All Too Human by Howard Brown

Chapter One and other extracts

Links: Chapter One | All Too Human: On Relationships | On Prison | On Religion | On Racism

Chapter One

I know the rule, try not to get out of bed until it's time to get up. Interrupting your sleep during the night makes your brain start a fresh rest cycle so when you get up in the morning you feel like you've hardly had any slumber. Couldn't help it though, had to take a leak, courtesy of a late-night tipple and things on my mind. So when Nia nudged me to answer the door at 7.15am I felt like a zombie. She said it was the postman. That was all I needed. I'm not in the habit of answering the door to strangers in my dressing gown. Makes me feel vulnerable. So I dragged on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt as I stumbled out of the bedroom. The knocking was incessant, 'Postman, knocking like that it had better be something special!' It seems I have a penchant for understatement. The racket must have made Nia look out of the window because as I reached the top of the stairs I half-heard her voice, 'Howard, it's the police! '

I paused, 'What do they want?' was my first thought, maybe someone I know must have messed up, which is pretty much standard for someone involved in the fight game, but as far as I know had nothing to do with me. When I opened the door I was met with a reasonable enough question, 'Howard Brown?', I replied in the affirmative while thinking, I know policemen are big guys, but this is ridiculous, this fellow, and the goliaths I clocked standing behind him were as big as WWE wrestlers. 'We have a warrant to search these premises on suspicion of drug trafficking', 'sure' I said after pretending to read the piece of paper that was held to my face. They marched authoritatively past me into the through-lounge, so I followed, and it was only when I opened the blinds to the rear of the house that I saw umpteen guys in my back garden, and another couple scrambling over my garage roof. It's amazing how nonplussed you can be in a situation like that. I think it's the numbness you feel when you're caught in a whirlwind.

Before I could sensibly collect my thoughts, my diaries, telephone books, and other paperwork were on my dining room table, with me sat down and being questioned, oh so politely, by two detectives from The National Crime Squad. Don't know how I noticed, but one of the officers searching the house opened the patio doors, and Pepe was in. That was all I needed. Pepe was the family pet, a brown-and-white coloured Lop-eared rabbit, whose only interest when he came into the house was to chew whatever furniture or wiring he came across, because of this I made sure that he spent most of his time outside in his hutch unless one of the family were prepared to baby-sit him. He was so keen to come inside that if you opened the patio doors he would barge into your legs in a bid to get past. I stood up sharply, 'He'll bite through the wiring!' Well, you've never seen anything so surreal in your life, as four of those gargantuan police officers tried to catch that rabbit in what seemed like an excerpt from the Keystone Cops, and yet by all accounts was supposed to be a serious crime procedure. The image will stay with me for the rest of my life.

This episode and the politeness of the arresting officers made it difficult for me to comprehend the gravity of the situation. They even asked my wife, if she and the children were 'decent' before venturing upstairs to continue their search. Nia, bless her, kept her composure, was her usual demure self, and took our two younger children, Chris and Kelis to school in as apparently unruffled a manner as one could wish. She was to break down woefully later on. Thankfully our older son, Nick, was away on a degree course in Bedford and was spared this onslaught on the family home.

The kid-gloves attitude of the officers was unexpected as I know from chats with various friends and associates that one of the psychological ploys of the police is to handcuff your partner and march her out of the door to the police station in front of you. That sight certainly puts the pressure on. But thankfully, none of that for me and for whatever reason that I was arrested in such a dignified manner, I'm very grateful.

Having some knowledge of the legal system and feeling that this was all one big misunderstanding, I chose what I felt was the best course of action when under interview at the police station, I replied with the same answer to every question. 'No comment, no comment, no comment.'

All Too Human: On Relationships:

It's funny how much your perception can change over such a short period of time. When I arrived back at the family home I should have taken my first impressions as an omen of things to come. The house that I had spent the last five years in seemed like somewhere else entirely, it looked completely alien. Its size, colours, and the shape of the rooms seemed to have changed somehow, in actuality they hadn't, it was me, I had new eyes. And I wasn't the only one, so had Nia. Any displays of affection from me were met with a coldness, and firmness, that I had rarely seen her demonstrate. It wasn't the welcome home that I was expecting, or even appreciated at the time, but I have to admit, in a sense it was impressive.

