Writing from captivity: Jimmy Boyle

Jimmy Boyle wrote 2 extraordinary books ‘A Sense of Freedom’ about his violent past in Glasgow and imprisonments in different Scottish prisons – including in the infamous ‘cages’ in Inverness prison; and ‘The Pain of Confinement’ based on his time in the Special Unit set up at Barlinnie (an experimental regime that despite – or becasue of its success was inevitably closed by the prison deprtament) where he began to understand his past more and the way he had responded to the abuse and neglect that he had experienced. After his 15 year sentence he left – a sculptor and a writer.

He now lives in the South of France and Morocco. Photos are of the young JB and a more recent image.

These extracts are from the second book – his reflections on freedom, creativity and feelings.

‘What about my yearning to be free? I visualize walking in the country, seeing green fields, birds singing, the horizons far in the distance – as far as the eye can see. Oh to walk the streets full of people … These are the dreams of the incarcerated. I want so much to taste freedom because for the first time in my life I will be able to appreciate it. I desire the world beyond the walls.

And what about the expressions of my soul? The hammer and chisel that sculpts the stone from the tenement buildings of my past into a new form for the future. A transformation that is comparative to my own. The ingrained pollution that covers the stone is shorn. I take it in this filth covered condition, devote the time to it and give it another life. When it is complete I leave it with a bright future. The part that I envy in this unfeeling, inanimate object is that its transformation is widely accepted and not questioned.

And the writing. I need it as a testament to my experience. To reflect, in some small measure what I feel. To help me see, like the sculpture, the natural development of me – the human being. Threads of life brought to the surface. Painful though it is there has to be an understanding of what we are doing … What do the days ahead hold for me? Can I pick myself up from the floor, scooping up the millions of scattered pieces and face the nothingness of tomorrow? …

Feelings. Those parts that we all try to hide from each other. The shame, the jealousy, the guilt and insecurity. Our inferiority. Who can put up the most convincing mask to hide the inner turmoil? It’s all about chasing illusions that don’t really exist. It’s like hating some bastard yet when he dies we realize he wasn’t so bad after all.’

Jimmy Boyle The Pain of Confinement, Prison Diaries.