In the seventh of a multi part series Joe C narrates his experience of arrest and time served in Portlaoise Prison where he evolved into an anarchist.
Getting a visit is probably the highlight of the week for a prisoner (that's if they get a visit). Visits break the monotony of prison day. They can make the day go by a lot faster. Most prisoners would get a visit either once a week or every second week. Visits give a prisoner something to look forward to. A visit gives the prisoner a chance to talk about something different than you might normally talk about (in jail you tend to have similar conversations a lot, speaking about the same subjects a lot). It gives the prisoner the chance to hear about how life is going on outside.
I remember one time when I was in my teens, a person I knew that was in and out of jail told me, "The only people that will visit you when you are in jail will be your family. Your family will be the only ones to give a fuck." I learned my friend was right, for the vast majority of people that get visits, they will be from either their family or a loved one. Although occasionally prisoners do get visits from a friend or an acquaintance.
I suppose it's not that people don't give a fuck, it's more to do with the fact that people are living their own lives and probably don't have the time to visit. My family visited me regularly, coming down every weekend; after a year in jail I said to just come down every second week, there was no point coming down every week. Besides my family coming down I had two staunch Republican women comrades that visited me every month right from the start of being in jail right up till I was released. The two comrades every month would leave plenty of books, magazines, and other reading material and CDs and DVDs. Each month they would travel from Dublin to Portlaoise, bringing me news of all the different events that had happened in Dublin over the month. I really enjoyed hearing about the different protests and struggles going on outside.
Visits in Portlaosie were nice for a prison. Since we were political prisoners we could have tea and snacks on visits. The visiting area was made up of rows of rooms (they would have been cells a few years previously), on the doors to the visiting rooms there were large windows. These windows were for screws to look in, a screw would walk up and down the visiting area looking in the windows throughout the whole visiting time.
When going on a visit each prisoner would have to walk through a metal detector and then would get patted down by the screws. The process was repeated when returning from visits. Visitors would go through a worse search. Women visitors weren't allowed to wear bras with metal in them. When being searched the female visitor would have to pull their bra forward off their chest to show nothing is hidden behind it. All visitors would have to take off their shoes and then go through a metal detector. The screw would then give the visitors a test to see if there were any explosives or drugs on them. How this is done is a sheet of paper is moved around the body then the paper is tested for any traces of explosives or drugs. If there is a baby going for a visit the baby’s nappy is searched. This process can be particularly intimidating for people if they’ve never experienced anything like this before.
For the prisoner that has a partner and children the visit is the one chance they will have to spend an hour in their company. Some prisoners’ partners will have to travel from the far off corners of Ireland. If a prisoner’s partner lives in, let’s say, Belfast and they don't have a car, they will have to get a taxi from their house to the bus or train station in the early hours of the morning, get a bus to Dublin (which takes between 2 hours and 30 minutes to 3 hours, then get a bus from Dublin to Portlaoise (which takes about 1 and a half hours). Then repeat this journey later in the day on the way home. Then you have to take into account the price of all this traveling, you’re talking the best part of £100. This is done each week, week in week out, for years.
For prisoners that are aligned with a group they will receive £80 euro a month. If the prisoner has a partner and child, the partner will be given £80 a month. It takes a lot of work and effort for the prisoner support groups to raise the funding they need to give out to the different prisoners and their families. But through no fault of their own this isn't anywhere near enough to make up for money needed by families. For families that don’t have much money they might not be able to afford to come regularly. There are also prisoners that aren't aligned with any group. These prisoners don't get any help or support from the different prisoner support groups.
Visits give the prisoner, the father, the chance to see their child grow. One visit a week might be the only chance the prisoner gets to spend time with their child. It must be a terrible experience only being able to see your child or children for an hour a week (if lucky enough) and then having to watch them leave every time, and then having to return back to your cell for another week before seeing them again.
There are some prisoners that don't get to see their children at all, the family might refuse to bring them to visit as they might not agree with the reasons why they are in jail. Instead these prisoners might have to make do with a photo to see their child.