First published on November 5 2015
Prison suicide rates are rising sharply, although Chris Grayling dismissed this appalling waste of life as a mere 'blip'. This strikes a chord with me, both as someone who twice attempted suicide in my youth, and also because I have a dear friend, James, currently locked up. He suffered horrendous sexual abuse as a boy, which has blighted his life. He committed a number of low level internet offences and has now ended up inside. In the nine years I have known him I have stopped him from going off a bridge twice, both times involving the police, and I also took the serrated knife from his hand and took him to hospital to have a deep wound on his arm stitched. The scars on his left arm mark the history of his trauma, pain and stress. Those who have read my book, "The Clouds Still Hang" will understand more about the suffering James has endured.
I do not condone his offences which were all internet based (he would never hurt anybody, especially after what he went through) but I do understand what drives him.
Since being inside, he has twice made suicide attempts; once he found a bottle of pills on the landing beside a waste bin, and took the lot. He was ill but survived. He made a crude attempt at hanging but like me many years earlier, found it far too painful to bear.
It is my nightmare that the phone will ring from the prison (I am down as his next of kin) with the worst news.
The second of his bridge attempts was in 2009 after his abuser, against whom he had at last summoned the courage to make a 31 page statement, was acquitted at Crown Court as the abuser's defence attacked my friend for his criminal record, ignoring the fact that the abuser was at the root of this. James was badly let down by the police who mishandled the case, and by the criminal justice system.
When he misused the internet again, he was sentenced to prison for a long time. On appeal against sentence, the terms of his SOPO were reduced but the length of sentence was not.
Before this James had started a treatment course, but is unable to do this in prison because of his high suicide risk. So in other words, prison is doing him no good at all and is just taking a few years out of his life for no gain, a complete waste of his time and public money. He lost his home and his family, the press hammered him and if he makes it to release, will start from an even lower base than when he went in.
Meantime, the abuser, who so damaged this young life, walks free and anonymous. It's enough to drive anybody over the edge, not just someone so damaged. Justice?
4 November 2016
How shockingly prescient was that article! 'James', really Stephen, took his own life on 4 November 2016, aged 35. He was a troubled young man, deeply damaged by years of severe abuse as a boy which he could never shake off and which led to the mistakes he made. The burden was too great and a small event was the trigger for his suicide . But if you got behind the defensive outer shell, he was a gentle, generous, loving and caring person. See also my poem, "Death in Custody".
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