Saturday, May 17, 2014

This violent typewriter

Happy 70th birthday Jimmy Boyle, the famous Scottish criminal-turned-artist who now lives in France and Morocco. Although he found fame and success as a sculptor, Boyle has also authored several popular books, including a diary of his time in prison. ‘Publishing the diary,’ he wrote, ‘seemed the best way of telling the story, since it is a record of my thoughts and reactions to each day, not judged with hindsight and distorted through time.’

Boyle grew up in Glasgow and, apparently, followed in his criminal father’s footsteps. He became a member of a dangerous gang, and developed a reputation as Scotland’s most violent man. By the age of 23 he was in prison, having been sentenced to life for murdering another gangland figure. While in a special unit at Barlinnie prison, he learned to sculpt, and he also wrote an autobiography - A Sense of Freedom - published by Canongate in 1977.

On being released in 1982, he went to live in Edinburgh where he married his psychotherapist in Barlinnie, Sarah Trevelyan. They have two children. He also became involved with social work, helping young offenders and drug addicts. He left Britain in the 1990s to live in France, ostensibly to escape media attention. Later, in 2007, he married his second wife, actress Kate Fenwick, and they now spend much time in Morroco. Boyle’s sculptures still command very high prices on the art market (see The Daily Record, for example). There is not much biographical information about Boyle readily available on the internet, other than at Wikipedia and the BBC, and from a few newspaper articles about his property deals in Morocco (see The Guardian).

In 1984, Canongate published a second autobiographical work by Boyle - The Pain of Confinement - this one based on the diaries he kept while in the special unit at Barlinnie prison. He explains his reason for publishing these diaries in the last paragraph of the book’s introduction: ‘I began to keep a detailed diary of what was going on in the Unit. In the process I took copious notes of daily events. Publishing the diary seemed the best way of telling the story, since it is a record of my thoughts and reactions to each day, not judged with hindsight and distorted through time. All of this has shaped my past and present experiences into a vision of what the penal system should be.’

16 June 1975
‘I didn’t get to sleep till after 3am. Thoughts were flashing in my mind about my position here. There is no doubt that I am going through a crisis point with myself. Freedom is a balanced diet of the mental and physical, and though mentally I feel I’m as free as I’ll ever be, the fact is that I am physically restricted. This is a telling factor in my present problems. I went out a few times last year and some this year for physiotherapy after my operation. I thought that because I had played my part in acting responsibly it would be an on-going thing. I was wrong.

I spent the whole day from early morning till late afternoon working on the piece of stone in the yard. Every hit of the hammer on the chisel was full of violence; so much so that I lost count of all time. I was so absorbed in my thoughts and the piece before me. Tired and worn I went to bed at 4pm and lay till this evening.’

17 June 1975
‘This morning I awoke fresh and feeling much better.

Received a letter from Paul Overy, The Times art critic, saying he stumbled over my exhibition by accident and what a find he said. He has put a short piece in The Times and it is a good review. I was pleased.’

5 July 1976
‘There is no doubt about it, these bastards are trying to destroy me mentally. Blows come in psychological form, ripping through my defences, tearing me apart internally. In the face of this new, but very effective game of destruction I cry like a child. Shattered! No injuries are apparent. What is going on, why?

Retaliation is called for. This violent typewriter shouts bloody anger. Punching holes in the fucking enemy with each tap of the key. Fingers filled with fire and vengeance as they press each lettered key - hatehatehatehatehate. Fuckers causing mental anguish. I HATE YOU.

They would like to see it. Oh God, they would like to see it. If I were to strike out and hit one of them. ‘See!’ they would shout. ‘Look, the bastard is an animal.’ All would turn to me and point. ‘Animal, Animal,’ they would cry.

What the fucking hell am I doing sitting suppressing all this natural anger and keeping it under the surface? Does this make me any more civilised? I’m supposed to sit here like some vegetable with a mandarin smile accepting it all.’

31 October 1982
‘The last day! How can I possibly trust it to be? Every morning for the past 15 years I’ve wakened to these surroundings. This morning is no different except for the underlying feeling of excitement.

I am gaining first-hand experience of the process of freedom. Inside I am aware that many things are going on. There is a part that wants to be joyous about it all but another seemingly stronger part stopping this as something may go wrong at the last minute. This is a sort of ‘defence mechanism’ that has taken me through less joyful experiences. If I were to go over the top with good feeling and it went wrong then I would be devastated. Recovery would be very difficult. What could go wrong now? I have experienced enough to know that prison authorities are capable of anything. I distrust them considerably. [. . .]

I am aware that there is massive media interest in my release. So, immediately I’ll be on stage. For the first time I’ll be free to speak to them. These past years they have followed my life and I haven’t been able to say anything. The gag will be off.’

1 November 1982
‘I was taken to the gate where I waited for Sarah. These were the longest minutes of all. The gate officer said Mr Hills had called to say he was coming in. I stood on edge. Mr Hills drove in the gate. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t speak. Sarah arrived. Mr Hills gave the signal and the duty officer opened the gate. I stepped over to Freedom.’

The Diary Junction

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