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MANY ROADS TO DAMASCUS: Autobiographical notes on the human condition.

Publication date February 2012 Version 1.0 ©Copyright 2012 Stephen Betts First edition NOTICE OF RIGHTS All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. NOTICE OF LIABILITY The author has made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information herein. However, the information contained in this book is sold without warranty, either express

or implied. Neither the author, nor its dealers or distributors, will be held liable for any damages caused either directly or indirectly by the instructions contained in this book.

Preamble
These words constitute three brief periods in my life that, in looking back, furnished me with much information about myself and, I like to think, the human condition: If indeed there is such a thing! And although I can now look back with some satisfaction at having weathered the storm, I see that these situations nearly killed me. But in doing so, they showed me the fathomless depths of human emotion, the twists and turns that make us what we are, and the curious richness of those two words, good and evil. The essence of autobiography is vanity. Autobiography demands the attention of others and then turns its back on any criticism: It flatters to inform but in reality it only demands that you should listen. Therefore I can lay no claim to modesty and press onward into my memories. I promised myself that one day I would write a few words in order to purge myself of certain experiences and perhaps lend an emotional hand to another like myself who, in seeking to live by self will, loses nearly everything. Gladly, having found myself approaching middle age and perhaps not so much in need of purging the emotions as to being at peace with them, I need only muse over what was, and what can now be. This whistle-stop tour takes in some important land marks in my life, without which I wouldn't be the person that I am today. The eye of the beholder changes over a lifetime or it doesn't. A simple equation would tell you that if you stay the same then you will always see the same things. That might be OK if the things that we see are kind and fruitful, but if they are not then we are in for a long bumpy ride through this life. Even so, because we cannot be perfect in our views and perceptions there is always room for change! The saying goes that 'there's no use getting any older if you're not getting any wiser'. This is true, but wisdom in the sense of growing into humility and discernment, is not learned in any text book. It is through the hard experience of our lives that we become wiser about who we are and what we should be doing. Because it is only here that our thoughts, feelings and spirit are built or burned. And this entangled with the same in others! But more likely who we are will oscillate between the poles of self will and faith in greater ideals! Of course we can find guidelines and inspiration in many places but we still have to live out our lives, and because there are so many other factors involved (namely other people) our plans and expectations do tend to get knocked about somewhat. Life is not a theory, one has to live it and know it. We could read a thousand books and plays about falling in love but not one of them will live out our feelings for us when we ourselves fall in love and find out about all the stuff that goes with it. It is with these thoughts that I put down these words about my life. As I look back I see things that I never saw before. What then, will I see tomorrow or next year? The written word is a powerful thing (why else would I converse with you in this way) but the bottom line of the 'faith', although possibly being directed to it through literature, is the living of it. The word made flesh as it were! It is about this reality that I primarily speak. But I also acknowledge the power of the written word to change one's outlook and direction. I cannot understand whether a book alone is what changes someone or whether we just see in them what we already know deep in our hearts and thus awaken to it? I heard once that a word is a friend and that in a book are many friends. This may be true but we cannot have relationships with them in the sense that we have with each other, and this is my real point. No matter how powerful a book might be, no matter how it affects us and changes our course, it is within our everyday relationships that we write down our own words and tell the story of who we really are. My vision is emotional rather than chronological, and so I tend to use times and places as things that I hang my spiritual hat and coat on and as reflections of what was going on inside of me at the

time. Thus I never know what comes first, action = emotion or the emotion = action. I never can see whether I act in a certain way and attach emotional value to the act or whether I am what I am and so I will do the things that I do because of that? The existential philosophers' might say that 'we are what we do and no more'! I think it's a bit more complicated than that. However we might predicate our lives there never seems to be enough words to tell the whole story. The elusive transcendence of my being invites me to use juicy words and high ideas to describe it. And yet after I have explained myself I find that I have exhausted my resourses and still haven't said enough. Thus whatever I say about myself will, I hope, always need revising. This is the beauty of the human condition. At times a mighty noise from the heavens is our voice and at others the still small whisper that guides us. Who can make perfect sense of it? And so these memories, as untrustworthy as they might be in one sense, serve as an emotional gauge, against which I can better measure the amount of self will and delusion that I project into this present life of mine. I hope that you can join me for a short while and imagine if you will the scenes which I will attempt to describe. The people I have met will, for the most part, have to remain in the background and without fine detail. This at least, will give you a silhouetted image of them. My hope is that in recounting these short stories I will find the forgiveness and love that I need to set the past straight. Indeed it has happened and is happening. These words will help deepen that understanding and I hope, also give some food for thought.

I don't like cats!

It seems that there are no short cuts to inner peace. The pathway to that place is one that is not laid
out in time, in that we just grow into it as we age, but in understanding and acceptance, the details of which are beyond our grasp in their entirety. What is within our grasp though, is the belief that there is such a path and that it is for us. Some people call that faith, others may not. Wholeness, love and humility are part of the pathway itself and we travel that way, sometimes in the light and at others in the half light or darkness. Destiny, which is the belief that the path leads to certain places at certain times is an illusion. There is no unchangeable destiny towards which my being hurtles at an unwavering speed. If it were so life itself would have no meaning at all. One experience would be just like the next and so on. Growth, change, desire, restraint, guilt, longing, peace, will or struggle would all have no meaning to them. What would be the worth of anything that ever happened if there were destiny? Besides, everywhere that I have ever been, I have never stayed there that long. What then is destiny, where then, is this place that I should be at a certain time, realising certain things?

These are not the words of a secularised protestant who is now supposedly outside of any sphere of
influence, but of a man who cannot see the divine hand in places where I thought it would be. Therefore I have come to see God at work within the things that happen as seen within the attitude and belief of the individual. Outside of that I am ignorant. The age of miracles is still with us, but the sun has not stopped in the sky as it did in the days of Joshua! Of this we are sure. Therefore we can rightly enquire as to the nature of the divine hand as we look back over our lives.

I was never destined to do or be anything in particular. Life events are random, unknown but filled
with those things which will fan the flames of our love and help make us what we can be. It could of course go the other way and we could live in fear, or more likely, somewhere in between the two. And still the rain falls on good and evil alike. Yes, when it rains everyone gets wet. What a revelation! There are no straight paths leading here, away from the rain, or there and into it. We do not live in a world where some are destined to get wet and others not. This is not the way of things. How do I know that? Simply because things could have always turned out differently for all of us.

But the mysteries of this life cannot be unveiled here, only alluded to in a language that makes
sense to me. Everyone needs a view of how the world ticks over and I suppose that these few words are part of mine. I have little reason to waffle on about all the things that I have seen, done or heard of. That is not the point of this journey. What I would like, is to say a few words for the lost children

in whom it may be difficult to find both grace and graciousness. That is not to say that they are beyond grace, for who really is, but to say that in some people and situations grace might be hard to find. This is so for the lowly as well as for the high and mighty.

A thousand million hearts are coming to life, or breaking, at any given moment and a thousand
million stories are unfolding without our knowing. And not one of them is devoid of the things that make us whole and great. Sometimes for us it is hard to see where to go or what to do and to be frank, this seems to be the way of things for most of us. But all is not lost if we dwell in the half light. If our experience tells us anything it is that no one person is on the straight path to destroying themselves or indeed to exaltation. The roads which lead to an awakening of our spirit are diverse. This is the way of things. Both absolute certainty and absolute despair are lies which we must steer our course between.

Counting Tiles

I was embarrassed that I had to turn up at the Juvenile court with my mother. It is one of life's
ironies I suppose, that in times of need we fear being touched the most. Whether this is some odd kind of guilt around thinking or knowing that we have let someone down, or just pride attempting to protect the image of self sufficiency I don't know. Perhaps it is just a fearful attempt to protect the wounds which we feel no-one else can really understand. At such times though, there is an opportunity, rarely taken or enlarged upon, when we could let the other person into our lives at a deeper and more loving level. But I have learned that it takes a big man to to let this happen, and sadly, I was never big enough or man enough to accept these spiritual responsibilities. Of course it would be unreasonable to ask a child to accept a man's work, but my gratitude for the company, although at a selfish level only, could have lasted a little longer than it did.

