Life, Love and Reg Kray
By Roberta Kray
(AN EXTRACT FROM A CONVERSATION WITH ANNA PUKAS)
I was nine years old in 1968 when the Kray twins were arrested. It meant nothing to me then and very little for the next 27 years. Then I found myself in the visitor's room of Her Majesty's Prison Maidstone, sitting opposite the man who was to change my life in every way - the man who is now my husband, Reg Kray.
He walked quickly from the back of the hall, a smart fit figure in regulation jeans and striped shirt, his head up. We shook hands. I can't remember all he said but I remember very clearly the impact he made. He was not what I expected. There was no bluster or swaggering, no putting on an act to impress. Instead I saw a man who was vigorous, enthusiastic, kind, courteous and dignified; who, despite his predicament, had a great sense of humour and retained an almost childlike curiosity and love for life.
He was warm and compassionate, tactile and completely focused when talking and listening. There was something else, something raw about him, the emotions all close to the surface, unburdened by falsities. He did not dissemble. It wasn't love at first sight but I do remember thinking that I could fall for this man.
I was there on that wintry afternoon in 1996 because of an inconsequential happening. Reg had asked a friend of mine to help with the publicity for a video called Epilogue about his brother Ron, and this friend in turn had asked me to help. It was, then, more of a business than a social meeting. Reg asked me to visit again two or three weeks later. We began writing and talking regularly on the phone. I visited about once a month when the commitments of running my own business permitted. Gradually we slid beyond friendship. We became softer with one another, held hands, talked about many things.
Initially I held my feelings in check, not only because of the implications but because I sensed Reg didn't want more at first. He was not trying to 'seduce me'. Then in early summer of 1996 Reg kissed me goodbye at the end of our visit. It wasn't the usual kiss on the cheek.
I honestly don't know who said it first - it was probably in a letter - but by August that year I knew I loved him. We both tried to pull back at times because in our situation being in love is not the unadulterated joy it is for other people. For life prisoners like Reg, a deep emotional attachment is an additional torment. Every thought of the loved one reminds you of your separation. Reg proposed in a phone call a week before his 63rd birthday. He promised he was down on one knee!
In my heart I wanted to say yes right away - I had no doubts about my feelings or about committing myself to Reg - but I took a few days to consider the immensity of it all. From being a very private person I knew I would be forced to face a curious world, to have my life probed, my motives and feelings scrutinised. I was marrying not only a man but a whole set of circumstances.
I knew it would be impossible to continue working in the same way and that it was unfair to both Reg and my business partners to try and split my time between them. So it was that I sold my shares in the business, gave up my flat in Hackney, East London, and rented a place a few minutes walk from Maidstone Prison.
We were married on the afternoon of 14th July 1997. The wedding took place inside the prison chapel and was followed by a small reception - with tea and orange juice rather than the more traditional champagne! It was a happy day but tinged with the sadness of separation. After two hours he was escorted back to his cell. I returned home without my husband.
In August of that same year Reg was transferred to Wayland Prison in Norfolk. He had been recommended for a move to a C-category prison in December 1995 but another 20 months passed before he was finally transferred. Shortly after I moved to join him in the area.
We are allowed only three visits a month but talk as often as we can on the phone. It is hard to live other than day-to-day. We try to make the best of our life together - even if most of it is spent apart. It is difficult to enjoy any kind of social activity; how can a drink or a meal out be savoured when I know such simple pleasures are denied to my husband?
I have lost some friends since my marriage, but made many more through Reg. Some people find it hard to accept our marriage but the vast majority are very supportive. If I am strong now, it is because of my husband's courage. He is the one who makes me laugh, who diverts me from self-pity or despair. What he has endured, and continues to endure, puts my pain into perspective. The most daunting reality I face lies in the lack of control I have over events - our lives are overshadowed by a system determined in its efforts to hinder his release.
Reg will be 66 years old in October. We both know there are more years behind him than there are ahead. He is a danger to no one and I don't believe he would face insurmountable problems on his release. The world has changed a great deal in 31 years but his indefatigable interest in it means he has kept abreast. As Reg himself says: 'When you've lived so long in an unnatural environment, why should it be so hard to return to a natural one?'
Neither of us underestimates the impact of the changes he will discover or the challenges he will face, but rehabilitation is also about love, support and understanding and Reg will never be short of any of these.
( Roberta Kray was talking to Anna Pukas)