Wayne died last year. I didn’t know at the time. For various reasons, we’d lost touch some six years or so before his death and his family wouldn’t have known how to contact me.
I was shocked although perhaps not entirely surprised when I heard the news. But I would never have predicted the circumstances in the early days of our friendship and relationship. When I first met Wayne he was affable and happy-go-lucky. I was fairly stressed in my work and life, so I enjoyed his more relaxed attitude, and it wasn’t all that long before we got together as a couple.
Wayne wasn’t ambitious, and thoroughly enjoyed life despite a relatively low income and few possessions. He was a gentle soul, so it was a bit of a surprise when he decided to apply for a job as a prison officer. But the role revealed aspects of his character that I, at least, hadn’t anticipated.
Wayne was always gregarious, so it was predictable that he would get on well with both officers and prisoners. But he also turned out to be surprisingly unfazed by what some might have experienced as an extremely intimidating environment. He won awards for his mastery of control techniques, but preferred to talk people down from a potentially explosive situation, rather than resort to physical restraint. And he threw himself into the challenge of encouraging prisoners to turn their lives around on release, supporting them by simply being interested in their lives, taking the time to chat on a ‘man-to-man’ basis, and establishing a literacy programme on his wing. On several occasions we bumped into ex-prisoners Wayne had worked with, and their affection and respect for him was clear.
But being ambushed at gunpoint whilst taking a prisoner to hospital, on what was supposed to be a routine assignment, had a profound and devastating impact. Wayne developed post-traumatic stress disorder and never regained his prior bonhomie and joie de vivre.
It’s something of a cliché to observe that bad things happen to good people. Nonetheless, Wayne was a thoughtful, generous and creative man, and deserved better from life. He is remembered by family and friends with affection, and with sadness that things didn’t go differently for him.