A child I was though, and it is hard to resist putting today's labels on yesterday's stuff. This is part
of the confusion of it all. Looking back, the truth always changes. If it stays the same then I have stayed the same. Seeing things differently says more about the person seeing, than the thing being viewed. I have found that if I change for the better then I will look backward differently, with less toxic emotion.

So

we paced around a little, smoking cigarettes and exchanging few words about the possible

outcomes of the case. The walls, as is the way with these institutions in their attempt to reflect the furnishings, and so the perceived moral loftiness of antiquity, were wood panelled. There were long wooden benches which were set into the wall, they had a soft dark cushion on top. The front doors were tall and made of glass, as if their transparency mirrored that of the system which they opened into. These doors where at a right angle to the road and so slightly obscured, perhaps in order to

give some discretion to the lowly fools who had cut across the bows of the system. Either that or that was just the way the building was made.

But no-one could see into us that day. A young woman who deferred to the great and all knowing
system and the child whose own emotional doors were closing on the world. My crime was that I had kicked a phone box off of a wall and had shook 3p out of it. Hence the charge of robbery and not criminal damage. There was a short history of other minor crimes but my school record was abysmally anti-social and had contributed to my downfall. I had been placed on an order, the details of which I had not observed, thus I had unwittingly signed my own deportation papers and been called before the great wizard himself.

There

are no jury's in this place. Only reports and suggestions....and of course subjective

speculation. I remember those words on the wall above the head of the magistrate, Due Et Mon Droit. I wondered what they meant.

In my attempt to present myself in a non menacing manner I had got, from who knows where, a
pair of blue trousers that an everyday person would wear. They were too big for me and had to be held up with braces. (Leading me to believe that they were my grandfathers). This unfortunately pulled them away from my shoes and towards my chest! If I had turned up looking as I normally did the cards would have been stacked against me. The new look was a compromise and the lesser of two evils. I had dressed out of fear and conformity (as I normally did I suppose) but this time it seemed more important.

And

so the pacing up and down was not only uncomfortable because of my worries but also

because of the fact that every pace that I took drove the polyester beast further into my crease. Occasionally, I would casually put my hands into my pockets, straighten my arms and push them back towards my shoes, where without close inspection, the trousers could have past for normal. But as soon as I removed my hands the game was up and they started their inexorable movement upwards, towards my arsehole, and oblivion! I remember looking down at my brown moccasins and thinking how utterly stranded they were and how utterly pathetic I was. I'm not sure if the thought came to me to release the tension in my braces, perhaps I did try, but I can't recall it making any real difference. Anxiety usually narrows the thinking process. Ultimately I was as exposed as my shoes were, my only hope was that no-one was taking any notice, and if they were, the curious movement of my trouser hem might have been put down to the fumblings of nervous tension and nothing else. I know now that most people long to be normal or worry that they are not, or indeed, spend a lot of time making observations about people who they think are odd. This is a clear sign of separation from true identity and tuning in to the illusion instead. The illusion is a set standard and pattern of

thinking, presentation and general being. Hence the paucity of inspirational and truly infectious people around. Most of us are too busy trying to be normal! Some people might fight the reality that I have described, but inevitably just end up resisting what they see as conformist social and philosophical pressure. They kid themselves, they are just as mixed up in this being normal business as everyone else is. Few people escape this emotional maze, simply because of their fear of rejection. Being on the edge of sanity I have found, does have its plus side though, as it brings a curious freedom that 'sane' people can almost never enjoy. Looking back I suppose that I have alternated between the pain of thinking that I should be more normal and the freedom that being a bit odd brings. Ironically, I don't think that I'm odd....I think everyone else is!

They always take their time in these places. They rely on anxiety and worry as part of the deterrent
experience. I suppose that might work until one builds resistance to it. Some people do you know. For the most part my mother sat still and didn't say much, and if she did speak she tended to repeat herself, a clear sign of anxiety. When eventually, my name was called and I stood before the bench, the worry of the whole thing was greatly offset by the quiet resignation that my trousers were to high and that I could do nothing about it. I suppose that one might call this acceptance. Whatever it was, is it not human to worry more about one's trouser hem than one's fate? Is it not a curious demand of pride that if we are to fall at least we should fall in style and not looking like we are hapless idiots? Shame around my appearance was as great as my fear of the system and its power over things, this is a machination of the human condition. I was conscious that I might look foolish from behind, where it would have been clear that my butt cheeks were more than neatly separated. The whole thing was a painful social failing. My behaviour, my dress sense, my feelings of shame. In those days I could laugh at pain though. For a while anyway! Ignorance is bliss some people say and I think that in some situations they are right. Sometimes I wished that I was more ignorant than I was. Then I wouldn't have seen so many liars, cheats and magicians all around me.

I don't remember the words or the proceedings of the hearing, all I remember is the yellow piece of
paper that the magistrate held in his right hand, which no doubt had the details of my failings on it, my mother sitting in silence and my trousers wedged up my jacksey. When they eventually made their minds up as to my immanent future, I was struck down, out of the book of the living, and led down to the holding cells to be taken to an assessment centre for the young and Godless. I was not shocked. To many things had shocked me in my short life and this wasn't one of them. I can't remember what was said between myself and my mother. I don't suppose it matters now anyway.

It must have been policy to hold juveniles, without water, sunlight or noise for specified times. The

cell was down some stairs and near another door that opened straight out onto a yard or loading dock and from which no doubt, many young men had scuffed their shoes on their way to wherever. The utter silence and the bareness of the cell however, was not the punishment that they thought it might be. I had not yet developed the knowledge that fear can last forever, and so the glimpses of darkness that I had were transient and lacking in real power. Deep emotional trouble occurs over long periods and actually when one realises that those feelings and thoughts that were once transient are now chronic. Such knowledge is real fear! For now though, I thought that I was still bullet proof, even if I couldn't dress myself and was walking round in circles counting floor tiles. I counted them from the corners inwards and from the centre outwards. I counted them round in ever decreasing circles and I walked on them and counted each step as I went. It takes a clever man to live in a small room. That or a moron. Those even, or a prisoner with no choice in the matter!

Curiously

the mentality that dictated my isolation was in sharp contrast to the quaint cup and

saucer that they delivered barely warm tea in. Who would stick a young boy in a bare cell without talking to them, leave him unattended for hours and then offer him tea with a saucer? Is this the true dichotomy of civilised life? Does the high court of human rights not recognise psychological pressure after tea is served! Besides, warm tea cannot be savoured in any way, it is an insult, and tells you a lot about the person who made it. Lack of care and attention to detail. A pattern was emerging!

But imagine a cup and saucer in a court cell today. Dangerous weapons indeed. It never crossed
their minds that these things were so, nor did it cross mine to use them as such. Curious!

First impressions

This part of town was unfamiliar to me and the journey was mostly taken in silence. Apart from
that what else is there to remember? I don't recall the journey, not because it was painful or that I hated them or that they were the enemy, that was to come later, but because the whole thing was awkward. There's only so much one can say in conversation when being carted off to the meatgrinder. Both the butcher and the cow find it hard to look each other in the eye, and being quite polite in these situations it was only right that I didn't embarrass them by being obnoxious. It was also awkward because the place we arrived at was not quite prison, but not quite not prison, if you follow me. I wasn't exactly a prisoner but neither was I allowed beyond the locked main rooms, and the fence outside. It was five weeks incarceration for psychological assessments! How does one ever measure fear and loneliness, lose of hope and lack of purpose, all wound together with a sense of prowess and potential genius? With this all said the place was still categorised as a secure unit and had the air of such.

