Padraic Mac Coitir draws on his prison experience to offer advice on how to cope in the current Covid-10 lockdown.
A few comrades were asking me how I, and many others, got on in prison when we were locked in our cell. I hadn't really thought of it until one comrade made the point that most people will find it hard to adapt to staying behind their doors due to coronavirus. Well there are obvious differences such as being able to walk around a larger space whether it's a 5 bedroom house, a bungalow or 1 bedroom flat. There's also a garden for a lot of people. Then having TV, radio, computer and smartphone. And of course being able to cook. So when one thinks of it it's not that bad.
Of course that's not to say it's going to be easy especially as the days turn into weeks and possibly months. We've all heard the term cabin fever when people were literally locked in a cabin on a ship or a cabin in the wilderness when one could literally go mad. I'm being a realist but trying to be optimistic so I would say things won't be too bad if we adapt to a completely new situation.
I was 18 when I went to gaol in 1976 and being young and naïve probably helped me settle in fairly quickly. However, when the cell door slammed shut I knew this could be my existence for the foreseeable future. I wasn't a big reader outside but I couldn't get enough books and most of those I read then were war books. I can't remember reading too many Irish history books because the screws were heavily censoring our reading material. I was always in the cell with someone so depending on how he was we would play cards and draughts. I learned to play chess but wasn't too good at it because it bored me. At one time I ended up on the boards for four days. The boards was a punishment block where we were locked up 24 hours a day with no reading material but the bible. The bedding would be taken out of the cell between 8am and 8pm so I either sat on a chair or walked from the door to the window. Now that was Very boring.
Things changed dramatically when I was sentenced and ended up on the blanket protest. For the first four months I was in the cell on my own, and like the boards locked up 24 hours a day with nothing but a bible. We couldn't lie on our bed even when the bedding was in the cell. All I done most of the day was walk from door to window - back and forward thinking of food, family and outside. I tried not to let it get me down but there were times when it did.
After 3 years I released and being older I really appreciated life and would rarely sit in the house. I knew what cabin fever was like … I ended up in gaol another 3 times but times were easier. Ironically being on the red-book (high security) was great because I was always in a cell on my own. Although I'm a social animal - yes some may question that!- I love being on my own a lot. We were able to get more books and newspapers in and I would read most of the day. Of course I'd get bored now and again so would walk up and down the cell.
So I would suggest people get themselves a hobby such as reading and take an interest in learning something new such as birdwatching or a new language. It would be easy to get into a rut such as watching TV all day. If there's a garden do a bit more gardening. If there's kids in the house they're gonna have to do schoolwork but they should learn to play cards and games such as draughts, chess, scrabble, monopoly etc. There will be tensions, arguments and fall outs but that's to be expected. I could write a lot more but I'm away to walk around the flat and sing a few oul songs …