By David Hennessy Well known criminal author Noel “Razor” Smith is looking at the exploits of Irish criminals in Britain through history up to the present day for a forthcoming book he is working on with Andy Nolan of The BibleCode Sundays. “There’s loads of Irish criminals who have done really well in this country and we’re working on a book called Green Blood, it’s about the Irish criminal effect in England since the famine: The Adams family, all Irish roots, Billy Hill who was king of the underworld in the fifties- Irish, The O’Driscolls. We’re going to do a profile on all of them. It will be interesting, it’s never been done before.” Noel ‘Razor’ Smith has 58 criminal convictions and has spent the greater portion of his adult life in prison. He was jailed for life in 1997 for armed robbery. Since leaving prison in 2010, Noel has written for Inside Time, a national newspaper for prisoners. This publication is going to include a page from the Irish Chaplaincy each month. Irish prisoners are the second largest foreign contingent in UK jails. While prisoners from other countries are deported home, Irish prisoners can not return home even after release if they are on license: “If you come from anywhere in the world over here and commit a crime, the British government in order to get rid of you signed a treaty with all these countries, the only one that didn’t with was Ireland. They give them two grand, send them back to their own country as soon as possible but the Irish are stuck over here. If they’re doing life sentences, they have to do their life license over here which means for the rest of their life. They can’t get back unless they get permission off the probation service which a lot of them are not getting. “A life sentence, the part you do in prison, is only part of it. Say they give you a ten year tariff, you serve your ten years in an English jail but when you come out, you then have to stay in this country because you’re on life license. For the rest of your life, you have to report to probation. They have to approve everything: Any relationship, where you live, Irish prisoners can’t even get back to Ireland for a holiday. If you want to go back, you can’t. “On the whole, Irish prisoners in England end up serving a lot longer in jail than their English counterparts or their foreign national counterparts because even though they won’t send them back, there’s nowhere to put them. The hostels are all full. If you release an Irish prisoner with no family over here, you have to cater for them. You have to give them somewhere to live and they don’t want that so they keep them in jail. It’s easier. “The chaplaincy want a page every month to comment on Irish matters for Irish prisoners which is a good idea because you’re not allowed to have papers sent in anymore. That’s another thing Grayling stopped. A lot of people used to get the Irish World in jail, papers like that. You can’t get them now so we’re hoping to fill the gap. “There’s a lot of prejudice against the Irish in jails, or there was because a lot of the prison officers are ex forces. A lot of ex paras and all that go into it and there’s always a bit of a thing going on between the screws and Irish prisoners.” Both Noel’s parents come from Dublin but his life license prevents him from even seeing his Irish-based grandkids: “I’ve got a daughter and three grandkids up in Galway. When I was younger, I used to go over all the time and now they won’t let me leave the country. I’ve got grandkids over there I’ve never met and I said to them: ‘Can I go over to Northern Ireland and get the grandkids up over the border so I can have a visit with them?’ They went: ‘No, as far as the probation service is concerned, Northern Ireland is Ireland, it’s abroad. It’s not part of the united kingdom as far as we’re concerned so no, you can’t go’. Amazing, isn’t it?” While many former criminals write memoirs to glorify themselves or their activities, Noel’s books A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun and A Rusty Gun are designed to do the opposite: “At the time I was writing my book, my agent was Will Self and he said to me: ‘If you’re just going to write a book that glamorises crime, I’m not interested in trying to sell it for you’. “Every single book by an ex criminal: They always robbed a million quid, every fight they had- they won. That glamorises crime. “I decided to write the truth and I think that’s why my first book was different.
“The truth is for all the money you steal, you could have earned- Look at all the years I spent in jail. Crime is not glamorous at all when you’ve had your head kicked and you’re lying in Parkhurst block covered in your own vomit. I set out to tell people that it is not a glamorous game. I got beaten up loads of times, I wasn’t like Superman. Sometimes I went to do a robbery and got £20. If you see glamour in it, there’s something wrong with you. “I think that has more of an impact on young people than reading: ‘I’m a gangster and I wear a suit, carry a gun’ and all that shite. “A lot of young offenders write to me in prisons and say ‘I read your book and I can’t believe I’ve wasted my time in jail’. Obviously you get the odd couple who say ‘I’ve read your book and I can’t wait to be a robber when I get out’ but they’re few and far between.” It was the death of his son that brought about a change in Noel. However, Noel believes that there is no such thing as rehabilitation in British jails: “It’s virtually non-existent since (Justice Secretary) Chris Grayling took over. When I eventually decided that I wanted to give up crime, my son had died outside, I was serving a life sentence for armed robbery and I asked if I could go to the funeral but I had spent so long building up this big image, I fought the system at every opportunity it was one of the things that kept me going, they said: ‘No, even if we sent 20 prison staff with you, it’s liable that you or some of your pals would try and break you out or kick off. “I thought: ‘Here I am in a top security prison with gangsters, drug dealers and mass murderers and I can’t go to my own son’s funeral’. I looked back and I realised what I had done with my life. I was in my forties then and I thought: ‘What have I got to show for everything? Nothing. My family are outside, my son has died without me. I can’t be doing this.” Not being there for his teenage son when he needed him most made a hardened criminal change his ways: “So I looked around for rehabilitation then. I thought: ‘I need something to help me rehabilitate’, looked at the prison system: There’s nothing. The only thing I could find was a unique pridon called Grendon where it’s run along therapeutic lines. I spent five years out of my 12 year sentence doing therapy every single day in order to understand the impact that my crimes had had on everyone: Myself, my family, the victims and it was a long hard slog, it’s not easy. “I was also lucky I also had a bit of a gift for writing so that meant when I got out I wasn’t just going back on the dole. Joe dying saved my life in a way and I think it would be disrespectful to his memory to go back to crime. That was in 2001. I don’t think there’s rehabilitation for most people in prison. “What you’ve got to remember as well is that there’s a good percentage of people in British prisons who don’t want to rehabilitated. They like crime. I often go to talk to young offenders to discourage them from crime but they always ask the same question: ‘Where can I find a job that’s going to pay me two grand a week because that’s what I make selling drugs outside?’ I always say the same thing: ‘How much you making a week in here? Seven quid. There you go.’” Now that he has changed his ways, is he haunted by guilt over those he has hurt? “It is (something I relive every day). I explain it as you can’t un-ring a bell. “I was a career criminal. For people like me, in order to do what we do, we have to depersonalise the public. If you’re going into a bank and you’re waving a gun around threatening to shoot everyone, you can’t think of the human element. You tell yourself they’re cardboard cut-outs, so you don’t look at people’s faces, you do your work, you get out with the money. “Then when you go in therapy and they tell you to think about certain victims and you start remembering things… Once you’ve done that, it’s very hard to do it again because you know the full trauma you’ve caused people and you start feeling it, and I still feel it now. Sometimes I think why did I do all that? The first time I went to prison, I wish it had been a deterrent but it’s not.” Noel has appeared in Tom Begley’s film Tax City along with Steve Collins. Director and actor have recently combined again on House of Razor, a short film that is written by Noel and based on a section of his first book: “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at film scripts, I’d love to write a proper film script and I wrote this as a kind of taster. It’s the first chapter of a few kind words my first book. Me and Andy are going to get together and write a script on the whole book.” For the full interview, see the May 17 Irish World.