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LIFE AFTER LIFE

Living in Spain after surviving 24 years in prison. Here I will be sharing my experiences as a writer and journalist, travelling all over the world interviewing dangerous people in dangerous places.

MEET DAVE, A SEAGULL AMONGST PIGEONS
26 December 2012 @ 19:50

 

 

 

Although I had taken a whole series of wicked oaths that I wouldn’t write a serious article for ‘Maxim’ again, the reality of the situation was that I needed them a whole lot more than they needed me. It broadened my profile to write for a number of magazines and it also prevented ‘Front’ from getting too complacent about my always writing exclusively for them. 

 

  In many ways the subject matter of the article was dear to me in that it was a tragic tale of someone who had once been a friend. I didn’t doubt that ‘Maxim’ would place the emphasis in all the wrong places and I wasn’t to be disappointed. Their emphasis was on the ‘cross-dressing bank robber dressed in a tight black leather mini-skirt’. To those of us who knew him well, Dave Martin was a whole lot more than that. For us, the emphasis was on a system that could turn a gentle, genuinely non-violent guy into something that was a parody of his former self. That it ended in tragedy was all too predictable. This, then, is the story of the life and tragic death of ‘Dave the Rave’.

 


 

GLOSSARY

 

                    ‘A’-man…a prisoner in the highest security category

 

                     Chaps…an almost mythical grouping of criminals whose ethos includes:-  

 

                                  professionalism in the pursuit of crime; loyalty to others of their         

 

                                  kind; hatred of and non-cooperation with authority, and courage.  

 

                                  Many aspire to membership, few qualify.

 

                     Chief….chief officer, the most senior, uniformed officer in the jail

 

                     Con…convict or prisoner

 

                     Face.. a person well-known amongst criminals, one of the ‘chaps’.

 

                     Firm…group of criminals joined together for a criminal project.

 

                     Fours…fourth landing

 

                     Met…..Metropolitan Police

 

                     Ones…ground floor landing

 

                     P.O….principal officer

 

                     Raver…prison homosexual

 

                     Slop out…to empty the contents of one’s chamber pot in the recess.

 

                     Staunch….loyal and trustworthy

 


 

  Around every prison there are always flocks of scruffy, moth-eaten pigeons, and Parkhurst  was no exception to this rule. There was a constant scrum of them out in the yard, fighting over a crust or some other scrap of discarded food. 

 

  Suddenly, a seagull would land amongst the throng, it’s pristine white feathers and clean lines making it stand out as a thing of beauty compared to it’s fellows. By comparison, it seemed a queen amongst birds.

 

  Dave Martin’s arrival at Parkhurst had all the imagery of a seagull landing amongst pigeons. Parkhurst was an old, down-at-heel prison, with the average age of the cons much higher than at most prisons. The weather hardly encouraged stylish dress either. On the other side of the hill to Albany Prison, Parkhurst took the brunt of the cold winds. The all-pervasive stench from the nearby sewage farm added to a general atmosphere of decay.

 

  Consequently, the cons dressed for comfort rather than appearance. Long gray overcoats and shapeless khaki raincoats were the order of the day. Old blue berets were pulled down tightly around the ears to keep out the chill. On the wings, people lounged around in untidy grey jumpers or discoloured ‘grandad’ vests. Had there been an award for Britain’s best dressed con, it would never have been won by an inmate of Parkhurst. You could imagine the entire population being transferred to some Russian gulag and no one looking a bit out of place.

 

  One day, into this sartorial wasteland, came Dave Martin. I was lounging in the cell doorway of Dave Bailey, a close friend, when I saw two warders coming along the ‘ones’ landing escorting a con I had never seen before.

 

  He was quite tall, but walked with his head bowed, giving him a stooping look. The most striking feature was his hair. It was a cascade of auburn that fell around his shoulders, bouncing and glistening with a sheen that the Silverkrin girl would have been proud of. It framed a long, angular face with a large, hawk-like nose. The nose was a decidedly ugly feature, but such was the softening effect of the hair that the overall impression was one of some beauty.

 

  His neck was long and thin, with a prominent Adam’s apple. Fastened around the midpoint was a silver necklace of inter-linked shields, each about an inch square, making it look like a silver band around his neck.  

