I couldn’t tell my friends to ‘keep the sunny side out’, when it felt like I was walking through a thunderstorm. I am a firm believer in being able to share the bad days, as well as the good, on social media. There is so much ‘fakeness’ on social media, with people trying to keep up with the Jones’s as they portray the ‘perfect life.’ But, if I was to post what I was actually feeling, then I would run the risk of depressing the life out of all my friends. So, I took the decision to take a break from it all…and this decision killed me. Not only was the timing atrocious, as I was trying to promote my second book, but I knew how much I was going to miss the interactions. “Sure, it’ll only be for a week or two,” I told myself. How wrong I was. And as I sat at my desk, writhing in pain, I can hear the low, irritating buzzing of a small housefly, as it makes it’s way around my bunker. I catch sight of it a couple of times, but don’t really pay it much heed. I just sit there…feeling like a massive bag of depressing shite.

Minutes turn into hours…hours into days…days into weeks…

I don’t know how long I’ve been enclosed in my bunker now. Myself and Annie are are at breaking point. I am being a complete dickhead to her…again. Only this time?  She is giving as good as she gets. It’s ripping us apart. I reach out to the hospital for help, and come to the stark realisation that I am now a statistic in the crippling waiting-list scandal that Ireland is currently experiencing. I am sat in my bunker, and all I can hear, is the same fucking low, irritating buzz of a fly. “It can’t be the same fecker,” I say to myself, and as I do, the brazen little shit lands right on my arm!! Not a bother to him! I don’t immediately brush him off. I almost admire his ballsy approach. “Yer some man Freddie” says I as I begin the same procedure that I know you have tried yourself…GET THE FLY, TO FLY OUT THE FECKIN’ WINDOW! I mean, how hard is it for them? The came in through the massive hole in your wall that is your window…they were smart enough to do that. But now? Now they are fucking blind to said “massive hole” and will fly at it, beside it, near it…but never fucking through it! “Ahh, stay where ya are so Freddie,” I shout. Little shite!

Pain, discomfort, feeling dirty and unclean. Each of these emotions were like grenades being lobbed into my bunker, as I tried with all my might to stay positive. But I was losing this battle…my supplies were depleting. Freddie on the other hand, was having a rare aul time. He invited two mates over at one stage. But, I felt he was taking liberties, so I managed to eject them from my premises. “A heads-up next time yer having’ yer mates around Freddie yeah?” I said to him…fully aware that I am now speaking to a fucking housefly.

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I was losing everything, the casualties of this battle were mounting. I do need to say, that the sound of silence from some of the people in my life while I was at my lowest, was at times deafening. I contemplated having massive arguments with these people, but why should you fight to be cared for? If someone doesn’t give a shite, then your not going to change them. Yes, they might be around when your days are good, but if they disappear when your days are “shitty” … well, don’t get mad, get even. Never change the person you are for anyone. Don’t call them names or fall out with them. Just remember what they did…or didn’t do…during your lowest ebb, and reciprocate. Treat them exactly how they treated you. And if they have the nerve to ask you why you are off with them? Give them both barrels of your opinion. In stark contrast to this, was the outpouring of love I was (and still am) receiving – daily – on social media. Every day I have had people reach out making sure I am okay. I don’t feel I deserve such love and concern sometimes, but I can’t lie to you … it feels amazing. People like Tony or Siena, who just never give up on you. Deborah and her constant stream of love. Dee with her mantras and positivity. Maggie with her spiritual guidance. Eilish with her unconditional love. “I’m a very fuckin’ lucky bloke really Freddie aren’t I?” says I to Freddie, who has now become so comfortable (or brazen) around me, that he has taken to strolling across my desk, or landing on the rim of my finished coffee cup. I wonder is it the caffeine that’s keeping the little fecker going?

