The Making Of An Anarchist In Portlaoise Prison @ Part 1

In the first of a multi part series Joe C narrates his experience of arrest and time served in Portlaoise Prison where he evolved into an anarchist.

From Court To Jail

In 2010 I was sentenced to 6 years for having possession of 20 grams of explosive powder. I was to serve 4 years and 8 months in Portlaoise prison. This is not an in-depth study into prison and jails, and it is not an academic piece. It is simply an experience.

My experience of jail will be different than other people’s experience because no two people’s experience will ever be the same. The other person’s experience will always be different no matter how great or small. 

My experience started with 3 days questioning in a Garda station in Mountjoy. After the questioning was over I was charged with having an explosive substance, having materials used to build explosives and membership of an illegal organization.

From the Garda station I was brought straight to the Special Criminal Court which was in Green Street courthouse at the time. I was brought to the holding cell, which resembled something out of a cowboy film or a medieval film. There was no door on the cell, there was a gate made from bars. On the wall of the cell were messages written on the wall by people that have come through here, messages of support, people's names with numbers beside their name indicating how many years the person got, names of different republican groups, pictures of soldiers with guns, symbols such as the hammer and sickle.

At the time, I think these things gave me a tiny bit of inspiration. The graffiti showed I wasn't the only person to come through here. From my bit of knowledge of Republican history I knew Robert Emmet was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered in this court. Also O'Donovan Rossa and many other Fenian and Republicans passed through the court house. A lot of Republican history is tied up with this court, with this building. The car park out the back of the building, in which a convoy of Garda vans and Military jeeps were waiting to bring me to jail, in the past had been used as the gallows.

When I was brought into the court I sat down on the seat in the bench I was put in by the screws. Next the court clerk came in and said “All rise”. I stayed sitting in my seat as an act of defiance, not recognizing the court. The 3 judges went through the fake proceedings like a pantomime. I sat there not bothered to listen because I knew I was fucked. The judges came to the part where they were reading my charges out. For this I was asked to stand. While not saying anything I refused by just sitting there not acknowledging the court. The court clerk repeated for me to stand but this time I could hear in his voice that he wasn't asking me but ordering me. I still didn't budge. They read out my charges after a minute. The judges ordered me to be put in custody.

The screws led me downstairs back into the holding cell. It didn't phase me that I was going to prison because I already knew I was going there. From the very first second I saw the cops in my parents’ front garden banging on the front door I knew I was fucked. A screw came into the cell, put handcuffs on me and put an extra handcuff on my right wrist and cuffed the other to his left wrist. A bunch of screws and cops walked me through the underground of the court out to the car park out the back.

I was a bit shocked to see the amount of cop vans and military in the car park, seeing soldiers walking about with rifles. It was now dark out and the blue siren lights of the vans were flashing, I could see this weird blue glow flashing around the car park, the blue lights flickering off the walls.

I was put in a van with a few cops and screws, there were about 8 altogether sitting in the back with me. The vans and jeeps drove out of the car park in a convoy led by cops on motor bikes. The whole journey from the court to Portloaise prison was surreal. The convoy didn't stop once at traffic lights - from start to finish it didn't stop once. The cops’ motor bikes were being used to drive on ahead to stop or move on any traffic that might have been in the way.

When the convoy reached the jail a screw came to the van and asked what group I was with - I was still in the mindset that I was in when I was in the Garda station being questioned - to which I repeatedly said "no comment" for the 3 days. I told the screw I was not with a group. He then asked "which one" I was "aligned to”. I said I “wasn't aligned to any”. He then asked if I support any group, to which I told him which one I supported.

They then took me from the van leading me to the booking-in area. As they brought me through the grounds of the prison it was dark. Here and there were big bright lights. All I could make out were big fences, cage-like, with razor wire wrapped around the tops. When I reached the booking-in area the screw there again asked which group I supported. I told him. He then went to get the Officer Commanding (OC) of the group to come talk to me.

After a few minutes the screw came back with 2 people: one was the OC the other was his adjutant. I told them my story. They told the screws I was grand to go with them to the group landing. The screws brought us to D-Block. On the ground floor of this block, the republican group had control of it. The other 2 floors were used to house social prisoners.

The first thing I noticed on the wall of the republican landing was a large painting of a man wearing a balaclava, military clothes and holding an AK47. The OC brought me to a cell and said I could have this one. Next the OC brought me to the kitchen and said I could help myself to breakfast cereal and fruit. He gave me an empty 2-liter bottle and told me to fill it with water for the night. I was then brought back to the cell I was allocated. The cell was about 10 foot long and 5 or 6 foot wide. All that was in it was a bed that was pushed up against the wall. The wall had a hole about 2 foot wide and 3 foot in length. The hole went through the wall to the outside. When looking in the hole, it showed how thick the walls were, which was about 2 to 3 foot. At the outside part of the hole were thick steel bars with steel mesh over the hole. On the wall that was at the end of the bed was a counter with a TV sitting on it. Beside the counter was a filing cabinet that could be used for storing your belongings.

Other than that there wasn’t much else in the cell that I could see. the first thing I asked the OC was, "Where's the toilet?" He laughed and pointed under the counter at a small white plastic bucket that had a lid on it. "That's your toilet!" In the cell there was no running water or sink.

The OC then gave me a box of smokes and a lighter and left. I was locked into the cell for the night by the screw.

Over the next few days I had conflicting thoughts about what was next, what did the future hold? How was my family taking all this? What would my parents say when I saw them?

When a new person arrives in the jail, a lot of the time you can see the anxiety on them, you can see it on their face, in their body language, hear it in their voice. But there are also people that seem perfectly fine.

I spent a few days hanging about the landing chain-smoking, getting to know the people I was living on the landing with. At every meal time we would all sit together and eat. In the evenings some of us would make a meal and sit together watching TV.

The more time you spend with a person, or people, the more you get to know them. This repeated itself throughout my prison sentence. It doesn't take long for you to figure out if you like a person or if person can be trusted. When I say trusted I don't mean in the sense of if they are a rat, but if you trust them enough that you want them in your life, trust them enough with your business.

1 comment:

  1. I found this a very interesting read. The writer conveys the atmosphere very well.