Walking with Criminologist David Honeywell in York.
Fig.1. David Honeywell, University of York
I first met David Honeywell at a National Deviancy conference at Teesside University. David’s paper was compelling. He used his own biographical story and the book he had written about his life to articulate and share his analysis of desistance.
Later still, when he had contributed to the Inside/Out programme at Durham University, a collaboration with Durham prison, I asked if he would take me on a walk to share something of his story, his biography.
David planned a route, created a map and shared this with me before we set off on our walk.
David had created a circular route starting at the University, then to Tang Hall (an estate where David had lived as a 19-year-old with his Mother, in the early 1980s) down Hull road towards the city centre, to the Mason Arms (David’s Grandad’s local) onto Fisher gate, towards the city centre, to the Merchant Adventurers’, passing Russell’s restaurant (where David worked as a cleaner as a young man) and then onto the Magistrates Court, where he had been sentenced. We returned to the University via Fishergate, passing the Mason’s Arms and heading towards the police station and through the barracks back into the University grounds.
I asked David to walk me through his story and as we started our walk from the University, maybe say something about the University and the role of the University in his life story.
The biographical role and importance of the University
The university means everything because it’s helped me transform my whole life, from being an ‘ex-con’ to having this position in life – a PhD student and associate lecturer. I’ve always felt as though I had messed everything up, but now I’ve got an opportunity to put things right and the university has given me that opportunity. I appreciate this opportunity so much I will support the department and University the best I can.
It’s because I’ve gone above and beyond what I needed to do that I am where I am and able to do this academic work and my research. If I hadn’t gone to Leeds Beckett to teach, which is another important stepping-stone, I wouldn’t have had the experience to handle the work I am doing now.
I think it is helpful to use my background in my teaching and research where it is relevant.
David explained that his PhD takes a psychosocial analysis of the importance of education in desistance from crime. He tells me
ex-prisoners negotiate their sense of self and identities as ex-offenders in relation to their future self and identities. In other words, they re-evaluate their sense of selves through the eyes of who they are now and the imagined self they wish to aspire to – not wanting to be defined by their ex-offender status.
Beginnings: Tang Hall, York
Fig.2. Tang Hall
David tells me about his move from Middlesbrough to York. He had said that his family wanted a change from Middlesbrough. During the Thatcher years, austerity and unemployment had a huge impact on the town and their experience of it.
We went for a house swap and came to York. I’ve got a sister as well but she’d moved out.
I’d be nineteen, I’d just come out of the army so I was nineteen. I was seventeen when I went in. I wasn’t in very long but I joined as a boy soldier. Again it was that time [siren screams by] that’s a bit appropriate for this story! It was a time when a lot of lads were joining the army because of unemployment, so there was a lot of Middlesbrough lads joining up to get away, to get a job and get away from the place. So that was when I got my first taste of being locked up in the army glasshouse.
They call them glasshouses, well they’re not allowed to now but they were called glasshouses because they used to shine everything, the floor was shiny and everything was polished to a high standard.
That was our job, as prisoners, we had to polish! Everything has to be shiny and gleaming from your boots to the peak of your cap.
And why did you end up in the glasshouse?
I used to go absent without leave a lot. I don’t know what was wrong, well I do know what was wrong with me, but I don’t know what it was I thought I’d achieve. I used to run home. It was like I was homesick and I’d spend a few days at home and then I’d go and hand myself in. The first time I went absent was in Denmark when we were on exercise, I hated it, stuck on the barracks [laughs] erecting tents and all that and I thought..I’m going to go and jolly it up in Copenhagen, so I walked off the camp and got a train and spent a week in Copenhagen.
So you escaped for some fun basically?
I did, yes. I was not able to steady myself, and do what others do, and just get on with the job.
Yes, but you were seventeen.
I was fifteen at the start of the depression. Yes, the others just did their job and behaved themselves, why couldn’t I [laughs] but I used to get very depressed. I was first diagnosed with depression at fifteen.
We were on Thief Lane at this point and in front of The Retreat- a charity and specialist mental health care service. David tells me a little about the history of The Retreat and a little about his own experience of depression.
