Friday, April 8, 2011

Profile of an ex-crim

I submitted this feature story for a uni subject and recieved a high distinction. I've decided to publish it here and also try to get it published in a magazine. I have to say, creative writing is definitely my niche. I loved the interviewing process and writing with no limits.

Profile feature: Ron McCready

“Piccolo bastardo.” Little bastard in Italian. At the age of eleven, Ron McCready’s neighbour spat these words at him two days after his father’s death. The neighbour expected tears, not bullets.

The gun was kept in a drawer hidden away from eyesight, but Ron knew its place. Anger boiled through his veins as the words “little bastard, little bastard, little bastard” rolled around in his head. Grabbing the gun he ran to the neighbour’s house and bang bang bang! Bullets flew into the house, splittng wood. An emotionally wrecked 11-year-old nearly committed a murder.

Ron’s hands subconsciously rub together, lips purse, eyes down: “I just got upset that I got called a little bastard. I’d just lost my dad who died for this country…and someone who’s not even from this country and can’t speak our language called me that.”

The black t-shirt with a green print smudges together into an unrecognizable shape. A t-shirt that may raise eyebrows. But Ron surprises with a huge smile and welcoming hand shake. The tiger tattoo on his right hand and others lining his left and right upper arms speak of older days. More criminal days. The long, greying blonde hair falls on his shoulders and is neatly cut. No split ends. He has a belly on him, which he constantly jokes about, “you can’t miss me. I’m the one with the big gut and tats all over me.”

The teenage years were full of anger and hate. Cops were bashed, banks were robbed and people were shot by his own hands. Those hands eventually got cuffed and placed behind bars for 22 years.

“Jail was was a place of survival,” he says. “I wouldn’t take no crap off anybody.

They were survival days. I was in [jail] with Chopper Read,” he says, waving the famous

name into insignificance. “He’s a girl. I bashed him while I was in there and I still would if I

saw him today.”

Scrape marks are left on the cement as Ron moves his chair slightly. A

group of teenagers nearby catches his attention. A lanky teenager stares him down, eventually

waving a hand to signal the others and walks off.

“Just before you turned up there were 4 or 5 guys here picking on another kid. That tall guy

[Ron nods at the lanky teenager] was saying that he would effing break his wrists and neck. I

walked over to him and said would you mind to…effing go away.”

Ocker language flows from his mouth at a constant pace, fitting in a swear word every now and then and apologising each time. Ex-criminal, ex-alcoholic, ex-heroin addict. He admits heroin is too expensive to keep up with. “If I was still alive and using- I was only using $300 a week back then- I’d be using 12 to15 thousand a week. And where would I get that money from? I’d have to go back to crime and it’s not worth it.”

Ron checked himself into rehab. No methadone. Just a rubber room and his thoughts. “If I

see junkies selling it, it’s in my nature, I have to go have a go at them. I’m not

very polite. With the long hair and the moustache, and the attitude- my attitude is FTW-do

you know what that means?” Ron sticks his tongue out, sticks his finger up and says softly

“Fuck” and in a louder voice “THE WORLD!” he laughs loudly and his belly moves up

and down.

The black A4 folder sitting on the table is opened and letter after letter is pulled out from its

plastic sleeves. Ron’s eyes light up, each one is from a young person writing to thank

him for helping them achieve their dreams. He moves around excitedly in his chair,

describing the schools and teenagers he speaks to. “I’m today, I’m finished. They’re

tomorrow, they’re the future.” Ron invites himself to schools, intent on providing a grim

image of a criminal life, not a sexy bad-boy look. The kids listen. “I bumped into one of the

girls the other day, she had gone and got a job,” his voice raises an octave, “A job.!” The

baby steps to a new life is Ron’s motivation. He was surprised by the list of questions facing

him on his last trip- smart, mature questions. The question list is slipped out of the folder.

Sixteen or so questions are typed out- one has been furiously scribbled out. Ron raises his

eyebrows, “that one…that one was too graphic. It had too be left out.” He draws closer and

speaks in a whisper, “they wanted to know ‘is it true men get raped in jail?’ Yes, but so do

women. ” Ron leaves it at that and nods matter-of-factly.

Working with the local police (“the weirdest thing”, Ron says, “because I used to bash them up,”) in the ROPES program- an initiative by Victorian police to remove a young offender’s criminal record upon completion- has given Ron an unlikely best friend. Leading Senior Constable Neil Crouch has known Ron for two years. When the unlikely duo first met Neil thought Ron was “rough and ready and as tough as old boots,” Neil laughs. Working together, the crime rate in Bendigo has stayed below the states crime rate. In 15 months the reoffend rate has dropped from 26% to 5%- A figure Ron considers alright, but not good enough. “If I got it down to two or three percent I’d be happy.”

“Deep down he’s got a heart of gold and he never had the opportunities when he was younger like the kids do today,” Neil says. The friendship has changed them, each vouching for the strong friendship held and getting slightly shy when told of what one said about the other. “Ron has his opinion of me and sometimes I get embarrassed about it. It’s a mutual situation. We have both grown over that period. He’s a picture in words of what you can do and I’m fortunate enough to call upon him to show kids what you can be [if you remain in crime,]” he says.

Ron recently turned 64, his birthday is on the most romantic day of the year- Valentines Day. His wife, Margaret, is a quiet woman who gives up her seat next to Ron. Five kids and 19 grandchildren keep Ron focused, he gushes about the youngest grandchild who is five, “I call her Miss cranky pants.”

The crimes remain in Ron’s heart but his old life is gone. He hates the smell of alcohol and despises drugs. And one word. PAST. His blue eyes flash at the word, “the police never let me forget it.” His tough exterior is met with resistance when he confesses of suffering from depression, “I’m on antidepressants,” a tinge of sadness is heard in his voice.

Playing with the black folder, he confesses his deepest want. To hear his mum’s voice. Everyday. But it’s a voice that will never come. She died in 2003. “I lost the plot when she died. To this day I still wait for a phone call from her from the nursing home even though I know she’s not there.”

Ron is jumpy. He puts on a serious tone, staring with those blue eyes. “I can tell you from experience. Being a dickhead doesn’t get you anywhere.” As if an idea just hit him, he exlaims. “It took me 28 years,” and pulls something out of his pocket. His wallet. He flips it open and pulls out a plastic card. His driver’s licence. His index finger points at the photo on his licence three times. “That’s me, see the moustache? And the hair?.”

Ron has stayed out of trouble ever since his release, except for in 2007. It was self defence. “These guys were hassling my daughter, calling her a whore, so I headbutted one of the guys and the other one stabbed me...” He points to his left side. “Right here. I got given a three month good behaviour bond.” An amused laugh escapes his lips. “I said WHAT? I’ve never had anything so light before!” Cue moving belly from laughter.

For the 250 homeless kids in Bendigo, Ron has a plan. And to make it happen, people have to put in, “I tell people what I want, I don’t ask.” A house with a carer, troubled and homeless kids, any funny action and they’re out. This is the plan. “I’ve got Danny Clapp from The Good Guys on board who will supply the whitegoods… [The kids] will be there for 6 months and after that they can move on and start their life properly. If there’s drinking, smoking or drugs, that’s it. I’ll throw them out. They only get one chance.”

Ron places the letters carefully back into his black, A4 folder. It’s his future. The tats are faded, the hair is greying but the spark is still there, “I don’t feel like I’m old. You’re old when they close the lid on the box.” He smiles a huge, moustache-y smile and laughs.