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WINTER

17th December


delighted to come and speak to the 27 students already studying at Goldsmiths as part of the scheme. Joe gives him his card. As they part company the novelist says with a sincerity that is not at all his usual public sardonic manner, "We'll make it happen - have a good visit."

We are called through to the visiting area. It looks like a cross between a community centre and a motorway services café. Each table has a number; we are told to wait at Number 6. The door opens and the prisoners file through one by one. A black man in his early 40s walks over to our table. "You must be Les," he says and reaches over to shake my hand. Noel has a six-year tariff for malicious wounding. He greets Joe and they go to the café to get a cup of tea and some chocolate. Razor is giving Will Self a hard time about the author's new-grown Elvis sideburns. "You look like that fucking guy from Supergrass." I overhear the visitor say self-mockingly, "You're not doing much for my self-esteem."

Noel returns and he tells me his story. He grew up in a working class district in north- west London. "When I was young my attitude was 'You've got something, you don't deserve to have it, so I am going to take it'. I didn't care about getting banged and I knew as soon as I got out I'd go back to my old ways." Grendon is a high security prison that offers offenders a specialised form of 'rehabilitation' that subjects inmates to critical therapy. Prisoners have to face up to their pasts. "It's not an easy thing to do,"

 


Noel says. "You have to take responsibility for the people you've hurt."

Noel started studying sociology as part of an Open University programme. His enthusiasm and love of ideas is immediately evident. I ask him if he has a favourite author or set of ideas. "It would have to be Pierre Bourdieu - you know his thing about cultural capital. I mean all the boys came up to visit me. I says to them, 'What the middle classes have got is not money. No, it's what they give their kids - cultural capital. They take them to the opera, they teach them how to study. You can't buy it and you can't steal it from them.'" I ask him if sociology has helped him to think about his own past differently. "Yeah, it has, the ideas have, but mostly it has given me a sense that you have to work at learning. I've got something to work for now and I know when I get out I won't be coming back here or a place like it."

We talk for close to an hour about sociologists from Beck and Giddens to Foucault. I tell him about the book that I had brought for him. He explains that all his books have to be sent via his tutor. As we leave he reaches out his hand again. "Joe has been like a lifeline to me, he's like my blood and I am grateful to him. I am grateful to you too. I mean no one else has got a lecturer coming up to see them." We say our goodbyes. Turning away I am choked and humbled by his sincerity.

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