Why I wrote ‘My Life Began At Forty’, by Michael Irwin

At forty years of age in 2007 I found myself in prison and received a twelve year sentence for drug trafficking: six in prison six on licence. In September 2007 whilst on remand at HMP Lewes, prison officers in England and Wales went on strike. At the time I could not believe what was happening and decided there and then that the world had gone mad.

Writing to keep busy

I started to write and record daily events as and when they happened. It started off as something to amuse myself and keep me occupied during the long lock ups. I was very confused at the time and had not yet settled into the institution of prison. At the same time I was doing an Open University Openings and was introduced to Philip Zimbardo and The Stamford Prison Experiment. Again, I could not believe what I was reading. An officer came to my cell and told me I had to go see the Senior Officer (SO) in the office. The way this officer spoke to me was one of anger and contempt; I was a piece of dirt, a scumbag, a nothing. I’d never met this officer before and my first thought was to answer back but something stopped me. I thought: “What gives you the right to speak to me in that matter. I have done nothing to you?”

I soon discovered that to question any member of staff was indeed to challenge the whole ethos of the institution of prison. For me, the only way I could challenge it was to record the madness and hope that some day I might get my experiences out there. Revenge being my first and only driving force. As the months and years ticked slowly by my attitude changed. I discovered that there were people far worse off than me, not only prisoners but staff as well. I read and helped other prisoners as much as I could and upon my return to Northern Ireland in March 2009, I started an Open University Degree in Criminology and Psychological Studies.

Writing to stay sane

This of course was like waving a red flag to a bull and the more I read the worse I got. My writing became somewhat cathartic as the arguments in my head escaped onto paper and ironically gave me a sense of peace. I realised that the power of the pen was much mightier than the sword and that hopefully one day I would get my ramblings into print and ‘out there’.

At the start of my writing I distinctly remember thinking: “If one person reads this (probably my Mum), my work here is done.” My Mum and many others have now read my book ‘My Life Began at Forty’ and as is with time, place and circumstance; things change. My desire now is that people can learn from my experience, that my words might make prisons a better place for prisoners, staff and society in general. I started off with revenge in mind, but it changed over the years to one of hope. It only took me ten years and I hope that someday, somewhere, someone might be sitting alone in a prison cell reading my book and thinking this is not the end it’s only the beginning.