Fig.3. The Retreat
Yes, well at that time, I was fifteen, living in Middlesbrough and I was put into an adolescent unit in Middlesbrough, so the idea was for me to mix with other kids my own age. I had a job in the hospital, my job was in the main stores. So, for me to get from the adolescent unit to the main stores I had to go past all the really serious cases. Serious to me because I was only a kid. I would see patients talking to themselves and staring at me. I found the whole experience very daunting and frightening.
We were walking towards David’s former house in Tang Hall.
Return to Tang Hall
So this is the first time I’ve ever been back. Mother moved back to Middlesbrough about 18 months after I was arrested. She found it extremely lonely and it was not the York she remembered. She was born in York and was here at school during the war. She said it lacked community spirit. During the recent floods, she said that the community spirit in evidence reminded her of how it was in York during the war-time.
Fig.4. Tang Hall
This area is more student-oriented now, a lot live in Tang Hall. When I was here in the 1980’s it was a council estate. Somewhere around here, there was a travellers site too. The students have brought a lot of money into the city. And the other thing about York back in those days, at night-time it felt like a very depressing place to be. The whole place used to just go quiet and dark and my Mother said during the war-time she doesn’t remember it being like that because she remembers there being more community spirit.
Yes, this looks great with the Body Care Salon and little cafés.
Yes, it has changed.
Fig.5. Walking towards Hull Road
So this is Hull Road. Now my Mother lived here as well as a kid somewhere along here.
Our route then took us past Melrosegate Shops.
Fig. 6. Melrosegate Shops
I haven’t actually walked down here since 1983.
A little further along the route we were looking for the off-licence that was the scene of his attempted robbery, David said:
Yes, yes you can see it’s been like a shop or something can’t you. Oh, it is somebody’s house now, I think that’s it, but it is so long ago.
We walked down a ‘cut through’ towards the house where David used to live.
Fig.7. Former Council Tip
So on the left here, was a big tip back when I was here, it was just a mound of dirt, just dirt. They didn’t do recycling then and it was where they dumped stuff. It was a dump, yes, it was they called ‘the tip’. It was along here and these trees weren’t here.
Fig.8. Path through the trees
On the left, it was just a big mound of dirt and rubbish.
A council worker joined us and told us the history of the place.
Fig.9. Council worker organising the recycling
Council Worker. OK well this was a landfill site but we’re going back further than thirty years for that, I think about the 1970s. This, believe it or not, this whole area behind us, there are about twenty-six acres, was a landfill site. When they were land-filling within cities.
David. Because these trees weren’t here.
Council Worker. No, no all this has just all been allowed to grow up and we’ve now got nature reserve status so it’s
David. Much nicer now.
Council Worker. If you want to look around we’ve got the visitors centre or environment centre just up here. If you want a bit about the history and stuff.
David. I can’t believe how different it is, much nicer. It was very depressing when it was a…
Council Worker. Probably quite a wasteland at that point?
David. It was a complete wasteland, yes.
Council Worker. Well, we were lucky that the local residents said we don’t want it to be built on so can we keep it as it is and the council eventually said yes. Yes, and we’ve got a play park round the back, there’s like a meadow area.
David. Right, I’m just going to show her where I used to live in Harrington Avenue.
Council Worker. Oh yes, I used to live there.
We walked to Harrington Avenue
I’m glad I’ve come back because it makes the bad memories into nicer memories.
Fig.10. Former Newspaper Shop
I used to walk around here to this shop. So, this used to be a newspaper shop.
And now it’s a flower shop.
And it was run by two men. I became good friends with them and they sent me a big parcel of chocolate into prison, it was Christmas time. That really impacted me.
I used to walk around the corner and I used to go running in that park there.
Fig.11. Jogging in the Park
I used to go jogging. I discovered jogging was good for my mental health when I was fifteen and I’ve done it ever since. Yes, but one thing you don’t get now, which I distinctly remember, is that you could smell the chocolate from the factories, Rowntree’s and Terry’s.
And all my relatives in the past have worked in at least one of them. I think my grandmother used to work with Frankie Howard’s mother because he’s from York – the comedian. I was talking to Mark Addy the other day in the pub about this. Mark Addy was in the film, The Full Monty. He was the security man who worked in the supermarket.
At this point, we stopped at a fish and chip shop and agreed to have some lunch.
Fig.12. Fish & Chips on Hull Road
After lunch, we continued our walk along Hull road walking towards the city centre. We passed the Rose and Crown.
