Extract: 'Before you can say prison romance, the smooth bass line of 'Sexy Thing' is flowing from the bus speakers'
In 2012, Gary Cunningham was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. In an exclusive extract from his new book, 'Joys of Joy', Gary gets his first taste of prison life as he is transferred to his new home
'I sentence you to three-and-a-half years, Mr Cunningham," bellowed the immaculately well-kept Judge Bolan as he peered at me from atop his skinny glasses. His perfectly groomed silver hair reminded me of the male model black-and-white photos you would see in a Dublin's barber shop, circa 1980. It was March 27, 2012 and my world was crashing.
Thank you VERY much Judge Bolan, ya sanctimonious prick were the words that came flooding into my mind as the magnolia-painted walls of Court 5 came closing in on top of me, but who was I kidding? Our good judge here didn't force me to go and collect copious amounts of grass off Billy the Greek (who in fact hails from Dingle!) And I am not talking about the grass you cut with the lawnmower on a sunny midsummer's day! No, I'm referring to the fuckin' grass you fuckin' smoke which, ironically enough, I don't. I just agreed to go and collect it for the very people who are not sitting here today receiving three-and-a-half years in prison, but sure, I'll "take it on the chin, like a good right hook", as me aul' grandda would say...
I was left on my own for what seemed like an eternity, the fear now truly choking my subconscious into submission. My mind was in the middle of another horrible scenario, played out like that of a true Hitchcock classic, when I was jolted back to reality by the sound of keys rattling in the blood red cell door.
"You right, Gary?" came the words from a friendly, grey-haired officer, who looked like he has been in this job since he could walk. ("Not really," I thought, "for you see there has been a heinous mistake, one which this court should feel really embarrassed over, for you see, I'm feckin' innocent!")
"Yes, guard," I reply, noting a slight quiver in my voice.
"I'm not a guard son, and don't go calling the officers in The Joy guard neither. We're officers son."
"Sorry... thanks," I reply.
"Ah you're grand. Now, put the hands together Gary, I have to put the auld bracelets on in case ya try to do a runner!"
I raise both my hands, and realise for the first time that I'm trembling, a small bead of sweat beginning its descent from my hairline.
"First time locked up, son?" asks the officer in a real aul' Dubs voice. "Yeah," I reply.
"You'll be grand, son, don't worry. Keep the head down and just get on with things," he says in a calming tone.
There is something about this officer... a warmth. I wouldn't insult him by guessing his age, but his grey hair and worn face tell the tale of a man who has seen a lot of comings and goings in this place, so I find some comfort in his words. He clamps both of my wrists with the cuffs, taking care not to make them too uncomfortable, and then leads me down a brilliant white corridor, which after several twists and turns, brings us into a large open area where the prison vans await... await to bring the cattle to the slaughterhouse... Jaysus, my head is racing with crazy, and most probably ridiculous, thoughts.
I'm led on to a bus. Now I must point out that this is not the 19a bringing you into town (although the stench of urine is somewhat similar), no, no, it's a fuckin' mobile prison, a cell on wheels. It is depressingly grey inside, with very little light. Small doors line its corridors, both left and right, each a holding compartment for its unwilling passengers. "You're holdin' us up there mate," jokes an officer behind me. Wanker, I think to myself.
I'm put into the second last 'cell' on the left. It's smaller than a toilet cubicle, but again the smell is the same! As soon as the officer slams and locks the door (which I don't quite get, as I'm still fuckin' cuffed. Not even Paul fuckin' Daniels could escape this one), the uncontrollable shaking starts. A chill has entered my body and is having its fun with me. I look to my left to see if I can spot anyone else, but all I see is the torso of the officer, as he turns and heads back up the bus. Then, silence. An eerie, deathly silence. I look out the window to my right, but see nothing but black. The silence seems to linger forever before it's broken by a low murmur as the officers chat among themselves. Then... bang! A door slams shut, shuffling of feet, a key rattled into the ignition, the engine turns over and...
