Beano Niblock with more memories of how books too can be ill-treated in prison! Beano Niblock is a former loyalist prisoner. He currently writes poetry, plays and commentary pieces and blogs at Long Kesh Inside Out.
Only avid readers could experience that “hit” when you get the hold of a book that you wanted or one that you knew was going to be good. I remember one year, 1987, not long before the closure of the cages. We were having ongoing problems with a notorious PO — Paddy Magee. Paddy was a tyrant and fancied himself as a bit of a hard man.
The issue this time was over the re-introduction of strip searches during the weekly routine searching. There was only 1 UVF compound left by this stage-21-and the decision was made to refuse and resist the strips. About 4 or 5 people were singled out for strips and all refused. Magee went through the charade of ordering everyone to strip—all refused. The punishment was that he would send everyone to the boards.
The boards on this occasion to cater for 40 men was H1 which was empty at the time ... at least one wing of it. The decision was made to leave 3 people in 21 to keep each hut open. I remember Stevie McCrea was one and I think the others were SOSP’s—there were no determinate sentenced guys left by this stage—all lifers. The last of the 20 year men having being released in 1985.
Those of us who went across to the blocks—for the first time by the way—took the usual toiletries and a bit of reading material. Most people had a book that they had read at least part of so in the couple of days that followed guys were able to rip out the part they had read and give it to someone who had nothing to read. It worked well but the problem was that there were fast readers and of course notoriously slow readers. Big Hughie had given me the first half of Presumed Innocent — a Scott Turow book that was just out. It was one of those ones that you flew through but were dying to know the ending. However big Hughie was in no hurry and despite my frantic pleas he wasn’t for moving any faster. In fact it was about a week after we came off the boards that he gave me the other half!!
In the meantime I think I went through A Horseman Passing by - RF Delderfield, and a bit of the Old Testament. The ending of Presumed Innocent was truly brilliant when I eventually got round to it and paradoxically I got my own back on big Hughie when I lent him a novel and kept telling him it had a real surprise ending — and ending he would never forget. 5 or 6 nights later — long after lights out — and with most people either sleeping or reading the hut shook to a piercing creams of "BASTARD”.
Obviously big Hughie had just discovered that the last half a dozen pages had been ripped out of his wee novel.