Colin Ireland had never had any control over his world. He had always been at the mercy of various adults and institutions, and never had the power to assert his own wishes. And although in his earlier years his care figures were of a benevolent nature, as he grew older he started to be subject to more harmful influences.
With neither money nor a place to live, he was again in trouble almost immediately. Although his offences were still relatively minor, they were steadily escalating, and at seventeen he was sentenced to his first stint of borstal training, having been found guilty of burglary. He was sent to Hollesly Bay, an open borstal, at which the regime was so light that he was able to escape. He remembers that "I escaped in the early morning, it was the summer. I ended up in the corner of this field. It was a safe place to hide, my only companion a dead rabbit. I stayed there till the night. It was a long day, I had no food or water and could not move and the rabbit smelt." He was not on the run for long, however, before being picked up by the police, and served the rest of his sentence, from 1971 to 1972, under the stricter regimes of the Rochester and Grendon borstals.
After his release at the age of eighteen, Ireland was able to begin his first relationship with a woman, but it was not a happy period. He reports that he was in a confused and unstable mental state:
"I was entering what I call the lost period. Common with those who suffer from psychopathy. Two examples, one fictional one not, spring to mind. The fictional account is in the book Catcher in the Rye. The true account was the year Adolph Hitler disappeared for when he was in Vienna. When he reappeared he had lost his coat that is all that is known about that year. My own 'lost period' (my term) lasted a lot longer. In between custodial periods a lot of the seventies are a blur. I spent my time detached and wondering."
In December 1975, at the age of twenty-one, Ireland was again in trouble with the police. No longer a minor, when he was found guilty of two counts of burglary, stealing a car and damage to property, he was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment, of which he served twelve. The first part of his sentence was spent in "crowded London prisons" where he began to think that his name was "oi you". When, after a few months, he was moved to the more civilised Lewes, and greeted after his first night with the words "good morning Colin" he could hardly believe it.
Shortly after he was released, Ireland met, and moved in with, a woman with whom he began his first real sexual relationship.