 

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The thinking behind the “Law Of Attraction ” is quite simple: “What you put out, you will receive.” And lately, all I have been putting out is negativity. So, what do I expect? “I’ve a pain in me hole…excuse the pun…Freddie,” says I to my winged friend as he circled around the bulb above my head, over and over again (he’s not the smartest our Freddie…prob too much caffeine). Since the day I was stopped by that stranger and told I was covered in blood, I have done nothing but feel sorry for myself. It also led me to remain indoors…like I was once again, incarcerated. Yet, it was during my shameful incarceration that I found the ‘real’ me. I tapped into a reservoir of creativity I had blocked out through drinking and being an arsehole, and I ended up doing quite a lot. In fact, one of the things I did, was write a musical, Journeyman, whilst I was sat in cell 27 on C1 in Mountjoy. I looked around my bunker and realised, just like back in prison, I had very little equipment to fully express how I thought this musical should sound. “Here, Freddie?”, I shout to my little buddy, “It’s time to stop feeling sorry for myself, and to start to make things happen for me. No one is going to help me, so I have to help myself.” Freddie just sort of looked at me, as he slowly ambled across my computers keyboard. “He looks a bit off-colour,” I thought to myself. Jaysis..I hope he’s okay?

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So…that’s just what I did…and have been doing ever since. And I swear to you, this shift in thinking, this ceasing of “feeling sorry for myself” really worked! I have watched countless YouTube videos and read as much material as I could, in order to teach myself the fundamentals of mixing and mastering music. I created a list of sorts, like an agenda for my day, which brought back focus in my life. When things go wrong for us, we lose our focus. This, in my opinion, is when the war begins, the war between you and the depression of feeling “shitty.” If you feel that way at all, I urge you to compile a similar list. Find some structure, and watch your confidence slowly return. Annie and my family immediately noticed, with Annie doing what she is so incredibly blessed with. She cared for, loved, and looked after me on levels I have never experienced before. She is incredible. My family too all railed around and provided their balls rough sibling with as much TLC as they could muster. I began finding my feet again. Even Freddie seemed to be enjoying watching me lay down some guitar tracks, as he’d almost always land on the feckin’ neck of my guitar as I was mid-solo!! My mood was lifting, and I began putting an abundance of positivity “out there,” in the hope it would be returned…and, by-jaysis, it was! I suddenly began receiving calls from the hospital, pertaining to my problem, and after a few false starts, I am …. wow … my hands are actually shaking as I type this .. I am to have my surgery…….TOMORROW MORNING @8.30AM!! I honestly cannot believe it. I have never…ever…been more fucking excited to go to the hospital in my entire life. Freddie is loitering around the window in my bunker. I turn to him and almost shout, “Freddie me aul mucker…surgery is tomorrow morning. GerrrrUPPP outta tha’ wha’?” Freddie does another couple of laps of the window, and then……he fly’s straight out of the feckin’ thing! “Freddie!” I shout after him, but soon realise that Debbie, my neighbour, is out on her balcony, and now most-probably thinks I am a bigger fuckin’ weirdo than usual. Maybe he was sent to me to help me through my funk? Maybe he was my “spiritual insect”, sent to remind me to never give up and to always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Orrrrrrr, maybe “he” was actually a number of different flies, and I am now actually losing my feckin’ marbles! Either way, I am really gonna miss that little guy. I even complied a “mix-tape” of our favourite songs, including Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away”, Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” and of course the Westlife version of “Flying Without Wings.” 🙂

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If I have done this right, then you are reading this blog, after heading to the link on my Facebook page…which means I am now in surgery…or my op is over….”thanks be-ta-jaysis!” I wanted to share this blog to, firstly, explain to my friends were the hell I’ve been for the last while, but to also highlight that even the most positive of minds can be pushed to their limits. I urge you, if you feel any of the depression I have disclosed in this blog, to talk to someone about it. We live in an age where depression is becoming a silent killer. Don’t do what I initially did. I convinced myself I was “okay,” when I clearly wasn’t. I was fixated on “not letting Annie down,” and yet, my moods were pushing her further and further away from me. I gave up and shut the world out. It’s incredible how lonely you feel…almost instantly. But, a concentrated effort to change your thinking…an effort to compile a “list” of sorts to rebuild some structure in your life, can really go a long way to helping you get back on your feet. There is fuck-all wrong with being down…you are not abnormal or a “freak,” for feeling low or dejected. But, you don’t deserve to live there…no matter what you might feel you have done in your past. Look at me (“nah..you’re alright Gar,” says you 🙂 )! I have done some atrocious things in my past. I would give “deadbeat fathers” a bad name. I was a scumbag of the highest order. But I have paid (and am still paying) the ultimate price for that, so instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to show the world how sorry I am, and how much I’ve changed. Because, I too, deserve to be happy…contrary to what some people might think.