 

  Narrow shoulders gave way to a chest bordering on the emaciated. This was flanked by two painfully thin arms. Draped around his upper body was what could only be described as a blouse. It was of a black silky material, with an exaggerated collar and long sleeves that ended in butterfly cuffs. From one wrist dangled a gold bracelet.

 

  The next striking feature was his trousers. The length and slenderness of his legs was highlighted by a pair of blue jeans with a bright yellow stripe of a different material down each outside seam. The stripes meant that he was an E-man, someone who had tried to escape and was now on the ‘watch’ list. 

 

  Such ‘watch’ list clothing was generally referred to as ‘patches’. These usually consisted of a shapeless pair of prison overalls with a piece of yellow material sewn down each side. This guy’s ‘patches’ though were a pair of faded denims, skintight at the waist, hips and thighs, but flaring out downwards from the knees. The wide, bright yellow stripe either side was an integral part of the jeans. They had clearly been tailored with some skill On his feet was a pair of brownish moccasins. The lack of any rigid sole made him drag his feet to cushion the impact as he ‘skated’ along.

 

  This was a startling apparition by any standards. On the ‘ones’ in Parkhurst, at 8.30 in the morning, it was incongruous in the extreme.

 

  “’Ere Dave. Have a look at this guy”, I managed to blurt out as he passed by on the other side of the landing. 

 

  Dave came and joined me in the doorway. By this time the figure was just disappearing through the door into ‘D’ wing, the wing where I lived. “Oh, that’s Dave Martin”, said Dave with a smile on his face. “They call him ‘Dave the Rave’ because he’s a raving pouf. He’s all right though. Very staunch, with plenty of guts. He’s a bit warm at escaping too. He was in the escape at Brixton and his gameness put a few of the so-called ‘chaps’ to shame. To be arriving at this time he must have just been slung out of Albany.”

 

  As I took all this information in I realised that, as he was going to be on the same wing as me, Dave Martin and I would probably come in contact with each other quite a bit. Now there was a rather ambivalent attitude to gays in most prisons, and Parkhurst was no exception. Generally speaking, they were beyond the pale. There was all the usual hypocrisy. Although quite a few of the ‘chaps’ would have a ‘dabble’ at different times and in different places, blatant, effeminate gays were not accepted in the company. 

 

  It was nothing to do with their being weak or not staunch, because some gays were very  violent indeed and would never ‘grass’, no matter what. Many of us were just locked into the code of the ‘chaps’, where gay behaviour was publicly condemned. Quite simply, it was blind, hypocritical prejudice and I was as guilty of it as anyone else.   

 

  When I returned to my wing a little later I saw the newcomer taking to Jeff, who lived in the next cell to me. Jeff was gay too. At just over five feet tall, with dark, Italian looks and flowing black hair, Jeff had been a sometime companion of several of the ‘chaps’ in other jails. Although he was generally accepted and everyone talked to him, the ‘chaps’ wouldn’t have him permanently in their company as a friend either.

 

  I knew him from the trouble at Albany a couple of years previously. He had acquitted himself well in the riot, as well as the subsequent hunger strike in the punishment block. He was the first person to welcome me when I arrived at Parkhurst. We weren’t close friends by any means. In truth, his homosexuality embarrassed me. However, it normally went unmentioned, unless he made a joke at his own expense. We often spoke and got on quite well.

 

  I suppose I could have guessed that he would link up with Dave. It transpired that they new each other from Albany. As I approached, Jeff did the introductions. I was immediately struck by Dave’s soft-spoken, intelligent, cultured manner. His large, bony hand shook mine with no trace of effeminacy. I was relieved that, like Jeff, Dave wasn’t exaggeratedly camp. In fact, neither was camp at all.

 

  As part of the introductions, Jeff mentioned that Dave was a clever and resourceful escape artist. That immediately pulled me up short. Jeff had obviously told Dave who the most resourceful escapers on the wing were and was trying to link him up with me in this respect.

 

  The hope of escaping was one of the things that kept me going. Further, my close friends were similarly engaged in trying to escape and we currently had quite a viable plan going. Secrecy was paramount. This, coupled with my prejudice against gays, meant that there was no way that Dave could be in on the plot, whatever his skills.