You know one thing that I have learned over my life -

the other person can't see the slash marks on

your heart - not if you've learned how to survive by protecting them. But my behaviour did suggest a certain disposition, being seized, as I was, by spontaneous outbursts, the like of which exposed my flawed character! I never understood the claim to power that those who were over me put forward. I cannot to this day accept that most worldly authority is anything more than a smoke and mirror trick. The bottom line of all power is whether it is used selfishly or selflessly and I have met few people who would give up their power if they thought it would do a greater good. Hence the reasons for them to keep hold of it are evident. Self! Yes I know this too well, as I am human also and prone to conjuring tricks and selling snake oil. [Crashing through the roof of the world, falling, falling, through cloud and thunder, came those prophets, tearing the very sky asunder, with their words, as part night became us, as if invisible hands had covered our eyes, their cloaks wandered on the free wind, breaking the light, and making shadows skip across my face, like puppets dancing on a crowded stage, this is how they came to be, the herald and the jester did not forsake us, for we always knew the hour of their coming. Poem about false idols.]

And even so, under serious scrutiny, with every movement and remark being noted, I still reverted
back to magnetic north. That is, into a sort of painful, anti-social, anti-authoritarian, at times sardonic tomfoolery, albeit tinged with great malice. Yes, over any period of time the real person will come forward. Nature dictates it! We can never fully live out a lie for a life, for doing so will always cause other problems to our emotional natures. And so again, without realising the full consequences to come I played a few hands. And again I might as well have signed my own emotional death warrant.

Emotional maturity is partly seen in the full recognition of consequences for acts done, and the
willingness to accept them as a price for the act, or indeed, refusing to act, out of the reticence to bare the same. There can be of course, a reckless disregard and denial of the ripple effects of our acts. Some people stay in that place for all of their lives. I thankfully, have escaped that destructive cycle, which by the way, cannot be done alone. This fact is a lesson of limitation which nearly cost me my life to know. When I realise where I am spiritually and then see the limitations of my own 'powers' then I can start to understand what I need in order to move on. This conundrum has dogged me all my life: What are my limitations and if I need help whom do I ask? We can forgive children for not knowing this question for as an adult it is hard enough to understand.

The institution itself was surrounded by high fences, although not high enough to thwart a serious
'runner' as there was no barbed wire at the top of them. I don't know why this was. Maybe they

didn't expect anyone to climb over them (which they did frequently) or perhaps they couldn't afford it or found it too uncivilised. Smoking was not allowed (I worked in a small kitchen all day on Saturdays washing up for the many staff. The cooks would leave me a few cigarettes as a thank you), school classes were compulsory for some and not for others (I cant remember what they taught) and at night the cell doors were locked open!One of the 'teachers' would make the classes sing a well know T.V theme tune adapted to fit his name in it before they could go to eat. I cannot remember eating one thing there. Maybe I associate food with nourishment and thus with health and living. There was little in this place that would remind one of either. Hence my blank spot.

I thought the point of heavy doors was to lock these bastards in. Playing with our minds that's what
they were doing. Easy escape routes and doors left open at night, and they thought we were strange! There was however, a 'guard' situated on the corner of the landing. He could see both ways, down the right angled corridors. Presumably they only employed people whose eyes were nearer the side of there heads so that they didn't have to move much and could observe both landings simultaneously! This would save on the man hours by only having one instead of two people on duty.

At night when all was quiet I would shout out in drawn out tone and at the top of my voice 'arrrgh
the pain', and jump back into bed. These words echoed around the corridors. I thought that this prank was hilarious as the 'guard' could never triangulate the correct location and so I was never caught. The sad part is that no-one during the daytime (boys or 'guards') seemed to mention it, and reflecting on this maybe they did just think that someone was in that much pain, but weren't bothered about it. Fear does close doors doesn't it! It was also, in one way or another, a true cry from my heart. I couldn't at that time feel the great burden of untamed worry and fear upon me. But it was coming, of that there was no doubt. Not in the sense that it had to happen for a reason. But in the sense that it couldn't not happen.

There were in this place a vast array of damaged and violent young men but thankfully for the most
part I was beyond their menace, as they were just starting out on their roads to perdition and had not hardened their resolve against all and sundry. There were rumours of murders committed and the like but that is the nature of the beast in these institutions. The whispering gallery of malevolence as it were.

The boys were split into age groups and length of stay. Different colour jerseys designated the type
of assessment being undergone with a separate fully secure unit for your common or garden headbanger types. You could see them bouncing off of the perspex windows when they were watching us in the yard. Exercise was provided by way of an indoor pool. There was a T.V that was even

turned on once a week and while we watched it, they watched us. There were two locked day rooms between which was a flight of stairs (off of which a friend of mine launched himself head first into one of the other boys) up to the landing and the cells. Each side of the landing had a shower supplied with red carbolick soap the type which all institutions and schools had at one time (I actually liked that soap, which by the by one cannot get anywhere now!).

And to cut a boring story short, the major factors involved in this place were fear and pride. Barely
formed minds were mingling in a cauldron of unknowing. Who were we? Not quite prisoners – but not quite normal. We were the grey men whom society could not pigeon hole. We did not know ourselves and yet they watched us in order to learn about us. How would that work out? Our modern western societies demand a category for everything, and yet the more categories that we make, the less we know about each other and the world around us. Such thinking is inversely proportional and fallacious. It destroys relationships and the mysterious meeting place between people, for it says that we can know the other, without letting them into our lives. This is a lie. And for them to examine us like they knew us was as barbarous as putting parts of a foetus under a microscope and calling it science instead of a child. Categories rape identity and freedom, and only the one who is beyond any category would be able to conduct such experiments with objectivity. What would we call such a person?

The pool

One

day we were taken to the pool for exercise, maybe 8 to 10 of us maybe more. Small

manageable groups I suppose. My mind, as I recall, was not disposed toward rebellion and yet as the opportunity presented itself, it could not be denied. We were supplied as always, with the heavy duty government issue swimming trunks. As they were supplied off the peg, as it were, it never did occur to me who else had been in them or indeed how many gallons of urine and whatever else that they had filtered into the pool. Maybe that was it; as there was no pool filter the trunks were used as such! These trunks were of a heavy material, perhaps even fireproof, and resembled the type worn by WW2 sailors during their leisure time. They were not fashioned in the style of the modern day hipster pant, but were held up around the lower abdomen; frequently exposing the genitalia and lower buttock area and ending up about the knees if one hit the water at an angle. They held a lot of water which, in the fashion of an egg timer, tended to run out onto the floor if one stood still for any length of time. If any garment deserved the label 'one size fits all' this was it.

Rebellion

A pair

of trunks full of water weighed a fair bit and as they seemed to spend a lot of time

underneath my balls rather than over them I decided to take them off. It was in this instant that the

seeds of rebellion began to flourish within my mind: I could contain myself no longer! As I reached down to wrest the great blue beasts from my ankles and into my hands it became obvious that the target of my wrath should be the poolside 'guard', whom no doubt thought that he had been gifted light duties. And as I raised them out of the water and gave aim towards him I cried 'I'm Spartacus'....'I'm Spartacus'. Whether they hit him or not was irrelevant, I had struck a blow for the zeks. The others followed suit and soon great blobs of heavy cold war material fell from the sky around and about the hapless organ of government oppression. And as they wound their way straight and true toward their destination, the cries from the other boys rose higher. The frenzy was keen and short lived and I laughed like I hadn't done for ages. As the milieu died down it was only a question of reprisals from the system, and perhaps putting our pants back on! It didn't matter what ones were whose as they were not personally tailored to fit and the chrlorine had downgraded any hygiene issues. Strangely there was no kickback on this occasion (not immediately tangible ones anyway). Maybe they did have a sense of humour after all? I see it now as a purge of emotion in a powder keg atmosphere. One needs these things in order to stay sane, the irony of which, is that such actions all add up to them thinking that there is something wrong with you anyway.

Some time later I got two of the other boys and talked them into jumping one of the staff. We held
him from behind and stuffed a pair of socks in his mouth. For this I spent 24 hours in a bare cell solitary confinement (a thin mattress was brought at night) and my record was given a red mark. It could have been worse I know. Beatings and intimidation are part of the system. And so I give them credit, perhaps there was a philanthropic strand at the centre of that place. These red marks however, eventually told in the final outcome of the next court case. But for now my refusal to apologise for the act (after being given the opportunity to) meant that they had ammunition.

