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.