BBC Radio 4, 27 May 2011
In 2000 a young Asian boy Zahid Mubarek (Darren Kuppan) was beaten to
death in Feltham Young Offenders jail by Robert Stewart (Matthew McNulty), a known racist with psychopathic tendencies with
a string of convictions behind him. Neil McKay's RIP Boy, narrated by prison officer John (Ross Boatman), told Robert's
story, as the teenager is moved from one institution to another, tattoos RIP Boy on his forehead, and incites another teenager
to commit murder, even before coming to Feltham. John also chides the prison authorities and the government: in
spite of having a file stuffed full of recommendations, reports and warnings, most institutions pay very little
heed to Robert's past. They simply lock him up in a cell and hope that nothing will happen; as a result, he is rather
like an explosive waiting to go off at any moment. However John also understands how the authorities have to cope with
overcrowded prisons and chronic underfunding - as a result, inmates are cooped up for twenty-three out of twenty-four
hours, while first-time offenders such as Zahid are billeted with boys like Robert. The staff would like to devote
more time to maintaining their authority, as well as looking after their inmates' welfare, but they simply have no opportunity
to do so. Zahid's murder is the inevitable, if tragic result.
Based on real-life events, RIP Boy offered a searing indictment of the contemporary
prison system, especially for young offenders, while suggesting that any solutions to the problems are a long way off. For governments
of whatever persuasion, prisoners are subject to the "out of sight, out of mind" approach; so long as
they are kept off the public agends, they can be treated like cattle in a pen. When high-profile cases like Zahid's murder
hit the headlines, public enquiries are conducted and recommendations made, but reforms seldom ensue. Meanwhile the prisons
become more and more violent, with ever-increasing numbers of inmates rebelling against what they see as an inhumane system.
Neil McKay's play suggests that they are right to hold such views.