Rememberings: Family History, Crime, Desistance and Freemen
Fig.13. The Rose and Crown
This was our local, my mother, my grandmother and granddad used to go in there and I used to go in there too!
Fig.14. Chinese Restaurant formerly the Spotted Cow
This Chinese Restaurant used to be a pub called the Spotted Cow. And that was where I spent the night before I went and did that robbery. Well, it wasn’t a robbery, it was classed as a robbery, and I was charged with attempted robbery, even though I didn’t actually rob anything. I was sentenced to youth custody, which was okay considering I scared someone.
It seems a lifetime away since I got my first criminal convictions for two attempted robberies aged 20. This resulted in a 30-month youth custody sentence in 1983. It sounds like the typical classic working class struggle of a young boy with no prospects. A broken home from the age of 14, a poor role model of a father; left school with no qualifications. My life felt directionless and I experienced several periods of depression, so everyone thought the army might straighten me out. It was a short sharp, failed army career, followed by prison. I write about this in my book Never Ending Circles.
Most of my adult years were spent drifting from one job to another and one town to another, searching for work and some sort of life. I drifted in and out of crime too.
Then in July 1995, aged 32, I was given a five-year prison sentence for an assault charge.
I went to prison, an uneducated individual with massive failings to overcome but also with a new determination to turn things around.
The desistance literature talks about turning points. Was this a turning point for you?
Yes Laub and Sampson (1993, 2003) use the term ‘turning points’
For me (as with many others) there were many turning points, and some didn’t manifest until years later when I was in a better place to embrace them. For example:
In 1984, the prison officer who put me on education classes in Durham Jail because I’d been fired from the mailbag workshop. This gave me a new zest for learning. I continued studying at college after I was released. But opportunities for work in the North East were poor because of the Thatcher government so I moved South to stay with my uncle. He was a journalist, law lecturer, medical historian (John Snow expert) and anthropology fellow. His thirst for knowledge rubbed off on to me but it wasn’t until 1995 until I really did something about education, after I went to prison. Prison then became a positive turning point. In 1996, the lifers in HMP Acklington (now Northumberland) influenced me enormously. Some had Open University degrees because they had spent many years in prison, but they had also lost loved ones and had become broken men. This was another turning point because I saw myself through their eyes 10 years from then. I realised then I must change.
Once released I didn’t cope well and in 2000, I was back in court at Newcastle Crown on an assault charge which put my education and freedom in the balance. Fortunately, I was spared prison. This was a huge turning point for me to get a grip.
I returned to Teesside where I was on Probation for about 18 months. This was a massive turning point because of the good work the Probation Services did with me.
Achieving my criminology degree was another turning point (I felt I had become a proper person) and by the time I reached the end of my master’s degree, I was at the place I needed to be. And though it still took another 8 years to get to York University those years were an extended turning point, where I was able to build a CV and gain work experience. I became self-employed and launched my own community newspaper with business funding.
Many turning points and my transformation of self-continue to this day.
We arrived at the Barbican.
Fig.15. The Barbican
This is the Barbican and years and years ago it was a cattle pen. Well, it was a cattle market in my Mother’s day and in my day it was a swimming baths and now they have gigs and events here.
So you were living in York over a long period?
Oh yes, yes because mainly because I’ve been back and forth a few times. I lived here in the late 80s/early 90s but I’ve never been back to where we were today until today.
So, just thinking about your York timeline, the first time you came to the city was in 1983.
But within a year you were in Durham Prison.
And then you came out of Durham Prison and you went home.
And then when did you come back to York?
1988 and by then I’d started to work in catering, so I was able to pick up work. Yes, before I came back I’d moved to Salisbury with my uncle, who had just lost his wife, so I went to keep him company basically and he suggested I go round the hotels and try to pick up a job. So I did, I got a job as a washer-upper and when I came back to York I was a washer-upper at the Hilton Hotel. And I’ve worked at the Dean Court Hotel as a washer-upper too.
Fig.16. The Masons Arms
That is the Masons Arms where my granddad used to go and blow that big horn, I believe it’s called a post-horn. The Masons Arms has been completely refurbished now. My granddad was in the military band for many years and was the only regular of the Masons Arms who could blow the ‘long horn’.
So we have passed the Masons Arms and I’ve shown you the Spotted Cow. Let us look at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall.
