‘Released from the gates of Newgate Prison’ by Grant Couzens


Released from the gates of Newgate prison, John Thomas Littlejohn, (not named for the size of his genitalia) armed with a warrant for a hackney carriage to take him back to the rookeries of south west London stopped on the cobblestones to consider his fate. It didn’t look to good. He had been supplied with clothing from the reject store of Newgate’s paupers release fund but dreaded the day he would be forced to change into the clothing that sported the distinctive blue striped shirt and trousers marked with the crow’s foot markings that would distinguish him as a released convict without a brass farthing to his name, and on his proverbial arse. As if this wasn’t enough to contend with he had the added discomfit of finding himself without somewhere to lay his distinguishably convicted shaven head, which had already caused a few God fearing people to cross their breasts in a crucifix and scuttle across the road. Desperate not to be lured back into the ill gotten ways of his past, chance had offered him no solutions or a way out. And so it was, much to his dismay that he was forced to open up the links back to the dark and shameful past of his former life.
It was while he was taking a ride in a horse drawn carriage heading to the London suburb of Mitcham way out in the countryside that Littlejohn had the idea to contact one of his former associates, the infamous, sneeringly suspect looking, Dougie ‘O’Docherty, opium addict, serial masturbator, grave robber and leader of the ‘O’Gurr gang of cut purses, pickpockets and forgers of documents. These were just a few of Dougies many qualities of which the list was long. It was whilst he was walking past the hawkers, beggars and bangtails of the old highway in Mitcham that he spotted Dougie shouting and swearing; wildly flailing his arms at innocent Victorian passers by, narrowly missing them with the bottle of Holland’s Gin he was preciously holding onto.
With his hair tied back in the style of a high seas Buccaneer, a wild staring look in his piercing, bloodshot, blue pupil less eyes, a Gothic looking black leather coat that could  easily be associated with the dark days of ‘Vlad the Impaler’ of Lithuanian, skin tight leggings and boots familiarly  reminiscent of the dragoons of Sevastopol, Dougie was a sight to be feared; most of the Peelers in that quarter of London had learned to leave him well alone, as had most of the inhabitants of that small and God fearing hamlet.
Making his way cautiously through the throng of spectators that were unwittingly surrounding the hypnotic, whirling, Dervish dance of Dougie, and consequently, who were being worked by the ‘O’Gurr gang of Pickpockets, Littlejohn smiled inside of himself knowing this old game that Dougie was playing; that later, at the end of the day after his dance of serpentinian mesmerization he would be splitting the spoils of the days takings with the drogues of the ‘O’Gurr gang that he employed. Some things never changed Littlejohn thought.
Pushing his way through the throng of spectators, Littlejohn caught the mad blazing gaze of Dougie. Dougie, giving recognition by an extra widening of the eyes and a sneer of the upper lip, began to feign an arrest of the heart, clutching at his bohemian double breasted velvet waistcoat; a sign for his entourage of pickpockets to break off, and meet back at the lodging house they used as their base to divide the spoils of their days work.
Dougie sat down on the cobbles and waited for the crowd of onlookers to move on. Feeling confident that the faked recovery of his heart and the arrest of his alcoholic dementia would pass unnoticed, so as to leave the scam secure for another day in the hamlet, Dougie, dragging himself up from the gutter, shook himself into a feigned recovery, ever vigilant of the possibility of any undercover Peeler’s that might be witness to their scam. Faking a startling surprise at seeing Littlejohn, Dougie embraced the returning felon, patting him on the back whilst at the same time casting an ever cautionary, paranoid glance over his shoulder, like the true professional that he was. Whilst in this deep embrace Dougie whispered into Littlejohn’s ear.
“Let’s go to the tavern, we’ve some unfinished business to attend to”
Feeling secure enough to walk comparatively unnoticed along the cobblestone walkway, the arm of Dougie embraced Littlejohn as the entered the appropriately named ‘Moll Flanders’ Tavern, a notorious haunt for ladies of the night, men of ill repute and every other type of criminal and villain looking for employment into the organized gangs of London’s underworld. Walking Littlejohn up to the bar Dougie signaled to one of the buxom barmaids, giving her the predatory glare of Lion that had cornered a disabled Gazelle.
“A bottle of Holland’s and a flagon of ale”