AND SO DO YOU! So please…chase your happiness and dreams. Believe in all of your amazing abilities, and know that the dark days can return at any time. The only difference is, you will be more prepared next time. And remember, they won’t last forever.

Even at the end of the darkest days, the sun will always rise again…”

As for Journeyman? I am almost finished the album, which consists of the songs from the musical. My thinking behind the album is that each song will be like a chapter in a book, and it will tell the story of “one man’s journey through life, death, and everything in between.” The first draft of the script is complete (and feckin’ amazing…thanks Dee), and Maggie and myself are gung-ho as we try to bring to the stage, what we started together in Mountjoy prison. We are going to need actors, and we would rather you have no, or little experience. We want to strip peoples inhibitions and make them see how amazing they can be. Now…where would I find such people?? I’ll give you a hint….I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU, THE PEROSN READING THIS!! I’ll be in touch 😉

In the meantime, I really hope you enjoy this little snippet. This song is called “Fathers Brat”, and it is the character of The Father (who is an alcoholic wanker) showing his disdain for his son. Oh…and I should point out, that I am a ‘rocker’ at heart, I even sported long-hair in my teens (and looked like a complete gobshite), so this is a “rock musical.” Expect a lot of heavy guitars lol. Also, for those that are well-versed in music production, I am fully aware how amateur this sounds. But I am out of work, so funds to buy fancy equipment are not, in the slightest, available to me. But in prison, myself and Fitzer were given lemons, and, in my humble opinion, I feel like we made some sweet lemonade. Journeyman, which I wrote in prison, is my way of showing you that anything is possible with the right mindset and the ability to believe in yourself. I highly recommend you use headphones 😉

Here is the idea I have designed for the cover, and as you can see, Annie and Fitzer will be ‘doin’ their thang’

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I know the aul song is a “bit bleedin’ mental there Gar me all mucker,” but it’s meant as a scene in a musical. So, some headcase is going to have to stand on stage and sing that! Any takers? 🙂

Thank you so much for making it to the end of, what could be described as, my next jaysis book. I really hope all is good with you right now. Maybe take a second and give yourself an aul scan…make sure everything is okay. And if you find something a little off? Tell someone about it…tell me if you think it will help. Just don’t carry it alone. And be comfortable in the knowledge that it really, really is ‘okay not to be okay.’ You deserve to be happy…never forget that.

I think ‘yizer all bleedin’ rappa‘ 🙂

Over and Under folks….take care.

I’m off to see a surgeon … wish me luck 🙂

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Mama Said There Will Be Days Like This…

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May 15th 2018 – a night I’ll never forget. It was on this faithful night, that I launched my second book, Life After Joy: A Prisoner No More. It was such an amazing night, all thanks to the incredible people who attended. But literally minutes before it began, I was convinced it was going to be a ‘bit of a flop.’

I couldn’t sleep the night before … how could I? Yes, launching my new book was weighing heavily on my mind, but I was more anxious about the fact that I was about to meet (in person), a big bunch of people for the very first time! I suppose you could christen this launch the “Social Media” launch, as the majority of those in attendance were people I have met through Facebook and Instagram over the last year or so. These people all reached out to me after completing my first book, Joys Of Joy, Finding Myself In An Irish Prison, and I have struck-up some incredible friendships as a result, but I had never actually met these wonderful people in person. My mind raced with worries of failure … of letting people down. But I had nothing to worry about.

 

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Myself and my rock, Antoinette, were out collecting a surprise birthday cake for Antoinette’s best friend, Jackie, which we intended to surprise Jackie with during the launch. This meant we were on the road early – and this is also when the messages started to arrive to my phone. “Sorry Gar…can’t make tonight…” / “Gary, something has come up and I won’t make tonight…” etc. From that early hour, right up until an hour or so before the launch kicked-off, it seemed that every time my phone beeped, it was another person cancelling. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understood – but my understanding was doing nothing to quell my nerves, which were beginning to reach dizzying heights. I was panicking inside. I felt the type of nerves one might experience on the night of ones 21st – dreading that the room would be empty, and that the only people in attendance would be your family and your partner … and they had to be there! But, again, I had nothing to worry about!