For the first time in twenty years she had to handle all of the affairs of the family without my presence, and she did it glowingly. I wasn't the only one that had bags of time to do some soul-searching, she had too, and her conclusion was quite simple. My arrest and imprisonment were the straw that broke the camel's back. She'd had enough.

Over the years, although I'm a quite doting father, I'd neglected her on the emotional front. She always complained about how much I horsed around with the children, but never with her, and it was a valid argument. It's one of those female statements that guys can think are petty, but on reflection, they're far from it. I was to learn another valuable lesson over the coming months, and any guys out there that have experienced it will tell you the same. When a woman has seriously made up her mind to end a relationship, it's over. No amount of logic and 'too little, too late' hugs and kisses is going to change that fact. Just take it on the chin and move on. Better to end the relationship on a mature and amicable note than to leave it in hostility, especially if you value the emotional welfare of your children.

The truth, as Nia continually pointed out, was that any distress that we'd experienced as a couple during our relationship was invariably my fault. If I'd listened to her more often, some of the problems that we'd encountered in life could have been avoided. It's true. I'm as stubborn as a mule at the best of times, so what could I say? Not a lot.

All Too Human: On Relationships:

A topic which seems constantly under discussion in male prisons is what behaviour is acceptable from spouses and girlfriends while their man is locked up. Sometimes I felt so much in the minority in my opinions that I began to question my own ethical stance on the subject.

Many men, and indeed women, feel that once they enter into a committed relationship that they are in ownership of another human being, it's something that I could never get my head around. Unsurprisingly, the problem is predominantly a male one. If someone is with you it's through choice which should be the whole essence of the partnership. Couples meet and are mutually attracted by looks, mannerisms, and traits that they find impressive, and yet many men try to deny the individuality of their new partner in such a dominant fashion that heartache, unhappiness and resentment must surely ensue. Is it any wonder that the relaxed atmosphere and fun of courtship soon dissipates, to be replaced by a relationship based upon psychological power struggles, insecurity, and mistrust? Naturally then, when Mr Dominant gets locked up, his opposite number rediscovers her independence, sense of fun, and what it was like to be a free spirit, and wants to keep it. I'm not espousing something I've read in a book here as in a lot of ways I'm a guilty party, but fail to see how if anyone analyses the situation objectively it is possible to arrive at any other conclusion.

It used to be great fun watching from the balcony as guys waited until the last possible moment before the telephones were switched off to ring their wives and girlfriends at night, many of them checking that she was staying indoors and leading as mundane an existence as they were. I've never seen anything more pathetic or indeed selfish. If she was going out, how on earth could a phone call at eight o'clock at night prevent that? Sure, he might succeed in heightening her guilt for a while, but how long would that last, and what would happen when the resentment of him not being there for her kicked in? I could just imagine some of the girls that I saw on visits, dolled up to the nines and clearly good time girls, psyching themselves up for their acting roles when the insecure numbskulls called. They must have been dressed to the hilt, while putting on the yawns and listless voices that the guys inside wanted to hear as if they were ready for milk, cookies, and a soap opera or two before dragging themselves off to bed. I don't think so! And I certainly hoped not. The bulk of them were not responsible for their man being inside so why should they be imprisoned too? I raised these points during many conversations only to be met with the most mind-numbing of arguments, and indeed ferocity, about what would and wouldn't happen if she was found to have been out enjoying herself, or even worse decide that the relationship was over.

To my mind it all boiled down to a matter of choice, most of us were serving years and not months, so to demand that someone wait unreasonable lengths of time to continue a relationship was an insanely self-centred notion. Even if the con had been the most loving of husbands and fathers, if he was to be away for many years then surely the decision to wait for him or move on in life was entirely the woman's.

The only thing that I asked for in my own case was honesty. If Nia was seeing someone else then that would be perfectly amicable so long as she wasn't hiding the relationship and be seeking to continue ours when I got out as if she had waited patiently for me. I knew she was too strong and classy for that kind of nonsense anyway, and I did feel for the guys who were being led astray in that fashion. I cannot recount the amount of times that someone came to my pad to 'let out' emotionally about how badly their woman had treated them, how disappointed they were, and ask what I would do if I was in their position. I always listened patiently while usually leaning towards the female point of view when offering comment, even when I received my own 'Dear John'.

