Inspiring creativity and encouraging personal and social change through the arts

The Prison Arts Foundation is as important as it is unique. Thanks to our pioneering work with people with convictions lives are being transformed and patterns of behaviour changed for good.

Our team of experienced professional artists working across the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland are offering people with convictions a life-line, helping to improve their creative and communications skills, which is key to personal and social development, building self-confidence and unlocking people’s potential.

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Writing (Short Story)


Taking a deep breath, filling his lungs with the cold night air, Colin slowly let it slip through his lips. Pulling the heavy steel door open, he was overwhelmed with the stench from inside. He involuntary took a step backwards as the unpleasant aroma filled his nostrils. Reaching into the small bag he carried, he fumbled around until his hand came upon the small round jar, containing vapour rub. Screwing the lid off quickly, he took a thick daub of the oily substance and placed a little inside each nostril.

‘Who’s there?’ a low raspy voice called from inside.

He had seen detectives on television use vapour rub when they were called out to a homicide. Reality mimics fiction, so it must be the job.

‘Who’s there? Hello,’ the muffled voice called again. Help, can someone help me please?’

The last word had been said in higher pitch, sounding more desperate, which made Colin smile. He lit a cigarette. There wasn’t any panic. Maybe his captive would get his hopes up, believing himself to be on the verge of rescue. There was little hope of that. It was more than four miles as the crow flies, to the nearest house. There was a mountain between it and his location. No, there would be no one coming to his aid.

Crushing the butt of the cigarette out on the door, he placed it in his pocket. He needed to be careful. A single butt contained enough DNA to have him locked up for the rest of his life. Entering the long, narrow room, he struck a match and ignited the two Tilly lamps hanging on rusty nails. He allowed the black smoke to dissipate before turning the tiny wheel on the lamp that increased its power. The light became stronger, throwing his shadow against the wall. As Colin turned, the light fell on a man at the rear of the room. His arms were bound tightly behind his back with gaffer tape. Likewise, his legs were held together with tape, which kept them straight and rigid. Handcuffs secured his wrists and were connected to a chain that led to the ceiling. Once his legs became tired, he was left to hang from the chain, leaving his shoulders and upper arms taking the full weight of his body. Colin had measured the chains so the man could neither sit, nor kneel. He had been there for a day and a half now, and was slumped forwards.

Moving closer to the man, Colin hung one lamp to the left hand side of the man’s head and held up the other, towards his face.

‘Who’s there,’ the man called out. He twitched his head back and forth, trying to locate his torturer, but could see nothing through the thick hessian bag covering his head.

Colin stepped behind him and tore the bag off, making the man’s head jerk back with a snap.

‘Go easy for fucks sake, you nearly broke me neck there,’ the captive winched.

‘Really? Was it sore Travis?’ Colin said in a mocking voice.

Travis tried to turn his head around but pain shot through his body making him cry out.

‘Ach man up, will ya. You worthless piece of shit,’ Colin ordered him.

‘Let me out of these chains and I’ll show you who’s a man, mate.’

‘I’m not your mate, your mucker, or your buddy. I’m now your tormenter, as you once were mine,’ Colin roared, punching Travis on the back of his neck with brute force.

‘You bastard, if I get…’ Travis began, but Colin cut him short.

‘You’ll do what? None of your mates are here now and you’re only a brave man when their about. You’re just a coward and a bully without them.’

‘Don’t stand behind me, say that to my face. Are you afraid I’ll see you? Because when this is over, I’ll be coming for you mate. That I promise you.’

‘You never were one to keep promises were you? I can’t see that having changed just because you’re not in prison,’ Colin declared.

‘Prison? Is that what this is all about? Do I know you? I know the voice, but I can’t place it. Where you inside with me?’

Colin didn’t answer, but walked around to face the man. Slowly, he lifted the lamp up revealing his face.

‘I know you. I remember. You’re the soft cunt. The quiet one. Stayed behind your door most of your sentence, like a pussy,’ he sneered.

‘That’s sweet coming from you. You and your wee click of junkies couldn’t do a day without being off your heads on drugs.’

‘Fuck you.’

‘Fuck me? Well fuck you,’ Colin said punching Travis in the face, which broke his nose, if the sound the crack made was anything to go by. Blood splattered across the room, and started to cascade down Travis’ face. He would have spat it out, but had nothing to eat or drink for two days now, so swallowed the sweet, sticky, substance gladly.

‘All those years wasted, spent in prison, living amongst you bunch of sub- human pigs. Watching you every day, striding along the hallway with your steroid filled chest sticking out, your wee gang that hero-worshipped you. Going out of your way to make everyone else’s life that wee bit more intolerable. Bullying, stealing, and acting the bollocks to get a laugh, you hateful wee bastard ya,’ Colin roared, walking over to one of the tool benches along the wall and lifting a claw hammer.

‘You understand nothing only violence and if that’s the way I have to get my point across, so be it,’ he said approaching Travis.

‘Hold on a wee fucking minute,’ Travis called out seeing the hammer clenched in Colin’s hand. ‘I didn’t do any harm. Why are you taking it out on me? We were just trying to survive, stay ahead mate,’ he pleaded.

