The Crime Makes The Man?

Posted: 12 March 2017 in Prisons
Tags: , ,
Chris Donovan

The late Chris Donovan

Like an Ian McEwan novel, one single event changes lives, utterly, forever.  But this is not fiction.  Two young men, brothers Chris and Phil go out to see their sister after a hard day at work.  They don’t come home that night.  One never comes back.

Chris and Phil were walking along a main road on their way, when they came face to face with a group of around fourteen youngsters, male and female. With no prior warning, no conversation, the boys started to punch, pushing the brothers to the ground.  Kicking, stamping on their heads. Phil was unconscious with a broken nose.  Chris unconscious was left deliberately in the main road. Cars swerved to avoid, but not all could.  Chris was hit by car and his mangled body dragged 40 feet down the road.  Chris died in hospital. Phil’s injuries still impact his life, even after all this time.  Chris’s body was so badly damaged that the mortician had to strap the body like an Egyptian mummy.

In court
Three key boys (15, 16, 19) were arrested though others were identified.  All three were found guilty of murder. Two got 9 to 10 years, the third got a minimum of six years.  Chris’s father said “We found out in court that they had been drinking and taking drugs for most of the evening. In fact, one of them said he was drinking from the moment he left school that day.”

But in prison
This tragic story was told by Chris and Phil’s parents to prisoners in HMP Millbank*.  I was there, helping lead a victim awareness course there (Sycamore Tree).  The prisoners were all moved by what they heard.  They were shocked by the details (more graphic than that told here).  They were amazed, stunned even, that these parents would be willing to talk in honest, unpreachy ways to prisoners.  They were surprised that the parents wanted the prisoners to change their ways, not be locked up and forgotten forever.

But many did not embrace the implications of all this.  Prisoners get lectured at an awful lot, and though the poor parents were anything but that, many of the men had deep and effective mental filters helping them avoid the personal implications of this tragedy.

  • Did these parents want to be admired? Thought of as wonderful people?  Certainly not.
  • Did all 20 men consider that they might have supplied those very drugs? Or had violent behaviour that could have led to this killing? Some thought they might.  But others did not consider their potential involvement in this kind of tragedy.

Darren*, a man who knows a thing or two about substance supply, said “it is all about education.  These kids were behaving that way because they were poorly brought up by their parent. And what they needed is to understand, they need education.”  Darren is right – but only to a limited extent.  He resists that his crime, his behaviour brings horrors to other Chris’s and Phil’s.  He does not want to see that his drugs enable other kids to behave in ways that are likely to lead to addiction, physical abuse, and even death.

Does the crime make the man?
The trouble is that the Darrens* of HMP Millbank and elsewhere see themselves as “drug dealers” per se.  Not as people who happen to sell drugs, stab people, steal goods, etc.  Getting rid of the criminal behaviour for some is like getting rid of a deep deep part of themselves.  And they resist letting go of this identity.

Even so – a number were up for meaningful change.  Abid* was up for total change.  He’s inside for a long time and seeks to sever a life of crime.  He is seeking a new himself.  By the end of the course, Darren* – always courteous and polite – had not shifted this thinking that much. As far as anyone can tell.  Abid* was always up for admitting his crime and the danger it caused others.  The tragic tale of Chris and Phil and Sycamore Tree is speeding him on his way to being a new man.


p.s. for what happens when Chris’s parents meet the actual perpetrators, see the next blog.
See also The Chris Donovan Trust
* name changed


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s