‘ Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us.’ -Don Delillo
A lot of people have asked me recently why I write, what got me started with writing and how it helps me. I will start by saying that from a very young age my father, an academic, used to read all sorts of books to me ranging from poetry, encyclopedias, books about galaxies and the universe so I guess this really helped to stimulate my imagination and inner creativity. I started writing stories at a very young age and my father always encouraged me to keep it up, so I sincerely thank my father for encouraging me to follow and develop my hobby and allowing me to express myself freely. Another thing I’ll say is that I’ve always been a thinker, I’ve always been a person to question why things happen. I soak in sights like a sponge, I remember what people have said, I notice the tiny little details that most others wouldn’t. I guess you could say I have always had ‘a writer’s mentality.’ I was very lucky to grow up with an extremely academic parent. Although I grew up without my mother due to her being extremely unwell mentally, my father, although very troubled these days, is a man with a Masters Degree in Mathematics, a BA Hons in Psychology and a BA Hons in Economics. He used to encourage me to read and research the facts about something and not settle for the jargon answers that are blurted out on the TV and internet, he helped me differentiate between fact and fiction.
Despite this, I have always felt an outcast from society and the ‘odd one out’. I still do to this day. At secondary school I was heavily bullied, had few friends and always felt misunderstood. I enjoyed my own company rather than playing in groups etc. At twelve years old I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of Autism. The same year in 2006, I was arrested for an offence and put into secure mental health services where the onslaught of awful abuse started. This is when I started to rely on my writing as not just a hobby, but as my lifeline, my only way of survival, my only way of coming to terms with what was going on around me. Locked away hundreds of miles from my father, with no mobile phone or laptop, the only way I could communicate most of the time was through letter. I had to learn to express myself on paper, and learn quickly. I’ve had a horrific life. I was moved from unit to unit around the country like a parcel until I was 20 as part of an NHS scandal that got uncovered. In one unit in Newcastle, named the ‘Roycroft Clinic', I was subjected to tortuous abuse from staff daily. I witnessed boiling hot water being thrown at a fourteen year old girl. At twelve years old most children are out playing with friends or, these days, on their games consoles. Me? I was locked up in a tiny cell like bedroom dreading the next time I was going to be sexually abused or assaulted. That shit never leaves you. Luckily many, many staff members got sacked and arrested following a huge police investigation and the articles from the papers surrounding this are still available to read today. Due to being locked up and moved around the country for so long, I never got the chance to make friends in a normal environment. I was denied an education and starved access to modern technology. I never was allowed any job experience. I was a guinea pig wrapped up in cotton wool, a number on a page. Abused. I was told what time to get up, what time to go to bed, what I could eat, how many books I could have in my room, if I could wear shoelaces, if I was allowed to use a pen to write and even if I could use the toilet. Due to the fact that I got so much pleasure from writing, sometimes the cruel staff even tried to mock me by making me use a crayon. Smartphones, laptops, tablets etc were not allowed and the windows had metal sheets and Perspex reinforcements. The corridors were so long and plain, with no paintings or artwork on the wall at all. All around me was a feeling of hopelessness. A stomach churning feeling of desperation. Most days I saw people get attacked and people hurt themselves. Most days I heard screaming of unwell children until the early hours of the morning and so much more. Too often I saw blood, urine and the tears of unwell children being abused. Forget going down below to the fiery pits of hell with the devil, that place was hell, and I had to live there for five fucking years. What humans can do to each other is much scarier than any supernatural entity.
Whilst living under such harsh conditions I entered survival mode. I quickly realized that since I couldn’t control what was happening all around me I needed to control myself and the way I was viewing the situation. So, I thought about what I actually did have, and that was time. I accepted the situation for what it was, which is the first step. Instead of using each day to try and fight against what was happening, I spent as much time as I could every day writing. I turned a negative into a positive. Although it sounds like a simple thing not worth a mention, it was the thing that actually kept me alive. Writing didn’t need any fancy ‘contraband’ equipment and I was quickly able to escape into a world where I wasn’t being abused or being kept locked in a small cell like room. I was able to mentally escape. The staff couldn’t get me there. The thing is, you have to give yourself a purpose in this life, a motivation to continue living. No one else can give you this. I started to wake up each morning with the drive to get to work on my writing. I came up with such realistic characters I could almost hear them talking the manuscript back to me. The characters became my friends. I set myself tasks and each week submitted work to magazines. I gave myself a routine that I enjoyed. I ended up writing hundreds of poems and short stories and I ended up winning various awards and getting published numerous times. You know what? I was free. Maybe not physically, but mentally I was. In my writing, I could go wherever I wanted to go. I could do whatever I wanted to do without fearing that I’d be beaten to a pulp for saying something the staff didn’t like.
