|Road to nowhere
Mark ‘Chopper’ Read
Mark ‘Chopper’ Read was not widely known to the broader world until he began writing about his criminal experiences and then a television documentary was shot in which he admittedly happily played up to the camera. This in turn helped lead to the feature film ‘Chopper’ featuring Eric Banner as Read.
I had not read much of Read’s earlier work. After skimming through a couple of them, at the time I was left with the feeling that it was glamorising his violent persona. But I was interested to read this particular title as it was the reflection of the now older man on his 23 years and nine months within the Australian prison system. So I finally got around to reading it.
While I could hardly say I understand Read as his experiences are just so far removed from mine, I do understand him better than before.
Read has previously admitted to having been diagnosed with a form of autism that basically means he fears very little. When you’re a big, physically powerful man with that condition, sooner or later it would be leading you into trouble. And so this helped Read toward the prison system at a young age, coming to see that system as his future. He did not necessarily like it as such but it did not scare him. In that respect, prison as a deterrent doesn’t really work if you aren’t scared of it.
What Road to Nowhere shows us is just how alien the prison system is, especially back in the 1970s and 1980s, to what the rest of us have in our generally ‘safe’ ‘normal’ lives. A friend of mine who was a prison warder for a while, had previously told me that there was a lot going on inside that the rest of us never hear about. And Read’s narrative bears that out. This wasn’t just dog eat dog, it was dog bash hell out of other dogs repeatedly with whatever came to hand or with fists and boots. Then maybe kill the dog. Eating it afterwards was probably an optional extra. Incidentally, the ex-warder friend of mine also confided that he didn’t have any real problems with Read, saying the trick was to treat him with a little respect.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in law and order. But aspects of this account are a real exposè on just how terrible the prison system at least used to be. It was a negative system which just bred yet more negative behaviour. And the younger Read revelled in it.
Ultimately Read became sick of prison. And that conscious decision to actually stay out of prison is what, in his own words, stopped him from ‘being such a violent crook.’
While not necessarily being sorry as such, apart from a touching piece about a younger prisoner who committed suicide and Read clearly sad that he could not recall the youngster’s name, he quite openly admits just how incredibly stupid he was at times as a younger man. Well we all are, but not many of us were in the same position as Read or going to cop quite the same consequences.
The end of the book reveals insight into his overall experience. It is a real indictment on what the prison system has been like and a real display of just how alien it all is to the rest of our society. This account also reaffirms the virtue of finally having a positive influence in your life. I wasn’t a crim but it was the great love of my life who made me sober up and stay that way – just like Chopper Read I think we all need a Margaret in our lives at least at some point.
This is brutal. It is violent. It is uncompromising. And regardless of any fabrications which may or may not have occurred in the writing, it reeks of truth.
I doubt Chopper Read and I would ever be mates. But I definitely now have some respect for the man.