Merchant Adventurers’ Hall: David’s ancestors were Freemen of the City
Fig.17. Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
Fig.18. Merchant Adventurers’ Hall time-line
The Merchant Adventurers’ is over there. Yes, that’s where they hold the banquets for the freemen and one of the history scholars at York University did a documentary about it and how a murder took place when they were building it. I emailed her and I said how fascinated I was with the history lesson. I know my ancestors used to come here for banquets because they were freemen.
Fig.19. David at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
Clifford’s Tower, David Guest & Desistance
Fig.20. Clifford’s Tower
So this is Clifford’s Tower. Built by William the Conqueror and One hundred and fifty Jews were murdered here in the medieval period.
David talked about the massacre and the importance of this period in the history of York.
Do you remember David Guest, the actor, he had a house here in York?
Oh OK, yes, did he have a house in York?
Yes, he loved York. They scattered his ashes from the top.
Crime, Desistance and Moving On
Fig.21. Former Crest Hotel Entrance
This was called the Crest Hotel when I worked there. It was one of my first washer-upper jobs in York.
And so just thinking about your biographical trajectory what year did you work here?
So I would have been there from 1988 to 1989. So this is my second stint in York now after I’ve done my time in prison and I ’m looking for a job and trying to earn a living.
And oh ok, and you’re situated right next to the regiment you were in.
No that was my grandfather’s regiment. He was stationed in York.
Fig.22. York Military Museum
So this is the York Army Museum.
Yes so that’s the old fire station over there and that’s the Magistrates Court.
Fig.23. Magistrates Court
Oh wow! I would need to go up Clifford’s Tower to get a full picture, a full shot. Oh and there’s a pop-up gallery as well in the old fire station. So, tell me about the court.
Fig.24. Entrance to Magistrates Court
Well I made my first appearance in 1983 because that’s when they referred me to Crown Court from here and I was back again in 1988 for smashing that window I showed you earlier, the Tam O’ Shanter Pub and that was when I met my first girlfriend, but it’s not when we first met, as I worked with her in that hotel around the corner.
At this point, we meet some students who say hello to David. When they leave, after telling David their plans for the coming year and thanking him for his teaching, he tells me:
I always feel proud, you were asking about the students earlier, I always feel proud knowing that I’ve helped people achieve a degree, that I’ve been part of that journey.
Oh YES absolutely.
Seven years after leaving prison, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology followed two years later with a Master’s degree in Social Research Methods. But despite my academic achievements, it seemed that my five years at university created more barriers than before. I no longer belonged to my old world and I didn’t belong in my new world either. I was in a liminal place.
I spent another 8 years drifting, then in 2011, I was inspired to write my autobiography, ‘Never Ending Circles’ after the riots broke out across Britain in August 2011. In the wake of this devastation, many heated debates arose and questions were raised about disaffected youth, the lack of parental control in today’s society, dysfunctional families, a breakdown in penal reform, zero crime deterrents, gang culture, and a need for strong role models within communities. I realised these issues were nothing new.
This led to invites from universities to give guest talks which reignited my passion for learning and being part of the university environment. In 2013 I decided to return to the academy, and now 19 years after leaving prison, I am about to submit my PhD thesis which is about ex-prisoners and the transformation of self through higher education.
Yes, that is a great contribution David and the links with the criminal justice system and the process of justice so important and here we are at the courts, but what about the prison where is the prison, David?
The prison was at Thorp Arch so you had to go to Leeds. Leeds is where the nearest prison is based. The only one we’ve got at York is Full Sutton, but that’s similar to Frankland.
Yes, well because I was under twenty-one I was sent to Thorp Arch under twenty-one’s remand centre. Which was just like Lower Newton for young men, now it’s become a Category C adult male prison. Over there is the County Court.
Fig.25. Crown Court
Fig.26. David in front of the Castle Museum and former Castle Prison
David had written an article for the Conversation about the crisis in English and Welsh prisons No wonder prisons are getting more violent, they’re full to the brim. In this article he joins key former prisoners in critiquing the prison system, such as Erwin James as well as former prison governors, such as John Podmore,
education workers such as Richard Hardwick and Juliet Lyon a former director of the prison reform trust as well as numerous criminologists including Serena Wright, Anne Worrall, Pat Carlen and Ben Crewe. The crisis for David includes overcrowding, an increase in violence, a rapidly ageing prison population with “growing numbers of old, sick and disabled people in prison aged over 50, with people over 60 the fastest growing age group in the prison population between 2002 and 2014.” He argues that people should not be imprisoned unnecessarily, citing IPP prisoners and women prisoners as examples.