 

  There were four of us involved in the plan, Stewart, John, Mick and myself. We were part of a much bigger group of Londoners, many of whom suspected that we were plotting an escape but weren’t party to the details. That didn’t mean that collectively and individually they wouldn’t help us in any way they could. This ‘network’ was the one thing that Dave Martin didn’t, and probably couldn’t, have.

 

  Mick had been at Parkhurst for several  months and had managed to make some useful contacts. The most important of these was his relationship with a civilian tradesman in the ‘Works Department’. To all intents and purposes these were ordinary plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, etcetera, who worked for the prison. Whilst it was much frowned upon to get close to the warders, it was accepted that a ‘Works’ tradesman who treated the prisoners decently could be similarly treated in turn.

 

  In truth, the relationship was basically a financial one. Mick paid the civilian to bring in various articles like drink and tobacco. The problem, from my point of view, was that Mick liked to plan almost as an intellectual exercise. Very little actually got done. I prevailed on him though and he got the civilian to bring in two pairs of bolt-croppers. These were to cut the wire of the perimeter fencing. 

 

  I had been thinking of the small, single-handed variety and had even provided Mick with a British Standard reference number taken from a catalogue in one of the prison workshops. Mick said that he didn’t need it and insisted that he knew what he was doing. In the event, the civilian brought in two pairs of double-handed bolt-croppers, each about two feet long. As far as effectiveness went they were ideal, but for secrecy and ease of concealment, they were much too big. 

 

  To make matters worse, they were handed over to us in the compound at exercise time. We had the cover of a couple of hundred cons milling about, but very little else. The bolt-croppers were much too big to hide down our trousers, but luckily one guy was bringing in a pillowcase full of laundry. He took both pairs off us, stuffed them inside the pillowcase, draped a towel over the handles that protruded and blatantly walked into the wing past dozens of warders.  

 

  This was typical of the solidarity that existed amongst many cons at Parkhurst. Had the guy been caught, he would have lost six months remission, spent two months in solitary confinement, probably including 15 days of bread and water diet, and then been transferred out to another jail. Ironically, the guy wasn’t even a close friend, just someone who believed in the code of the ‘chaps’.

 

  Once inside the wing, we now had the problem of hiding them until they were needed. One pair we hid inside a partition wall up on the ‘fours’; the other was buried out on the sports-field by one of the gym orderlies as he marked the football pitch for the weekly game. Again, this orderly wasn’t a close friend, just a loyal, honourable guy.

 

  The civilian workers, just like the regular warders, had a bunch of keys that let them through strategic doors and gates. Now I asked Mick to get his man to give us an impression of the key that opened all the barred gates in the jail. We told him how to do it and he brought in a piece of cuttle-fish inside a matchbox, with a perfectly pressed impression of the key we needed.

 

  The next stage of the plan was to put the matchbox containing the impression inside a large soft toy which someone had made on a hobbies class and hand it out on a visit. It had to be handed out by someone who had children, which excluded the four of us. However, there was no shortage of volunteers. The only misgivings the guy who handed it out had was that his wife might have trouble getting the toy off his child in the car park, where it was due to be handed over to someone else.

 

  The impression was to go to ‘John the Bosch’, a well-known and very experienced ‘key man’ in London. It was no mean feat to make a copy of a Chubb key, yet ‘the Bosch’ had managed to do so on several of his prison sentences with a minimum of tools. Outside, with a workshop at his disposal, it should be comparatively easy for him. However, as the visit was still over two weeks away, we had to keep the impression hidden in the meantime. 

 

  Over the next few days I caught glimpses of Dave Martin about the wing. He rarely seemed to be wearing the same thing. There was a stylishly-tailored denim jacket made out of an overall jacket and a little thing in purple that could have been a tie-dyed gym vest. Two more coloured blouses and a cut-down gray overcoat added further depth to his wardrobe.

 

  The effect on the warders was quite amusing. They obviously knew he was a skilled escaper, but other than that they just didn’t know what to make of him. His camp appearance, if not his manner, embarrassed them. They were as much locked into their chauvinistic codes as we were.

 

  As an E-man he had to have regular security searches. Any warders detailed to carry out these searches came in for a ribbing from the others. Dave took full advantage of this. As sleight as he was, and there were some burly, brutal warders at Parkhurst, he wasn’t at all intimidated by them. If, for example, one of the warders insisted on him stripping right off, Dave would say something like, “Oh, if it’s just my arse you want to see…” and proceed to pull his trousers down, revealing coloured, frilly knickers. At this stage the warder would rapidly back off.

