In the second of a multi part series Joe C narrates his experience of arrest and time served in Portlaoise Prison where he evolved into an anarchist.
After about 4 months the landing I was in in D-Block was to be transferred to E-Block. There are 4 landings on E-Block, there is E1, E2, E3, E4 and there was also the base, which was in the basement but wasn't in use while I was in Portloaise.
I first went to Portloaise in late 2009. At this time E1 housed gangland prisoners. E2, E3 and E4 were republican landings. A different group occupied each landing. E4 held the INLA, E3 held the Real IRA, and E2 was a mix of republicans.
In December 2009 the gangland prisoners were moved to C-Block (along with the social prisoners from the rest of D-Block) and E-Block became a republican block. In January 2010 the landing I was on got moved to E1, the group I was a supporter of was given one side of E1 while non-aligned republican prisoners were given the other side. These non-aligned prisoners had left the groups they were with and for whatever reason they chose to do their time on their own.
In August 2010, I and another prisoner left E1 because of a split within the group we were supporters of. We were taken onto E4 as guests of the INLA. I spent the next 4 years on E4.
E-Block is a long building, it stretches from north to south. There are two yards, one on the west side of the block and one on the east side. There are many lengths of wire that run from the high fences and walls that surround the yards. These wires are to prevent helicopters from landing in the yards.
The fences and walls that surround the yards and blocks are topped with razor wire. On top of E-Block there are watch boxes that armed soldiers sit in day and night. On the roof of the block there is a high-calibre gun that can shoot down aircraft if need be. Aircraft are banned from flying too close to the prison and if an aircraft flies too close there are warning flares that are shot from the roof. There are soldiers stationed in Portloise prison 24 hours a day.
The armed soldiers and razor wire are against EU standards and the Irish state gets fined every year for the use of these.
Inside E-block it is bee hive like. There are rows and rows of doors going up both sides of the each landing. On E1 the landing is like a hall. I if you look up while on the landing you can see onto the other landings right all the way up. What separates the different landings isn't a ceiling, but a mesh like cage. On the north end of the block there are stairs going from E1 onto E2, then from E2 to E3, and then from there up onto E4. Also, the north end of each of the landings is where the showers and toilets are.
On the south end of each landing is the recreational (rec) area. The rec area is like a small landing in itself. It’s a 15 foot wide corridor. On the walls going down are doors, in the doors are rooms that are used for different things. There is a gym, workshop, classrooms and a hangout area that has chairs and a TV. Back years ago these rec area were actually landings and the doors were into cells and not gyms or workshops. Walls of cells were removed to make bigger rooms used for the rec area.
Also on the south end of the block there are stairs that run up through each landing. As the stairs reach each landing there is a gate that separates the landing from the stairs, the gate is to prevent prisoners from getting to the stairs.
Between the north end and south end of the block on landings higher than the ground floor, there are walkways that will bring you from one end to the other. These walkways are about 4 foot wide, on the walkways are rows and rows of doors, these doors lead into cells. A cell is about 12 foot in length and about 7 foot wide. The ceilings in the cells in E4 were very high up, I’d say probably 15 to 18 foot high. Back years ago there would have been bunk beds in these cells. Barred window cut into the thick wall. In spring and summer I would be woken early in the morning by chirping birds that nest in the air vents that are on the outside wall. These vents are beside most windows in the block.