Freed pop star says, I deserved to go to jail
George Michael is an internationally successful recording artist. He's also a man with a drug problem. So has his time in prison done him a favour?
'Remarkably enough, I know people must think it was a really horrific experience,' says George Michael of his prison sentence, 'but it's so much easier to take any form of punishment if you believe you actually deserve it – and I did.'
George Michael, real name Georgios Panayiotou, is a man who has known both highs and lows in his life.
The 47-year-old first rose to fame as half of the pop duo Wham! in the 1980s. His solo albums sold millions of copies and won numerous awards in the UK and in the US.
But Michael has recently served half of an eight-week sentence in jail for crashing his car while under the influence of cannabis. He was arrested in July after being found slumped at the wheel of his Land Rover.
And this wasn't his first offence. In 2007 he admitted another charge of drug-driving and was sentenced to 100 hours community service.
He now seems determined to start again however. Describing himself as 'the poster boy for cannabis,' he admits to being 'ashamed' to have broken the law and that the prison term was 'karma'.
'This was a hugely shameful thing to have done repeatedly,' he says, 'so karmically I felt like I had a bill to pay.' He is also now in therapy for his cannabis problem.
His four-week incarceration has left its mark. 'It wasn't a weekend break, put it that way,' he says. 'I didn't feel sorry for myself.
I thought, "Oh my God, this place is absolutely filthy" because it was Pentonville. I just thought, "you get your head down."'
But the celebrity experience of jail is hardly normal, when even the warders want their signature. Before leaving, Michael gave his autograph to every single prisoner and prison staff member.
And on his last night, he got a special request from an inmate. They wanted him to sign their guitar and put the date on it.
'The guy said it's the 10th of the 10th of the 10th. And I just thought "that's so fitting. It's like the clock rolling round to the end of something, tomorrow I start again."'
George Michael had seven number one hits in the UK and eight in the USA. He was both a world star and a man unable to deal with his drug habit.
And so on August 12, 2010, he was charged with 'possession of cannabis and with driving while unfit through drink or drugs' and sent to prison.
It is a story of decline, but also a story of hope. Michael accepts his punishment as just, and is determined now not to repeat his mistakes. 'I just want to start again' he says.
Will he manage it?
- Have you ever felt shame? Does shame make people change?
- After time in prison, over 40% of UK inmates go onto re-offend. Does that mean prisons aren't working?
- Write a song about George Michael's life to this point, lyrics and music. What will it be called? Perform it to the class.
- How can prisons be more effective? Do some research into the problems in our prison system and write down your proposals for change. (Useful link in 'Become an Expert').
Some People Say...
“Some people will never change.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What does he mean by 'karma'.
- Karma is the law that says our behaviour catches up with us; what goes around, comes around.
- Like prison.
- Well, prisons have two roles really. One is to punish people. So when someone commits a serious crime, they lose their freedom.
- And the second?
- To rehabilitate offenders – to help them back into society as changed people who won't want to commit crime again.A He did say he 'received no special treatment of any kind.' But then Pentonville prison, where he was sent, is familiar with celebrities – they've had both Oscar Wilde and Boy George there.
- But can anyone really change?
- It's true he's been talking about his drug problem since 2005. But this is the first time he's been to jail. So who knows?