 

  This was quite a clever strategy by Dave, because one of his favourite hiding places for contraband items was behind his balls. After all, what warder is going to run his hands over a notorious gay’s private parts in full view of other warders? The outcome was that Dave hardly ever got a thorough search.  

 

  Most evenings, when allowed out for ‘association’, I would hang about the wing with Stewart and another friend of ours called Barry. They would smoke what they called ‘laughing baccy’ and the warders called cannabis. I thought ‘laughing baccy’ more appropriate, because when they were on it they spent most of the time laughing and fooling about. Both had well-developed senses of humour and both were quite mischievous with it.

 

  Sometimes when they were ‘off their faces’, they would suggest that we should pay a visit to ‘pouf’s parlour’. This was a reference to Jeff’s cell, where he would regularly sit with Dave. There was nothing remotely sexual in our visits. Barry and Stewart were notorious mickey-takers. They were obviously intrigued by the fact that two effeminate, ‘bitch’ poofs were together. A favourite joke was, “Who’s turn is it to wear the trousers this week?” It was just fun, with no vindictiveness. Everyone would laugh and enjoy themselves. 

 

  It was during these sessions that I got to see more of Dave’s character. In public, about the prison, he seemed quite shy and timid. There was no surprise about this. Parkhurst was an extremely violent prison. Many of the cons had been thrown out of other jails for their violent conduct. In many ways Parkhurst was the Home Office’s ‘end of the line’ for recalcitrant prisoners whom they had given up on reforming.

 

  Although he was no coward, Dave was no warrior either. He had never done martial arts and had no boxing skills, so his slender frame didn’t lend itself well to physical combat. Neither did he have the crazy viciousness that would drive him to use a knife or iron bar. So in a prison where there were many predatory, violent cons, he was at a considerable disadvantage. 

 

  Even for those of us who were quite capable of extreme violence, some of these ‘nutters’ could be a problem. But then the support of the ‘chaps’ would swing into operation. It would be treated as a ‘bit of work’. Plans would be made and weapons readied. The attack, when it came, would be unsuspected, short and extremely brutal. The offender would be cornered in his cell, the recess, or somewhere else out of sight of the warders. He would be coshed, stabbed and left severely injured. The weapons would be  disposed of and clothes would be changed. Other cons would be ready to say that the perpetrators had been with them, well out of the way, at the time of the attack.

 

  With this kind of network of support, even someone like Mike Tyson wouldn’t be too much of a problem. We prided ourselves though on the fact that we weren’t liberty takers and bullies. Anyone who got this treatment had made a move against us first. And it was the only way to survive in the violent world that was Parkhurst. 

 

  Dave didn’t have this kind of support. He would, quite literally, be at the mercy of some predatory bully who decided to have a go at him. This must have been all very un-nerving for him. 

 

  Even though he never spoke about his previous crimes, bit by bit, from various people, details did emerge. We knew he hadn’t been an armed robber or notoriously violent criminal, because none of us had ‘worked’ with him, heard of him, or knew others who had. So if ‘professionalism in the pursuit of crime’ is a pre-requisite for membership of the ‘chaps’, then Dave surely didn’t qualify. He would have been more aware of this than anyone.

 

    Dave grew up on a run-down, ‘sink’ estate in Highbury, the only child of honest, hardworking, if poor parents. This was no disbarment from anything, as the majority of us working class criminals had similar backgrounds. Unlike us though, there was no ‘borstal’ or ‘approved’ school to curb his teenage criminality, because he had worked as a racing car mechanic until his early twenties.

 

  Dave’s pride and joy was his Lotus-Carlton, on which he lavished hours of his spare time and hundreds of pounds of his wages. Its subsequent theft devastated him. I met his father, Ralph, many years later, still living in the dingy flat on the run-down estate, and he was adamant that this event had turned his formerly hardworking son to crime. Soon, Dave was stealing cars himself and, in 1970, was sentenced to three years for car theft. 

 

  He served part of this sentence in Maidstone Prison and despite serving time alongside him, fellow prisoners could hardly remember him. He was that quiet and unremarkable. Whatever other effects it had on him, Dave came out bi-sexual. A high degree of coercion and intimidation is used for sexual ends in jail and no one knows whether this change was brought about willingly.

