Activism and ... Converting the enemy

IssueNovember 2013

I was taken from the court to the cells below, waving goodbye to friends and supporters at the back of the court. My pocket were emptied and everything in a bag. After several hours, I, with some male and female prisoners from other cells, was taken to a bus lined both side with small cells each capable of holding one person. I was able to see our progress through the tunnel and the streets of Liverpool, just an ordinary bus to the public gaze. Eventually, we arrive at Walton prison....

I am put into a cell with a young bloke from Preston, who calls himself ‘Dutch’, having lived in Holland for some years. At first, we are very wary of each other. This good-looking young man is over six feet and has a skinhead, which makes him look a very hard case. I confess this made me very nervous.

He asks to read my newspapers (not taken from me) and one of them is the communist weekly, 7 Days. This leads to an open discussion on politics, and at first I thought him to be a National Front member. ‘Not that crowd’, he said, ‘they are only dumb thugs who bring disrepute on us.’ It turns out that he is in the British Nationalist Movement, and he took part in the Cenotaph demonstration some weeks earlier, in London, which got plenty of media coverage.

I want you to consider a small cell, with no escape, and me a communist with this racist nazi. It had me thinking that it was a set-up to put us in the same cell. Yet the outcome was hours of discussion on politics and the racism of Britain, until we went off to sleep.

The next morning was something of a shock for me. Dutch was only in his vest, and tattooed on the tops of both arms a huge swastika, on his chest was a Loyalist flag of Ireland, and on the side of his neck his nom-de-plume, ‘Dutch’. I remember saying: ‘You have got it bad’, and he just laughed.

That day, Saturday, and all the next day, we both went on and on with our various points of view on politics. His remarks regarding Blacks and Jews were terrible, but slowly, as the hours passed, they were made less frequently. ‘Did you know,’ he said, ‘our party are holding top-level talks with the leaders of the Blacks in this country on their repatriation back to their homelands?’

Another one: ‘Did you know, in Preston we have two housing estates, one is dominantly white and the other dominantly black, the black is filthy, and the white one is clean and beautiful.’

I said it was impossible for many black people to get jobs, and that they are allocated to the already poor housing areas – ‘and you, Dutch, can only see the surface of the problem, the colour of their skin’.

Before we parted, late on Monday morning, Dutch said to me: ‘Gordon, I just thought I’d like you to know I’m going to have these bloody swastikas tattooed-over when I get home.’

Topics: Activism