Written By: Naomi
Trigger Warning: Suicide Mention, Self Harm
Micheal Gordon Peterson was born December 6th, 1952 in Luton, Bedfordshire near England. He was born to Joe and Eira Peterson and was one of three boys. His family had strong political ties with his father running a conservative club and both his aunt and uncle each serving as mayor for the town in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Growing up, Micheal was described as being incredibly gentle, kind, and would even protect other children from bullies. He loved school, was popular, and polite to everyone. However the family moved towns when he was a teenager and Micheal started to get into trouble, he began to miss school, loved getting in fights, and by the age of 13 he was in a gang comprised of four robbers, he would eventually be sent to juvenile court when he was caught stealing but was only reprimanded. The law would continue to be kind to Micheal for his teenage years and the family felt that he had just fallen in with the wrong crowd as there was nothing in his childhood that could explain his sudden change in behavior.
During his teen years he returned back to his hometown in Luton for work and had his first job at Tesco which lasted only two weeks before he was fired for attacking his manager. He went through many jobs at factories or at manual labor positions and even some more extreme jobs including becoming a strong man at a circus which required that he grow a handlebar mustache. He would continue getting in brawls when he was out but his next run in with law was not until he damaged property, once again released on probation and fined. He then stole a semi-truck and crashed it into a car, he attempted to evade police by running the 90 miles to his parents home but was arrested later at home. Since the driver of the car had survived Micheal once again only faced probation and fines.
At the age of 19 he was put on trial for his part in a smash and grab raid but the judge wanted to give him another chance, thus giving him a suspended sentence. That same year he would meet a girl named Irene Kelsey, she would later tell how different he was since he always wore a tailored suit and was perfectly groomed. They would be married 8 months later when she was four months pregnant, soon after they had their son Micheal Jonathan Peterson. Micheal (father) had a drinking problem and would disappear for days, returning home covered in bruises but would be sober in a few hours and play with his son like nothing was wrong until 1974 when he disappeared for a full week. Police raided his and Irene’s home and informed her that Micheal was convicted of armed robbery at age 22. He was sentenced to seven years in prison that would be the beginning of his stints in and out of prison that continue to this day.
Shortly after arriving he was sent to the punishment block for attacking two prisoners unprovoked and was later transferred prisons. He had a reputation as a short tempered prisoner and refused to work, even destroying a workshop after getting into an argument with a prison guard causing an additional six months to be added to his sentence. He was once again sent to the punishment block as well as injected with sedatives and anti-psychotic medications. Micheal continued to be a violent prisoner and was put in and out of solitary confinement for months while his wife filed for divorce, unable to wait for him as he continued to increase the time he would be in jail. It was after he attacked another prisoner with a broken glass jug and an additional 9 months being added to his sentence did he find out that his reputation as a dangerous inmate was getting around, now when he was being moved between prisons they would chain him to the floor of the prison vans, keep him in isolation, and since there is little else to do in prison, he started getting very into fitness. When he could he would attack other inmates and damage prison property, at one point he even tried to poison the inmate in the cell next to his causing him to be moved to the Parkhurst Prison in 1976 at age 24 and befriending the Kray twins.
Micheal felt they were, “ the best two guys (he had) ever met”, the Kray twins had been a part of the organized crime gang named The Firm. The ex-boxers ran their gang out of nightclubs and pubs they owned, they were considered celebrities who had interviews with the media and were friends with people like Frank Sinatra, Diana Dors, Judy Garland, and various politicians. Having friends like these did not help his title as a dangerous prisoner so he was transferred again after he threatened to kill a guard and then spent four months in isolation after he was discovered trying to dig out of his cell. When he got out of isolation he hunted down the inmate who had snitched on him and proceeded to attack him and scar him for life. The prison once again wanted to transfer him out for this but the only place that would now accept Micheal was the psychiatric ward at another prison where he attacked a guard, attacked a man with a jam jar, and attempted suicide. His actions escalated until he was finally transferred to Rampton Secure Hospital which is a high security psychiatric hospital. The daily doses of medications were not something he could adjust to and he was aggravated that he needed to be surrounded by so many violent mentally ill patients, he even tried to strangle a man named John White who was a murderer and pedophile. Micheal would be quoted later speaking about the horrors he saw at this hospital that made it impossible for him to stay there, that the harm people would do to themselves due to their mental illness was engraved in his mind. He was returned back to prison where he met back up with one of the Kray twins. Micheal had fallen into a depression after he failed to kill another inmate when the silk tie he was using to strangle him ripped from the force; the Kray twin lifted his spirits by inviting a pro boxer to the prison for him to visit.
