Since yesterday was the 34th anniversary of Bobby Sands embarking on Hunger Strike, I have been reflecting on the sacrifice that he and others made. Not just those who gave their lives on hunger strike, but others like Seán Bateson who also died in jail at a very young age. Others like Paddy Kelly died as a direct result of prison administration neglect, deliberately exacerbating their illness.
But also the sacrifices that all Prisoners endure. The final months with a parent, the new births, the family occasions. The victories of their GAA club, or other sports clubs. The loss of youth. The opportunity to start a family, or their contact with their children being restricted to letters and visits.
I lifted Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh's book Language, Resistance and Revival and came across the following quote from Mandela:
The challenge for every prisoner, particularly every political prisoner, is how to survive prison intact, how to emerge from a prison undiminished, how to conserve and even replenish one's beliefs.
Jail struggle is not a legacy issue. Jail struggle goes on today. If you want examples of people emerging from jail undiminished then think of Alex McCrory. Of Neil Hegarty. Of Scotchy Kearney. Of Ta Mc Williams. All of whom are currently in jail, having served previous terms of imprisonment.
Mandela's quote, from 1994, finishes by saying:
prison is designed to break one's spirit and destroy one's resolve. To do this the authorities attempt to exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality.When others who have emerged from jail describe men like those I have mentioned as "criminals", ask yourself - have they emerged undiminished? Were their beliefs replenished or reconditioned? Ask yourself are they siding with political prisoners, or are they siding with the "authorities."
Then ask yourself, whose side are you on?