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Myself and Antoinette were brought out for a bite to eat by my eldest brother Gerry and his wife Barbara. My beautiful and incredible mam, Lily, also joined us, along with Gerry and Barbara’s good friends, Jude and Anne. This coming together for food did wonders for me, as it distracted me from the endless beeps my phone was emitting … “So sorry Gar … can’t make tonight..” Antoinette could see the worry etched across my face. She pulls me to one side and does all she can to reassure me that everything would be okay. Did I listen? Of course I did. Did it help? Not in the slightest! But I love her so much for trying. What Antoinette did make me realise though, was I was being a negative nelly! Instead of focusing on the night being a complete flop, I should instead tell myself it was going to go well – so that’s just what I did. And almost instantly, things started to change.

In out of the rain, walks my nights MC, the incredible Niall Boylan (pictured above). Niall is an award-winning radio talk-show host on Classic Hits 4fm, and he is also a very close friend. He knew myself and my family would be in the bar across from the venue of the launch, so when he walked in and I saw him (feckin’ soaked to the skin from being caught in an unusual May shower), something inside me changed. We gave each other one of those ‘manly hugs.’ He asked was I okay, and I told him of my worries. “Feck it Gar – if only four people turn up, then make it a great night for those four,” he said to me. And he was right. Even my publisher echoed his view. Then, just as Niall was doing the rounds with my family, shaking hands and having chats, I look up and see Fitzer and his wife Ash walk in. I instantly feel my eyelids begin to fill with tears … and I get a funny feeling these tears may last a while! Myself and Fitzer met in prison and we embarked on one incredible journey together. He is the greatest friend I have ever had, and himself and his wife mean the absolute world to me. Fitzer instantly begins doing what he does best with me. He begins slagging the life out of me, whilst throwing the most caring eyes over me to ensure my nerves don’t defeat me.

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Myself, Fitzer, Niall Boylan, and my brother Noel (who had just joined us), were in the middle of having a discussion about ‘all-things-prison’, when I look up and see a man I really didn’t expect to see … Conn! Conn was my IT teacher when I was incarcerated in Loughan House Open Prison. Himself and the Home Economics teacher, Mary, were two people who constantly encouraged my new-found passion for writing. In fact, they both pressed me to enter the “Listowel Writing In Prison Competition”, which I won … twice! I had invited both Conn and Mary to the launch, but with them having to travel over two hours just to get there, I really didn’t expect to see them. Added to that was the very sad news I had received from Conn, pertaining to his health. So, when I look over Fitzer’s shoulder and see, not only Conn walk in, but also his beautiful wife Jo, and Mary … well, let’s just say my make-up was feckin’ ruined!! Conn and Mary took me to one side, and just as it was back in Loughan House, they instilled in me the confidence to approach this night with my head held high. I love them both so much for that. I felt ready. I turn to all my family and friends and inform them that I am going to head across to the room of the launch to make sure everything is okay. I tell them to enjoy their drinks, and follow me when they are ready.

Right so … let’s do this!!

 

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I walk sheepishly into the room of the launch, and it’s empty … completely empty, except for my publisher! We both look at each other and laugh. “Jaysis Boss”, I start, “I hope a least one or two more show up.” I let out a nervous laugh, and then explain how every beep from my phone confirms another cancellation. “Don’t worry Gary”, says David (my publisher) in his deep American twang, “we will have a great night no matter how many come. Try to relax.” “Relax? Are you off  your bleedin’ head?”, was the response I felt myself giving him, but instead I try to crack a smile and simply nod my head. All of a sudden, I hear my name being called by a lady’s voice. I look up and see my friend, Siena, and instantly I am sobbing (*note – I will be “instantly sobbing” quite a fucking lot throughout this blog. So please … bear with me lol). Siena is currently battling a terrible illness, so I knew how hard it was for her to be there, but there she was, along with her stunning daughter, Mandy. I embraced Siena, and through an abundance of tears, I thanked her from the bottom of my heart. This wonderful moment is shattered by a gift Siena had brought for me. A gift so beautifully wrapped in multi-coloured, shiny wrapping paper. I was feckin’ mortified, as the last thing I expected was a feckin’ gift! Siena insisted I open this, rather large, gift immediately. So, as my face began turning different shades of embarrassment, I began ripping the wrapping paper, only to unveil two large boxes of Kleenex tissues!! Cheeky fecker! I loved it. I laughed so hard, and realised it was the first time, in a while, I had laughed that day. My outbursts of tears on a regular basis is always a source of ribbing and slagging for me … but I don’t mind in the slightest. In fact, I am very proud of the fact I cry (a lot), as I feel so strongly about being able to show your emotions whenever you feel you have to. We loose way to many young men and women in this Country to suicide, so I always try to champion the famous saying: It’s okay, not to be okay.

