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.

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Source
Article

CAIN

The State they are Still In. Republican Ex-Prisoners and their families: An Independent Evaluation.

EPIC

Reintegration - the problems and the issues. EPIC RESEARCH DOCUMENT NO. 2. Belfast: EPIC.

Murtagh, T. (2018)

The Maze prison : a hidden story of chaos, anarchy and politics Hook, Hampshire: Waterside Press

Parallel Stories

A selection of clips from the archive exploring the theme from different perspectives. 

There was a psychological cost
Eddie

Play Film

Watch the clips of former prisoners. What potential challenges did prisoners face following their release?

“When you got outside you were just a number”
David

Play Film

Every time he came up to see me in prison he used to cry
Angela

Play Film

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
Mary

Play Film

For two years and three months I didn’t get seeing him at all
Bernadette and Siobhan

Play Film

The bride in her full regalia, her bridesmaids, would step out the back of a minibus
William

Play Film

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
Bobby

Play Film

Quite a disparity can arise between the partner on the outside and guy who was on the inside
Vincent

Play Film

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
John

Play Film

It was the job, the pressures of the job, the pressures they came under, that drove them to what they did
Andy

Play Film

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
Laurence

Play Film

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)

The wall and wire of the Maze and Long Kesh.

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

01.
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.

02.
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.

Download our teacher's notes

Transcript

Eddie

“People who was in in the early days, in the 70s and early 80s, and suffered a lot of brutality, what did I find – there was a psychological cost to them that affects them through their life. If you look at a lot of the studies that have been done, a lot of ex-prisoners can’t hold down relationships. Maybe they’ve hardened their hearts because they had to, when they were being brutalised within the jail systems. But there’s a lot of that, and a lot of ex-prisoners turned to drink to cope, a lot of ex-prisoners turned to drink wondering was it all worth it? And I have to say that I haven’t met very many ex-prisoners, from an INLA background or an IRA background that would believe that serving one day in this prison was worth a six county settlement, I’ve yet to meet one person like.”

Transcript

David

“In here you were one big unit, everybody was looking out for each other, you had all your own wee jobs, you felt part of something. When you got outside, you know what I mean, you were just a number, again outside, where you were just a number to the prison authority, when you got outside you were just a number, for social security or whatever it was or your job, you were just another Joe.”

Transcript

Angela

“My father, every time he came up to see me in prison he used to cry, and I used to say “don’t let that aul lad come up to see me anymore because he’s making me ‘do bird’”. So…but he couldn’t cope that his 17 year old daughter was in a prison. And… it really upset him. So I really tried to sort of let his visits be once a month so that he didn’t do my head in, he’d make you insane the way he got on”

Transcript

Mary

“I suppose like any other mother you just prayed and all that that your son wouldn’t be one of the people on hunger strike and then you felt… he actually gave me a note, a wee smuggled note, and he said to me: ‘it’s going to be very hard on relatives and parents, and try and make sure that you hold them all together. And if things get hard read out this note to them’ and it was a wee note really explaining, you know, that this was the prisoners’ decision, they, nobody else was influencing them, this was what they had to do to break this horrible kind of treatment that was meted out to them, and the British were showing no signs of relenting”

Transcript

Bernadette and Siobhan

“during the no wash protest, from Felim got his sentence in 1977 he immediately told me that he wouldn’t be taking any visits because he wouldn’t put on the prison uniform. And I agreed with that, I said that I accepted that, ‘you’re not a criminal and I don’t expect you to put it on’. So for two years and three months I didn’t get seeing him at all. He didn’t take… and he said at the time that he would only send out for a visit for something very special or for something very urgent. And when I, when a visit permit came to me after two years and three months I actually took physically sick thinking, not the joy of seeing him, but what was wrong, why was he sending this out? So eventually when I came down to see him, and I said immediately ‘Felim, what’s wrong? I’m delighted, it’s great to see you but what’s wrong?’ He says ‘mummy I thought it all over and thought that I had cut you and the family off too much.’ And he says ‘the way I thought about it was I knew how I was and I knew that you were alright but you didn’t know how I was’. So he says ‘I thought it was time that I started taking the visits’ so that was how I started coming in here.”

