Behan was brought up in a strongly republican household, his mother was a close friend of Michael Collins. When he was 16 in Behan went to Liverpool with some explosives with the intention of blowing up the docks. He was arrested and because of his age ended in the borstal system. He was in borstal in England until his release in The novel is split into three Autobiographical novel by Irish writer Brendan Behan.
|Published (Last):||3 February 2004|
|PDF File Size:||3.4 Mb|
|ePub File Size:||15.4 Mb|
|Price:||Free* [*Free Regsitration Required]|
This only lasted for some five minutes, though at the time it seemed more like fifty minutes, in fact like an eternity. It was a devastating, unforgettable experience that almost certainly changed the course of my life.
I was always wild and stubborn, difficult to handle, rebellious. For me, as I approached my teens, authority was something to be thwarted and opposed at every turn and so I was constantly getting into trouble. I wanted excitement and enjoyed taking risks. At first this was confined to roaming the streets in a gang of lads, indulging in fights with other gangs; but eventually I found this too tame and I started to go for more daring exploits.
I embarked on a series of break-ins to office buildings and factories, just for thrills. For quite some time I got away with it but in the end I was caught and had to appear in juvenile court. As I was only fourteen I escaped with just a lecture and a stern warning that any other offenses would be dealt with severely.
I simply ignored all this and was soon at it again, stealing from shops and breaking into houses and stores. Inevitably, I was ultimately caught and again brought before the court. This time I was sent to an approved school for a year. The purpose of such places was to reform youth like me - to improve their social attitudes and behaviour - but in my case things did not work out that way.
It was just another opportunity for me to tilt at authority. I defied the rules continually and was generally uncooperative and wilful. The school was strict and the cane and strap were used often to punish breaches of regulations and many other types of offences. My attitude was such that I frequently had to report for a caning or a strapping, sometimes on the bare bottom; but although these punish- ments always hurt, in some cases considerably, they only deterred me for a short period of time before yet again I was breaking the rules, being insolent and behaving in a thoroughly insubordinate fashion.
Even some quite severe doses of the cane failed to tame my anarchic and rebellious nature. As a result, my sentence of one year was ex- tended by six months, and I finally left the establishment when I was fifteen and a half, still anti-social and strongly anti-authority.
During the following six months or so, I lived a more normal life, residing in a local authority hostel for young people and working on a building site which toughened me up physically and made me quite muscular.
After this, I simply drifted and before long resumed my wayward behaviour. To cut a long story short, I ended up being sent to a Borstal for eighteen months, aged almost sixteen and a half. The regime was far stricter than at the approved school, aimed at producing obedience and compliance so as to return the inmates to society fully rehabilitated. That was the theory; in practice it was more like a training scheme for apprentice law-breakers, with some fifty teenage lads living together, all whom knew plenty about all sorts of villainy.
Corporal punishment was a prominent feature, and my persistent disobedience earned me repeated sessions with the cane. These were invariably well laid on by a well-built officer and hurt severely, so that even my obstinate spirit was subdued for a time.
Yet these punishments did not quell me permanently, and also I was gaining a reputation among the lads as someone who could take a really stiff caning, so I felt the need to live up to it. Each time I was brought back and punished with the cane, receiving ten strokes on the first occasion and fifteen for the second. On each occasion I had to report to the punishment room in the evening, dressed only in underpants, bedroom slippers and dressing gown.
The cane cracked down with real severity, wringing yells from me and making me regret committing the offence. However, although these stiff canings made me decide against escaping again, they failed to break my stubborn attitude and wilfulness.
I continued to challenge and oppose the system in every way and at the slightest opportunity. Clearly this could not be allowed to carry on for much longer, after various instances of insubordination, I was called before the superintendent. He said that since repeated warnings and punishments had apparently done little to improve my attitude to authority, something far more drastic might shortly be necessary. I was told that he would tolerate no more of my rebellious behaviour and that he was at the limit of his patience.
This was a threat that had to be taken seriously. Although now a tall and quite sturdy lad approaching seventeen and a half, I knew that the Birch was a formidable instrument. Even at Borstal it was rarely used, being reserved for serious offenses such as assaulting an officer or for persistent escapes. Some of the lads had told me about birching,, for several months before I arrived at the Borstal a youth named Ron had been given fifteen strokes with the Birch after absconding for the seventh time.
The punishment had taken place in the gymnasium, witnessed by all the others lads and the entire staff. That occasion was still a talking point among us at recreation periods, and it had obviously been a memorable experience for all concerned, it still was a talking point in recreation periods. Ron was still there, as were some of the inmates that had been present at the birching.
He was now nearly eighteen and due for release very soon, he was a big, heavy young man, quiet and well -behaved; but he assured me that at one time his attitude and conduct had been very similar to mine, especially in his refusal to conform. When I asked him what had changed all this, he frankly stated that it had been his birching.