At this point, Dougie, showing discomfit in his face, looked down at his appendage, his eyes signaling his intention to make a swift move to relieve himself of a full bladder and thus excused himself with regal aplomb. At this point, Littlejohn realized he had just become victim yet again to the Grand Master of scams as he was left to pay for the drinks. When Dougie returned a serious look came over his face, Littlejohn new what was coming. So far the subject had been avoided, but now it had to be faced.

Dougie filled the glasses then made a short speech: “To the good friends we have lost, and to good friends locked in Newgate. To the good times we have shared, to the bad times we have endured. To the memories that we have left, of the possessions we hold dear, our bond is the one we cherish”.
Looking Littlejohn in the eye, Dougie’s eyes began to water as he motioned to raise their glasses “To Sleem, may you finally rest in peace dear brother, to Durj, May your time in Ketch’s Kitchen go quick”.
When this was said and done, their tankards were raised to the sky in a final salute to one of the dearest of degenerates life had given them, Sleem, and to one to one of their dearest friends that couldn’t be there who was locked in the cells at the notorious Newgate prison. The beers were downed in one and the tankards thrown across the room, Dougie shouted a roar and slapped his fists down onto the table, and then the tumblers were filled with Gin and knocked back in the same fashion. Littlejohn gasped as the fire burned his throat, the glasses were thrown, smashing on the ground. Tears began to fill the eyes of these two heathen looking men, the ritual was done, and life must go on. Each were silent as they walked from the tavern, Locked in their own thoughts with the memories of their brothers who had fallen or been captured in this war of attrition on life’s rocky road.
Dougie took one of the bags that Littlejohn had left Newgate with and they walked silently back to the lodging house Dougie used as a base to front his illegal activities and as a hideout for the members of the O’Gurr gang. When they arrived at the lodging house, Littlejohn was overcome with a desire to numb the pain of his present predicament, and so he hinted to Dougie that he was leaving to go on a foray into the nearby rookeries of Roehampton to contact a man he knew as  Chinky, whom Littlejohn knew would be able to purchase a  small quantity of opium, upon which he would return to Dougie and they would sit and entertain the Dragon for the evening whilst sipping Absinthe and smoking fine Indian Hashish from the mountains of Chitral.
Littlejohn bade a temporary farewell to Dougie and made his way back through the narrow alleyways of Mitcham to the cobblestone highways where he could board a carriage to Roehampton. A hackney carriage went past and Littlejohn hopped onto the back of it unnoticed by the driver who was busy holding onto the reigns of his horses steering the carriage along the cobbles of the crowded road.
The journey through the suburbs filled Littlejohn with a sense of foreboding; two and a half years in the belly of the great beast, Newgate Prison, and now it felt as though he had never been there at all. He jumped off of the back of the carriage as it pulled into the livery in Roehampton and casually melted into the throng of people that milled about. Nothing had changed here, nothing but himself.
Before he had been arrested by the peelers and incarcerated at Newgate for evasion of taxes, Littlejohn had been one of the largest suppliers of Opium in the South West on London. Walking along the cobbles he felt as though he had suddenly become possessed by the ghost of his former life and his footsteps had become automatic. Before he knew it he was at the dwellings of one of his former associates, Chinky. Chinky was a person of unknown origin, slightly discolored, he looked a little bit Chinese, Indian, and possibly Mongolian there could even have been a bit of the old Kwazulu in there.
Chinky responded to the sight of Littlejohn as if he had just popped down to the local pie shop and back, not as if he had just returned from two and a half years in the cities notorious prison. Littlejohn understood this though; Chinky had sold his soul to the Dragon a long long time ago, he was one of the true soldiers of the underworld, Satan’s soldiers. Littlejohn would always avoid the thought of what this made him, as Chinky had been one of his former associates and foot soldiers. But he figured that he wouldn’t be making the Pearly Gates too soon, that was a certainty.
Whilst Chinky was out purchasing the merchandise for the evenings entertainment Littlejohn began to grapple with his conscious, never before had he felt such pangs of guilt and remorse over his past and the fate that he felt awaited him should he have to return to his former employ and continue working for the big boss, Satan, peddling his misery to the lost souls of London.
A voice was whispering in his ear, a voice he had long since forgotten, as if it was calling from the pits of his soul.
“Littlejohn, make your way to the missionaries of the Queen Mary’s Sanitarium and ask for a Samaritan called Marcia also known as Sister Mercy. Tell them you are done with the Devils work and seek repentance and that you are turning yourself over to the will of God, good luck my child”.
With this message in head Littlejohn made his way to the Sanatorium and asked if there was a Marcia, also known as a Sister Mercy. He was directed to a ward near the front of the building and much to his surprise she greeted him with a warm and caring smile. Was this really happening? He thought. At this revelation, Littlejohn fell to his knees and begged forgiveness for all of his sins, and there were many, saying that he would rather go to the ends of the earth than to give his life over to the beast again.