Transcript

William

“marrying prisoners here inside the Maze, they were allowed a small handful of people to come in. in many ways it was quite sad. A minibus would pull up, the bride in her full regalia, her bridesmaids, would step out the back of a minibus, come in and come up and have a wedding in here. And then in that little room there a reception was put on, food provided by the prison authorities, a cake was baked or they could bring in their own cake, and sandwiches were provided. So a little group of eight, nine, ten. A number of weddings were performed in this church.”

Transcript

Bobby

People who had a life sentence literally hadn’t a clue. I think we were fed a line that the average life prisoner in England was doing 8 years so people said it would be 8 years, and it was nothing like 8 years. It was 16 years for most people. And it came probably during what should have been the best part of your life, your 20s and 30s. That has effect on a lot of things in your life. People, you know… Pensions: people haven’t earned enough money to actually to get a pension that’s worth talking about, because it’s impossible to make those years up.

Transcript

Vincent

One of the things that happens when a guy is locked up, or when some guys are locked up, the partner progresses, she…because she has to take the whole responsibility for the family, for the money, for looking after everything, she actually, her confidence builds, her skills. And where some of the guys, whilst obviously there were guys in here who studied and who did build their skill levels, there was others who just did their time if you like. And quite a disparity can arise between the partner on the outside and guy who was on the inside. And I think it’s that group of people who might not have been very large in number but there certainly were some of them who came to talk to some of our staff, and who actually were concerned about this guy getting out. I think they saw it almost that they would have nearly have preferred to continue visiting because they could have their own life out on the side – outside, sorry – and they didn’t know what to expect when this guy would come out. And they had genuine concerns as to what would happen.

Transcript

John

We worked literally 30, 31 days a month. We had no days off, no rest days. And if we did a night duty we did a pre guard sometimes til 5 o’clock, we were back in again for about quarter to 8 or so. And we would have finished sometime 8 o’clock the next morning, went and had our breakfast, came back, we used to report round, back round to the old guard room which looked something similar to this, and the chief officer would have conducted an inspection and he would simply have just told us we were after guard and that was the end of that. So you probably would have worked to 5 or even 10 o’clock that day as well. So that was the type of life that we led. And any normal day that you worked basically was a half, usually a half 7, now I was always in for about ten past 7, quarter past 7, collect the keys for the compound, there was a 10 o’clock lock up in those days, and manys a morning you weren’t out before 1 o’clock. And that’s just the way it went. I actually lived in for about 7, 7 and a half years. And I went for 2 and a half years without a day’s leave. And 9 and a half months actually really without getting out of the camp as such. And the only day I got part of a day off was because my father had had a heart attack. And as soon as he was stabilised I was back in here again. And that’s just the way it was. If you had family problems or domestic problems in those days you sorted it out as best you could. So a lot of marriages broke up here. And a lot of chaps took to the drink. The pressure was just relentless really.

Transcript

Andy

Standing here where the memorial stone used to be for this particular prison, the Maze. Each of the prisons have them for those who served in them who were murdered while serving here during the years of ‘the Troubles’. One of the things that annoys me and annoys a few people is the fact that when there’s mention in the prison service of what happened in the thirty odd years of ‘the Troubles’, they mention the number of staff who were murdered – 28, 29, one was even before these ‘troubles’ that’s on the memorial stones – there were twice that many – maybe three times that many – who committed suicide all due to the pressures of the job, no matter which prison they were in. And unfortunately they don’t show up on anybody’s radar. But it was, if you check back into their history, it was the job, the pressures of the job, the pressures they came under, that drove them to what they did. 

Transcript

Laurence

I had a visit with my father and a local doctor in here, in this particular cell here. It was the first time that my father had visited me from I come into jail so that was 5 years later. Basically because I suppose he didn’t agree with my politics of being a republican and being involved in the IRA. But I suppose on the other hand also, you find, looking back on it, that men found it more difficult to visit the jail, and the whole burden of that ended up with the mothers and the sisters and the wives and such like. And in some sense it was a bit of a cop out on their part. But either way, I ended up on a visit here, at that stage I would have been on the hunger strike im sure about 30 odd days, and it was obviously a very difficult visit, it was the first time I was seeing him, he was distraught, he was asking me to come off the hunger strike, asked me did I realise what I was doing to my mother. And I said I did but I wasn’t coming off the hunger strike. And it was always very difficult on visits because you would have had, there would have been a screw sitting at the door here on a chair. Depending on who the particular prison officer was, some of them would have sat right up beside the bed, literally almost involved in the conversation, some others would have been a bit more embarrassed and would have sat at the door or some occasionally outside it.