In 2009 I won a Sony God award for a short podcast I made with Les. Les was not long out of prison where he had served 6 years for GBH. Inside, he had a change of heart when he looked after a budgie. He said it taught him responsibility and friendship, even though he had 5 children and a wife outside. You can listen to his moving story here: Budgie
Well, he is now back inside for attempting to attack someone with a knife in a pub. Les says he had no intention of killing him, he just wanted to frighten him, which I am sure he did. He pleaded guilty and now faces more years behind bars. The budgie's magic faded and Les's old ways of dealing with pain or anger surfaced again as violence.
Les loves birds. He likes the freedom of them, their lives are a mystery and that is fascinating when your own is constrained by a lifelong battle with drink, drugs and fighting. His mother was a prostitute and violent towards him, his father was a funny, gentle thief who was largely absent and who died young. He was fostered out for most of his young life in homes, and in prison for much of the rest. He has lived a life as far removed from my own as it is possible to get. None of that provides any get-out clause, it just gives a context. Many people have terrible childhoods and chose not to maim and injure.
Last time I spoke to him we talked about the sea and the wildlife that soars free over the waves. I send him pictures of animals which he has put on the walls of his cell. He told me that he tries to watch the birds through the bars, but the window is high up and he can only really see the sky and so hopes that something, usually pigeons, flies past. He says he loves it when it rains. He stands on the bed and puts his face towards the window, which he can only open a few inches, and hopes the wind blows some raindrops onto his face. Only then does he know something free exists. Rain falling into a prison cell bringing tales of windswept oceans and mountains is an evocative image.
I will continue to send him pictures of wildness and talk to him about those places where you can go and be yourself with your thoughts, with no walls, no threats, no anger, no heartache, and hope it makes some difference. I am not naive, I can't change anyone, but I can in a small way be a human raindrop. It is then up to Les to square up to the time he has left on earth.