I write today because:
A. I get pleasure from it and believe I’m good at it. I feel like I just have that natural knack, a gift.
B. To inspire other people.
C. To ‘get it out’ of me so that I can move on.
D. To try and get a bestseller on the shelf so I can afford some nice things for myself.
Although I am not locked up, I still don’t feel free. I am still being targeted by authorities; most recently I was charged a huge fine for not paying for my mental health medication prescriptions even though I don’t work, despite citizens advice and other places ringing the NHS to explain this. Horrific things are still constantly happening to me, I keep losing friends and people that I’ve known to suicide because there is no mental health support anymore and if you ask for help your either get blatantly ignored or arrested. I have very few friends, have a suicidal father and struggle with everything daily. Anything I ever wanted has been taken away from me by the very authorities that were supposed to help me and support me. I can’t get work at all because everything I’m interested in has been shut off from me for the rest of my life and this often causes me to think about killing myself. Originally I wanted to work as a Lawyer helping people get off mental health sections but was advised I wouldn’t be allowed, so turned to studying English to teach, but then the teaching society told me I’d never be able to. I then looked at becoming a support worker, homeless outreach worker or probation officer but was told I couldn’t do any of those roles either. I’m barred from teaching, law, caring, banking, finance, police, army, navy, RSPCA, RSPCC, Childline, Samaritans and anything to do with working in hospitals, the medical sector, children, animals or vulnerable adults, which leaves very, very little. All because I have convictions for asking for mental health support. It’s just a vicious cycle. The system forces you to think about crime as a means of supporting yourself due to being constantly rejected for jobs due to a small error made during childhood. The unwell are getting culled away like foxes. Suicidal people are being told to go to AE only to wait for twelve hours to be given a printed out sheet of paper with the same number you rang on. I write to inspire people. Since I cannot get a job I make it my job to inspire people, help people and over the past few years I have gained a rather big following. People have reached out to me via social media to tell me that I have inspired and helped them and this fills me up with so much happiness and pride. I campaign a lot and am passionate about being a driving force that gets the system to change for the better. Since I have very little money I cannot go anywhere, pursue any hobbies such as tennis, rock climbing, travel etc so have to rely on writing as my way of virtual travel. Heck, I am not even allowed a UK passport so it’s doubtful I will ever get to see outside of this small island that is the UK. It makes me cry to think of this injustice. Since I can’t afford to do anything I am also very isolated still. I also am gay, have chronic health conditions that make having a partner difficult, I’m not allowed to adopt due to my past convictions and cannot carry a child due to the high risk of giving this condition to my child. It feels like everything that could go possibly wrong has unfortunately gone wrong with me, I feel so cursed. I write everyday and this keeps me alive, I get pleasure from it. It’s the one hobby that I can afford to do, it doesn’t cost anything and I can escape.
I am currently studying a BA Hons in English Literature & Creative Writing with The Open University, a course which I am finding really enjoyable and interesting. Over the past twenty or so years I have won various writing awards, been published in national and international writing awards and have written for charities such as Unlock, Time To Change, Mind etc. It is my hope that I can continue to improve as a writer and one day get internationally known, earning a living from my writing and being able to buy nice things for myself and travel. Also, my tenancy maybe coming to an end in the next few months due to benefit changes, which means going back to living in a hostel. I’ve never had a stable address in my life and until I gain employment or ‘make it’ as a writer it’s doubtful that I ever will as benefit changes rule where you are allowed to live.
I’ll end this article by quickly talking about my first short spell in prison, where I spoke in length with a woman serving a life sentence for murder, she had eight years left of her sentence. She wasn’t shy about revealing that piece of information either, she revealed this casually over a game of cards and coffee as if talking about the weather and, because I was quite new to mindfulness at the time, I was taken aback with amazement that she didn’t look depressed. Nope. This woman looked really happy. She oozed confidence; she was smiling, joking and maintaining steady eye contact with me. She spoke of marriage, she spoke of going to university, she spoke of getting stupid drunk and not being able to stand up. She was free in her mind and she said something to me that I’ll never forget as it is sums up the most important point of why I write brilliantly. She said:
''They can put bars on my windows but they can’t put bars on my mind.”
‘They can put bars on my fucking winda’s but they can’t put bars on my motherfuckin mind.’
Was how she, so eloquently exactly put it.
And this line says it all really. You can be hopeful anywhere; in a palace, in a prison. You will see what you want to see, whether you see the negatives or the positives. You can either see the beautiful speckled light rays of the autumnal sun, or you can mourn the dead leaves on the floor. Ultimately, you really are in control of your own happiness. Whether you complain about the past for 3 hours or watch a film with a hot chocolate, time will still pass. You can either live in the past where all your bad memories or mistakes lay, or you can look forward and live for today by doing things that make you happy. I’ve had an awful life, but I keep writing, it keeps me alive and maybe I will get a best seller on the shelves soon which will change my life. Writing is my life, it gives me so much hope and it gives me a reason to actually stay alive.