My father the inmate

In the first of a highly personal series, our writer recalls visiting his father in Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison, and a relationship that was very much "up and down"
  • @DonaldAMacInnes

This week’s compelling Independent investigation into the impact of incarceration on mothers and their children certainly looks to represent a wholly different perspective to most other reportage into Britain’s penal system. My own limited experience of the challenge of parenting behind bars, though, is more traditional, or perhaps a little bit less so. More traditional because the story concerns a father separated from his family inside a prison cell; less so because that father was my father.

Unlike the infants in today’s opening feature on page 6, I was never in jail with my parent, although my Dad did manage to dispense a certain amount of parenting, albeit during visiting hours and from behind half inch-thick, yellowing safety glass. With a leering murderer listening in to our conversation in the adjacent seat. Cosy. Nice.

If you have never visited Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, it takes a little explaining. I haven’t been there in a few years, but in the late 1980s, when my father was banged up for his part in some wholly laudable animal rights “direct action” (that’s laudable in its long-term goal, if not its actual execution), it was about as close to Mordor’s Mount Doom as you can get, without taking recourse to big feet and flying monkeys. Or is that another castle? My terrifying keeps keep getting mixed up.

Opening in July 1882, Her Majesty’s Prison Barlinnie was, and is, a Wagner crescendo made stone; as gothic as a grinning bat and just as upside down, fun-wise. I only went there once during the months my father was locked up. I remain very guilty about this and, at the same time, absolutely not guilty about this at all. It may have had all the warmth of a flashing kitchen knife, but in truth Barlinnie’s architectural limitations are not the reason for my sole visit to see my father during his sentence. And I say that knowing that it can’t have been easy for him. To say the least. As a former detective in the Glasgow CID and a vegan, his time inside was always going to veer from the terrible to the bloody awful. But even knowing this, I stayed away the whole time. Apart from this once.

To explain, my relationship with my Dad was a bit… meh. A bit up and down; “up” in that he remains probably the funniest, most interesting person I have ever met; “down” in that he often subjected his wife and children to treatment far worse than that endured by the wretched beagles he sought to free from the tyranny of 60 unfiltered fags before (and probably during) breakfast.

That being the case, and being that my feelings for him ranged from hero worship to outright assassination plots (take it from me, there were actual blueprints drawn up; rehearsals run through), I can only assume that I was having a pro-Dad day when I got the bus to Riddrie in the north-east of Glasgow and queued up to pay him a visit. Find out what happened, this time tomorrow…

Twitter: @DonaldAMacInnes