What happens to prisoners who have often spent fifteen, twenty years in gaol? Often on the Blanket, in their own body waste, dirty, unstimulated, dependent on their own resources (which were massive), at the whim of a screw or a Governor. Living inside their own heads and sharing the bits they could with their cell mates.
Man is used to freedom. To walk the streets, to work a job, to love a wife, to hug their kids and put them to bed at night… to be free to do these simple things. Free.
Gaol is “abnormal” for the human spirit.
Firstly we swam free in the water, we followed the food, we moved onto the land; we got up on two legs, and the world, the big world was ours (never mind the odd dinasaour)!
We were free to roam its hot and cold spaces. We settled, became communities and set up our own rules to protect ourselves from others. Short of death and maiming there was one alternative method to punish the “miscreant”. Lock them up.
I would hate to be thought of as an amateur paleontologist, but I am going somewhere, bear with me.
The rights or wrongs of prison are not my concern today, I mean at this very moment. My concern is for the man or woman who spent many years in prison and came out to a new world, a different world, a world they had to learn to live in all over again.
It is true that in the past Republican prisoners did their time and that was that. No help was sought or thought necessary after jail time was served, although in those days it tended to be of shorter duration than we went through from the 70’s.
Anyone who did not do their time well were spoken about in hushed tones as if they were in some way “weak”, not “up to it”, “not the right calibre”.
Truth be told being in prison is an “abnormal” way to spend a big part of your life. Why should normal people placed in this “abnormal” situation not be in some way changed? Damaged?
We are Republicans and we are strong in our beliefs and our Principles. But, the awful flaw is, that we are human. That means we can suffer or we can show no mercy, to others or to ourselves.
It is the human that has been neglected for too long. Professor Robert Winston has done a wonderful series of programmes about human behaviour. He escorts us through our ancient roots to the present day. We realise that the human mind is a finely tuned instrument, able to deal with all situations, from “fight to flight” instincts, why should we ignore the situation where flight is not possible and “fight” is usually not the immediate option for the prisoner.
Prisoners have but one obvious and immediate weapon left to them, political prisoners I refer to, their own bodies.
I meant to write a whole different piece about prisoners after they leave jail but I was interrupted by the programme about the Hunger-Strikes, December and March.
I watched, as I do, with sadness, anger, empathy and a feeling of deep betrayal by the Republican Leadership of that time. Gerry Adams spoke truly when he said the Leadership could not order the men off the Strike, it is a prisoners choice. Yet, was there need for a statement to be sent to the hunger-strikers, when Bik McFarlane and Richard O’Rawe had already decided that the British terms would be sufficient to stop the deaths, was there need for a statement from “the Big Lad” that they were “surprised” that the prisoners thought the deal was adequate? Gerry, not upcasting, (but am) was it seven or fourteen days you did?
The biggest mistake the Hunger-Strikers made was to let ye, Sinn Fein, take over their power of negotiation. I, in my assumed capacity as O.C on our operation took it upon myself, in consultation with the other volunteers to control our Strike. To speak to whom might be of use to us and to refuse those we knew were not friends. Call it arrogance, but I’m typing on this machine today, denouncing Morrisson and Gibney for their crocodile tears, and sympathising with Lawrence McKeown, he lived and his friends died. There will always be a question in his mind.
I know that feeling only too well. We were “force-fed” for a long time, it meant we did not die. Once the British Medical Council refused to “force-feed” prisoners, then the British Parliament rushed a bill through Parliament making it an impossibility to keep prisoners alive by shoving a tube down their throats! So, was I responsible for the deaths of those who “benefited” by this new law?
It can go on and on. At the time I called Faul for all the bastards I could, now, with that old friend, hindsight, maybe he saw clearer than we idealists.
I wanted to write a whole piece about prisoner, ex-prisoners needs, particularly psychological, but I got waylayed, mugged, by the H/S programme. I still weep and recall the time I was in Musgrave Park Military wing, late April, and each day they said Bobby Sands will be here soon. But he never came, I went and he died on the 5th of May. I had hoped to give him a last salute.
God damn you apologists.