As myself, Siena and Mandy enjoy a laugh at my expense, I look up and see four young ladies walk in,  and I almost stop breathing. These four incredible young women (pictured above) are part of a Youthreach project in Dundalk that I had been asked to give a talk to some time ago. I was so impressed by these young men and women, that I wrote about them in this new book, and also included a picture of myself with the entire group. Of course I had invited them all, but again, I thought the distance to be too far, and so I really didn’t expect to see them … yet, there stood these four young ladies. I nearly feckin’ died, and the pitch of the shrill that came from my vocal chords, almost shattered the empty wine glasses that were waiting to be filled. I thanked them, over and over again, but it was their reply that finished me off: “You were so good to us all when you came up to give us your talk. You made us all believe in ourselves, so we really wanted to be here to support you.” JESUS!! I actually had to head into the toilet to try to compose myself! Wow!  And as I walked back out, as if by magic, the room began to fill. It was incredible. I turn to see my sister-in-law, Niamh, with her three sons (my nephews), Luke, Adam, and Dylan. I crumble. Directly behind them comes Niamh’s husband, my brother Jason. I crumble some more. I felt so safe when I saw Jason, Niamh and their boys. They gave me the strength I was clearly lacking.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Mr. Niall Boylan, and Miss Eilish O’Carroll…”

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Instantly, I was plonked onto a chair, and I began signing copies of my book. Every time I looked up, I saw people I was meeting for the first time. Yes, we had interacted through social media, but now, these wonderful people were standing in front of me. My head felt like it was going to explode.

 

Before I knew it, Niall had taken to the podium to officially begin the night. He is such a professional when he needs to be, and the way he addressed the gathered was so impressive. But when he turned his attention to me, and to the friendship we both have, I was …. come on now, you already know the answers to this … that’s right … I was SOBBING! Although, at least this time I wasn’t the only one. Thank you so much man.

Niall then introduced my nights guest speaker, the stunningly beautiful (both inside and out), Eilish O’Carroll. I swear to you, this woman’s speech was just … perfect. She took the piss out of me (a lot), she brought laughter aplenty. She even gave Fitzer a mention and had him feeling a little embarrassed (which I secretly enjoyed immensely). But, just as it was with Niall, when Eilish turned her attention to me, to my new book, and to the friendship we both share today, I was floored. I couldn’t breathe at one stage. Her choice of words were mesmerising. She nailed the ‘message’ I am trying to convey with this new book. She brought the gathered on a wonderful journey through times we have both shared together. I just couldn’t believe it. I love this woman so much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Eilish.

And then, as if to take the mickey out of me just a little bit more, Eilish called me up to give my speech. ‘Ohh.’ I thought, ‘how in the name of Jaysis, am I going to do this?!?

But I did it…

Well, that sentence above in bold isn’t 100% accurate. I certainly tried with all my might to give a rousing and positive speech, but every time I looked out at all the incredible people staring back at me, I found it hard to speak .. which can be a bit of a nightmare when it’s a speech you are trying to feckin’ give! I would see the face of another that I was meeting for the first time, and it would blow my mind. But I knuckled down, and somehow got myself through it … and I honestly couldn’t believe how well my speech was received. I was so nervous. I was in a considerable amount of pain, due to an ongoing health issue (*in fact, one of the people in attendance that night, was my Haematologist. I couldn’t believe that this wonderful lady had come). But I remember looking to my left, and seeing my brother Jason with two of his three sons standing there, and they gave me the strength I needed to proceed. I would then catch a glimpse of my two other brothers, Noel and Gerry – I would see my mam and Antoinette, Fitzer and Ash, and they all combined to help get me over the finish line. I brought my speech to an end by reading a chapter from my new book, and at its conclusion, I am again floored by the round of applause I received. And yes, I was feckin’ SOBBING!

 

The rest of the night was just … just … Jesus – I honestly cannot find a word to best describe it. I suppose I’ll settle for, perfect. Every single person that came, brought something different to the night, and each and every one of them sent me into orbit. And so, with my hand placed firmly on my heart, I want to thank each and every one of you that came (and those that sent messages saying they couldn’t come). You made this one of the most special nights of my life, and I love each and every one of you for that. And now we’ve met?? You’re stuck with me … forever!! muhahahahahahahaha!!!

