Effect of prison on ‘outside’ life
The impact of time ‘inside’ is felt far beyond prison walls. In fact, time in prison during the conflict had an enormous impact on ‘outside’ life, in terms of its effects on prison officers, the families of prisoners and the prisoners themselves, upon their release.
For prison officers, long working hours, a pressurised working environment and security concerns had a major impact on family life. 29 prison officers were killed during ‘the Troubles and, in subsequent years, many suffered from medical and mental health problems. For families of prisoners, the incarceration of a loved one could put them under both emotional and financial strain. Their lives could be shaped around prison visits, with some individuals visiting multiple family members at various prisons across Northern Ireland during the years of the conflict. For prisoners, these visits provided them with a vital link to the outside world. Visits were restricted to half an hour a week or, for those on protest, half an hour a month. A prisoner’s return to the ‘outside’ also presented challenges: their years of incarceration could potentially affect their relationships, health, and scope for employment in the ‘outside’ world. In fact, the effects of incarceration continue to be felt by ex-prisoners – and their families – today. Furthermore, numerous pieces of Westminster legislation are still in place which place restrictions on former political prisoners.
Learn More Here
Murtagh, T. (2018)
The Maze prison : a hidden story of chaos, anarchy and politics Hook, Hampshire: Waterside Press
Spence, L. (2002).
Unheard Voices: The Experiences and Needs of the Children of Loyalist Political Ex-Prisoners (Belfast: EPIC, 2002).
A selection of clips from the archive exploring the theme from different perspectives.
There was a psychological cost
Watch the clips of former prisoners. What potential challenges did prisoners face following their release?
“When you got outside you were just a number”
Every time he came up to see me in prison he used to cry
Watch the clip of Angela. How would you feel if your 17 year daughter had been interned?
You just prayed and all that that your son wouldn’t be one of the people on hunger strike
For two years and three months I didn’t get seeing him at all
Bernadette and Siobhan
The bride in her full regalia, her bridesmaids, would step out the back of a minibus
Watch all of the clips. List the difficulties faced by the families of political prisoners during ‘the Troubles’.
It’s impossible to make those years up
Quite a disparity can arise between the partner on the outside and guy who was on the inside
Watch the clip of Vincent. What emotions do you think you might have if your partner was being released from prison after a long sentence?
I went for 2 and a half years without a day’s leave
It was the job, the pressures of the job, the pressures they came under, that drove them to what they did
Watch the clips of John and Andy. What pressures did prison officers face at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison?
Men found it more difficult to visit the jail
Watch the feature film below – We Were There. The Spence family and Mary Nelis both discuss the experiences of visiting family members in prison. What impact did imprisonment have on the families of prisoners?
We Were There (2014)
This feature film, directed by Laura Aguiar and Cahal McLaughlin, highlights the experiences of women in the predominantly male world of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison.
Running time: 61 min
Links to NI Curriculum
CCEA GCSE History: Unit 1; Section B; Option 2: Changing Relations: Northern Ireland and its Neighbours, 1965–1998
Questions based on GCSE CEA history exam papers
Using the clip of Eddie and your contextual knowledge, do you agree that there was a psychological cost to time spent ‘inside’ for a political prisoner? Give one reason.
How useful is the clip of Bernadette and Siobhan for an historian studying the effect of incarceration on the families of political prisoners during the conflict in Northern Ireland? Explain your answer, using the clip and your contextual knowledge.