‘Oh, I admit you never laid a hand on me, that’s true, but then you didn’t have to. You did the damage up here,’ Colin said, tapping the hammer softly against his head. ‘You fucked with me mind. Playing that rap-crap at full volume every fucking hour, of every fucking night, for years. You all took turns, didn’t you? Thinking it was funny. If it wasn’t you, it was one of your mates. Roaring and shouting up and down the hallway like children when I was on the phone. Tag teaming each other so I couldn’t get using it. I desperately needed to speak to my family, to escape that shit hole just for a few minutes, but you denied me even that small luxury. Your whole day spent finding new ways to annoy me, knowing it was getting to me, winding me up. For what? What did I ever do to you or any of the others? You and your ilk are nothing better than animals ya wee prick. Like feral cats roaming the streets,’ Colin screamed his blood boiling, as the memories came flooding back.

‘We only did it for a bit of craic. Just killing time, that’s all. You’re a big fella. You could have been part of our circle, joined in. You could even have had your own crew,’ Travis roared back.

‘My own crew? Where the fuck do you think you are, America? I didn’t want that, I just wanted to be left alone in peace.’

‘Colly, its Colly isn’t it? I knew I’d get your name. Look Colly, that’s just the way prison is, the way it made us,’ Travis stated firmly.

‘You, and the creatures like you, made it that way. Stoned outa your heads, pushing your crap onto others. Onto lads who would never have known what Spice, Sub or Tramadol were until you got them hooked.’

‘You could’ve got in on the act. There was plenty to go round. I’m sure it was offered to you?’

Colin could no longer hold his temper at the stupidity of the man. It was pointless trying to get his point across. Vermin like this would never understand. He stepped forward and swung the hammer. It struck Travis on the side of the head, connecting with his ear, tearing it in two. The top part barely clinging to the bottom that was a bloody mess. Travis’ screams reverberated around the steel walls. Colin raised the hammer again and plunged it down towards the man’s shoulder. Travis saw it coming and tried to avoid it, but was unable to do so due to the restrictions of his bonds. Instead, it landed on the side of his skull, knocking him out. Outraged by his mistake, Colin lashed out moving around Travis’ body, striking down with the hammer in different places, cursing aloud. As each blow landed, he cried out a word.

‘You …don’t… get…it…do…you…I…decide…my…fate…not…you.

He stopped, the muscles in his arm aching from the exertion, his breathing laboured. Moving over to the bench he dropped the hammer into a bucket of bleach and rinsed his hands quickly, knowing they’d need scrubbed later to remove all trace evidence. Lifting a tiny wooden stool, he placed it in front of Travis, and sparked up a badly needed cigarette. Holding the lighted match to his captive’s bloodied ear until the head twitched, Colin exhaled loudly, satisfied the man was still alive. He sat down heavily and spoke to the unconscious body.

‘Had me scared there for a minute Travis. Thought I’d went too far. You seem to bring out the worst in me,’ Colin joked. He blew a smoke ring and watched it float upwards, then stared at Travis. ‘All those young lives you destroyed, it never bothered you, did it? You just don’t care do you? Where’s the justice? You were sent to prison for selling drugs to schoolchildren and you end up doing the same inside. Young ones who were getting on with lives and in all fairness would probably never have touched a drug until you and your sewer rat mates pushed it onto them. Lads in for silly little sentences, their time near finished, and they end up on our wing. Progression, the prison calls it. What a joke! Progressing onto a wing full of vipers, rubbing your greedy hands together, high fiving each other on seeing new blood you could corrupt. I was watching. The shame I felt because I couldn’t do or say a thing about it. You wouldn’t remember Christy, would you? Like a whore, you’ve had so many through your hands, you wouldn’t remember who, or when you fucked them. I’ve children of me own, and every time I saw you turn one of them young lads, I saw my own child sitting there in his place,’ Colin spoke to an unconscious Travis.

Finishing his fag, carefully placing the butt in his pocket. He stood and then pushed the stool away with the heel of his boot.

‘Couldn’t do anything about it then as I was outnumbered. The screws couldn’t care less either, most of them involved in some way or another. But it’s not too late. I am your deliverance Travis. I’m gonna move you on so you might have a chance to redeem yourself in the next life, if there is such a thing. However, before you go, I am going to put you through that much pain, you never would have imagined it possible. Don’t get me wrong son, it’s not business, it’s personal.’

Collecting a Stanley knife from the bench, Colin began cutting and removing the clothes from Travis, placing them in a black plastic bag. When Travis was naked, Colin wheeled a trolley, containing a gas cylinder over beside his body. He unwound the red pipe and turned on the pressure. Lighting a match, he held it to the brass nozzle that flared into life. Adjusting the flame until it glowed red-hot, he smiled.

‘Wakey, wakey,’ he called out, turning it towards his prisoner’s body.

HMP Magilligan

3rd Prize Short Story Intermediate, Listowel Writing in Prison Awards, 2020

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