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Before I move onto day two, of the “most amazing week in my life…ever“, I need to explain who these two crackers are, in the picture above. On the left is the stunning Diana, and on the right is the greatest gift this life has given me, my beautiful friend Dee. It would take me an entire book to disclose how much Dee means to me, but its safe to say that I adore this woman (and Diana too). Dee is my ‘teacher’ (of sorts) and an incredible friend. These two amazing ladies came up on the train from Kerry that morning to be at the launch! I mean, come on!! But they also play a massive part in this blog … a part I am confident, will completely blow your mind!

Let me explain…

Day 2. The Dáil.

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The morning after the launch, I was exhausted, and unfortunately I was also in a lot of pain and discomfort. But, lately, this is how everyday starts for me, so I refuse to let it prevent me from having a life. “If you want to, you’ll find a way. If you don’t want to, you’ll find an excuse.”

On this morning, I had been invited into The Dáil … so nothing was going to stop me. I was to meet Dee and Diana for coffee first, before we met up with a group I had the honour of being an honorary member of for the day. This group is a bunch of incredibly inspiring and amazing individuals from Kerry (*no Dubs jokes from yours truly today so), all of whom are winning their personal battles with addiction. Dee champions this group, and I felt so very honoured to be included on their trip around The Dáil. The name of this group? TEAM, which stands for Together Everyone Achieves More … brilliant!

I met with Dee and Diana for that coffee, and instantly Diana has a question for me.

*NB: THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH IS REALLY IMPORTANT FOR THE “WOW” BIT AT THE END OF THIS BLOG … SO TRY TO REMEMBER THIS BIT. CHEERS 🙂

“Gary”, starts Diana in her beautiful Kerry accent, “have you any more copies of your book handy?” I have to admit I laughed … kinda in her face (which I know was very rude of me), but I do find it funny that sometimes people think I have a wardrobe full of copies of my books. “Nope, I’m afraid not .. why?”, I say. “Ahh, we were in such a muddle after leaving the launch last night, what with suitcases and what have ya. We made it to the bus stop, waited a few minutes for the bus to come, and when we got on it and I looked out the window, I see the brown paper bag with my two copies of your book, sitting on a window sill at the bus stop, just as the bus pulls away!” Diana let’s out a sigh, just as Dee picks up the story. “Ahh Gar. I said to her we can jump off at the next stop and go back for them, but we were exhausted. So we have gifted them to the universe.” Did ya now Dee? Hmmmmm….how very interesting.

Back to The Dáil…

The bus with all the TEAM members, pulls up outside the gates of The Dáil, and I am introduced to all the guys and girls that had made the trip .. and wow, did they make me feel welcome. The sunshine was washing the pavements outside The Dáil in its wondrous glow, and it aided us all in raising our spirits. You could actually feel the excitement as we made our way through metal scanners and friendly security staff. We were met by TD Ned O’Sullivan from Fianna Fáil who amazingly gave us his time in order to show us around this magnificent structure. We got to go into the house of parliament and watch as TD’s discussed the pressing issues Ireland faces on a daily basis. Mr. O’Sullivan then brought us into a room, and we were introduced to two completely incredible women, senator Lynn Ruane, and senator Frances Black (that’s me with Frances in the picture above. I am only kicking myself that I didn’t get a picture with Lynn). What I didn’t realise, was Ned, Lynn and Frances, have all battled (and I suppose are still battling) addiction. Each gave us an insight into their own hero’s journey, and I can tell you, it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. As a nation, we can unfortunately feel very let down by our Government. We are not on our own, as I’m sure every Country the world over, feels the same about their particular leaders. But I urge those that are good enough to read this blog, to take the time and Google these three remarkable humans. To think that these three are our voice inside The Dáil, has encouraged my faith in politics. Thank you so much Ned, Lynn and Frances. You are such inspiring humans. Wow.

