Friday, 11 February 2011


John Hirst, like others before him, John McVicar, Jimmy Boyle, has done little else in his life but be in prison. I  believe that I have mentioned, previously, that a wise, old probation officer I once knew said that twelve or fourteen years was the cut-off point, much after that and releasing a prisoner was an unkindness, he was, himself, the kindest of men and imbued with the then probation ethos of advising, assisting and befriending the  friendless, of hating the sin but loving the sinner;  he just felt, from his observations, his  experience, that a person could become institutionalised beyond repair; even now, in our punitive, tabloid climate  most lifers spend around twelve years inside before being released to try to make a life on strict license, liable to recall to prison at a moment's notice, my old friend's observation widely endorsed among penologist and home office civil servant alike. After a point it's more of a kindness, he used to say, to keep them inside  A grim thought for we who can walk where we want and not give it a thought but probably true

John Hirst served twenty five years straight-off.  Thirty five years in total, counting his previous sentences. Like so many in the system, in his early life he was more sinned against than sinning. It is an irony that Mr Martin Nairey-Gob is the current CEO of Barnardos, after a lifetime running the nicks, turning a blind, careerist eye to beatings, rapings and  deaths in youth custody, they put him in charge of yet more troubled and betrayed kids, a man from Mars would shit himself in green indignation and disbelief,  but there you are, that's the way things are, gobby mediocrity and indifference to suffering are the personal qualities required among the mandarinate; Marty went to Nottingham, rather than Oxbridge, but running the nicks is the shitty end of the gravy train, not a job for top drawerists. As with General Lord Rupert Golightly-Jockstrap Danant's post-retirement criticisms of govament, Marty only found out that what he'd been doing in the nicks all those years was vile,  brutal, anti-social, non-productive  nonsense after he'd started receiving his pension, funny, how that happens.

John  Hirst was abandoned by his lone parent and spent his early life being cared for - yes, I know - in Barnardos, then a brutish,  violent institution, home to nonces and thugs, doing what they call muscular social work. They were all like that, Barnardos, Father Hudson's Homes,  beastly shitholes run by foul opportunists.  Unsurprisingly,  Hirst's childhood was troubled and after a few false starts he hit the BigTime with a fifteen year sentence for manslaughter, pleading guilty  on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Just out of custody,  he had axed his landlady to death because she annoyed him. Further violence in prison upped the ante and he served double the average life sentence, twenty-five years; keeping his head down on the fifteen-year stretch would have seen him free after ten, or possibly fewer years.  Against all those lost years he sets a few trifling jailhouselawyer victories over the prison authorities. As if they give a fuck.

It is a tricky one, rehabilitation, remorse, that stuff. I have known, or met, anyway, more than my share of murderers. Some make one think, Shit, there but for the Grace of God, go I, others make the blood run cold. Sometimes, just a punch thrown outside the pub, by those who, sober, are friends, and in the hands of a clever prosecutor and an ambitious detective, Hey, Presto, Brian's doing life.

And there're the other ones. I knew a lifer, once, John George Victor Heywood, dead now,  who had also served twenty-five years; lifed-up for the jealous and brutal murder of his European former girlfriend. Victor never, ever expressed any remorse and so was repeatedly turned down by the parole board until, after twenty five years, they thought he couldn't do any more harm. But he could. And at the time of his death, living in Weoley Castle, Birmingham,  he was trying to import another gullible  Central European female. If he had been successful in that I am sure he would have killed again.  Yet very, very few, less than a fraction  of a per cent of lifers released kill again,  the Home Office is swift to recall anyone who gives any concern. I saw, quite close-up, how damaged Victor was, there wasn't any way on Earth that he would reintegrate, he would always be angry, cold and angry, twenty-five years of simmering resentment angry, angry  to the point of murder. What was the problem?  Women were sluts and  he could do the time, obviously. He'd been away too long.

John Hirst, anyway, now released from prison,  runs a blog - jailhouselawyer's blog - which seems to me to be a voluntary extension of his sentence. He styles himself a prison reformer and writer, and that's probably fair enough; he does write a lot and it was he, after all, who instigated the European proceedings which resulted in yesterday's hysterical vote-grabbing debate in the commons on the subject of whether or not these filthy, thieving, murderous criminals should be allowed to vote for these filthy, thieving, murderous, torturing, money-laundering,  blackmailing politicians.  There are worse things to be, in my view, than a prison reformer.

I have a look at his blog, occasionally, much of it is a shouted challenge to Team McCann to sue him, and what's wrong with that? They haven't, but their star has waned,  the Tories less indulgent of Gerry and Cilla than the last lot.  Lots of his stuff is otiose, reams of legislation and argument, extracts of this and that, hardly writing, more copying-out.  It is as though he was a real lawyer but all of it is focused on the jailhouse, who should be in it, who shouldn't, it is a sustained rant, unleavened by humour, insight, irony or humility; boastful and macho, the shut-down survivalist jivetalk of the lifer, you can almost smell the piss and the dog-ends, harvested from under Mr Screw's shiny-booted foot and re-rolled, furtive and greedily, in addiction's deprived landscape. So, to  my mind, John Hirst is  still there, bless him, in Wakefield or Leeds or Grendon or wherever they put really long-term inmates, still there, serving a life sentence, shouting through the bars, in a stark, grey, endless world without love. Twenty five years not enough for him.

He's sixty, now, and I daresay that his notoriety quotient will have risen alongside the hysteria of the votes-for-cons debate - feisty Dave Davies has said some harsh and truly unfair things about Hirst, who has, after all, paid amply for his crimes, much moreso than the war criminals in MediaMinster - and the Guardian or the Prison Reform Trust or Newsnight may throw him a few celebrity crumbs, like a parcel of contraband, flung over the prison wall. It's not the same, though, John, as having a proper life.  There is still time and no shame lies in anonymity, in the short and simple annals of the poor. Not for the first time and for, I feel,  the purest of reasons, I wish John Hirst would shut the fuck up and disappear into real life;   that he doesn't, or can't, marks the ongoing triumph of the system which, nearly sixty years ago, first betrayed him, and betrays us all, still.


thrustledodger said...