It’s worth acknowledging that even if all the IPP prisoners were to be released it would barely put a dent in the bursting prison population. But the role of prison has become blurred with some residents not needing to be there. Part of the solution to this overcrowding seems clear – but it is not so clear why the government won’t take radical action to rectify it.
Walking back towards the University: Bill Haley, the police station and Barracks
We’re just heading for Fulford now. That is where my granddad was based, he was in the army for thirty years and he even worked at the Military Museum in his seventies, he never left the army really.
Wow! Wow! So a lifetime spent within the frame of the army.
Yes. He worked at Imphal Barracks where we’re going now.
Fig.27. Mecca Bingo
Right, this used to be the Rialto Cinema. And my mother saw Bill Haley and the Comets play live here.
Oh, how fab!
Yes, there won’t be many that can say that they’ve been to that gig [laughs]. My mother used to say when she used to visit me in Durham Jail that when she used to leave the prison she’d see students studying in Durham and wished I was one of them, instead of where I was.
Yes and then she got her wish.
Yes, and that’s where I was arrested and locked up. Fulford Police Station.
Fig.28. Fulford Police station entrance
The Army as a significant feature of family history
We were approaching the Barracks.
Fig.29. Walking towards the Barracks
So I often feel like I’ve let me, family, down because they all had excellent military records and I went and got kicked out after a year. So we’re coming up to the barracks now.
Fig.30. Walking through the Barracks
My granddad was always in the Second Battalion and he was on the Somme, he fought on the Somme. He was a boy soldier and he lied to get in the army because he was adopted so he had a choice of becoming a servant or enlisting and he chose the army. He went to the Somme at fifteen. And then during World War II, he was a warden here in York.
So when my granddad used to go to the mess when he was working in the museum and he was seventy then, which was in the barracks there. And he used to go to the mess, which is where you eat your food, all the young soldiers used to part to let him walk through.
Fig.31. Army Reserve Centre
We stopped to look at a cluster of Army vehicles
Fig.32. Army Vehicles
So, there’s all your army vehicles – look. So you see these Land Rovers here? That’s what I used to get taken to the glasshouse in [laughs].
The University, PhD and a career in Criminology
Fig.33. Wentworth Graduate College
Fig.34. David at Wentworth College
I was really struck by the fact that criminology or the sociology of crime and deviance has been at York since the 1960s. So there is a big legacy here and you are part of a new frontier David. Laurie Taylor interviewed prisoners at Durham Prison and you are teaching and completing your PhD at York on desistance and the importance of education. It’s been a pleasure to walk with you, David. Thank you so much for sharing this walk and your story.
Thank you yes I’ve enjoyed today, it’s been a real timeline hasn’t it and this is the most important part of the journey here today at the University. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think of my journey, from where I came from to now working in one of the best Universities. It’s a real honour to work here and be an accepted part of such a nice group of people. I’d have never believed someone like me could have ever been welcomed within such a place, but I have been proved wrong. I had my first ever staff Christmas lunch in December 2016 and it made me really think about how much my life has changed.
Later when we were working with the transcript and narrative from the walk David sent me the following text and we include it here as a coda.
In 2011, I was inspired to write my autobiography, ‘Never Ending Circles’ after the riots broke out across Britain in August 2011. In the wake of this devastation, many heated debates arose and questions were raised about disaffected youth, the lack of parental control in today’s society, dysfunctional families, a breakdown in penal reform, zero crime deterrents, gang culture, and a need for strong role models within communities. I realised these issues were nothing new.
This led to invites from universities to give guest talks which reignited my passion for learning and being part of the university environment. In 2013 I decided to return to academia and now 19 years after leaving prison, I am about to submit my PhD thesis which is about ex-prisoners and the transformation of self through higher education.
It is important to me to use my personal experiences to offer insight and support further research.
I am enjoying my role as associate criminology lecturer at the University of York, leading the crime and deviance module, teaching first-year undergraduate students alongside other teaching responsibilities in criminology and sociology related modules.
Fig.35. David outside his office