It’s not good. Me and the Gambler went to see him recently. As we walked into the prison visiting room a prison officer approached us and asked us our names. When we told him he said, “Oh, your visit is taking place on the wing.” My heart jumped immediately. Rinty was too ill to even walk to the visiting room – I dreaded seeing him laid up in his cell, weak and helpless. The big man was always so resilient, so full of energy. I know he is dying – but my memories of him are still so full of life – his Rinty smile, his Rinty jokes, (inappropriate of course) – and his Rinty philosophy, “always fight complacency…”
Rinty does not deserve what is happening to him – the cancer, well nobody deserves that. Good health – bad health – that’s the luck of the draw. What I mean is that Rinty does not deserve to die in jail. He did his whack first time around. He was jailed for life for manslaughter in 1976 – he always acknowleded the harm he had done, the life he took, the pain and grief he had caused. He worked on his failings in prison – years of one to one work with psychologists and psychiatrists. As a boy he had been abused terribly by a family member – it was no excuse for his crime, but certainly affected the way he grew up and contributed greatly to his dysfunctional youth – drink and drugs gave him some solace, but also took away his sense of reason – his plea of not guilty to murder was accepted by the prosecution on the grounds of his diminished responsibility. He managed to rebuild in prison – gave much to others, helped me a lot in my early years – taught me to transcribe Braille – he was a real expert in Braille transcription, self-taught in prison. When they released him in 1994 after he’d served 18 years he should never have looked back. When the home Office recalled him to prison in 1997 after he was found not guilty of an assault charge (he really was innocent, the jury took just eight minutes to return their not guilty verdict) – he should have been re-released quickly and helped and supported. Instead they kept him in. That decision was a death sentence. But he’s fought it with incredible courage and dignity.
A prison officer escorted me and Gambler through the prison to Rinty’s wing – through bars and gates and more bars and more gates, and then led us into a little side room. We waited for a few minutes and then in hobbled our big friend. We took it in turns to hug him before he sat down – the physical change in him since I had last seen just a few weeks earlier was dramatic. He looked like an aged version of himself – like a computer generated image of how he should have looked in another 20 years or so. But he still managed to smile when I asked him how he was doing. “That’s a daft question,” he said as he slumped into his seat. The best thing about this visit though was that we were all so relaxed – especially the Rint. No officers present, no having to lean forward on the low seats of the visiting room so we could hear each other talking. Rinty sat back. “They’re being really good to me in here,” he said. “They don’t like what is happening to me. They couldn’t be more helpful.” I’m just in awe of the strength of character he has demonstrated since his diagnosis last year. The only time he’s shed a tear is when he was getting helped back to his cell by a female prison officer after a visit to the doc’s. “Just before she shut my cell door she turned and gave me a hug,” he said, ”that just did for me.”
Leaving Rinty that day was hard. He’s got a panel who could order his release in July – we talked about it. I’m going to try and get him up with me if they let him out – I want to do something to make his final days comfortable. But July seems such a long long way away. He called me on my mobile yesterday. I’d left it at the bottom of my garden and had to rush to it when I heard it ring. By the time I got to it it had gone to messaging. When I listened I barely recognised the croaky, feeble voice – “It’s me, I need to talk to you, I’ll try again later.” He never got back to me. I’m going to call the prison today.