In the tenth of a multi part series Joe C narrates his experience of arrest and time served in Portlaoise Prison where he evolved into an anarchist.
In Portlaoise prison the Republican prisoners had a lot more privilege and way better conditions to do their time compared with the social and gangland prisoners. In E-Block the Republican prisoners had a lot more freedom in the block than the other prisoners elsewhere in the jail or any other jail in Ireland.
When prisoners were not banged up in their cell they could go to the gym, go to the rec area, go to the yard, all whenever they wanted, work/art and crafts area. In the other blocks and other jails you can only go to these places at certain times. If a Republican prisoner wants to stay in their cell all day, they can if they want. Whereas in other blocks and jails at certain times you can't just stay in your cell, you will either have to go to the yard, work if you have a job, go to a class, go to the library, all this at certain times of course.
Republican prisoners have longer visits. A visit can be up to 1 hour 30 minutes, in other jails it can be for just 20 minutes. Republican prisoners also had more access to using the phone and longer phone calls. In other jails a prisoner will only have one phone call a day for 7 minutes.
But why are Republican prisoners allowed these extra privileges? The jail administration didn't give the Republican prisoners these extra privileges out of their hearts. The conditions republican prisoners have is because of struggle against the prison system over decades. The privileges were won from hard struggle.
It proves strength is in numbers and strength is in being organized to fight and struggle against an enemy. All prisoners could have these privileges in all jails if they got organized and struggled for them. Its an easy thing to say this, it’s a lot harder to put this into action. It’s a harder task for the social prisoners to organize themselves. Prisoners come from all sorts of backgrounds and this can make it harder to organize.
It’s a lot easier for the Republican prisoners to organize because most of them were groups or movements before going to jail. So when in jail the prisoners can be organized a lot easier, they are in jail because they are trying to bring the struggle to a head.
Whereas for a lot of social prisoners their struggle is a personal struggle, a struggle to live, a struggle of life. A lot of the social prisoners are in jail because of the social conditions created by capitalism.
The way each group, each landing, works in Portlaoise is if the jail try to undermine one prisoner or undermine the landing, every prisoner on that landing will go on protest. The Republican prisoners have a network of support and groups outside the jail, so if a group or landing inside the jail go on protest, there will be people protesting outside the jail. There is one thing that the prison governors hate and that is protests. If there is a protest outside the gate, the governor will get onto the prisoners trying to sort it.
One time when I was on E1, I and my comrades went on a 48 hour fast in solidarity with Republican prisoners in the north that started a protest in Maghaberry. The first day we were on it we refused our dinner. After the bang-up a high up screw came to speak to our OC to see what the matter was, the jail administration was worried we were on protest because of something in Portlaoise.
Another beneficial aspect to having prisoners and landings organized was that it gave structure to prisoners and landings. Each landing on E-Block had its own structure. The structures gave people the jobs that needed doing, such as cleaning different areas of the landing. The cleaning jobs were divided up amongst the prisoners, and, as a result the cleaning jobs are more or less given out evenly. Every few months the different jobs rotate.
The structure can also help with disputes between different prisoners if a dispute arises. There is a rule that the first person to throw a punch or hit another prisoner is exiled off the landing; I think this rule stopped a lot of arguments from getting violent. While I was in Portlaoise in E-Block there was pretty much no violence carried out by prisoners to each other.