‘I spent 16 years in prison and I have to tell you: Therapy works’
Former armed robber: I never had any social skills. I couldn’t argue something without whacking someone on the jaw
15 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Terry Ellis wrote a book about his time in one of the UK’s most ‘progressive’ prisons
FORMER armed robber Terry Ellis spent 16 years in prison after being caught for a spate of multi-million pound heists.
Now 55, he says he has found a new lease of life that he attributes, albeit begrudgingly, to the therapy sessions in what many argue is the country’s most progressive prison.
And he has written a book about his two years at HMP Grendon living among serial killers, child murderers and rapists.
Mr Ellis, who lives in Hampstead, said: “Everyone thought I was crazy when I went to Grendon. But I learned so much about my embarrassment, ego and shame. I feel like I’ve been given a special power. I never had the willpower to stop anything on my own before. But this time I haven’t been to the pub, haven’t had a cigarette, I haven’t cheated – and I haven’t done any more armed robberies.”
HMP Grendon in Bucks is the only prison in the country run democratically. It houses 238 prisoners, who undergo a rigorous programme of daily group therapy and share responsibility for making decisions about the running of the jail.
The book, Living Amongst The Beasts, describes regular bingo sessions run by otherwise hardened criminals. “Andy, the wing chairman, would be calling the numbers out and his side-kick Nick, the armed robber, would be giving out the prizes,”
Mr Ellis said. He recalls his own crowning achievement inside was learning the “To Be Or Not To Be” speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and reciting it in “full cockney” to governors and therapists.
Terry Ellis outside Kentish Town Police Station
Mr Ellis said this week: “There was no medication but if you want an idea think One Flew Over Cuckoo Nest and times it by five. The truth is that 99 per cent of people in prisons are just like the rest of you. They are not monsters. They may have done really bad things, but they are not monsters.” Mr Ellis said: “We spend millions of millions of pounds on tick-box courses for prisoners that ask questions they simply don’t have the tools to answer.”
“At Grendon the therapy was continuous. You are put into a firing line, put into conflict situations, every day. The truth is, it works. I hate to admit it.”
Mr Ellis was convicted of a £5million robbery of a tech firm in King’s Cross with an accomplice, both disguised as policemen. They handcuffed all the staff and looted more than 100 rooms of the company Verizon. He regularly used his police uniform trick to carry out robberies, according to the court reports.
But since his release, he has campaigned for Camden Against Violence and in recent weeks helped with dozens of food handouts across north London during the coronavirus lockdown.
As a boy, he went to Richard Cobden primary school in Camden Town and later William Collins, which is now called Regent High in Somers Town.
Mr Ellis said: “All my friends at school could read and write and I used to exclude myself from classes because I was embarrassed. I never had any social skills. I couldn’t argue something without whacking someone on the jaw. I know how powerful embarrassment can be to a kid. I never used to talk about my dyslexia but now I shout about it from the rooftops.”
Mr Ellis said society “shouldn’t be telling kids what they should and shouldn’t do, but try to talk to them about what’s going on in their lives”.
He added: “Once you start doing that, the anger goes. I came from a generation where it was the done thing to bottle it up. I still see them. They still drink, still do cocaine. They still think it’s weak to cry, weak to talk. No one has given them the opportunity to move on. I know lots of guys who are just 50 year old kids, they haven’t transcended from pubescence to adulthood. They all have the looks of an older person, but they have never grown. They haven’t been given the tools to grow.”
l The book is available on Amazon and Kindle