Marcia bade him to get up, laying her hands on his shoulders she said “Littlejohn, if you are serious about your decision, this is a chance for you to turn your life around. You have been living your life in the darkness for too long, yet God has shone a light on you, for many times in your life you should have died, and it has been by Gods divine intervention that you are still alive. Pick up the sword and shield of righteousness and join forces with the power of the lord and you shall be redeemed. Go now my child and make your decision. But beware the forces of Satan; for once you have let him into your heart he will never leave you alone. Remember, salvation lies in the Lord God Almighty”.
With this message firmly rooted in his heart he left the sanatorium with instructions to make his way to the port of Southampton where he would be met by warders of a hospice for the care of the Lost Souls of Gods country.
As he was walking past the rookeries of the village of Roehampton, Littlejohn remembered  his commitment to his friend Dougie, and though it was one he no longer wanted to fulfill he wasn’t about to let his friend down, for anybody, even God, though at that time he felt he was on a probation with the Lord. As he made his way to Chinky’s he took a last look around the village he had once been the scourge of and decided that it would be better off without the likes of him. He knocked on the door of Chinky’s and was let in with the same old ritualistic welcome that is often associated with the Opium dens of London,
“Have you got any tobacco, have you got a pipe” the usual banter.
He bade Chinky farewell knowing he wouldn’t be missed any time too soon and hoofed it back on the pad to Dougie’s. After a further night of debauchery with his friend Dougie, Littlejohn awoke and picked up his bag saying his goodbye to his friend.
This was the first and last night Littlejohn had spent in London for two and a half years, and as this episode comes to an end, it is sure that this wont be the end of his story. And if you’re ever wondering what happened to Littlejohn, listen carefully on a windy night in the smog ridden rookeries of London and it is said you can hear him calling, “You haven’t got a smoke bud have you? Could you spare some loose change sir? Thank you sir, thank you kindly”.
Here endeth the first tale of John Thomas Littlejohn.

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2 thoughts on “‘Released from the gates of Newgate Prison’ by Grant Couzens

  1. This gave a compelling look into the lives of Victorian London’s criminals, and had three most interesting characters. It was easy to read, and I was keen to learn more of what would happen to John. It was the start of what could have been a most fascinating story. Please consider writing more of it. Be careful with errors in grammar and spelling.

  2. A laugh in the first sentence
    Some great turns of phrase – ‘Nothing had changed here, nothing but himself,’ and ‘his dance of serpentinian mesmerization’ though both words may be made up!
    Needs editing for grammar and spelling.
    Dickensian with a modern thriller feel to it.
    Are there follow-up tales? If so we could do with a hint of something to expect – maybe a musing over options and choices, alongside the one Marcia gives him – and the drugs of course.
    Flows well, thanks.

    Kevin M

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