 

  The lust for revenge he emerged with was entirely of his own volition. That it was directed at the Chief Superintendent who had supervised his arrest says as much about his un-professionalism as it does about his rebellious spirit. To the professional criminal, the police are an occupational hazard. They are hated as a species rather than as individuals. No professional criminal goes out of his way to unnecessarily antagonize them. Not Dave though. That the Chief Super was stationed at his local police station made his conduct all the more reckless. 

 

  Like Dave, the Super was a racing car enthusiast. His pride and joy was the classic Jaguar XK120 that he parked in the secure yard at the back of the police station. With car theft rapidly approaching epidemic proportions in London it was safe here. Or rather, it was safe from anyone but a person with the skills, determination and sheer cheek of Dave Martin!

 

  One moonless night in 1972, Dave, dressed in black camouflage clothing, climbed into the yard at the back of the police station. Lighted windows overlooked the yard and officers could be seen working at their desks. Occasionally, other officers parked or retrieved their cars from the yard. Quite unperturbed, Dave worked away quietly. 

 

  He cut the padlock on the yard gate, then broke into the XK120. Releasing the hand-break, he pushed the car through the now open gate and into the street. Here he started it up and drove away at speed. 

 

  One can only but imagine the Super’s embarrassment. Within hours the theft was the talk of the station. He was a man not known for his good humour either. His passion for the car was well-known. Station staff walked on egg shells lest they do something to incur his wrath. 

 

  Late the following afternoon, Dave phoned the station. The officer who answered asked the nature of his enquiry. Dave said that he wanted to speak to the Super. When the officer prevaricated saying that the Super was a busy man and couldn’t come to the phone for anyone, Dave interjected. “Tell him to come to the phone, otherwise I’ll set light to his fucking car”, he thundered.

 

  The Super was rage personified. “Who the hell are you and what do you know about my car?”, he roared into the phone. Every head in the large office turned to watch. 

 

  “You listen to me very carefully”, said Dave evenly, he was enjoying himself now. “I’ve got your car and if you don’t do exactly as I tell you I’m going to set it alight.”

 

  In the face of this threat all of the bluster went out of the Super’s tone. Noticeably lowering his voice he asked what Dave wanted. “I want you to repeat after me, ‘Please can I have my nice car back?”, instructed Dave. “Do it, or I’ll definitely burn the car.”

 

  The Super hesitated, then glanced surreptitiously around the office. Every eye was on him, but quickly turned away. Lowering his voice even more the Super pleaded, “Please can I have my car back?”

 

  “No, that’s not what I asked”, said Dave, as if reasoning with a child, “ you forgot to say ‘nice’. It’s ‘please can I have my nice car back?”

 

  Closing his eyes and screwing up his face the Super said, in a voice that was little more than a throaty whisper, “Please can I have my nice car back?”

 

  “Of course you can, Super, of course you can.” Dave’s tone was conciliatory now. “It’s at the airport.”

 

  “Which one?”, asked the Super eagerly.

 

  “Orly, you cunt”, said Dave as he put the phone down.

 

  Now this was all very funny stuff, but from a professional criminal’s point of view it was sheer stupidity. The outcome was that the Super and the local police concentrated all their attention on catching Dave. That he was wanted only for car theft, burglary and fraud didn‘t at all merit the resources they poured into the hunt.

 

   Soon there was a high-speed car chase, ending in a crash. Now it was time for the Super to have his laugh. Dave found himself in Brixton Prison charged with car theft and attempted murder as a result of the car chase. Further, his police report was so vindictive that he was placed on the escape list by the prison authorities and had to wear ‘patches’.

 

  For most people this would have been the end of the story, but not for Dave. His first priority was to escape. This was easier said than done, because, as an E-man, he was located in ‘A’ wing ........  

 

 

…… to be continued.......

 


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2 Comments


Andy said:
29 December 2012 @ 22:40

Nice writing, from the old school. Looking forward to the rest! Happy New Year.


Norman said:
30 December 2012 @ 09:58

Glad you're enjoying the story, Andy. To the best of my good knowledge it's absolutely true too, which makes it all the more tragic.
Happy New Year!
Norman


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