It’s been five years since one of Dubai’s most well-known journalists was convicted of killing his wife in a moment his lawyer called “temporary insanity”. But Francis Matthew, the former editor of Dubai newspaper Gulf News, is putting his writing skills to use during his time in prison, as he teaches fellow inmates English language classes.
The 65-year-old has at least 40 students in his classes at the Dubai Central Prison, sources familiar with the matter told Frankly.
Through exercises that imitate real life scenarios, he teaches students – many of them repeat offenders – how to partake in polite dialogue.
“He [Matthew] once told me, ‘Don’t let society cancel you out’,” an inmate and student of Matthew’s told us on condition of anonymity, while a member of the prison’s staff said of the classes: “You have to give them [inmates] an avenue to be useful members of society”.
His aim is to teach inmates how to integrate their speech through real life scenarios which they’re likely to face if or once they are released from prison.
“The inmates participate not just because it’s something that gets them through the day while they’re in prison, but also because they genuinely enjoy being a part of [the classes]. And it also helps them later on when they get out of prison,” sources told Frankly.
“During classes, they practice English by using role play. For example, one of the students pretends he is sitting at a diner, while another pretends to be the waiter taking his order. They both have to converse using correct English,” sources added.
Former colleagues of Matthew’s told Frankly on condition of anonymity that Gulf News became the UAE’s number one newspaper in the 90s under his leadership.
“Him teaching all those people English is probably… you could say Francis is the best guy to do that. He read and read and read. He could talk about anything… He was a good editor. He gave us a lot of freedom to write… and some of his desks became hugely successful, like Friday [lifestyle] magazine. At the time, nobody thought about doing something like.
“People don’t give him credit. He was the guy behind it, and Gulf News became the newspaper of choice during his time. Because it was Khaleej Times that was the number one newspaper back then. Jane [his wife] and Francis were a power couple in the 90s. He was very popular. Everybody wanted to know Francis. And everybody did,” his former colleague said.
A tainted legacy
But Matthew’s legacy was tainted when he was arrested in 2017 and sentenced to 15 years on murder charges, after confessing to hitting his wife on the head with a hammer following an argument over finances.
He told police his wife had called him a “loser” after he informed her that they would have to relocate to a smaller house due to financial pressure, which he claimed led him to hit her with a hammer. He said at the time that he did not intend to kill her. With his lawyer arguing that Matthew had committed the crime during a moment of “temporary insanity,” his sentence was reduced to seven years, after which he would be deported. He has already served five years.
However, Jane’s family argued that she had felt “trapped in Dubai,” and had wanted to leave the city for years, whereas Matthew would not give up his position at Gulf News, according to The National.
Her brother, Peter Manning, told the newspaper in 2019 that Jane had become increasingly unhappy with the couple’s financial situation, with their debts nearing AED1 million.
Yet a former colleague of Matthew’s, who asked not to be named, said, “There was always the issue of keeping up with the masses, that the lady [his wife] wanted. She wanted to move into a bigger place… He was the most important editor at that time, but he had the worse car in the world, and he couldn’t care less.”
The colleague added that Matthew was “absent-minded” in the weeks prior to the incident. “It’s like he just wasn’t there,” his former colleague said.
Tomorrow I Will Fly
Sources close to Matthew told Frankly he helped edit the book Tomorrow I Will Fly, which is a compilation of essays and stories written by the inmates of Dubai Central Prison. It was put together by the Emirates Literature Foundation.
“It is easy for mainstream society to forget those who fall outside our daily interactions, but the Emirates Literature Foundation has been privileged to organise a Creative Writing Programme with inmates in Dubai Central Prison since 2018,” the foundation’s CEO Isobel Abulhoul wrote in the book’s introduction.
“The vision of our Foundation is to include all in our endeavours, with the belief that everyone deserves a second chance and a welcome back into society, plus the redemptive power of reading and writing,” she said.
Perhaps Matthew is looking for redemption in his new, albeit temporary and less glamorous, position as an English teacher to his fellow inmates who, if or once released back into society, can not only become more fluent in English, but better versed in making better decisions – a lesson some could argue Matthew himself would do well to remember.