I met Terry when I was working in a Lifer Unit (mostly murderers) in a jail in the North of the UK. I’d read about him beforehand. Everyone had. If you had grown up in the nineteen eighties you were bound to know his name. He was the guy who’d been kidnapped in Beirut and spent the next four years out of five chained to a radiator for twenty three and a half hours a day. Man, you had to give the guy credit. He’d come out of it with no hatred of his jailers and, according to the press, his mental health intact. I’m not sure mine would have been.
He came up the metal stairs and into the center. All smiles. He is enormous. His head seemed to fill the room as he loomed over us all. I kept thinking, “Four years in a little room chained to a radiator….why didn’t he use his giant size, rip it off the wall and batter his captors to death with it?”
The prisoners sat in a circle listening to his story: a bit like their own stories, except he’d done nothing wrong, and they got to eat more than stale bread. Plus they could take a shit when they wanted. The ability not to have to shit yourself is never to be underestimated when it comes to measuring human rights.
He told us about making a chess set from stale bread so, for one year, he could play chess with a fellow captive. It was humbling to hear how someone could cope in such awful circumstances. I guess that’s why the lads liked him. Their bread was always fresh but they knew the feeling of a locked door and of being a long way from the people they loved.
The lads all asked him great questions – how to rebuild their lives; was he scared; did he feel revenge? I sat for a while knowing I really should join in, show an example on behalf of the never-imprisoned.
“Err…Terry,” I began, “When you were chained up, did you ever think about ripping the radiator from the wall and battering the bad men to death, you know….escape?”
Silence in the room. Twenty pairs of murderer’s eyes looked at me. Terry put his head down and stared at the floor before he answered. “No, I didn’t. It was a pretty good set of shackles and chains, plus the radiator was not going to budge no matter what I did….. But thanks for your question.”
I shut up from then on. When he left, in total calm and peace and complete serenity, he shook my hand and looked down on me deep into my eyes. “God bless you,” he said.
He meant it.