We were brought to a small cafe inside The Dáil, in order to have some sandwiches and coffee or tea. I am siting with Dee having a gossip, when I hear a TD mention my name to Diana, who was sitting next to me. This TD (I am embarrassed to say, I have forgotten his name) was explaining he had heard all about my two books, that very morning. He was wracking his brain, trying to remember if it was on the radio that he heard them being mentioned. Then, he suddenly gasps, “No … sorry, it was in the gym here in The Dáil that I heard about your books!” We all shared a little laugh – right up until he said who had told him all about my books. “It was Francis, our gym instructor.” I nearly passed out! I had only met Francis for the first time, the night before at my books launch. We both took part (separately) in a micro-documentary series entitled “The Inspire Series”, which was made for FlyeFit Gyms. This man is truly inspiring, as he too has faced his demons, and come out the other side thriving. I explain this to the TD, and we all share that “wow” moment.

The day was coming to a beautiful end, and as I said my goodbyes to all the TEAM members, and to Dee and Diana, I felt amazing. I was so honoured to be a part of this day. I say my goodbyes, and walk off singing a Dublin GAA song at the top of my voice, just to wind-up my new Kerry friends. I am almost at the end of Kildare Street, and I take one last look back at Dee. But as I do, I hear my name being shouted from a big, booming male voice. I turn to see …. FRANCIS THE GYM INSTRUCTOR, walking towards me! FUCKING HELL! “Here Gary”, starts Franics, “you’ll never guess what did for ya this morning lad?” He had the most beaming smile and I felt a little guilty when I said, “You told a load of TD’s about my new book, while you were training them in the gym inside The Dáil.” “How the fuck did ya know that?” came his startled reply. “It’s a long story my good man … sit down there and I’ll tell ya”, says I.

Wow. What a day!

Day 3…The Midlands Prison…

I had no time to ponder on the amazing day I had spent in The Dáil, as I had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day. I had been invited into the Midlands Prison, in order to talk as part of their “Mental Health Week.” I was honoured. Myself and Antoinette were on the road from 7am, and it was perfect spending time with my beautiful partner … although my other ‘beautiful partner’, Fitzer (lol) did ring me as we made our way to this massive jail. I knew why he rang. He was making sure I was okay. He was being a friend.

And not only had I Fitzer in my corner, but Antoinette was also showing me a love that cannot be bought. I am only where I am today because of this beautiful woman, and I love her with all my heart.

We arrive at the gates of this intimidating structure. Annie instills in me the last bit of confidence I need. I kiss her goodbye and limp towards the gates (*I was in feckin’ agony lol). I am met by the beautiful Rachel who is the assistant psychologist in the Midlands prison, and she is also the lady who so kindly invited me to come and give a talk. I was nervous, but not nervous about entering the jail (although I did fret and wonder if they would let me back out!). I was nervous as I didn’t want to let-down any of the men who were good enough to come and hear what I had to say. But, as per-usual, I had nothing to worry about. I was welcomed so well by the prisoners. They all instantly made me feel at ease, and we ended up having one of the most moving, funny and thought-provoking discussions regarding mental health, sentence management, and life once you are released. It was incredible, and I actually think I came away with more than the prisoners did, though I do hope they got something out of what I had to say. An absolutely amazing day. Thank you so much to all involved.

Day 4 … The WOW moment….

As I bring this (wayyyyy too long) blog to a close, I find I am actually shaking a little as I begin to recount what happened to myself and my mam on Friday last. We always spend one day a week together, from early morning to late in the evening. We go out and have our breakfast, and then spend the rest of the day window shopping. And I swear to you, I love it. I love spending time with this magnificent lady. I love trying with all my might to include her in all the things that are currently happening in my life. She is my best friend and I adore her. So, having her there to witness this “wow” moment, was extra special.

We headed into Dublin’s bustling city centre. My mam had her eye on a top, so we wanted to see if they had her size in a branch of this store, in town. We were walking through The Ilaic shopping centre, when a young man sheepishly (and very respectfully) approached me. “Excuse me? Are you Gary that wrote the two books?”, he asked nervously. I couldn’t resist taking the piss. “Nope. Sorry man”, came my reply. My mam was like a little kid trying to hold in the laughter. “Ahh, sorry. You look really like him”  says this young lad. “What’s his second name”, says I. “Gary, eh…Gary Johnstone, and the first book is called Joys Of Joy.” I smile. “Joys Of Joy? Did yer man Gary Cunningham not write that?” comes my cheeky reply. “Sorry…yes. That’s him”, says the young lad. “Yep”, I start, “that’s me!” I can see utter confusion take over this lads face, but soon we are all laughing. “Whats’ your name?” I ask. “Michael Cronin” says he. I instantly begin to well-up. “Michael, you sent me an email, about a year ago”, I stutter. “Wow, you remembered”, replies Michael. Remembered?? I’ll never forget it. I can tell from looking at Michael, that he is currently battling a disgusting illness. I can tell from the scars on his head, and the hair loss he is currently experiencing. And I will never forget when he sent me a mail almost a year ago. He told me in this mail, that my book gave him hope. And now? Here he is, standing in front of me. What a beautiful and very emotional moment. There wasn’t a dry eye between any of us. I have arranged to meet Michael soon for coffee. Wow.

