I finally finished reading Borstal Boy. In the afterward Benedict Kiely writes about what made Behan so special. Kiely knew Behan and at the time was teaching Borstal Boy to female students at a college in Virginia. If only we could all be more like this:
They were, not surprisingly, impressed by words not customarily in use in respectable American homes: but much more they were impressed by the author’s vast and obvious humanity, by his humorous acceptance, his abounding life and love of life. His people, from the roughest screw (prison officer) in Walton to the gentlest boy in the open prison camp by the North Sea (and with the possible exception of the R.C. Chaplain who, quite without authority, cut him off from the sacraments), are almost all looked upon with sympathy, or, at any rate, with a sort of pity (“for very oft we pity our enemies”), or with defensive enmity that becomes perverted brotherhood. You feel that if the worst of them had met him elsewhere, and under less claustrophobic circumstances, the unpleasant things might not have happened.
Borstal Boy is an account of Behan’s time in prison and reform school as a young prisoner.