At times I just couldn't help myself. Now that I have more reflective ability it would be easy to
save the boy from much pain, but of course, then there would be no journey for him to travel and no conclusions for him to come to. At the time my trust and kindness were withdrawing into what I thought was a safer place. Of course there is no such place in which we can hide ourselves away. All that we do is stop using what we have and that is what really destroys us as going concerns. If we do not use what we have we cannot have any-more of what we have got. This seems to be the way of things....at least from where I am sitting. If we give freely and look kindly then we seem to become bigger people. Conversely if we hide our coin in the ground it gathers no interest. But we were children with little idea of these heady ideals. Yes indeed. I have no answer to that.

It was so long ago now that who would remember it anyway?

But for me those few acts were

experiences of great joy and emotion. My boyishness was still with me. It's easy to lose it you

know, amongst anger and fear and unknowing. This story could easily be about darker things, but what would that say about my memories? We were all pretending in one way or another, us that we didn't care and them that they did. The menace of some of the inmates was palpable but for the most part we were boys on a clumsy path to adulthood: In fact clumsy is the only path to adulthood. To give the benefit of the doubt is to see the whole thing differently.

Reckoning

Back at the court house my fate was finally sealed. Five weeks of psychological reports, questions
concerning my mental state and beady eyes noting whether I used my right or left hand to scratch my backside. And all this with a view to making a judgement on who I was and where I should go next. The hearing was short and as I understand it, the decision had already been made. I was sent to a reception centre from where young boys and girls are sent on to longer term homes when such places become available. Children's home are not great places as you would imagine. They are full of troubled children and children which the system does not know what to do with. In these places one loses or gains a soul. Not because they are evil, although some of them are, but because the utter desperation of being cast aside torments the milky unformed bones of a child. And because they cast aside our dreams and relentlessly bring before our eyes the broken forms of humanity that should be living in their happiest hour. Small children (and up to 18) with no homes or with parents who are either dangerous or troubled themselves: It is as we see this innocence ebbing away that we ourselves ebb away. It is as I saw this parade of shards that I realised....I too am one of them. I became what I had to be in order to survive the intangible dread of loneliness. The muffled pain of small human beings seeking comfort is an awful thing. It is here in these times and places that our young minds are buckled.

When on one occasion, I expressed some of my loneliness, I was offered the house cat to take to
my room for company during the night. I don't like cats but took it anyway. The damn thing wouldn't stay and I had to keep putting it back on the bottom of the bed. Eventually I had to let it out. It brings to mind the joke that the family dog would only play with me because I had a pork chop tied around my neck! It wasn't quite as bad as that but at the time I was lost for words and explanations. When one moves on from a place spiritually, then one can look back and describe it. While one is still there it is new and so beyond the language that one possesses at the time.

And these learned people were writing notes on my behaviour, defining my being, categorising my
soul. Who were they to offer me a cat companion above all other help? Now is not the time to judge them harshly I know. I only make observations, reflections that I suppose I couldn't make at the time.

During this time and partly as a result of this awful awakening, I began to change for the worse.
Darkness began to come over my heart and it would be many years before the sunshine entered my life again. Clichéd but apt. I suppose that I just couldn't take all that real human stuff and had no way of processing or answering the things which had come before me. Also my existing memories were unhappy and charged with an existential dread, which in the next few years, came to haunt me. It was also in the next year or so that I began glue and nail varnish remover sniffing, smoking drugs, drinking and popping pills. To compound my confusion I thought I was better off in there than I was anywhere else. I don't know what I was thinking about. Time changes so much doesn't it?

It is telling that I have no amusing stories from the two homes that I spent 13-14 months in. The
staff were courteous (although at times petty in their manner), but emotionally incompetent and distant as if they didn't want to catch anything. The food was hot and regular and there were laughs to be had. But underlying it all was a worthlessness that I don't think they could really understand. They were as much products of that environment as we were, and it is an odd fact that the 'caring' professions attract many cynical and troubled personalities into their ranks. Maybe birds of a feather do flock together! I am fortunate that because of my age my stay was so short. After 16 they have to apply for an extended period, which happily they didn't. And so I was off, back home and into a world that I couldn't understand. I had stepped away from myself just a little more and when living alone without any support or close companionship it is almost impossible to warm to humanity in anything other than intellectual terms. To view people purely from an intellectual standpoint, is of course, where the greatest crimes take place.

In conclusion it is difficult to measure emotional change because once a change has occurred what
used to be the norm is now only a memory. There is then, emotional memory and intellectual memory. Emotional memory is felt but not heard and intellectual memory is heard but not felt. For some of us these parts of our inner working become estranged from each other and I believe that the inability to deal with pain is a cause of this. Hence reasoning and logic goes upstairs and seems to reside in the mind but the emotional energy remains loose in the system, causing havoc with everything. This type of energy needs harnessing or else it will mindlessly destroy everything that comes before it. Of course, this is just a way of putting things, but I hope it will make sense to you? I blame no-one for this spiritual dilemma and have stopped cursing the days that saw me disintegrating into into unknown terrors and self hatred. It is also evident to me, that a fragile mind can deal with ingrained emotional problems, but the outcome of this struggle, as far as I can understand it, is usually a twist in character that condemns a person to make endless spiritual mistakes. Character is the ability to chose morally. This re-moulding of self based on limited resources, fear and ignorance may well be the best of all possible worlds, but in the long run it will

be shown to be hopelessly flawed because ultimately anything based on fear will be at odds with God and ones own true nature which is love. A man cannot serve two masters, for he will love the one and hate the other. This is our dilemma when we cry out in pain and unknowing to a God whom we think has abandoned us. What master are we serving? [I have one room, but many houses, every door is open to you, every lie brings fear of him leaving, let him search me, let him turn my world upside down, in order that I keep him, there is no thing that I keep from you, let him rest them from me, and put them at your feet, may you be in me through him, and I love you through him, may I love you through him. About the spirit]

Prison Drunken Folly

You have already guessed that this is not a gruesome recollection of sordid stories, and I hope that
you have been following my words with some compassion towards those people to whom I have alluded but given no name. I have let them remain in the background, anonymous and free from the harm that my careless words might cause. Have you wondered what some of them have been like, or like me wonder what became of them? Good, then we are going the same way! For my wish is that through my vain musings we might be able to glimpse something of that thing which we call humanness and spirit. Perhaps we might even be able to see what we have, instead of what we have not. The broken bones of those poor slaves whom I have had the pleasure of journeying with, litter the pathway that runs alongside my own. I owe them a debt of gratitude for they have shown me where other paths could have taken me. I am not usually prone to hypothetical speculation, but I have heard this short proposition and think it apt! It is said that if we had the chance to pack all of our own troubles into one big suitcase and put them on a great table before us – and with the opportunity to take whichever case we wished home with us - we would leave that meeting with our own case and no-body else's: I certainly would.

Without trying to tell the whole story of my calamitous drinking career, I will use it as introduction
to my next brief encounter with the other children of God. Those children that we think are insane, unworthy of respect or dangerous. The ones that even the prison system has to separate because they are deemed less than real prisoner material!

As my personality disintegrated into what seemed like terminal disorder, my drinking increased in
order to cope with living in my own skin. I cannot and will not attempt to tell that story here, but suffice to say that my decision making wasn't what it could have been! And on one fateful night (one among many) I was very depressed and very drunk when a small scuffle started just in front of me. An acquaintance of mine had started a fight shortly after I had tried to start one, but had drawn a blank. As the scuffle approached me, or rather, as I drunkenly stumbled into its midst, a man appeared before me with a stick in his hand. I took it from him and then fell on top of him! I suspect he may have preferred being fully basted by the weapon rather than have me in the missionary position on top of him! There were several feeble blows exchanged but quite honestly I probably could have fallen asleep and forgotten the whole affair had it not been for hundreds of passers by milling around between the bars and pubs.

Although this fracas was not my fault I had earlier thrown full black bin liners high in the air and
into the partying crowds. I was lucky that I hadn't been bashed already, for I was in little state to protect myself as the rubbish that I was throwing around, rained down on the normal folk. I had also been carrying a broken bottle in my coat pocket. This was out of character for me but that's what happens on the downward spiral. I was never public enemy but in the wrong time and place, with the wrong attitude I was capable of hurting. Resistance to troubling memories, and hating oneself diminishes moral fibre. What I was going to do that evening or what I was capable of doing in that state I will never know because fortunately for me my drinking was more important than fighting. And so I was liquored up and virtually incapable when I eventually hit the floor with my new found sparring partner.

