becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Leroy Mckoy

When Leroy was a young man he was imprisoned twice for exporting and supplying huge amounts of cannabis. The first time he was imprisoned he was living in Germany which had an enlightened prison system that helped the prisoners a great deal. The second time was in a high security unit in Britain where the aim was nothing more than containment. The ethos of this prison was that in order to survive, it was essential to be seen as invulnerable. Leroy was able to act out this role.

Behind this role there was another Leroy. For the first fourteen years of his life he had lived in Jamaica in a rural and largely matriarchal community. Leroy’s grandmother was very important to him and after she died she remained a part of his inner world. This experience led him to believe there were other dimensions to human existence than those that we experience through our five senses. At the height of his career as a criminal, a friend had given him a book about the spiritual ideas of Rudolf Steiner. His friend had found this book in his grandfather’s council house in London, and he thought that it would help Leroy to understand his inner experience of the presence of his grandmother. In his first stay in prison Leroy decided to use his time to explore these questions. He asked his partner to send him more books by Rudolf Steiner. He read them all. Stuck in prison for a second time and still inspired by the search for a spiritual dimension, he set up a study group with his fellow prisoners.

Three events then came together which changed everything for him. First, a young man in the study group committed suicide. Second, listening on an illegally rigged radio, Leroy heard about the riots of black youths in Birmingham. Third, he heard Nelson Mandela speaking soon after his release. He felt deep pain when confronted with the wasteful death of his young friend. He also felt despair, empathy and responsibility for those disenfranchised youths rioting in his home town. This, combined with the image of a black man who had once been demonised as a terrorist now being credited with authority and wisdom, acted like a catalyst in his interior world. He felt a new sense of what was possible for him, a new sense of what he could become for the people around him. He decided to be what was needed in that tough world where no one dared show any weakness. He agitated to set up a counselling service in the prison. In this he succeeded. The prisoners were trained by the Samaritans and were available to help each other day and night. The work was so successful that the model was taken up in other prisons. His work in the prison meant that he was released early. Leroy now works full time within his community where he combines many roles, the most important of which is mentoring the young.