Published in April 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
William’s mother died when he was little, and when he was 14 he ran away to join the circus. Really, he did: or the fair, at least, with the travellers, riding round the Midlands. By the late 1980s he was a roadie on the illegal party circuit, staging raves in fields and warehouses, the scourge of home secretaries.
He has a nomad spirit. Four children, four baby-mothers, then he was off. He never left for good; he was like a sailor in the old days, with a family in each port, who had to get used to the random arrivals and absences, the love and generosity coming and going.
William would have been a good sailor. He is hard-working, practical—a painter and decorator you can rely on—and a proper mate: community-minded, great with young people; and he flourishes in the bounded universe of the ship, or in his case, prison. He knows the system, its hardnesses and its opportunities, and respects its power.
Except (every good sailor is a conservative) the system isn’t what it was. William regrets the passing of slopping-out, the bucket for a toilet in the shared cell. In the old days, see, you called the prison officers “sir,” and if you talked back there’d be six of them on top of you. It was brutal, but it worked. Why didn’t it work for him, I ask. Because I am the original bad boy, he says.
But he’s not really. William has a plan, whose time may have come. Back in the day, from time to time, he was a squatter. But when he took a place over he didn’t trash it, he did it up—new windows, fresh paint. Once, the council said they could keep a place, they’d done such a nice job, but William is a nomad and he moved on.
See all those empty buildings in the recession? William wants to take one of them over, pay a peppercorn rent, make it good. Something needs to happen for him, anyway. We helped him find a job a year ago, and he’s stuck at it. But the urge is on him, and he’s talking of India, Portugal, Finland.
Danny Kruger runs Only Connect,
an arts company working with prisoners, ex-offenders and young people at risk
of crime. www.onlyconnectuk.org