But, believe it or not, that incredible moment is NOT the “wow” moment, as ten  minutes later, this happened…

Myself and my mam are just about to leave a particular shop, after failing miserably to get the top she wanted, when my phone rings … it was Dee. I started singing a completely made-up song about her – really loudly – down the phone, much to the annoyance of my fellow shoppers! My mam takes the phone, and herself and Dee share a moment like they always do. It’s beautiful to watch. And speaking of watch, I looked at mine and realised we had to make a move. I take the phone back off Lily, and we head out onto an extremely busy Henry Street, which is beautifully bathed in glorious sunshine. I’m still yapping away to Dee on the phone, when all-of-a-sudden, a bloke comes right up into my face, and says, “Here! Are you Gary Cunningham who wrote them books?” I thought the fucker was going to start on me. I instantly protected ‘me ma’, and went into “ahhh shite….here we go”, mode! I had nothing to worry about. “Yeah, eh, that’s me man”, I say with a bit of a smile. Now…please remember…Dee is still on the phone and can hear everything.

“Yeah man, I loved your first book man”, starts my new friend, “but here, wait ’till ya hear this. I was waitin’ on me bus the other night … me bus home … and I turn around at the bus stop, and there’s this brown paper bag … WITH TWO COPIES OF YOUR NEW BOOK IN IT!!!”

JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!!! This completely random (really sound) fella, picks me out on an extremely busy Henry Street, and tells me he found the books, that belong to the friend of the person who is currently on the fucking phone to me … FROM KERRY!!! I can hear Dee gasp. Me? I was frozen. It was one of the most surreal moments in my life –  and I enjoyed every second of it. Serendipity in all its wonder. I simply handed him my phone, with a look of complete bewilderment splashed across my face, and said, “the book belongs to the friend of the woman on that phone, and they live in Kerry.” This guy then plonks the biggest cherry on top of this fucking amazing cake. He says to Dee, “Yeah, I found your books, but I donated them to Pathways…….” PATHWAYS! An amazing organisation that does all it can to facilitate the re-integration of former prisoners! One of the very messages I am trying to “put out there” in this new book! YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS UP.

This happened right in front of myself and my mam. And we were rooted to the spot. This guy then hands me back the phone, and I tell Dee I’ll ring her back. He then says to me “I’m actually clean myself two years now thanks to Pathways, and I actually work for them.” This is enough for me to throw my arms around him and give him a hug, which thankfully, he didn’t think I was a complete gobshite for doing. “Man, we’d love you to come up to Pathways and give a talk. Can I have your number?” “Ab-so-fucking-lutely” comes my reply. I rang his number so he could save mine, we shook hands, and he walked away, not before congratulating me on the books, and wishing myself and my mam all the luck and happiness in the world. Myself and Lily just stood there … we said nothing … then I gave her a hug, and we headed home, our minds well and truly blown.

In the words of the immortal Jim Morrison: “This is the end…” (“thanks-be-ta-Jaysis”, says you)

So there you go. Now you see why, considering the feckin’ length of this blog, I couldn’t put this particular chapter of my life up on Facebook, like I’d usually do on a Monday … a Monday that I really hope is going great for you. Go easy on yourself, and trust in your abilities. Someone today would be completely lost without you. So make sure you are the best version of yourself that you can be. Believe in yourself … because you are really worth believing in.

And thank you so much for ………..

Look – thanks for absolutely everything. You all completely blow me away.

The universe huh? “Ask, Believe, Receive.”

Why not give it a go? See what happens.

 

Over and Under.

Gar 🙂

 

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:

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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 🙂

 

 

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