"Here, is there any young wans on this yoke?'" roars a male voice from one of the cells.
There is a slight pause, then, "Yeah! There's two of us!" comes the reply of a female.
Then another male voice, "Here, anyone got a light?"
"Yeah," replies yet another male, "I'll get this wanker of a screw to open me up and give it to ya yeah? Officer, Officer... give your man a light here will ya?"
Fuckin' hell! It's like my fellow passengers were all hot-wired to the bus's engine, and when the officer turned the key they all sparked into life.
"Here, young wan, what's your name?" asks the first voice I heard.
"Which fuckin' one of us?" comes the sarcastic reply.
"Whichever one of yas is goin' to write me an auld filthy letter," answers our Don Wan.
This brings half a grin to my face.
"Amy," shouts out one of the female passengers.
"Here, Amy? I'm John, yeah? Are ya goodlookin' Amy?" John seems to be in full swing now.
"I'm fuckin' massive," laughs Amy.
"Ah, I'm not into fat birds Amy!" says John. Now I'm laughing.
"Fuck off ya sap, I meant massive gorgeous!" counters Amy.
"Good stuff, Amy," says John. "Will ya write to me?"
"I might," says Amy, trying to play hard to get.
"Have ya a fella?" asks the ever-so-subtle John.
"Yeah, but fuck him, poxy prick never even showed up in the court today. Bleedin' pox!"
"Ah, did he not, Amy? I'd never do that to ya chicken," replies John.
Amy's laugh begins to ring through the dank bus. I have to say, John and Amy's blossoming romance is a welcome distraction. "Where ya from Amy?" asks John.
"Finglas," says Amy proudly.
"Yeah?" asks John. "Do ya know Debbie O'Nail?"
"Yeah, I do ... fuckin' auld bitch she is!"
The whole bus has erupted into laughter at this response from Amy.
"That's me ex," says John through stifled laughter.
There is a pause. "Oh... are you Johnner Smith?" You can sense the anticipation in Amy's voice.
"The very one, Amy," replies an extremely proud Johnner.
"Ohhhh... you're a bleedin' ride," gushes Amy.
Again the laughter erupts, this time accompanied by wolf whistles.
"I'd say you're fuckin' gorgeous Amy, are ya?" asks Johnner, hopefully.
"Well I'd get plastic surgery to look whatever way you wanted me to Johnner!" she replied.
This time I even think I hear the officers joining in with our chorus of laughter, as one of them opens the cell facing me and takes a lighter for one of the other lads.
"Here, officer, will ya throw on the aul' radio?" asks the recipient of said lighter.
And before you could say 'prison romance' the silky smooth bass line from 'Sexy Thing' is flowing from the bus speakers.
"There's your song now, Johnner," shouts Amy.
"You're mad," replies Johnner.
"I'm mad about you," counters Amy.
This has been so distracting that when I look out the window to my right and see the Mater Hospital, I'm shocked to realise we've arrived.
"78876555, that's me prison number, Johnner, yeah? Write to me now, won't ya?" shouts Amy.
Johnner suddenly replies with an uncharacteristic and curt, "Yep".
The bus comes to a stuttering halt as an officer comes down to unlock Amy's 'cell' door, and the door of another female. "I'll write ya filthy replies, Johnner ... so make sure ya write!" gushes Amy.
Johnner has gone very quiet all of a sudden. Amy begins her final goodbyes, and as her voice becomes more faint, Johnner pipes up, "Jaysus! Very fuckin' clingy lads, wha? Fuck that! It would be like havin' me mott fuckin' write to me!"
The remainder of us again join together in laughter. Noel Gallagher is telling Sally she can wait on the radio, as the bus comes to a stop for a second, final time. We have arrived at my new home for the next three-and-a-half years ... The Joy!
This is an edited extract of Joys of Joy: Finding Myself in an Irish Prison by Gary Cunningham. It is published by The Liffey Press, priced at €14.95