Interview given by Eric Cullen to Scotland on Sunday
This interview formed part of an article by Eric's friend journalist Dorothy Grace Elder, which appeared on 16th July 1995 under the title "Agony of life on the suicide watch", just after Eric's release from Barlinnie prison pending an appeal.
... Eric Cullen was a Triple S prisoner for most of the last two weeks - meaning he was under Strict Suicidal Surveillance, highest risk category.
He told me [i.e. Ms Elder]: "I was downgraded to Intermediate Risk - which mainly meant I could get my glasses back - after they detected some change in my depression. I can tell you that came mainly through promising the McFarlan children I wouldn't kill myself - plus that blessed day when Scotland on Sunday published the truth about my case. I held up that scrap of paper, realising it had started to save my sanity."
Cheer also came when sex abuse victims - adults and children - wrote to him in jail. "They actually asked for my help - showing people believed me.
"The point at which I would have killed myself was in the police cells in Hamilton, right after I had been sent down. I sat there for hours, looking back on my whole life as an endless series of punishments. To be sent to prison while men who abused me were free and untroubled by the police force which had concentrated on me, was a moment I would not have survived if anything had been available with which I could have ended my life. At that time, I didn't even realise you could do it by breaking your glasses.
"The very thought of Barlinnie filled me with total terror - of all the men there, and me unfairly branded among them."
... "There are about a thousand men in Barlinnie but the publicity spotlight was only on me, which made me completely vulnerable."
... "I didn't realise that the world contains so much desperate misery. Some prisoners will even stab themselves with a hard-backed book. No pencils or pens were permitted at first and my glasses being taken away left me helpless. My sight is so bad I once walked out on stage and fell straight into the orchestra pit. Prisoners under special watch aren't allowed into the library so, when I got my glasses back, I started reading slowly, frightened my paperback would run out.
... "I'm not criticising any rules as they spring from years of knowledge of the deepest human misery. Some prison officers and nurses went out of their way to visit those of us in the suicide cells for a few minutes because we're all so alone there. Some of these people really do care but if anyone stopped for a cheerful word, I dreaded them leaving and hearing once again that cell door crash shut and echo down miles of corridors. I knew I'd be alone again for hours. They're so short staffed some times that the whole prison was banged up for the night at 5pm on Sundays. And it is a long, terrible night in prison. The sounds I heard are still in my brain and probably always will be - howling, weeping in the night ... so many tortured lives, so much pain. And out there, there are people who think prisons are going soft!"
... "The shorts they gave me were the smallest of prison issue - but even those fell off. An ordinary suicide shirt could have made half a dozen nooses for me. Prison shoes don't come in size three so I had to be allowed to wear my own shoes."
... The McFarlan children and other young friends - all bigger than Eric, even the eight-year-old, follow him around, watching over him. The only laughter of a fortnight came when one youngster asked: "Eric, is it true some ladies wrote to you in prison, asking to marry you?" "Aye," he replied, "A lot of blokes get these letters."
"Where did the ladies come from?"
Reply: "Dunno. Probably from Carstairs."
[Note for non-Scots: Carstairs is Scotland's state mental hospital for the criminally insane.]