Michael was one of the first prisoners I met when I started work with the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) back in 1993. He was serving a life sentence in Wormwood Scrubs prison in West London. He had a job in the prison kitchen which was where I first met him. The following is a text he sent me on 24th February, 2018.
“You came into my life at the Scrubs when I most needed it. I’ve often thought that if you hadn’t popped up in the kitchen and given me hope, I don’t know if the person you see today would even be in existence. Nuala Kelly took over nurturing me by mail. That was taken over by various people until Sr Agnes Hunt came along. You came back into my life after release and I started to meet the lovely people through your good self at the Irish Chaplaincy. I will somehow get to see and thank the ones in the country that I have the most affinity to. God bless you all within the ICPO as you are the most important part of my life.”
Michael had serious health problems following his release and was in and out of hospital. He was settled in approved premises in Camberwell, South London and was fortunate to have helpful and understanding probation officers and social workers. Michael was worth helping as he always met you half way. I think he was happiest when he had a small cleaning job for a short time in Friends House on the Euston Road in London. He really loved it there and was so proud that he had a job and could meet with people. He soon acquired a reputation for being friendly and helpful and was well liked by the staff and the people he encountered daily.
I have the happiest memories of meeting with him there for a coffee and chat and seeing how best we could help him. Michael was always grateful for the help and support he received from the ICPO and in his many texts to me always asked after the staff both here and in Maynooth. Nuala Kelly kept mailing him – even sending him a Christmas card last December. In fact, I don’t know of any prisoner who was more appreciative of the help and support offered by the ICPO.
On a personal note, I’m not likely to forget Michael because of an accident on a visit to meet him in his hostel. It happened on a very dark winter’s night two years ago when I tripped over some tree branches which were strewn across the narrow unlit pathway and broke my left foot. The upshot was that I had to wear a foot boot for weeks afterwards and even today the foot isn’t properly healed. So every time I feel a slight twinge in my left foot, I instinctively think of Michael!
I mentioned this, to some laughter, to the gathering of six people who attended his Cremation on Monday 13th April 2021. No family members or relatives were present for the service; only those who had known him, post release, and helped him settle back into the community.
Michael was special. May he rest in peace.