All Too Human: On Relationships:

When I was back at the warehouse I was the only inmate, and everyone there, the warehouse lads, the office and sales staff, and the ladies in the accounts department all knew that I was out of jail on day release and all credit to them as they treated me exceptionally well. If anything I was the object of much curiosity and enjoyed being quizzed about jail, the effect on my family life, and incarcerations other psychological influences. I told them all that in terms of relationships jail was more effective than any marriage guidance counsellor could ever be and I noted that both men and women paid particular attention when I stressed that side of prison life.

If you do not learn to appreciate your partner and the value of their company there is no doubt a spell in the slammer would be the short, sharp shock that would teach you quickly to appreciate the nuances of life. Most guys inside would give their right arm to be able to spend just one evening in the company of their loved ones, the things that seem so insignificant, like holding hands, a walk in the park, or just being able to sit on the same sofa, become luxuries. But when you are on the outside they can get taken for granted. I know because I was often so guilty of being too busy for that kind of thing. To my shame, much too often. It is not a mistake that I will make again.

All Too Human: On Prison

Although infrequent, once or twice a year an inmate would be caught in a compromising situation with a female member of staff. She would be dismissed from her post, and he would be shipped to a higher security facility, which would also be a setback to the inmate's proposed date of release. In one situation, one clinching couple got engaged to be married as soon as the female half exited the prison service. I thought that particular state of affairs was quite romantic to be honest. Shit happens. But the over-riding reason for staff dismissal, and one that on occasion saw police attend the premises and criminal charges brought against the officers concerned, was supplying drugs. Prison is a hotbed for corruption.

The average weekly take home pay of the staff at Rye Hill was in the region of two and a half hundred pounds, so one can only imagine how they felt when they saw prisoners visitors roll up in executive saloons, convertible sports cars and four wheel drive vehicles on a weekly basis. When you factor in the predatory business nature of many cons, and the intimate relationships that were developed because of the close proximity and endless hours that inmates and warders spent together, then it was inevitable that the weaker willed staff would become susceptible to the opportunity to double their wages with little effort and apparently minimal risk.

In most cases all they were required to do was meet with an outside contact provided by the inmate and bring a small amount of contraband through the, for them, lapse prison security, and pass it on to their new 'employer'. The amount of money made by supplying drugs in prison is truly mindboggling, and for some inmates to have made their fortune while incarcerated was not unusual, some intentionally failing to obtain early release until they had feathered their nest to the required extent. From a strictly commercial point of view I could see their point as many businessmen would give their eyeteeth to monopolise a captive market, and for the jail drug barons this was exactly the opportunity that presented itself.

Officers would earn a commission that was meagre in comparison, but one that doubled their weekly take home pay for just a few minutes work. In many cases these were not creatures of the highest ambition, or intellect. As a result the obvious increase in their disposable income would often be on display to their colleagues who having put two and two together would sooner or later inform. They were not the only ones to do this and jealous inmates would often do the same. Loose lips sink ships, and prison is nothing if not an ocean of ego and gossip. There are no fictional soap operas to compare, and for a guy that thought that he knew a lot about life, I quickly learned that in this world I was a novice.

All Too Human: On Prison

The reasons why I was constantly approached to engage in illicit ventures were quite simple. I was well educated, knew a lot of people, and kept myself to myself, which are the basic requirements for successful criminal activity.

In one instance I was asked by some Columbians that I had befriended, older men that were clearly well-heeled and respected, to liaise with a business contact of theirs in Scotland after we had all been released. He received shipments of cocaine from them through his business and they felt that I would be an ideal distributor to add to their operation, even trusting me to work on a sale and return basis. In other words, with no financial risk whatsoever.

Similar offers to take part in cannabis distribution were ten a penny, and both English, Dutch, and Italian inmates that I either worked with for a period of time in industries, or were resident on my unit, came to my cell at various times because they wanted to initiate future business.

I cannot say that I was not tempted, my sentence had created a bitterness in me towards the system that took quite some time to subside, and the amount of easy money on offer was always substantial, but whenever I thought things through, my answer would always be no. If I were a single man with no children I am not so sure that I would have been quite so pensive. Money has a way of dulling the keenest of consciences and it seemed to me that if I had taken up the offer of working with some of the more efficient contacts in question the risk would have been minimal and the profits most certainly worthwhile. I always wonder how those guys are getting on and I admit quite readily that I liked many of them a great deal.

