My dad the inmate (Part 2)

In the second of his moving series this week, our writer recalls visiting his father in Barlinnie prison

Share

Yesterday I pointed up to that bough of my family tree which, in the late 1980s, found itself creeping over the walls of Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison. As some of you may well be aware, HMP Barlinnie was, and is, an institution about which it is hard to be flippant, humorous or particularly clever, although for the purposes of this piece I shall endeavour to be all three. But I do so not to make light of the jail’s impact on its past or present inmates… and certainly not as regards how it affected my father.

He had been locked up there after being found guilty of a planning role in a campaign of non-violent animal rights direct action against one of the country’s largest practitioners of corporate vivisection. And while I may have utilised the odd custard pie when describing Barlinnie, like so many of this country’s Victorian jails, in reality it is what it is – sad, grotesque and ultimately mundane… and nothing more. Although often a great deal less. And the fact that my father, a former detective sergeant in the same city – and a vegan – managed to walk out of there supported by intact knees says much about his resilience. And, I must admit, my reaction to visiting him there says as much about my lack of same. Although, having said that, as I wrote yesterday, there were – and are – extenuating circumstances, as my relationship with my Dad has always veered from blissful, guffawing delight to the blackest of misery as swiftly as a bi-polar shopping trolley. But that’s another story; one much longer, with an appendix and suggestions for further reading.

My visit to Barlinnie began with a bus journey to the north-east Glasgow suburb of Riddrie and, after that, a moment or two spent gazing nervously up at the jail’s enormous main gate, feeling like a middle class mouse. Once inside, I was searched and put in a waiting room along with a dozen or so other people. There were more women with prams and squabbling toddlers than you might feel comfortable knowing about.

We were then led into a room which was bisected by a wall in which were set a row of grimy windows. Below each pane of safety glass was sited a thin slit, for speaking through (no Hollywood-style phones on the wall… and I recall this disappointing me a little). Each slit was covered with a thick iron mesh which meant that anything you said or heard was muffled to the point of inaudibility. This led to a situation where both inmate and visitor had to lower their heads so that their mouths or ears were as close to the slit as possible, just to hear or be heard. A memorable and, at the time, incongruously ridiculous consequence was that you spent the entire visit staring at whichever straining eyeball your opposite number was able to use to peek over the window sill while they either spoke to you or listened to what you said.

I walked along the row of windows, looking for my Dad and, about halfway along, there he was, smiling at me. “Alright, kid?” I smiled back. He looked thinner than I had ever seen him.

Tomorrow… a conversation with my father the inmate.

Twitter: @DonaldAMacInnes

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

A Level Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: A Level Chemistry Teacher - Humb...

RE Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Teacher of Religious Education ...

Maths Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering