ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John G. Sutton is an internationally published best selling author, a poet, songwriter and professional psychic consultant. John is currently the feature editor of the monthly journal of Spiritualism ‘Psychic World’ in which he writes a column. His recent credits include ‘Psychic Pets’ published by Bloomsbury. ‘The Psychic World of Derek Acorah’ published by Piatkus. ‘Animals Make You Feel Better’ published by Element/Penguin. John is the webmaster of the highly rated website WWW. Psychicworld.net
Born in Lancashire 1949 John was half educated in the town of Leigh where one of his teachers was the Oscar winning screenwriter Colin Welland. Following five years service in HM Forces as an NCO John joined HM Prison Service in January 1975 at Strangeways Jail in Manchester. This book tells the true story of what happened next.
John G. Sutton now lives in his native Lancashire with his wife Mary whom he married on his 21st birthday in August 1970. Their only child, Dulcie Jane lives close by with her husband Robert and their two wonderful children Aaron and Jasper, they call John ‘Grandpa Grumps’.
This book is dedicated to my dear wife Mary who had to live through these very turbulent times supporting me all the way. Thank you for believing in me when the going was tough. Mary Sutton an amazing lady, my wife.
My Father’s Ghost
Wiltshire, England 1972
Early one dismal December morning with the rain sweeping in on a cold western wind I stood facing the stark bleakness of Stonehenge. The huge dark stones towered above me glistening wet under a sombre slate grey sky. My wife Mary and I were there together trying to tune in our spiritual energies to the Neolithic magnificence of this ancient monument. We lived in Army quarters just a few miles away in a grubby run down dump of a terraced house provided by the military. I was a soldier, an NCO serving with the Royal Artillery Regiment stationed at Lark Hill a few miles to the south east of Stonehenge. I had joined the Army in 1968 to escape the slow decline and despair of working night shifts in the remains of Lancashire’s cotton mills. I knew in my heart that I was a writer, a poet, a spiritual man and my wife Mary seriously supported the dreams I had of one day becoming an author. In the meantime I soldiered on to earn a living, studying poetry and classical literature in my spare time. We were there at Stonehenge on a cold Sunday in mid December of the year 1972 seeking inspiration and insights into our uncertain destiny. As I placed my hand against the chill damp surface of the stone I heard a silent voice speak my name ‘John….John the world will know your name’. I told Mary what I heard, she just smiled a gentle enigmatic smile at me, shook the raindrops off her long waterproof jacket pointed to the road and said ‘I need a hot cup of tea’.
My parents had been to visit us some weeks previously in our shambolic residence located in the middle of a crumbling red brick terrace. It looked like some deranged architect had designed a Salford slum and misplaced it amidst the wild rolling Wiltshire plains. Our house on Vimy Crescent sported a big hand painted sign ‘You Got It, KEEP IT’ placed there by me as I had just about had it to the neck with door to door salesmen. Not only did the sign keep them away and yes it did work, it helped my father locate our home. He recognised the attitude expressed in the warning on my door. We had enjoyed a wonderful weekend with my parents visiting Salisbury and going to see a concert by The Syd Lawrence Orchestra. It was my custom to keep in reasonably close contact with my mother and father I was of the habit of calling them by public telephone once a week, usually on a Friday evening. Strangely there had been no answer when I called on this last Friday, so I had tried again on the Saturday but still no reply. On our way home to the cold comforts of our grim quarter I decided to try calling again. Stopping my dark blue VW Beetle by the red telephone box at the end of our road Mary and I both got out and went to call my mother and father. I dialled the number, the ringing tone I heard clearly, but still no one picked up and I was now somewhat concerned as this had never happened before. After a few minutes of no reply I replaced the handset and we left the telephone box. The door closed behind me and as it did so I glanced at my wife Mary, she had a weird far away look in her eyes and was suddenly very pale. ‘The door, it closed with a mighty boom John, I know this is horrible but your father is ill, he will not recover. John your father is going to die’. For a moment we stood together silently in the rain staring at that bright red telephone box as the enormity of what Mary had said slowly sank in.
18 Months Later:
Ejecting difficult drunks from a tough town local nightclub deep inside the industrial north of England was not exactly spiritually uplifting work. I uplifted quite a few wannabe hard men though and some even put up a fight but resistance was useless, I usually dumped them in the back alley, very gently of course. The year was 1974 and political correctness was unheard of, well at least in my part of Manchester anyway. It was a time when if you were foolish enough to go looking for trouble you didn’t have to look very far. For a while I acted as close protection to celebrities working with, amongst others, Frankie Laine the American singer with hits such as ‘High Noon’, he was a complete gentleman and so kind he needed only someone to get him through the crowds of adoring fans. Then there was Tommy Cooper, he was a big man, huge hands and it was always one bottle of gin before the show, he would stand behind the stage curtain chuckling and swigging the stuff, then another after he had accepted his standing ovation. On his last night at the club Tommy stuffed something in my dinner jacket pocket and said ‘Son, have a drink on me’ it was a tea bag. Jack Jones the American heartthrob crooner was a really arrogant pain in the backside, he insisted on the bar closing as he sang, the way her performed, well in my opinion he would have been better with the bar doing loud trade. I was with Angelo Dundee on protection, a quiet man who refused to meet the public, my job was to make sure they left him well alone, they did. I had that knack of imparting the message to stay clear without speaking a word. They called me ‘Big John’ because at 5 foot 9 inches I was the smallest of all the bouncers working in the club. In fact Angelo signed his autograph for me ‘To John, quite big, Angelo Dundee’. I’d been around a bit, served in The British Army as an NCO and won the Regimental Boxing championship at Middleweight. I had even trained with the Special Air Services in winter warfare and was a veteran of Libya 1969 when Colonel Ghadaffi overthrew King Idris then sent his troops to surround my battalion at RAF El Adam miles inside the Sahara desert. But here I was 25 years of age, going sweet nowhere. Life after the military was proving to be rather tougher than I had imagined, so whilst I looked for my next opportunity I earned a living man-handling boozed-up losers and louts. It was at times dangerous work and on more than one occasion I ended up in the accident and emergency unit having my wounds stitched up. One night a pair of half baked idiots refused to leave the club, the cleaners swept up round them and in the end sent for the bouncers to move them out. I tried reasoning, they just did not want to take my advice, so I suggested I carry them out very gently, I mean seriously I did try, the next thing I was wearing a glass pint-pot hat with the jagged end sticking into my skull. Hot red blood squirted through my hair running down the forehead dripping into my eyes. I can still hear the man screaming as I lifted him through the fire-exit face first ‘Yah. Ahhhhh! You’ve bust my bastard nose! Aaahhh!’ One of the cleaning staff ran and told my wife Mary who worked part time behind the cocktail bar. I believe when they advised that someone had attacked her husband she had replied ‘God help them’. The wound I sustained that night required stitching at A&E, the crescent shaped scar is still visible in my scalp and the blood ruined my dark blue velvet evening jacket.
It was the morning after another late night at ‘Blightys’ the night club where we worked and my wife Mary was with me in our small rented flat situated on the old road out of the town of Leigh, Lancashire. On the coffee table before me was yesterday’s copy of The Daily Mirror, I was drinking a cup of hot black nescafe’ casually looking through the paper when I saw a display advertisement that showed a man in uniform underneath the heading ‘Join The Modern Prison Service’. Whilst serving in Germany with the British Army of The Rhine or BAOR, I had been the Regimental Provost Corporal. That job entailed me running the guard house and managing the day to day regime of soldiers serving short periods of imprisonment, locking them up, shouting orders, nothing too demanding. It was work that I had not particularly enjoyed but obviously someone in a position of authority had considered I was the man for the job. Maybe it was my natural ability to address adversaries in an appropriate uncompromising manner, well one that was effective. That or the fact I was the undisputed boxing champion and looked like I meant business. As I stared at that advert my mind went back to Germany and I believed I could do it, but what would Mary think as she knew I wanted to be a writer and a poet not a jailer.
My life had changed dramatically on the 15th of May 1973 as my father Frank Sutton, who had been ill for a few months with leukaemia, passed away. Mary’s vision outside the telephone box that dark December day just eighteen months before had been sadly correct. He was just 44 years of age, had been a Police CID Detective Inspector with a promising career, a wife, three grown children and suddenly he was gone. To help my mother cope with life I had purchased my discharge from the army and assisted in the traumatic months that followed. Move of house, change of dynamics, new way to manage day to day and all that follows the early death of the head of a family and my father had been that and so much more. It was some weeks into June of 1973 that I first discovered he was not in fact dead but alive and well in the next dimension of life that we know as the world of spirit. My mother had called round to our flat to join us for the evening meal and was in the kitchen helping Mary when I arrived home. As I walked in through the door I looked in absolute amazement as I saw sitting in a chair there in our back lounge my father exactly as he was in life. Yet he could not be there, my mind instantly registered that thought and I said ‘what are you doing here Dad?’ He was dressed in his traditional dark suit, white shirt and tie, with dark wavy hair and a subtle, slightly sardonic smile. In the very next instant he had disappeared. And yet he was not gone, I knew he was watching over me and had returned to tell me that life was eternal, there is no death.
Over the next year or so I would on occasion get a brief fleeting glimpse of my father’s spirit most frequently in places which were of some significance to him. In my mind I would hear his voice though he did not specifically guide or instruct me in any way this was more of a reassuring few words, often no more than an inflection of my name ‘John’ spoken as only my dear father could, in a way that meant without any doubt, do that boy and you will get all you are asking for. You see my father came from a long line of serious disciplinarians and he, like his own father and grandfather before him, was not a man to be messed with. So just by the way I heard his spirit speak my name did I receive his directions from beyond the veil that we mistakenly call death.
With Mary by my side on our settee I showed her the advert in The Daily Mirror and asked what she thought about me applying for a job as a Prison Officer. We had nothing Mary and I, or just about next to nothing. The place we lived in was a one bedroom rented flat that in fact constituted the lower half of a two bedroom terraced property. I had a clapped out old Triumph Herald car that was a faded shade of white and rust though it ran, well most of the time at least. We had been married four years on the 6th of August and had so far accumulated some mis-matched second hand furniture, a stack of scratched, worn out 45 rpm records, a record player that sometimes worked, a faulty B/W television, a bad tempered ankle-biter Jack Russell dog Mary had called Snowy and apart from what we wore that was about it. Mary worked full time in a little antique shop I had helped my mother set up called ‘Then & Now Antiques’ off the main shopping street in the town of Leigh. I had been offered more work at the nightclub where Mary also did some shifts behind the bar but it was pointless with absolutely no prospects whatsoever. As she read through the advertisement in the paper I looked thoughtlessly across the room at our beat up TV set, it was switched off, but in that instant I saw something move and there on the screen appeared the face of my father and he was smiling. ‘Give it a try John’ said Mary without too much enthusiasm and handed me back the paper. I immediately wrote my name and address on the form that accompanied the newspaper advert, placed it in an envelope and posted it to The Prison Service.
I waited for weeks before I received a response to my enquiry sent to The Prison Service and when it came I was more than a little daunted by the contents of the reply. They wanted not only a highly detailed application form completed listing every employer I had ever worked for, along with written references from them, but also independent references from persons of good standing within the community. My army service record was ‘Exemplary’ which is as good as it can be, I had to forward proof of this, details of all my family along with dates of birth, it seemed endless but I persevered. In one part of the application I had to write a short account of why I wanted the job of a Prison Officer, if they had seen my old banger outside they would have known. But I wrote something meaningful about offering offenders hope for the future by setting a good example and as I wrote I realised that this was for me actually true. In the army I had been required to lock up the soldiers in the guard house but I had always empathised with them putting myself in their place, much as in there but for fortune go I. In my short essay I told of the many times I would speak with the soldiers and tell them to look ahead as this was just a passing moment in their young lives. There were amongst the prisoners those that felt suicidal. The military prison is a harsh regime indeed, to those in despair I always gave time explaining that what they were doing was taking it all far too seriously. In the years ahead they would look back and laugh at this so all they had to do was smile and accept that time would solve everything. I even sang to them some silly songs, I knew lots of George Formby’s music and would make even the most desperate laugh as they could see that here was the notorious Regimental tough guy making fun of the crazy system. Some had wives who would come to the guard house asking to see their husbands and whilst I could not authorise that I would always take time to advise them that their loved one was well and in good spirits. What I wrote must have done the trick because when I sent the lengthy application form back I quite quickly received a letter calling me for a written examination or test to be undertaken in offices on Southall Street in Manchester.
HMP Strangeways is a huge Victorian jail built in 1868 and situated just outside the city centre of Manchester adjoining Southall Street. The offices where I had to attend to take the tests were built into the massive sixteen foot high brick walls of the prison. Inside a giant prison officer wearing a black uniform, white shirt and a severe frown guided me to a waiting room where I joined around twenty other applicants. I had a good look at my fellow travellers and thought they appeared a pretty smart bunch, suits and ties were the order of the day and most looked the part. There were, if memory serves me well, two female recruits, the rest were all men varying in age from around 25 to 45 years. We passed a few moments together, wished each other luck and were soon ushered in to the examination room where a huge bald headed Prison Officer was acting as the adjudicator. I can clearly recall the Civil Service examination paper that all potential recruits to Her Majesty’s Prison Service had to pass before they could be considered for interview. One of the multiple choice questions was: What would you not use to measure a distance between two objects a) rope b) elastic band c) chain d) wheel There were many such questions and within the first few minutes I fathomed out that as this was a very strictly timed test paper there had to be a catch. That catch was, to me, very obvious, within the fifty or so questions there were some that were so complex that answering them would require serious concentration and time. These seemed to jump off the paper at me as I looked at it and I am certain I was shown these by my late father who had himself passed all the police promotion examinations first time with top marks. Now it was my turn and I just sailed through all the questions that were easy, to me they were, then when I had done that I went back to the difficult ones and took my time. Following the series of written papers all potential recruits were taken to a waiting room whilst the staff marked the completed documents. After a short time the giant Prison Officer with the frown came in and began reading out a list of names saying as he read these would the individual please proceed back to the examination room. My name was not on the list so I stayed put along with just a handful of others. We were the ones that had been successful. I had passed the written examination no problem and was told that same day I would be required to attend for an interview and medical examination on a date to be notified.
I can remember how excited I was driving my clunking and banging Triumph Herald car home to tell Mary the good news. Late that afternoon in our rented flat, with Snowy the ankle-biter nibbling at my sock, I told Mary that I had passed the Civil Service examination and was now awaiting a date for interview to be held at Strangeways Prison within the next month. Maybe I could get that job, no more late night bar room brawls dragging drunks out of a club and battling in the broken back streets. We both hoped so and went for a quiet drink to celebrate. As I passed Mary a glass of wine and proposed a toast to success she seemed to hesitate. ‘To your success as a writer John’ she said as our glasses clinked together. I certainly shared her sentiments but wasn’t too sure they were looking for poets telling stories at HMP Strangeways.
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