All Too Human: On Prison

I must impress, I had no idea that prison was such a hotbed for romance. The amount of dates fixed up by inmates for other inmates was something to behold and an enigma that I could never figure out. Many of the girls had never previously met the blind date in question and yet were willing to commence a relationship, if one can use that term in such an instance, and wait for their new 'partners' to finish their sentence. I got used to that abnormality quite quickly and decided that there must be a certain type of woman that finds the allure of a man pitted against society quite appealing. I could think of no other reason why they would voluntarily put themselves through such torture. And indeed there were a few instances that were straight out of Hollywood.

One lad, Mark, had a medical condition that required him to be taken outside the facility for anaesthetic surgery, as a category 'C' prisoner this entailed him being handcuffed and escorted by two officers to and from the hospital grounds. The procedure to remedy his ailment required that he stay on ward overnight, and he was handcuffed to his sick bed throughout the entire pre and post operation procedure, with one member of prison staff permanently at his side. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that he enjoyed celebrity status at the hospital as the sight of him being led around in his handcuffed state brought onlookers to a standstill. Children that were misbehaving straightened up in his presence and the reaction from adults was also quite remarkable. Mark told me that the bulk of people that he came across offered him words of encouragement and were quite polite, and some, feeling that such a display of restraints were unnecessary, were openly antagonistic to the accompanying officers. One old lady even berated them and made it plain that they should be ashamed of themselves for what they were doing to him. What he enjoyed even more was that the nurses made much fuss of him, smiling, chatting, and clearing his path while ushering him through to the allocated doctor with zero delay. Clearly there is an aphrodisiac quality in the notion of the caged animal. He lapped it up.

To top all this, his story of the pretty attendant nurse that took his prison details and promised to write to him, made great dinner time chat and boy did he get quizzed. Guys can be such lechers, working their way from questions about her personality and hair colour to the size of her breasts in surgical fashion. When he received the promised letter and photographs it was the icing on the cake, and our new star had to prepare a fresh round of after-dinner speeches, and all this within two days of being back at Rye Hill. He showed his mementoes off with pride to all his inner circle and I have to say she was a very attractive girl. I sometimes wonder if the allure faded after his release and he became a 'regular guy'. I hope not, from his stories and later correspondence I got the impression that she was as keen on him as he was on her. Maybe it was not a match made in heaven, but who can tell? It would be a great anecdote when entertaining close friends, and very hard to top that's for sure.

All Too Human: On Religion

After the research that I had conducted while on bail I had already made up my mind that I was going to spend my time in prison writing a book about the origin of organised religion, its reliance on earlier belief systems, and the political scenarios that influenced its development. I was sure that I had recognised many points that were not mentioned in the books that I had read, and that there was plenty of scope for original material. It was obvious that such a venture would be immense and that I could never have dreamed of undertaking it had I not been incarcerated. I was equally sure that I would find it quite fulfilling whether my work was a commercial success or not. The completion of any such work is invariably left to posterity and is almost as much a testament to someone's existence as having children. It seems that there is often a plus side to adversity.

One of the points of interest for me concerned the authenticity of both the Bible and the Koran as the authorised and infallible words of a supreme being. If such a claim were true then the information in both books would be flawless and original. I learned very early on in my reading that they most positively were not.

All Too Human: On Religion

My stance on religion is not an inverted evangelicalism, in fact, after these books are published I don't mind if I never, ever, discuss the subject again. The whole purpose of writing Rulers & Lies was to spread some factual background information in a 'did you guys know about this?' fashion. My research was topical for its time and just as much so for my predicament. Religion is a big issue in prison, mainly due to the fact that so many people of so many different beliefs are living in such close proximity to each other. That is why so many guys who were fed up with being bombarded with appeals for conversion used me to deflect such attention. I was an anomaly, but a popular one.

