Friday, 7 February 2014

‘I thought I’d die in there’

The Northern Echo: WITHIN THOSE WALLS: Medomsley Young Offenders’ Institution, near Consett, where Rod Jones, says he was brutalised and raped  

WITHIN THOSE WALLS: Medomsley Young Offenders’ Institution, near Consett, where Rod Jones, says he was brutalised and raped 
A ROPE was thrown onto Rod Jones’ cell floor. A prison officer pointed at it and stared at the battered teenage version of Mr Jones.

“Either you f***ing hang yourself or we’ll f***ing do it for you,” he sneered. “The bars are a good place to start. You’re only a ****. You can disappear.”

Mr Jones, then only 16 or 17, took the threat seriously.

He had already been beaten many times in various institutions for boys and young offenders, even an adult prison, across the North- East and Yorkshire.

Now he had been sent to MedomesleyYoung Offenders’ Institution, back then – in the 1960s – a new dention centre near Consett, designed to give a “short, sharp, shock” to teenagers and young men on the road to criminality.

Mr Jones doesn’t argue he didn’t deserve a sentence. He’d broken into a factory in Middlesbrough and got caught. Bang to rights.

But he says the abuse he, and many other boys, suffered was horrific.

“From day one in Medomsley I was beaten,” says the 67-year-old charity worker. “Every single day I got at least a bat or two. Not just from staff. They had favourites, hand-picked older boys, who would also beat you.”

Nowadays, Mr Jones runs a charity sending aid convoys to Romania. Back then, he was just another juvenile delinquent.

“We slept in a dormitory,” he recalls. “One night, when an officer shouted, ‘Get to bed,’ we all jumped in. I made the mistake of pulling the covers to my head. The screw shouted, ‘What are you doing with your hands.’ He thought I was messing with myself.

“The other lads were sniggering. ‘Drop your trousers.’ I had to drop them. He grabbed me by the privates and whacked me across them.

I turned and grabbed him, whacked him, the other lads had to drag me off; all the screws came running.
“That was the taboo – hitting a prison officer.

I knew was in for real trouble. I was beaten chronic. I just rolled into a ball and took the hiding of my life.”

His breakfast the next morning had been urinated and spat on and covered in salt. “Then it was, ‘Why haven’t you eaten your breakfast,’ and another bat,” he says.

His card was marked and worse trouble lay ahead. “There was a particularly vicious bloke, the worst of them. He knew I couldn’t climb the rope in gym and was forcing me up. I somehow got half way up when another one grabbed one of the other ropes. This one had leather at the bottom. He rolled it up and whacked me across the spine with it. I fell to the ground, he kicked me, and I went for him. This time the alarm bells went off. I could hear them all come running.

I knew something was going to happen.”

He says he was forced into a laundry basket before being repeatedly kicked over more than 200 yards, often upside down, to the “boot room.”

“I heard someone shout, ‘Get the hose.” They filled the basket full blast, I couldn’t breathe, must have gone unconscious. I woke up, sopping wet, in my cell.”

The next day Mr Jones’ nemesis came in with the rope and the threat. “I actually thought about doing it,” he says. “I thought I was a dead man.”

LATER, outside his cell, a friend from Middlesbrough was digging as part of his duties.

“I knew he was due out, so I shouted to him, “John, John, they’re going to kill me, get my dad.” But he said he was going to be arrested at the gate for a house burglary he’d done.”

Instead, with knowledge of the crime from his friend, Mr Jones confessed to having done the crime himself.
“Why? Because it was the only way out of Medomsley.”

In court, Mr Jones told magistrates he had committed the burglary. “I said, I’ve done loads and loads of burglaries. He took a look at me and said, “What’s happened to you?” Of course I didn’t tell him, but he sent me to borstal. I think, maybe it was an act of kindness. I remember thanking the two coppers.

“Anyway, I was taken to A Wing at Durham jail, which used to be for borstal boys. When I got there a screw said, ‘My friend tells me you like hitting prison officers’, and I got another kicking. But I survived.”

Survived to live the life of a brutalised but also brutal criminal. It took many years of violence and crime until Mr Jones finally found redemption and a peaceful life devoted to charity.

He finally turned his back on crime following the death of his son, also called Rodney, in a car crash when he was just 18. Determined to continue his son’s work helping people in Romania, Mr Jones went over to complete his last mission. When he saw the conditions Romanian orphans had to endure, the tough guy cried.
“I was in buckets I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

From that moment, Mr Jones dedicated his energy to raise funds to make life more bearable for the child victims of the former regime run by dictator Nicolae Caucsescu.

Now, he asks for justice for the victims of Medomsley, so that their lives may be more bearable.