The night we took in a fugitive who escaped from prison

He had served 10 of his 15 years behind bars for rape and robbery

I sat down with third year Physics and Philosophy undergraduate Tom Phillips to chat to him about an experience he had with an escaped fugitive convicted of rape that had a profound effect on him. Names have been changed and details altered as Tom wishes to preserve the dignity of the person he met:

One evening outside my house I found a man sprawled out on the ground.

I walked over to him, calling out “Are you ok, mate?”. He looked up at me from the place where he had fallen, a few yards from my front door, and asked for help to find his way back to the North. He told me that he’d come to Bristol with some friends, whom he had since lost, and now penniless he had no way to contact them. Unable to think of a better solution, I offered him a glass of water and the chance to sober up in the warmth of my living room.

Over the next hour, with a fist-pump of respect for every worthy comment we made, my housemate Aidan and I learned about Jordan’s life: his heritage, his immigrant father whose patois he sometimes struggled to understand, his upbringing, how he loved to party, and the great things he’d heard about Bristol. Any discussion of finding his friends was temporarily forgotten now that Jordan was warm and dry. He was eloquent, well-mannered, friendly and above all desperate to be neither too noisy nor too boring.

Then, after all that time just chatting, he said something we will never forget: “You have been kind to me, boys, so I will be honest with you… I’ve just escaped from prison.”

He broke down into tears and began to tell of his life behind bars. I’ve never seen an adult man or woman so unable to control their emotions. Contorting his body, he stood in the middle of the room and hunched over, his hands behind his back. “The guards call this ‘The Chicken’. They all jump on you at once: one with his hands pushing your head to the floor, another holding your wrists together, the others pinning you on either side. That way, you have no control.”

tom-1

A picture of Tom

We gave him soup, a chicken kiev, some pasta and a chocolate muffin: a student meal that probably couldn’t even compare with what he got on the inside but he’d been on the run for three days and hadn’t eaten a decent meal in all that time. Jordan had been in jail for over a decade and this was his first experience of freedom since he was put away in 2006 for robbery and rape. After two years, he’d converted to Islam and has carried a set of prayer beads with him at all times ever since.

I asked him what his favourite music was. “Drake”. I told him that my twin-sister loved Drake, too, and while reflecting on how long it might be until he could hear this music again, we spent the rest of the night listening to hip hop. Jordan rapped along with every single Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg track that came on, and took to the floor again saying “I just want to enjoy this time that I’m out. It’s so hard in prison, boys. So hard. This is the best night of my life.”

“I have a son back home” he told us. “He’s 12-years-old now, but I haven’t seen him or his mother in nine years. They came to visit me for the first 18 months, then they stopped coming.” I gave Jordan my mobile and asked him if there was anyone he would like to talk to. He pulled a booklet out of his pocket, in which was written the name of every friend he had made in jail, and underneath each entry without fail was the address and phone number of the friend’s mum.

He rang a friend that he’d met in prison, but who had been out and clean for two years. He seemed to be encouraging Jordan to hand himself in. After the call was finished, he joked about a conversation he’d had with his mum in a phonebox the day before, when she told him: “Hand yourself in! …Well, I know you’re not going to hand yourself in now, but keep it in the back of your head!” Then, after failing to get through to his brother’s phone, he dialled his ex-girlfriend’s number. What happened next was a moment we felt privileged to witness.

After a long chat, she put their son on the phone, and Jordan had his first ever conversation with him; on a stranger’s phone, in a stranger’s house, in a stranger’s city. “Do you know who this is? It’s your father. Are you being good? Are you listening to your mum? You have to listen to your mum, ok? Even when you don’t like what she says. I’m sorry that I haven’t been there for you, but when I co me home I will do anything for you. I will do anything for you. I love you.”

Half an hour later, he handed himself in. With encouragement and support from my housemates, Jordan walked with us to the police station, where he pressed the telecom button, gave us each a hug, and walked back towards his life on the other side.

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