There is certainly nothing wrong with anyone depending upon a religious belief to get them through this journey called life, my only beef comes when it is rammed down your throat as a necessity by people who are indoctrinated, pious, ill informed, or even worse, have their own hidden agenda. My feelings are augmented when this leads to violence, cruelty, and ill-feeling, or as is usual enters the realm of politics. And so I felt it necessary, especially as I had the time, to point out the flaws I had spotted in the major worship systems just to take a little shine off their piety, to make them think twice before acting so self-righteously in that superior 'we're-so-humble-but-right' approach that impresses so many people. The biggest contradiction of all is that this behaviour is magnified, excuse the term, to high heaven, when law-breakers are incarcerated, with Christians and Muslims by far the worst culprits.

All Too Human: On Religion

From an historic viewpoint it is unfortunate that religion has become synonymous with ethics and morals, fuelling the belief that without it mankind would live like wild-men in chaos and depravity. This is the biggest falsehood, religion was merely the traditional conduit used to organise social structures and educate the masses, and this long before the advent of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Modern man does not need to accept myths and legends as literal events in order to live a life of respect and decency, notwithstanding the fact that the holy books that purport these fantastic stories are both manipulative and deceptive. The role played by religion, can easily be filled by educated parenting and the school classroom.

Surely any sensible adult would agree that mythical scaremongering is not only unnecessary, as young minds are brighter than we give them credit for, but children are also fragile and such falsehoods cause deep-rooted psychological damage. The biblical line that all humans are 'born in sin' is one of the most abhorrent and repressive doctrines of all time and many children have suffered both physical and mental abuse because of such nonsense. Religious absolutism that espouses what is unequivocally 'good' and what is unquestionably 'bad' limits the thought process, humanity, and consideration of other points of view. In many cases it is the real danger as 'good' and 'bad' are not always set in stone but often merely points of view.

All Too Human: On Racism

One topic I find truly fascinating is racism. The notion that any ethnic group should consider themselves superior to another because of their skin tone or culture is the most comical of delusions. I know that in reality it is a serious and always ugly subject, but I've got to be honest, when I listen to the rants of some far right extremists I laugh so much it makes my belly hurt.

I remember an article written by the Daily Mirror columnist Tony Parsons on the subject which asked the question, 'Which white man could look at Muhammad Ali in his prime and hand on heart say that he was superior to him?' Unanimously voted the greatest athlete of the 20th century, the young Ali had the good looks, physique, and athleticism of an Olympian god and for a man that had little formal education was acknowledged by many academics as having one of the sharpest minds they had ever encountered. In fact, the author and journalist, George Plimpton, lobbied for one of his quips to be officially credited as being the shortest poem on record. It never happened.

The poem currently credited with this distinction is one that I love because to my mind it sums up my current focus perfectly. It is called Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes and is generally thought to have been penned by the American poet Strickland Gillilan. It reads:

Adam. Had 'em.

Personally, I've a suspicion this clever little ode is about a lot more than tiny organisms, or Fleas, which is its alternative title, as it aptly describes the effect of organised religion on the minds of believers. Still, I digress. While visiting Oxford University during the height of the American Civil Rights issue Ali was asked to recite one of his famous off-the-cuff rhymes by the attending group of excited students. He thought for a moment, raised his arms, and said:


Tony Parsons could hardly have picked a better example to make his point and it seems George Plimpton had a strong case too.

I take the same stance on the racial issue with black people who espouse this supremacy nonsense. Wladimir Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing champion, whose elder brother, Vitali, gave Lennox Lewis such a fright in his final world heavyweight title defence is just shy of six feet seven inches tall and has a physique that would give Bruce Lee a run for his money. Not to mention the fact that he's movie star handsome, fluent in five languages, and has a doctorate in sports science. I do not know of any black man that could try to convince me he is superior to this Ukrainian superman without me rolling around in laughter. (In 2002 the Klitschko brothers were selected to work specifically for the UNESCO [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] which supports more than 180 projects in 87 countries).

If you are a winner of the genetic lottery, as Messrs Ali, Klitschko, and many others of both sexes and every ethnic group have been, it does not make you superior to other humans, you're just lucky. Superior is all about behaviour, which means that sometimes we are all at the top, and equally, all slide down and around in the barrel when the mood takes us. I remember being shown around his lovely house many years ago by a well-heeled middle-class Englishman, Stan Ball, who said to me as I took in his success, 'Howard, in spite of all this I realise I'm no better than anyone else,... but no one is better than me either.' I think that goes for us all.

Links: Chapter One | All Too Human: On Relationships | On Prison | On Religion | On Racism