One thing Micheal was well known for were his rooftop riots at the prisons. In 1982 he escaped to the roof of the prison he was in and ripped off the roof tiles, the second time he did this he was on the rooftop for three days and needed to be talked down by his family, but not before he caused £250,000 of damage to the prison, the equivalent of $304,000.
He continued to receive treatment at the prison and took up art, even beginning to win awards in the prison for his cartoons and writing skills. He conducted a third rooftop protest demanding to transfer prisons and was talked down again by family members, it was not until after an 18 day hunger strike did he finally get transferred to another high security psychiatric facility which upset him greatly. Doctors could not determine a diagnosis for Micheal and discussed the possibility of him having schizophrenia or psychopathy. There was some improvement while he was in this facility but he soon returned to his usual ways and when a patient made a sexual advance at him he stabbed them with a sauce bottle which added three years onto his sentence and he was sent back to the general prison population. He had another three day rooftop protest causing another £100,000 of damage and an additional year to be added to his sentence. He had to be transferred 8 more times and spent the rest of his sentence in isolation before he was released in 1986.
Almost immediately upon his release he went and bought a water gun, modified it to look real, and used it to intimidate someone to drive him back to his hometown. He began a career in illegal bare knuckle boxing for a period of time at the recommendation of one of the Kray twins and changed his name to Charles Bronson. He wanted to take on many big names in the fighting world and even claims to have killed a rottweiler with his bare hands in a £10,000 underground fight but it was something he regretted since he loved animals. In 1988 he surprised his girlfriend Allison by robbing a jewelry store on new years day, selling all the jewelry and keeping one ring for her - several days later he was arrested after being free for 69 days. He was charged under his fighting name, Charles Bronson, so he gave up his birth name entirely. At first witnesses were afraid to testify against him but soon his girlfriend became the main witness for prosecutors and he was sentenced to seven years. Some prisons refused to take him due to his behavior there his first time in prison so he was being constantly moved, during one of the stints where he spend a month in one hospital he bonded to a family of rats in his cell. When in a different prison that he seemed to be getting comfortable but he snapped and led a riot naked while wielding a spear he made out of a broom handle and a broken bottle. In another prison he was attacked by two inmates and stabbed in the back repeatedly but refused to tell officers about the incident, he went on to heal and be released from prison once more in 1992 for 53 days before he was arrested for conspiracy to rob but he swore that it was a conspiracy made up by his girlfriend and her friends to have him arrested. The charges were dismissed and he was only fined £600 for breaking his girlfriend's lover's nose upon release. 16 days later he was again arrested for conspiracy to rob and possession of a sawed off shotgun. While waiting for trial he took a librarian hostage and demanded a helicopter, a blow up doll, and a cup of tea from the police. However he let his hostage go out of disgust when he farted in front of him. When he finally went on trail for his charges he plead not guilty to conspiracy to rob but guilty of owning the shotgun, clarifying that he had it to commit suicide. The court changed the charges from conspiracy to rob to intent to rob and gave him another 8 years in prison. He spend 40 days in isolation naked and when he was transferred he was placed into what was referred to in the prison as the “Hannibal cage” It had been created for Serial Killer Robert Maudsley a few years earlier and was a 5.5 by 4.5 metre cell with large bulletproof windows through which prisoners could be observed. The cell was furnished with a table and chair made of compressed cardboard and the bed was a concrete slab. To enter the cell there was a solid steel door into a small cage within the cell surrounded by thick acrylic walls and only a small slot at the bottom for food to be passed to Charles.
While in this hell box guards encouraged him to continue practicing art and cartooning but Charles was being moved between prisons almost weekly and remained in isolation in each starting September 1994 when his father died. April 1996 he would, “lose it badly” and when a prisoner who was an Iraqi hijacker bumped into him in the cafeteria and didn't apologize he took 2 other hijackers and an unrelated prisoner hostage. He ranted about his dead father and should the guards or hostages try anything he would be, “snapping necks” he demanded a plane to Libya, two submachine guns, 5,000 rounds of ammo, and an axe - threatening to eat one of the hostages if his demands weren’t met. He began to spiral and made prisoners sing for him and had the hijackers tickle his feet and call him general before releasing the unrelated prisoner and chanting that he wanted ice cream. He hit one of the hijackers with a metal food tray and felt guilty about it so to make it even he asked the prisoner to hit him back with the tray five times. When the man refused, Charles cut his own shoulder six times with a safety razor and let the prisoners go earning him an additional 5 years on his sentence.