"truly unfair things about Hirst, who has, after all, paid amply for his crimes,"

He has not paid for his crimes, He hasn't even paid for his keep whilst inside. We have.

The incarceration is a punishment of sorts, but it does not "pay" anything or anyone.

The wrongdoer should be made to work whilst inside to pay full reparation to his victim and/or dependants until the victim and/or dependants need no further support. This might just reduce crime by a magnitude or two.

call me ishmael said...

In the sense that we measure these things he has paid for his crimes, say what you like about what you think should happen. Maybe we should deploy a chaingang strategy but we don't and we can't base a judgement on retribution on what you think should happen because for every one of you there are another thousand who would flay criminals alive; should they, too, be satisfied; can they ever be satisfied? According to the laws by which we live Hirst has paid his debt to society, that's all there is to it.

mongoose said...

Indeed he has but I will not be inviting him to tea any day soon. A mouthy git is what he is. Shithouselawyer is more like it.

Bob said...

Brillo and Paxo have had a go at him and tried to look clever. But the jailhouse lawyer was actually right. Westmonster can debate all they like about prisoner voting rights but it won't make a blind bit of difference. The ECHR has spoken. Prisoners will get voting rights. The UK will be fined until they bring in the ECHR law. The ECHR couldn't give a flying fuck how long they have to go on fining us but they will go on fining us.
Personally I think murderers should be hung and hate the thought that my vote will be cancelled out by some scummy nonce but what I or anyone thinks doesn't make a blind bit of difference.
Egyptians will soon have more rights than us.

thrustledodger said...

It an odd sense of justice we have if the taxpayer pays to keep the criminal in prison (in idleness and comfort) and also recompenses the victim.

call me ishmael said...

Never mind some scummy nonce, mr bob, how about if it was your old mum or your teenager, arrested, randomly, and jailed, for defying the govament, protesting, say, a library closure; is it OK for that same govament to both jail the citizen and deprive him of her of his or her vote? Should any government be permitted to withdraw the franchise on any grounds whatsoever, these rights were won by the people, they are not Cameron's to withhold? Pretty soon we are not talking abour rights any longer, but privileges granted us by our masters.

I do believe, mr TD that Jazzman Kenny Clarke, a supporter of votes for cons, incidentally, or proper constitutional arrangements, as I would phrase it, has every intention of implementing a work regime in prison and not before time. I suggest, also, that resistance to the idea will not come from the inmates but from the prison staff; how are they to run their drug importation business if they have to supervise people working?

It was not a fan letter, mr mongoose, that I wrote about mr hirst, just an attempt to cut through the Daily Filth bullshit. And his. If, after all, we make no attempt to understand offending behaviour then, demonstrably, we care not two fucks about victims, past and future, whose plights so distress mr thrustledodger. I am all for, incidentally, his call for reparation, for restorative justice but I do not blame the prison population for their absence.

PT Barnum said...

I have only once (knowingly) met a murderer, a man sentenced to life when he was 18 and who had served 17 years. He was savvy, quick-witted and utterly cold. Whatever he had been at 18, he was, when we met, a dehumanised shell with a high degree of charm being prepared for release. A drunken football-inspired brawl-turned-blunt-object-murder put him in prison. What happened next I have no idea, but he terrified me.

And I have to set this against my own 'there but for the grace' moment at an age far younger than he was. I do not consider myself to be so completely 'other' to those who elicit the hang 'em high mob. I envy those who are so confident it will never be them or one of their own, the world must look so simple and moral.

Mike said...

There seems to be a touching belief in the validity of the justice system, whereas everyday there is evidence of its arbitrary nature. There are many we could all name who walk free who should be inside, and no doubt a good proportion of those inside who shouldn't be there. It kind of tempers what one wants to inflict on your inmate.

Dick the Prick said...

The boy's done well. Just heard Kathy Ashton wittering about Euro and her camera went dead before Cairo! 'Shut that fucking horse faced up!' Very odd. CND to nobody to in chrage of Europe foreign policy? Yeah, alright, no probs!?

call me ishmael said...

That's how it goes, mr dtp, from nobody to somebody to nobody again. Look at Tony and Imelda, Gordon and Wotsername, the beard, nobodies now, again, just like they always were.

call me ishmael said...

It is the shut-down, survivalist lifer's jivetalk which frightens, mr ptb, lifers spend years and years guarding what they say, for fear it will wind-up, detrimentally, in their parole dossier, yet, at the same time, making clear that if you fuck them about they'll do you, quietly, when no-one's looking. It is not just the confinement, the absence of comfort, the danger which fucks them up, it is the knowldge that they are always being watched, being assesed, often by morons, as to their fitness for release, their barely contained belligerence, their menace, is not their fault, it is a consequence of an indeterminate sentence and it is hard for them to shrug it off, on release on license, for the same reason, their continued liberty, as with their release, depends on others.

That's right, mr mike, and that's why, amongst other reasons, we abolished the death penalty.

thrustledodger said...

I suppose you could argue that since a goodly slice of the elected turn out to be criminals there is no harm in allowing some of the electorate to be criminals!!!

As far as my old mum goes she has been dead for 35 years and my "teenagers" are all turned 50. However I take your point, but would like to point out that in the case you cite it is the law which is wrong and the entire raft of legislation brought in over the last 30 years needs serious attention and much of it need scrapping. So much of it is political manipulation rather than real crime control.