‘Come with me!’ I tugged on my husband’s arm. ‘There’s someone I want you to meet.’
I hurried him past the dignitaries, past the Lord Mayor, the High Sheriff, the Bishop, and pushed our way through the crowd to where an elderly man was struggling to get to his feet. I tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned round, saw me and smiled I said, ‘I’d like you to meet my husband, Mike.’
‘Mike, this is Cookie.’
Finally, after hearing so much about the legend, my husband got to meet the man.
The location was HMP Swansea; the occasion the annual Christmas carol service.
Cookie wasn’t taking part but attended the carol service as he did Sunday morning chapel regularly. It was there that I first and most often met him. His face would light up as he’d come into the chapel and he’d start to tell me about how he’d be out soon and, sometimes, about the fiancée he had waiting, other times about how he was never coming back in again. Until the next time.
I rarely saw him on the outside and never saw the darker side. To me he was this jovial amiable, chatty man with a faith in God that put my own to shame. When I told the congregation my story about not having a father he comforted me afterwards and reassured me I didn’t need one. He spoke fondly of his dear mother but remembered my story and often mentioned it on other occasions.
One time I did see him on the outside. It was in Tesco’s at 9.30 on a Friday morning. He’d been out of prison for half an hour and proudly boasted that he’d not had a drink yet. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re a good-looking woman you know. Are you married?’
By Sunday he was back inside.
Cookie was a man whose weaknesses were there for all to see. Most of us keep ours better hidden. But his faith was also obvious – many of us keep it better hidden.
I’m going to miss his stumbling presence; prison services will never be quite the same.