This was the beginning of his spiral downwards, he held two others hostage, a doctor in 1996 who had come in place of a lawyer and a teacher in 1999 who criticized art he had made about AIDS. During this hostage situation he tied the teacher up with a jump rope and dragged him around for 44 hours as he tore apart the prison, ripping refrigeration units out of walls and throwing them, destroying furniture, he had two knives and made attempts during the siege to hurt himself but was tased and sedated while he was yanking a washing machine full of water free of a wall in an attempts to electrocute himself. During trial for this incident the judge commended Charles for behaving in the court but felt, “(He was) dangerous and unpredictable, especially when (he was) upset and angry, Although nobody knows what is in (his) mind, (his) victims all have the same fears and that is that their lives are about to be ended” he felt that the community needed to be protected from Charles and while its was not determined if he had a mental illness, there was an ongoing problem. Charles defended himself to the jury since he no longer trusted the judicial system. He told them he felt dehumanized during his time in prison. That he no longer knew how to interact with people and would have panic attacks when he came in contact with some, “ I suffer with what you call post-traumatic stress disorder. I am a messed-up person." The years of isolation had changed Charles,
“My eyes are bad due to the years of unnatural light I have had. My vision is terrible; I have to wear shaded glasses even to read. Years of solitary have left me unable to face the light for more than a few minutes. It gives me terrible headaches if I do ... Years of loneliness in small cells have left me paranoid about people invading my space. I now can't stand people getting too close, crowding me. I hate people breathing on me and I hate smelly bodies coming near me. Mouths to me are simply for eating – never for kissing ... A man needs a routine to cope with such an extreme situation. For me it is my push-ups and sit-ups. I also pace the room and count each step. Some (prisoners) I know lie down on their beds for three hours on their left side, three hours on their right, and three on their back."
He told the jury about the “Hannibal cell” and that he was not living, just existing in that room for 23-24 hours a day, it was like living in a sewer, like living in hell. Charles was guarded by 6 guards through the trial and at age 47 he was given a life sentence for this incident and the prison built a special unit to handle him and reduce the chances of him hurting other prisoners and staff. This unit is referred to as Britain’s Alcatraz and is used to house 2 serial killers in addition to Charles who had come to be known as a dangerous hostage taker who could bend doors and the bars of cells with his bare hands
By 2000, Charles had been held at almost 150 prisons, and spent only 3 months of his adult life free. He was making efforts to change and had been involved in anti-crime projects as well as used his art to fundraise for animal shelters causing his art to be published in newspapers and magazines. He even wrote to a museum once saying, “ Men like me were born to be caged, leave the birds and animals alone or I’ll rip your heads clear off your shoulders.” Those who knew him and helped him publish his book feel that Charles not a monster but rather someone suffering from violent mental illness, that he is not ready to be released and won't be for quite some time but that he needs medical attention rather than be locked up in the prison system. The mixture of violence and possibility of there being a mental illness present earned him the rank as England's most dangerous prisoner, a title he is proud of and wants to uphold. He feels he is a fitness fanatic and has written a book on how to work out in solitary spaces (a read I'm very tempted to try out during this quarantine situation) He describes a workout regimen he created in 2008 and claimed he could do 172 press ups in 60 seconds, he has also written other books on his life in prison and the various dangerous criminals he has come in contact with.
2013 there was a petition for Charles’ release that had 10,000 signatures on it that was sent to the prime minister along with a note from Charles stating he wanted to, “live what's left of (his) life and not be buried in the prison system” but this petition went ignored.
In 2014 he changed his name again to Charles Salvador in honor of his favorite artist Salvador Dali and created a foundation to promote and auction his own art as well as make the arts accessible to more people. He wanted to renounce being violent, even though he has never killed anyone and has spent most of his life in prison he felt by getting rid of things he had created as Charles Bronson he would be killing off his old self. And in 2016 he created a series of art and poems for auction to raise money for a child’s treatment who had cerebral palsy.
As of 2020 67 year old Charles Bronson is still in prison and has been married three times over the years. He has been in prison for over 44 years with 36 of those years in solitary confinement. He continues to have violent outbursts that he feels happens in moments where he loses himself, that he has no intention to be violent but can not stop himself from attacking others and blacks out.
There was a movie made based on his life called Bronson where Charles is played by Tom Hardy.
Sources: BBC,MK Citizen, The Guardian, Solitary Fitness by Charles Bronson, Pick Me Up, The Telegraph, Independant, Wiki Wand,