Of course, this is why the punishment was carried out in public - to impress the watching lads, as so deter them from committing serious breaches of discipline. Such conversations as these were to fill my thoughts subsequently. At the time, though, I could scarcely believe that such tough lads could be affected by a thrashing, however severe. They were all, as I was, well used to getting soundly beaten on the bare bottom; nobody liked it but it was just part of the life we led in those days of strict custodial regimes, and we accepted it.
So, if their accounts were to be believed, a birching had to be something special. Although I suspected that the horror stories about the birch had been somewhat exaggerated for my benefit, all the lads seemed to have a genuine fear of it; so for all my rebellious nature, and belief that I could take a good hiding better than most, I was not to keen to check it out for myself, whether or not these tales were authentic.
For a while, I more or less toed the line and kept out of major trouble, the incident that led to disaster blew up unexpectedly and suddenly.
Some of us had been on an outside working party, and on out return there was a rush for the washrooms so as to be first in the evening meal queue.
A certain amount of pushing, shoving and general horseplay developed, in which I was involved - nothing untoward, it often happened. Well, on this occasion one of the stroppier officers was on duty and he piled into the fracas with some force.
It just happened that I was one of the lads he grabbed, violently, swinging me round to face him; and on the spur of the moment, I punched him in the stomach, hard enough to double him up for a few moments. When he recovered, he placed me on report.
The superintendent ordered solitary confinement for me, and two days later I appeared in court, charged with assaulting an officer. The outcome was inevitable and I was rapidly found guilty. My previous record was then placed before the magistrate to help him decide upon the sentence. After reading it, he told me that my file revealed a continuous story of misconduct and insubordination, culminating in the grave offence for which I had just been convicted.
He went on. You will receive eighteen strokes of the birch. Dazed, I was taken from the court and then back to solitary confinement in the Borstal - a small room with a bunk bed, a small wooden table and little else. The Superintendent had told me that my sentence had to wait confirmation from the Home Office, which would take two weeks or more; meantime I would remain in isolation from the other lads.
With my dreadful record, I knew there was no point in my appealing against the sentence - my one and only slender hope of evading the birch was that the Home Office might not confirm it. I clutched at this straw during the lonely fortnight that followed.
I certainly had plenty of time in which to reflect on my dire situation. Back in my room, I lay on my bunk, my mind in a whirl. I grew more and more apprehensive about my impending punishment. I kept recalling bits of information; the birch was made from many long twigs bound together. The twigs ended in a spray at the business end, wide enough to punish the entire area of the buttocks with each stroke. They were kept soaking in water for several days before use so as to make them very supple and thus maximise the sting they gave.
Apparently, the fine ends of the birch caused an exceedingly sharp sting. My mind was filled with only one thing; that the following evening I had to bend over the end of a vaulting horse, bare bottom, to take eighteen full-strength strokes of the dreaded birch from a hefty Borstal officer, in public.
Somehow it all seemed unreal, a bad dream. The day dragged on. Supper came along a bit later on, then I resumed thinking about the next evening. All I could focus on was my appointment with the birch. How much would it hurt? Was it really as bad as people made out? And if it was, how well would I take it? I felt so tense that sleep eluded me for hours, but eventually I managed to drop off. If only they would come and do it to me here and now and get it over with…………… It was a grey day in November.
Every now and then I could hear rain falling and the wind in the trees. Getting through that day was going to be almost as hard to bear as the punishment. As the hours slowly went by, my fear steadily rose. I had to admit to myself that the sentence was perfectly fair and deserved; it had been decreed by the law, so there was no chance of dodging it. My clothes were taken away and I was issued with a pair of underpants, some soft, zip-up bedroom slippers and a dressing-gown.
After putting these on, I was accompanied back to my room where shortly afterwards a light supper arrived. All I could hope was that the punishing properties of the birch had been over-stated………..
Finally, after what seemed the longest two hours ever, I heard keys unlocking my door at about ten minutes to eight. Two officers had come, and without a word each took one of my arms. They conducted me down a long passage, then another, gripping me firmly as I padded along in my slippers until we reached the gymnasium. One of the officers pushed open the double doors while the other one steered me through them. Out of the corner of my eye I could see some of the assembled lads, but I stared straight ahead, where I noticed that the preparations for my punishment had been made.
At the far end of the Gym, the floor level had been raised by putting down stage blocks, and on top of these, in the centre, was a vaulting horse. I was now led down the room until I was just a few feet away from the stage. The other officer now ordered me to stand to attention, then stand at ease, then come to attention again.
Dry-mouthed and heart beating fast, I obeyed.
Full Cast & Crew
Follow the Author