Shortly after this episode I found myself walking very quickly with my hands behind my back and
with a policeman hurrying me along. How handy for them that goons like me start fights almost right outside their front doors. It was so close to the station that he decided to walk me round there and not call the van. Boy, I really should have just stayed in doors sometimes! After pretending to shoot the desk sargeant I was man-handled, processed and charged.

Out of pure fear and an inability to get on the train because of panic attacks, I didn't turn up at the
trial. A warrant was issued for my arrest and the next months I spent worrying myself sick. This is a story for another day, when I have the words to tell it. For now I must stay on track and finish this preamble to prison, with my deciding to walk into a police station and laying myself before them. I was surprised when they didn't know who I was as I thought it was as big news outside my head as it was inside! I had of course attempted to ease the pain first, by downing alcohol and popping 6-7 tranquillisers, after which the police cell seemed like a good idea. When I woke up and the inhibrients were wearing off it didn't seem to work out as I had imagined and I wish I hadn't had done it!

The dread of the court cells was painful for me but I was eventually allowed to put my excuses
before the 'beek', which they accepted on the surety of bail money and which I arranged through a friend. The prisons were full up....they're always full up. I then proceeded to ignore the next court date (again through panic) and moved counties in order to start a new life. Through an almost freak happening I was captured as I was about to sit down in a motel in the middle of nowhere, and ease my pain with some more beer. This time the court was not so lenient. I told my solicitor of my drink problem which he said he would play down as the court does not look favourably on these things nowadays. Which was surprising as when the judge asked him why I had missed the first date he

replied 'Sir he is an alcoholic and was drunk on the morning of the trial'. With friends like him who need enemies! So off I went to the distribution centre, which in turn eases out the courts excrement into the sewage system. It is a nightmare drying out in these cells. Spending every second thinking about how not to crack up. Distracting oneself from the dread of confined fear and avoiding contact with the spectrum of maladjusted bums which infest every corner of the open room. They tend to go two ways these people, making noise or clamming up. I clammed up. I couldn't afford any outbursts because I knew that I would have no way of dealing with the emotional fallout. No one knew where I was at this time. I had lied to my family and was drifting, here and there, unable to steer myself to safety.

Lost in space

During the processing procedure I had remembered to say that I was vegetarian, as this I was told,
would mean better fare at meal times. Whoever had said this had obviously not savoured the various types of mystery pie and warm gruel that were served up in these places. The porridge was also flavoured with generous helpings of phlegm, especially as I learned later on, when it was destined for the notorious 'Fraggle rock'. Fraggle rock was the hospital wing where the dregs of the universe were gathered together. When it was thundering and raining outside the noise inside increased, sometimes into a painful crescendo of unintelligible hooting and shouting. Occasionally, in the midst of the storm, one might hear a lone voice crying out to no avail....'shut up', 'shut up'. At regular intervals you could hear someone shouting 'this is bollocks this is' echoing down from on high. 'I might go out tonight', the same voice would shout, to which my cell mate would question, 'is he going out tonight? he says he's going down the town'....'you can't do that can you?' This is the 'Rock' with all its diminished and manifold forms of humanity. I myself once screamed out, 'I am a fucking human being', to which the reply came....'who told you that?'. He was right, who did tell me that?

After taking our clothes, and possessions, of which, apart from a small cross on a piece of string
(that I never got back), I had none, rows of baths awaited us. I remember thinking how much was the correct amount of water and what was the correct way to wash myself, as I didn't want to get this wrong! Goodness, I couldn't have been institutionalised already, I had only been there and hour or two! That's what fear does. It institutionalises the vulnerable mind for the vulnerable mind needs to get comfortable, and to get comfortable is to not kick up any dust, not in these places. It was after this that some people made a vital mistake in asking for the wrong size trousers when it came to the issue of prison clothes. I will speak more of this later, but for now it was about getting dressed. It is tiring going through all this stuff and I needed some sleep. How I arrived on the hospital wing I

don't know. There must have been some hint of a need for drying out and I might have also told them that I was going to kill myself. I'm not sure now but that would have been my MO.

And so I awoke the next morning on the 'Rock'. To say that I was confused and didn't know where I
was is an understatement. The cell door was opened and as I looked out all I can remember is a thousand doors, with nets in between the uncountable number of landings. Noises echoed about the place and seemed so loud that they crowded out all else. Strangely I thought that I was the only one there as I couldn't see anyone else? And for the next week or so I really couldn't take in the shock of it all.

Getting the needle

Somewhere in my childlike mind I thought that if I sulked enough that they would let me out. I
decided to go on a hunger strike in order to strike a blow for my freedom. If I starved myself they would surely hear my plea and believe me when I told them that it was all a big mistake. One week later no-one had even said anything to me. I was starving myself in a so called hospital wing and didn't even get noticed. My plan was flawed, I was deteriorating mentally and physically and noone cared . But that was about to change one day, as my cell door opened and five or six of them surrounded me. Hunger strikes are delicate things and have to be handled carefully by the system. There is a certain process through which an inmate who refuses food has to go, and it starts with the clinical administration of pain. Not as in beatings and intimidation but with the hypodermic needle. This is the first step in reducing resistance.

They call it a vitamin B1 injection and because the B1 syrup is so thick it needs to be delivered
through an extra thick syringe. Do you follow my drift? On the first occasion I had the pleasure of the needle being driven into my right side just above the buttock. The needle was then bent downwards and sideways in order to cause pain, which it did. As they left I knew that I would still starve myself into freedom. The next day I had the double pleasure of the same treatment on the left side. And so I had to ask, 'how many of these do I get?', to which the senior man replied, 'as many as it takes until you start eating'. They had done this all before and were well versed in applying this type of pressure. I had been noticed after all, and they had let it go until the right time. I knew I couldn't fight it any more. That kind of pain I didn't like. The next day I was eating and part of the system. I had began to accept a harsh lesson about myself in that my resolve was useless in the face of overwhelming odds. I was no longer bullet proof, I was flesh and blood like everyone else. They had hidden behind medicine and ethics but had ultimately used violence to make their point. This is always the way of earthly authority. Whatever the logic or reason behind laws, whatever the values we civilised societies project, the bottom line is always violence. I suppose this is why Jesus

is looked upon as a madman. Not because he said that he and the father are the same but because when he could have summoned an army of angels to fight the mob at Gethsemane, he didn't. Rather he gave up everything for his message. And he was right....we do not know what we do.

The wrong size

The 'Fraggle Rock' was indeed a place like no other. Its inhabitants were those who had difficulty
looking after themselves in the outside world and yet were either violent, mentally ill, getting clean, suicidal or all four! The sights and sounds were something to behold. There was deep menace about the place interspersed with a comic tragedy that left one searching for words. Where did these people fit into this world, into this prison? The comic was strained through evil deeds, some of which left me wondering whether I could do such things. The answer was yes. Being confronted with the most hideous crimes I had to admit that I couldn't hate the perpetrators, for in the wrong time and place I knew that I would have done the same. I had gained a vague sense of freedom with this knowledge but did not understand the profound journey of salvation being linked to it, instead I just thought it was something to keep to oneself because people would condemn me for it. This kind of acceptance about oneself is part of salvation because it allows for the truth to enter. For when I say that I could have done all the things that these others had done I was in fact saying that I was neither above nor below them. In fact I was admitting to myself the truth of my nature. I could not guide myself through this life because at some time or other I would fall. Depending on what the situation was depended on how far I would fall, it was inevitable, all the time I lived by pride and fear. And in hearing these things inside of myself, however vague they may have been, I was beginning to understand those words, 'hate the sin not the sinner'. It is here that people are set free from their hatred of one another. Yes, deeds must be answered for, but the person need not be hated. To hate is to poison two people and both the hater and the hated will suffer. These are the chains that keep us enslaved. I saw this lesson in that place, among the madness and toxic pain.

