After thumping me to the ground, the Prison Officer Brian Armour proceeded to give me a lecture on conformity, surrounded of course by his body guards, known to us as " the sadistic bunch".
Brian, nicknamed "the Red Rat", went on to state that he would criminalise me and promised that I would never be able to have children and would break me in the end: Seamus, I will cause so much damage to you that you won't be able to function properly again and you won't be able to have children.
After 4 years of systematic and barbaric treatment in the H Blocks of Long Kesh Prison Camp, I survived but Brian did not. He answered for his war crimes in 1988 when he was killed in a mine attack. I visited his grave many years later and informed him that I had prevailed against all odds and actually had 3 children - one girl and two boys, dismissing his earlier prediction.
He had tried to criminalise me but in the end he had only criminalised himself. When I revealed my past history to Thomas, my eldest son, he replied: "Dad, I won't be able to surpass those heights you have gained in your own life." I interjected, "Thomas, you can still achieve great things if you apply yourself, but you must have clear goals and be able to conquer your fears."
I ingrained in him a sense of history, teaching him to be aware of where we had come from, where we were in the present and where we were going into the future. Thankfully he understood.
In 2015 he set off on his epic journey of self-discovery, landing in South America and beginning his trek in Ushuaia, the southern tip of the Americas, known locally as "the end of the world." From there his adventure commenced, ending on the shores of the Arctic circle in the northern hemisphere, after enduring and conquering the jungles of Latin America, the arid desert of Atacama, the blistering heat of Central America and the freezing conditions of the Arctic.
Along the way the ghosts of Bobby Sands and Ernesto Che Guevara travelled with him, as he visited the execution site in La Higuera in Bolivia, where Che was killed in 1967. Later, in San Francisco in North America, Thomas stumbled upon a hunger strike in progress by the "Frisco Five", a group of activists protesting against police brutality. He approached the hunger strikers sitting on chairs outside police headquarters and recited a poem penned by Bobby Sands entitled "The Rhythm of Time".
Shortly afterwards, as a result of Thomas explaining the poem, a mother of one of the hunger strikers, Colombian born Maria Gutierrez, began to tell the large crowd surrounding the police station about the 1981 Irish hunger strike. His message had got through. His journey had taken him almost a year to complete and his personal achievement has been immeasurable in terms of self-advancement, self-discipline and self-awareness. I am immensely proud of my son and I hope the reader of this phenomenal travel journal will be also.
The book Thumbs Up is now on general release and is available on your country's Amazon site in both paperback and Kindle. Enjoy the journey of an Irishman, son of a Blanketman, and the 25,000 kilometers from Patagonia to the Arctic.
⏩ James Kearney is a former Blanketman.