This is a brief description of how I escaped from Borstal in Liverpool in 1960. There is no transgendered element. Just the bare facts from escape to finally achiving permanent freedom. I don't even dwell upon events before or after that day. In fact the event only covers a period from about 2 pm Friday to 5 am the following Saturday morning.
The words were still ringing in my ears as was my head still ringing from the beating.
‘You’ll do another five laps for that you cheeky little sod, then you’ll come to me and beg. D’you hear me! Beg!!’
Despite the bleeding lip and stars before my eyes, I just couldn’t believe my luck.
‘How could Fatso Gardiner be so stupid?' I asked myself. He’d fallen for my ploy hook line and sinker. Now I had to do five extra laps and I knew this particular warden, Fatso Gardiner didn’t check us on the course. He preferred to hide in the changing rooms smoking a sneaky fag. It was always Fatso Gardiner who supervised us on Fridays and I had based my last attempt to get away on his being on duty.
I’d been preparing for this time since my fourteenth birthday; weeks (No months!) of careful preparation; months of enduring the abuse, the rapes, the beatings, and the approaching loss of all hope.
So this was it then. The last chance, the last hurrah; now or never. The bastard had told me five extra laps!
‘How long was that?’ I wondered as my mind was trying to do the maths. Sadly it couldn’t, or more correctly I was too stressed and frightened to concentrate on the figures. I didn’t have much maths to do it. I did know however that five extra laps meant twice the normal time cos we normally only did five laps. Now I had to do ten laps (That was twice the number if laps if my arithmetic was right.) If I was right that meant twice the time to get to my stash of clothes that I had been carefully, and perilously’ collecting at every opportunity since my fourteenth birthday in February. I’d even planned to wait until the summer because previous attempts in January and February had failed dismally because of the cold and lack of food. Now it was August and there would fruit on the trees and stuff growing in the market garden farms north of Liverpool. Stuff I could steal to eat.
Since turning fourteen in February, I was compelled to run on the ‘senior cross country course’ ... barefooted!
But hopefully no more; for now I had it ... trousers, a shirt, a 'bomber jacket' and ... shoes! Oh yes shoes! Shoes! You couldn’t go anywhere without shoes; for me, shoes had become an obsession.
You see, after a few previous failed attempts to escape, they had taken my boots away. After that cold February Saturday when they had caught me again, they removed my boots permanently Now, everywhere I went, I went barefoot; the mark of a ‘runner’, ‘an escapee’! Even if I had escaped, people would have immediately wondered where my shoes were and quickly reported me back to that place. Without shoes, there was no hope.
Shoes had become the final badge of normality; the completion of a disguise that would finally enable me to escape without being noticed, without being recognised as ‘an escapee’. Shoes ... yes shoes! Nobody except those who were there, could ever know the importance of shoes!!! Shoes were a passport to freedom! Shoes were a badge of legitimacy, authenticity, normality. Shoes brought anonymity and invisibility. Shoes were all!
It’s impossible to explain to those who were never in that position, just how big an item shoes were.
I’d been there, in Borstal, in Liverpool, since aged twelve, firstly being stupid and antagonising those who were more powerful than me. Then, secondly, being doubly stupid by trying to ingratiate myself with ‘protectors’ that served only to worsen my lot. Finally, after two years of ‘punishments’, I had finally concluded I was not going to make it. Being there until I was sixteen or possibly even eighteen, meant I would definitely not make it. This was probably my last chance; fourteen years old and already condemned to run the senior course for ten laps and of course, barefoot.
At the end of the first lap, I had diverted from the course. That bit was easy. I told my fellow runners that Fatso had hurt my ankle when he kicked me and I had to stop to rest it. Naturally, they didn’t stop, none of the runners could be certain Fatso wasn’t waiting for us at the end of each lap, and they wouldn’t dare wait back to help. None them would have waited for me anyway, I was the pariah, the sicko, the pervert. To be associated with me was to invite trouble from all quarters. The rest of the runners sped on.
After they had disappeared from view, I located my carefully accumulated stash of stolen clothes and made my bid for freedom. If my luck held; if my desperate plan worked, I would be several miles away before they realised I had not reported after ten laps.
With my shoes draped by their shoe-laces over my neck and my clothes tied inside a waterproof, polythene ‘sausage’ over my shoulders, I stumbled ever further away from the hell that was my life. (Did I say life? More like existence, and a bloody desperate one at that!
After several miles running along a paved sidewalk beside the A580 (East Lancashire Highway,) I finally stopped and hid under a bridge that took the road over a ditch that drained into the Preston arm of Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Invisible from helicopters, I rested for several minutes and took stock.
‘Yes my ankle was killing me but it was run or be caught.' The further I got away before cold and hunger overtook me, the better my chances.
‘Was I being melodramatic?’ I wondered. ‘Would it really be like in the films if I got far enough away and was missing long enough to warrant a proper search with police and everything?’
I listened nervously but no. No baying bloodhounds, no wardens in wailing cars, no police loitering curiously at every corner, no helicopters clattering above ... just the roar of traffic thundering overhead as it travelled up and down the ‘East Lancs’ road..
Now was the time to turn off the road and take off across the fields. My plan was to go north along the towpath then cross the River Ribble and make my way to Preston. It was no good trying to get to Liverpool, there were too many knowing eyes on that route.
So why Preston? I hear you ask.
“It’s a city stupid! Cities have market stalls where food can be stolen and shops, where clothes can be stolen. Cities have buildings were shelter can be found. Cities bring anonimity! I was already an accomplished thief but was I any good as a fugitive?
Soon I was trotting still barefoot along the canal towpath and looking for a boat; any sort of boat, to get me across the River Ribble. I didn’t find one. All the boats were secured by locks and chains. Thus when I came to the River Ribble bank I was afraid and desperate so I had no choice and I never hesitated.
It was a summer evening, it was daylight for quite some time yet and the water wouldn’t be too cold ... not like January and February. With my clothes in a polythene bag and my shoes around my neck, I stepped carefully through the mud to the waters’ edge then waded out to deeper water. As soon as it was deep enough, I struck out for the far bank. The Polythene bag gave me buoyancy.
I was lucky, it was low tide and the tide was beginning to flood. If I was washed up anywhere, it would be upstream, nearer to the city centre. I was lucky but sometimes, just sometimes, a tiny bit of luck comes the way of those unlucky enough to be like me; a pervert.
I emerged from the River Ribble, cold and wet but relieved and feeling just that tiny bit safer.
‘I had beaten the bastards!’
Now I had to find somewhere safe for the night, then somehow organise my disguise the next day.
Finding somewhere dry was easy, an old warehouse beside the Preston Lancaster Canal served well enough. It was dirty and draughty but I’d slept in worse places courtesy of my abusers who had locked me in various places as punishment during my time in Borstal.
In the early morning, long, long before the city was coming alive, the summer sun sent a shaft of light through the broken window frame I had forced the previous night and I woke up to the realisation I was still free. Now I could put on my disguise.
After trying to at least clean my hands and face, I emerged looking almost normal with grey flannel trousers, a white linen shirt, a bomber jacket and some shoes that fitted fairly well. My borstal issue underpants were still damp but that was little discomfort when compared to the fact that I was still free.
Free! I had to pinch myself! Free! I had to keep repeating the word silently to myself to avoid attracting attention.
Free! Free! Free!
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