Occasionally, at meal times, the procession of evil and maladjustment which filed up and down the
stairways like ants carrying leaves, would be halted because a pair of trousers had fallen down around the ankles of an inmate and exposed the prison standard, white y-fronts; which might not have fitted that well either. (Why they gave out white underpants in a shit-hole like that is beyond me). Having both hands full with food tray and tea they were unable to pull them up and were left shuffling along as if with ball and chain. The earlier size decision had come back to torment them. It always seemed odd to me that someone whose crime might have been unspeakable in nature would be stationary on the stairs with dozens of people behind him because his trousers had fallen down. What imperious dichotomy is presented to us in many and various forms. Rarely a guard would

hold the tray while the unfortunate strandee sorted themselves out, most times they were left to their own devices. What choices; humiliation, dropping food, or shuffling through the mob with trousers around the ankles. When one thinks of prisons these are not the images that come to mind. But this is part of it all. The whole thing is about the minutia of living. This is where the system hurts most, not in what it takes, but in what it doesn't give.

Meal times also provided any inmate with an entrepreneurial spirit flavour for his fare. Because if
one had enough tobacco to spare one could load up on almost anything. In particular when the rare sight of a box of oranges appeared before our sunlight deficient eyes some lucky boy would end up with enough of them to set up a shop. In true market economy style the price and demand then went down. No-one wanted oranges, you couldn't give them away because of the glut. I suppose the smart thing to have done was buy up the stock and wait till the glut had diminished and then start releasing your oranges onto the 'dry' market place, thus keeping the price and interest high. But this never happened. I suppose they just ate them instead!

One day, after an orange-fest I happened to look through the hole in my cell door, and straight
across the landing at one of the new inmates opposite. He had put two oranges on the flap of his door opening (the flap was used to pass medication through it) and stood behind it so the oranges were at head height. It looked like he was staring at me as he started to dance and jiggle his head around behind those great 'eyes' which shone so brightly in the artificial light. It was the most hilarious thing that I had seen for years, he seemed so happy, and you know....he didn't even know that I was looking at him. These instances although rare, brought home a disturbing reality. It is hard to be happy in these places, not because we were mental defectives, but because to allow unrestrained laughter here, is to know how sad you really are.

The infeasibly large turd

After some time I had gotten a cleaning job. This entailed cleaning the landing and being a general
goffer. Hardened cynics would say that the cleaners were lackeys and quislings, and to an extent they would be right. But they would have liked another hour per day outside of their cell in a wing with 23 hour lock-up. Of course they would, but they couldn't pay the price of being looked at like they were the enemy and I could. There were certain perks, namely more food, which out of principle I wouldn't take. I would not eat more when I knew that the others couldn't have it. Other cleaners took far beyond what they needed and cared nought for anyone else. This is the way of things I suppose but I wouldn't do it. I was always pretentious and principled, pity I had to screw my life up and be in a madhouse for my ethics to shine through. Do you think anyone noticed? No nor do I. Perhaps if I think about it long enough, I would have liked some extra here and there, but I

am glad today that I didn't take it. At times I needed to feel a little superior, it was my way of coping with the fear of being deeply morally floored. I also had things in my mind that I couldn't cope with very well and my pseudo-moral high ground helped with that. It meant that these things were blips, mistakes on an otherwise unblemished record; when in fact the sheer number of things that I didn't want to think about told another story. There was no shortage of thinking time in that place, one had to find some way of coping.

One of the many blessings of this unpaid work was to clean out the cells, especially if the previous
owner had smeared their own shit over the walls (I would have chosen a light coloured flock myself) and to make it habitable for the next piece of effluent to enter the sewage system. On one occasion a young man was due to be released the following day and so decided to 'decorate' his cell, above the door, with his own 'design'! It is amazing that he slept in that stench all night just so he could cock his leg at the system. On entering the cell we couldn't find where the offending article was until that is, we turned around and was greeted by his full glory. I don't know if he had been saving up this material to smear (in which case where would he have put it?) or he just made it go a long way? Either way it needed some serious attention. I didn't have the pleasure of removing these marks. That went to the other two cleaners whose crimes were very serious indeed. Maybe it was a type of punishment for them....or even worse a privilege!

The 'Rock' was where the great u-bend of the penal system issued forth its most obnoxious stools.
It was fitting then that here was where the most infeasibly large turd of them all was found and laid to rest, when on that fateful day during my cleaning duties in the shower room, I heard a call from a colleague. He made a noise like a siren and beckoned us toward the toilet area near the stairs. Upon approaching the area it became clear that my colleagues where way out of their depth in dealing with this unruly offender. It was a turd of the highest order and a king among paupers. Because inmates were locked up 23 hours per day it was always an issue whether out of politeness, one should not dump in the cell bucket but instead wait for the morning ablutions. Of course time and tide wait for no man and so there was naturally some tension around this subject. It is evident that whoever deposited this bad boy had been in some need and had, out of superior ethical considerations, forgone the right to use the piss bucket, and instead puckered the sphincter and waited for the morning. The result of which stretched down the side of the pan, into the water and round the bend. No amount of flushing or pouring water on it would dislodge its grip, both on the pan and our imaginations. We walked around, discussed the situation and the infeasible nature of what we had seen with our own eyes. Ultimately it was decided, and quite correctly as it turned out, that a forceful agitation with the broom handle would do the job. And so we returned to our cells, I suppose better men for our experience. It is a curiosity that such a specimen could be produced just

on mystery pie and gruel, hence the con who made this momentous deposit must have been new in, nervous about toilet etiquette and somewhat bunged up. Both my sympathies and salutations go out to him.

The

whole system was constipated in that it had no way of dislodging or regurgitating its

inhabitants, the ones that it had swallowed whole and could not digest either morally or philosophically. This is not a complaint only an observation. It is the way of things and always will be. I heard once that forgiveness is about what we can do or ask for and reconciliation is about both parties coming together. Cons rarely ask for forgiveness. That would mean that the sentence that they are doing and the system that issued the sentence are right. And who would want to say that? Wouldn't that mean acceptance of the crime, moral surrender? There is always some excuse or blame somewhere in order to avoid the full implications of what we have done. From the systems point of view how can they ask for reconciliation when their stance is based on pure facts? You mean that there is something other than the facts? If this was the case there wouldn't be the law, instead there would be a relationship between them and us. And that is unacceptable because ultimately they cannot stoop as low as being involved with criminals, especially insane ones. They like the comfort that the toilet brings, but they do not want to clean it or have a relationship with it. Toilets are only for sending effluent out of our clean houses so we don't have to see or live in the stench of our own filth. And yet the filth was once part of us, until that is, it no longer served any purpose. That is when it became a burden. We had forgotten that each foul emission once had a place in our lives. Besides, what would be the reply to any hand of reconciliation? Yes but what else are we to do with our filth? Bury it with some respect!

It is always a bug bare of mine that scum-bags, politicians and wasters of every type have to have a
whipping boy or scape goat. In the stories of old the scapegoat was burdened with the sins of the whole tribe and driven from the camp, out into the wilderness, sins an all. A neat trick if it works. The Fraggles were scape goats en mass. They provided the other cons with enough cause for superiority so as to make themselves feel good. It didn't matter what you had done or how afraid you really were inside, at least you weren't a Fraggle. I am a real man because see before me Fraggle men - half men. Both cons and guards measured themselves in this invisible manner, against us, it somehow made them what they couldn't be on their own. And when we, the walking turds, crossed the yard for our visits we could hear from the other blocks the occasional call echoing down in the distance....'Fraggles'.

Most

people in prison are dishonest! Well tell me something that I don't know! I don't mean

dishonest in a criminal way, I mean in a philosophical way. They cannot, for fear of ridicule and

intimidation, be anything other than a con. They wear the uniform of a slave and they think and behave like slaves. It is a rare man that walks away free from these places. Many will return and others will carry it on in their memories with ill feeling. Today I see this experience as a source of compassion toward people (especially those round pegs in square holes) and also with a sense of gratitude that I have done my bit as it were. I also see that at every strata of life there is a sub-order of beings about whom we do not know or want to know. I have met them lived with them and am one of them. I am proud of this fact. I need not theorise or rub my chin concerning the nature of the lowly outcast. Now I know and don't have to wonder. Now I judge things from a different angle. I am a free man.

