Billy Moore (2021) Fighting for My Life: A Prisoner’s Story of Redemption.

Billy Moore, a working-class Liverpudlian, was born into poverty in 1973. He doted on his mum and hated his drunken dad for beating his mum, when he was a child. He too was bullied, but learned to use his fists, gave out some beatings. Joined the group of schoolboy bullies. Matriculated in theft and drug taking and graduated to Liverpool’s Young Offenders, were ironically, he ended up a lifetime later.

There are lots of books out there about hard men and how they became the hardest of the hard. Some such as Jimmy Boyle, A Sense of Freedom, and Paul Ferris, The Wee Man that glorify their journey to becoming who they now are, which is minor celebrities, with a wink and wry nod—I’m not like that now—and are marketed as Redemption stories. Bob Marley’s line, ‘I fought the law and the law won’, but in a smug way, I really won.

I hadn’t heard of Billy Moore. But then, again, I’m a Glaswegian. I can tell you who the local gangsters are and I can even have a laugh and joke with them. We’ve had similar up- bringings. My partner even worked with Paul Ferris’s sister. Perhaps Billy Moore is infamous in Liverpool in the same way.  A known face.   

‘Prologue’—I’m never sure why books have prologues — I guess it’s setting the tone. Here’s the setup. Billy’s at Cannes International Film Festival. He’s stepping out of a stretch limo. The story of his life onscreen. A Prayer Before Dawn. In the final fight scene, actor Joe Cole, who takes the part of Billy Moore, is in the ring as hundreds of inmates of Klong Phen Prison (the Bangkok Hilton) in Thailand watch him take on the local heavy. Billy sits with the French director as the audience in the cinema cheer.

Fighting for my life begins each Chapter with a Shakespearian quote. Prisoner ‘Moore A7853AP’ is getting released from Wandsworth Prison, where he finished his time after getting deported from the Thailand prison system.

He’s scared for good reason. In the United Kingdom, there are 141 currently dilapidated prisons spread across the three legal systems: England and Wales (122 prisons), Scotland (15 prisons), and Northern Ireland (4 prisons). Additionally, there are historical prisons no longer in use. The total prison population in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland combined) stands at roughly 87,000, making it one of the largest in the Western world.

Experts expect the UK’s prison population to reach almost 110,000 by 2026 due to law changes and a national prison building program. We follow the American model. The United States leads the world in total number of people incarcerated, with over 2 million prisoners. I had to pause when reading about a gangster and murdered in Patrick Radden Keefe (2022) Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers Rebels and Crooks, not because of his crimes. Like Britain, Thailand and the United States, three-quarters are drug or alcohol related and most prisoners have a mental health problem, but because Radden Keefe stated with an increase in post-war affluence and a functioning welfare state crime had decreased and the Dutch were shutting prisons, not opening new ones.

Moore A7853AP was released with a travel pass to Liverpool. No real backup. No real plan. No great surprise our recidivism rate is around seventy percent. If you can’t take care of yourself inside, and have mental health and drug problems, there’s little chance you’ll take care of yourself outside. Tory scum suggested the solution was to privatise services and criminalise the poor, step in step with an increase in prison population with a withdrawal of funding.

Moore A7853AP was soon back to his old life and using. Heroin and crack cocaine filled the hole in his life. He got on the script, the methadone script. But for Moore that’s pedalling the same old lies. He acknowledges rehab in a locked ward wasn’t for everybody. In fact, two-thirds failed. He passed the test and was clean. He even got a job counselling other users.

Moore is good on what brings you down. The 12 steps are never enough. Like is attracted to like. Lust can feel like love. Toxic relationships and then that snakes-and-ladder moment when they take a hit—sure it’ll be OK. Rock bottom is where you find yourself.

Moore’s case became complicated with a cancer diagnosis. He was literally fighting for his life on two fronts. Cancer and his addictive tendencies. He’s on the cover. It’s a story of redemption. We know he wins, but it’s the journey that counts. And it’s one day at a time. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll not win.  Read on.