As you read this Big Rinty is dying in Shepton Mallet prison. Big Rinty? You wouldn’t know of him unless you’d read Erwin James’ columns in the Guardian or his books. Big Rinty is one of the long-term prisoners with whom James became friends during the twenty years of his life sentence. Here’s James:
Rinty was sentenced to life in 1976. He served 18 years and was released in 1994. After three years, during which he worked and lived an honest, industrious life, he was arrested and charged with assault.
The jury at his ensuing trial returned from their deliberations after eight minutes. “Not guilty,” said the foreman. Any other defendant would have walked free. But Rinty, on “life-licence”, was recalled to prison, requiring “psychological assessment”, said the official blurb on the paperwork. He played the game for a while, completed a couple of “offending behaviour” courses. But eventually grew tired of the dishonesty of it all.
“That psychologist is nuts,” he proclaimed after several consultations. Finally, he withdrew from co-operating with her schemes and programmes. [Source]
And now he’s dying.
I went to see him at the time in the hospital where they had put him in his own little room. He was a pathetic sight. He was laid on his back with tubes in his mouth and up his nose attached to bags of liquid hanging from a frame above his bed. Most pathetic of all was the chain attaching his wrist to the wrist of the prison officer who was sat next to him engrossed in a dog-eared copy of Hello! magazine. Another prison officer sat on the other side of the bed twiddling his thumbs and thinking about the overtime money this extra guard duty was earning him. The Gambler was already there when I arrived. We shook hands and then I leaned over and held my poorly friend’s hand tight. He smiled a painful smile and said, “For fuck’s sake don’t make me laugh…” I think he thought I was smiling, but I turned away and looked at the Gambler – we had both welled up. ”Hey,” Rinty said, “it’s me that should be crying.” … A few weeks ago he was taken out to the outside hospital again for “tests.” He calls me once a week [from prison]. The past couple of calls started with the same question. “Any news on the test results?” The medics seemed to be taking their time. Yesterday I had a message on my answer machine. “Rinty here, just checking in. I need to speak to you.” The tone of his voice was ominous. I phoned the prison and asked the chaplain to go and tell Rinty I was waiting for his call. Half an hour later the phone rang. “It’s not good mate,” he said. “I’ve got pancreatic cancer – inoperable.” [Source]
I asked him about chemotherapy. “What, so I can live longer in here?” he said. He said he has decided he is not going to have chemo – but then when he asked about compassionate release he was told he couldn’t have that if he refused chemo as he might get out, undertake chemo and end up living more than the prescribed three months maximum allowed. [Source]