Asylum Glad to be here

My friend strode with purpose, across the green and towards the café which was situated between
the main building and the outlying wards. Big long strides, the ones that you have to think about because they seem a little unnatural. I shouted to him, and as he recognised me he asked who I was visiting there. 'I'm not visiting' I replied, 'I'm in here'. I was so glad that I had finally made it into a mental asylum. I felt like I had arrived, not much of an aspiration I know, but for the weary heart it is coming home. They would fix all my problems and I would live there forever....if possible. That's the thing about mental hospitals – the real insane people are trying to get out – and the borderline cases and those who just find it hard to cope, or want an easy way out, are trying to get in!

Two of my good friends, one who killed himself many years ago, and another who last I saw, was
on the road to recovery, were in the hospital while I was there. They both suffered from psychosis and had had many painful episodes in and out of the hospital. They had been put in straight jackets and injected with heavy anti-psychotic drugs (the injections went in where ever there was a good target, the neck if need be), put in padded cells and locked wards, had ECT (electric shocks) raw (without anaesthetic), been taken away from their homes and had suffered in only a way that they could tell how. It was against these fellows that I matched myself and gave my own diagnosis. As if I really could know what it was like for them! I belonged, as I thought then, in the asylum. I was glad to be there and a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I was not like them though and over time I see that they really had so little chance to play around with the great ideas that I thought that I was playing with. Their plight was staying sane, against the odds. Mine was taking responsibility for who I was and facing up to the past. Yes I was ill in some way but not in their way. Without taking away from my pain, as great as it was, we were on different roads. As painful as it has been I am glad that I have come this way and not suffered in straight jackets or the like.

Being

in a mental hospital and feeling relieved about that told me a story about myself that I

couldn't accept for many years. It told me that I was not mentally ill but emotionally/spiritually ill. True mental illness does not disappear when certain factors are taken out of the equation. Factors like sitting down inside a ward and away from all the stuff that was making me ill and thinking 'thank fuck for that'. To be fair I was disturbed and diagnosed with mental disorder of type [whatever] and had been very depressed for some time, but compared to these boys I had it light. And so as I landed in this salubrious venue I was immediately confronted with a question as to the

validity of my CV. Did I deserve to be there or not. Was I one of them or not? Well from my point of view I was, from the other patients view I was (mental health patients are quite accepting and generally take for granted that there is something wrong with you that might not necessarily be obvious to the naked eye) but from the hospitals point of view I wasn't and my stay was disappointingly short and uneventful. So why do I mention it?

Well this was my first stay in a mental institution and I had been trying to validate my illness for
sometime. I desperately needed someone to acknowledge the darkness in me as something that they could see also. But they couldn't see it, because it was not a short circuit in my processes or wiring making me ill, but the weight of my memories and what I believed about myself. I had become irrevocably distant from who I was. Can you understand that?

Special powers

Over

the years I had hugged trees and brick walls, lamp posts and anything that was to me,

immoveable. These actions had became symbolic of my emotional insecurity. Because I had nothing to hang to inside of me, I had always to seek that stability outside. The easiest and clumsiest way was to physically hang onto things. I done this to people as well. I would grab them tight and tell them that I didn't want to die. And because of my self obsession and low self esteem I had developed, as I thought, a Christ like power for healing that I could use on people, and had tried many times to do as much. Not in the sense of healing death and making things happen outside of the normal physics of things (I wasn't that mad) but in the quiet belief that my presence and reassurances would do what medicine and psychiatry couldn't. A strange spot indeed; thinking that God hated me but thinking I was like him also. I also thought that my thinking could change events and had tried many times to moves things with my mind and send messages telepathically. I understand now that these last three things are fairly widespread beliefs....unless I am mixing in the wrong circles!

Over time I had come to realise that there was a great battle going on at every moment of the day
and night. Everywhere we were being watched and spied on (for what purposes I didn't know). I frequently dodged windows and stood, if possible, behind walls and the like so that satellites could not see me. I would double back on myself when outside and dodge between bollards in order not to be followed by cars. I had even been playing some football with friends when a nearby helicopter spooked me. Naturally I thought that they were coming for me and ran straight off of the pitch to hide under a tree. I left the park and then went and hid. There are many similar examples. Where the others thought I was going was anybodies guess, but one person did notice and questioned me about it. It made sense to me to be the way that I was, the others had never walked in my shoes and so

their comments were ignored. Yes I seemed normal in some respects but in many I didn't. Solitude, worry, unknown fears, mental disorder, self absorption and alcohol were tearing me to pieces. Something had to give somewhere!

I was told once 'tell me about your God and I will tell you about you'. If only I could have seen it I
would have avoided a lot of pain. God as I understood him, was in conflict, vindictive and almost powerless in a world where evil and fear was running riot. So as my relationships with people deteriorated I would turn my attentions toward the mighty institutions which on the face of it, could save me from myself. I was confused to say the least.

I sat in that hospital thinking that if only someone would take the time to talk to the patients in a
loving and understanding manner that they would become sane again. With the powers that I had become aware of in myself I set about this task, but strangely these people were just as insane at the end of our conversations as they were at the start! My counselling skills might have needed sharpening but my messianic pretensions did not. I had confused the touch of God with being a little touched myself.

I remember approaching one patient, who started to tell me a coherent story which contained many
twists and turns and in which many of his friends appeared. The whole thing made sense as I remember it. We had sat in the café with the hospital issue cups and saucers before us(of the type presented in the cell some years before) and began to converse....sort of. His eyes were slightly glazed and pre-occupied it seemed, as is the way in these places I suppose. A straight moustache with pointed ends separated his nose from his mouth and his hair was dyed black if I remember rightly. He was around the mid-fifty mark and had a paunch with a cardigan wrapped around it.

After he had finished speaking I made my polite excuses and left. As I had brushed passed him he
had touched the hem of my coat and this of course had made him well. Sanity had been restored. On our next meeting I started talking to him as new found friends do, and expected him to be different, but was disappointed when without blinking an eyelid he just chipped in and started talking. He told the exact same story as before, and all this with a 50 yard stare straight through me. What an ungrateful bastard! After all that mind healing I had given him! I began to realise that this was all he ever said, over and over and to anyone who would come near him. I would find another prospect!

I tried my power again, this time on another long term patient. As we sat opposite each other in the
wards day area, I noticed that the clock was behind his head and high on the wall. A man of between 30-40, although with mental health patients it is hard to tell as long term medication changes a body. That and the unawareness of the social need for facial expression, which gives emotional

accompaniment to words, these things were lacking. His thick black hair was streaked with silver grey and his teeth were in need of attention. A skinny man, he was obviously used to the chairs that we were sitting in and looked well at home where he was, sinking to his right hand side with his right leg crossed over the left, like a woman would sit.

After I had used some social niceties in order to prepare the ground for healing and to let him know
that I was fully interested in his plight, I asked him, 'what is the time'. I stared at him as hard as he was staring at me and willed him to let me in. If he could answer to any satisfaction then my preamble would have been shown to have penetrated his farthest recesses and I would have done what many years of incarceration and medication could not. '3 o'clock' he replied, bingo, it was 2.50 but that was as near as damn it. Looking back it was probably the first number that came into his head but I saw this as success and that I had restored him to sanity just through the power of my words. Shortly after this he spotted an apple core in the bin, took it out and started eating it! 'Stop that' cried the nurse, 'fuck off' was the reply. The longevity of the healing was immediately brought into question!

The point of these stories is that the best intentions cannot produce sanity. The self-centred-ness
and ignorance with which I viewed people only led me into conflict with them. I was so angry with these people when they didn't respond to my mind bending will, my intentions and spiritual penetration. Charismatic Christians who rant and rave about prayer for everything miss these valuable and humiliating lessons, as do the scientists who believe in nothing but their own theories. Those who cannot see limitation can never see the need for something new. We cannot know what it is to be insane or whether it is further or nearer to God. And against these people we see ourselves and what we truly believe. They are mirrors unto us. What do you see?

