Guest writer Thomas Dixie Elliot with some reflections on prison life
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.
I was asked recently by Ross Kemp, after an interview I had with him for his forthcoming documentary, how we got through the Blanket Protest and I answered by quoting the above verse from Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol. One of his crew a lady called Lena Ferguson from Fermanagh joined with me in quoting it.
I told him that our imagination took us beyond the walls of the H-Blocks and back to better times. The sky has a way of reminding us of the past whether it is as blue as Wilde described it, or laden with rain or snow. It holds a beauty that not even the harshest prison can lock out. It kept our souls intact while they tried to break our bodies. We often looked to it for comfort after beatings.
There was also the imagination of fellow comrades like Bobby Sands who remembered books they had read and retold out the cell door. The likes of Trinity or JET, a book myself and others searched for upon release but could never find. A book not even the guy who wrote Bobby's biography, Denis O'Hearn could find. Denis and I concluded that the reason we couldn't find the book was because Bobby had made it up himself. That's how good it was.
I didn't say this then because you haven't time to fully reflect on a question thrown at you, but I often look at the sky and remember not the bad times but those who never got beyond the prison walls again to freedom.
I'm certain also that the Republicans in Maghaberry look to the skies as we did and find a means of escape from the brutal world of prison.