Infamous Prison Escape Proves Therapeutic

St John’s College student James Adams wasn’t in the vicinity of Durham Prison to witness the actual escape of John McVicar in October 1968. But he did witness its immediate aftermath as he was stopped twice by police in North and South Bailey as he made his way from his digs to morning breakfast at St John’s.

Then, having arrived, he spotted police dogs and handlers in the college grounds, before a senior police officer addressed the assembled students about the dangerous criminal still at large and probably lying low in the area. College breakfast then proceeded with a much greater ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ than usual.

However, it was not until 20 years later that McVicar’s escape made its most dramatic impact on James Adams’ life when, quite by accident, he stumbled across the film ‘McVicar’ on TV – about ten minutes after it had started. Without having seen the title, he assumed it was a not-very-believable crime caper. But before long he came to realise that it was a docudrama about the prison escape that he himself had witnessed in his first term at St. John’s – and he was thereafter glued to the rest of the film.

The greatest impact however came during the film’s post-script to McVicar’s life after his eventual re-arrest. For, at that point, James realised that he shared something in common with John McVicar – namely that they had both experienced traumatic times in Durham: McVicar in his high security prison cell with a long sentence hanging over him. And James – in the mental prison of radical religious doubt that threatened his Christian identity and training for the Anglican ministry at St. John’s. Yet this was the very first time in twenty years that James had admitted to himself his dark and difficult days in Durham – despite having been in therapy for several years coping with his troubled life.

James had clearly repressed his bad times at Durham, but the McVicar film had helped release his unconscious negativities of his university years. From that moment on he became open to the realities of his life – both the bright and dark sides – and he started to express all this in charts: what he calls ‘Chart-therapy’, which he continues to benefit from to this day.

This true story – and many, many more – are all recounted and explored in his new book: “Passionate – the psychology of a passionate life” by James Adams, Austin Macauley publishers, 2022.

This book is a reflective psychological memoir of James Adams’ turbulent life, from infancy to post-retirement. It has won plaudits from Psychology Professor Jeremy Holmes who describes it as: “head and shoulders above similar accounts of psychological and spiritual trauma” and is “strongly recommended to readers interested in religion, sex, marriage, divorce, football and the arts – i.e. almost everyone”.

“Passionate” is available via Amazon and Waterstones websites:

paperback @ £12.99; e-book @ £3 and can be ordered through

any bookshop. 396 pp.

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