Me myself and I

My natural inability to see anything other than what I believed was true, led me to see my own
reflection everywhere that I went. Of course these people would be restored to sanity if only they could be embraced and talked to like they were real human beings, comforted, understood and nursed. Wasn't this what I was seeking? Yes, but I know now that even had I got what I wanted I would never had had the ability to accept it. I would have baulked at being cared for, what I wanted was a magic wand to take away my problems and the rest of you could have gone to hell. The healing process is more than the removal of stuff and more than a few conversations with an understanding friend. It is a lifetime of changing in God, that we might provide better care for each other and find peace within ourselves. I was on the right track but hopelessly lost. This is part of the human condition.

I was blind, and ill, and angry, and had to live out my journey into healing and love the only way I
could. It seems such an awful thing to say that a person has to learn the hard way - especially now that I know that there is another way - but for me in that time and place it was true. I would reappear in that hospital a few more times before I had had enough pain., both voluntarily commitments and under a three day section after I had turned up for an interview full of strong beer and tranquillizers. I had on my mothers coat with Charlie Chaplin style holes in my shoes, no underwear and someone else’s trousers and shirt on. Many of my problems were of my own making, but some of them were not and ran very deep into my marrow. It is seeing the difference between the two that is wisdom. Some things go as soon as you stop doing them, others need much outside help, and yet others the touch of the spirit. Knowing the difference is a problem of limitation, of understanding the finite resources within the self. This is where many people go wrong. They think that they can sort out their own problems without having any idea of their own limits.

The isolation and spiritual illness that had been growing inside was slowly and painfully killing
me. I was aloof from my fellows and cursed, like the fated Narcissus, to die, obsessed with my own reflection. It was all that I had known! I blindly sought help in the wrong places and could not come to terms with the greatest dread of all, total abandonment, which for me equated to death. Although I had no idea what death was, as a child I had obsessively prayed to live forever. Perhaps because I intuitively knew that I was already dying, perhaps not. Some years later a psychotherapist asked about the younger me. I answered that I would put him in a bag and cast him into the river never to be seen again. I am glad to say that between then and now I have seen a vision of great importance. I saw the child, as I was many years ago, reaching up out of a dark pit; and I saw myself as I am today reaching down to help him. I had come to terms with the boy that I had left behind all those years ago. The pain that I had felt was due to the betrayal that I had experienced. A betrayal so catastrophic that I lost all ability to face it. Eventually the pain got lost and so I started calling it something else....or nothing at all. My brushes with people and institutions were only symptoms of a greater malady. I saw myself beyond grace and therefore beyond anything worthwhile. To live with the feeling that one is distant from truth and mercy is to live without safety and kindness. And to hate is to live in the error of wanting revenge. I used to think that if I had had someone else's life that I wouldn't have been such a waster and so angry with everything and everyone. Today I see that such magical thinking only condemned me to not accepting any responsibility for anything that I had or was. I was warned when I was a young boy not to wish my life away. And yet this was all I had done year after year. I had wished it away in time and had wished it was different to what it was. Therefore I had denied everything that I did have and was capable of. When one takes

responsibility for who one really is, good or bad, this is the road to freedom.

Many roads

We travel these many roads toward somewhere or towards nowhere. What is it to be? Our lives are
richer for these experiences or they become a burden to us in the shame that they cause. If we see these paths as leading to nowhere then it is with shame and resignation that we see our lives wasted. If on the other hand we can start to see the many twists and turns as adding spiritual wealth to who we are then, we are on the road to somewhere. That somewhere is a greater relationship with the spirit and a kinder outlook on the world. This is not our destiny, for it could also be a different story for each of us. Instead it is the here and now of our live's.

It is obvious that we can do pretty much what we want and are only restricted by the violence of
religion in the threat of hell, by the violence of the law, or by the kindness and mercy with which we view things. My life was never destined to be what it was or is, in that the events themselves where set down as stepping stones toward my spiritual release. I cannot believe this. What would that make God? It would make him as sick as I am! Bringing good out of evil – so evil does have its use then? Evil and despair are tools for the greater good you say. Do you stick your child's hand in the fire to teach the lesson of heat? But wouldn't it serve the greater purpose?

What I can see is a gradual awakening WITHIN what is happening. Things just are as they are, and
the spirit can only use them as prudent. Nothing can be forced upon my mind, I cannot be beaten into humility, I can only see the sense of things as they unfold or as I look back on them. The realness of spiritual mercy changes the perception that I have. A person or institution cannot give what they haven't got. The error in my perception that tells me either that my own salvation is within my control or that my own salvation is out of my control, is being healed. Both are errors, not wrong, but errors. For within these perceptions is a genuine spiritual searching. What they lack is an understanding of the limitations of self. When I came to understand that of myself I am nothing, then it was a matter of allowing the change to happen. When it happens the events themselves take on a different meaning, and always will change as I change. Nothing is wasted in God's economy.

The evilness and the despair that I have lived in and seen, have taught me that I would have rather
died than be wrong about myself. For in being wrong about who I was and what I should be doing, meant that there had to be another way. Either that or carrying on as it was, and who wants to live in pain all the time?

To see something as a waste is to say that one has seen nothing of the spirit in it. And to struggle
with violence against violence is to set a certain experience within the memory in a destructive way. When I resisted the fears and unknowing of loneliness with anger against the world, I met violence with violence. When I see no good in corrupt institutions and meet their belligerence with contempt I meet violence with violence. When I assassinate the characters of people who have wronged me I meet violence with violence. The emotional memory will carry these experiences for a lifetime unless something changes.

Experience is how a person registers what is going on in any given moment or time. We attach all
sorts of garbage to our experiences, especially when we struggle with the uncomfortable or fearful feelings which they produced at the time. If then we have no way of understanding these events, even as time goes by, they will leave a scar on our hearts and a bad attitude in our minds.

Beyond the past

There is a place beyond the past that some would call future, but I will call love. I am not full of
love in the sense that I live out my days doing only good and seeing only through kind eyes. My flawed nature can be quite spiteful, fearful and angry. I am full of grace though. Grace being the presence of the spirit which has changed my perception and belief. In being forgiven I have come to learn something of forgiveness. Understanding, that vital ingredient for seeing things differently, is part of love. For love seeks to mend, to reconcile, to build, to make easier and to direct. Understanding grows where love grows, for understanding is about the truth of things. Sometimes the truth is too much to bear, if we can admit this then we can also admit that we can only see as much of it as we can take into our way of being at any given time.

For some people the truth is a crushing blow from which they cannot seem to recover, for others it
is the thing that sets them free. But the truth is something that we cannot fully open out to ourselves, and so over time it is revealed to us if are ready to accept it into our lives. This is love working, and it will change what we see. This does not just happen, we have to be ready for it and to be able to use it for our own good and that of the people around us. If we need it and want it these changes will come about and we will begin to see that the vast array of happenings, some of which have caused us harm, have been the many twists and turns on the Damascus road. And for this we might begin to be grateful.

Like the man said, 'the monkey's off my back but the circus is still in town'. It is with care and
diligence that I try to travel through the days now, accumulating experience which will not stick in my gullet and cause me to be spiritually blocked up. Of course this is an ideal but in striving for it I

am saying to myself and hopefully to God, that I don't want to be the person that I was.

The events that I have written about here bring back to me thoughts on what it is to be searching
for God. Is there room for a hopeless sinner or psychotic whose reasoning is beyond our fathoming. Can grace work within the belligerent heart. Are our wounds to be carried all through our lives? To which I can only answer that the rain falls on good and evil alike. We keep the faith that God understands these many pathways and that these unseen people are not forgotten in the scheme of things. Our awakenings tell us that we were never really alone and that grace has no favourites. I hope that you have enjoyed our short journey and that at times your heart has been warm towards my words. If that is the case then I am thankful that as an older man I have been able to say the things that I couldn't all those years ago.

[I love you, not from the depth or the height, or of those things which true poets know of, but from within my life, that has no bounds, that no word can harm.]