Joe C with the penultimate in his series of pieces on his life as a prisoner in Portlaoise and his embracing of anarchism.
In Portlaoise when you are coming to the end of your sentence you will be eligible for temporary release (TR). This is where the prison grants a prisoner a few days out, it’s usually a weekend. A prisoner gets 1 TR for every year they do in jail, and a prisoner usually gets granted a TR for their final Christmas in prison. For me, since I was sentenced to six years and four months, I had to do four years and eight months. Every prisoner gets remission: whatever sentence a person gets straight away they can take 1/3 off their sentence.
So I was entitled to four TRs. On my final Christmas I was granted TR. It was a long TR. Every prisoner getting TR that Christmas was given five overnights. This means you have to come back on the 6th day.
It was a surreal feeling getting to walk outside the gate, then being picked up by my father. Sitting in a car for the first time in years, walking into a house after not being in one for a good while feels really strange, everything feels shrunken and tiny. I sat in the house feeling fidgety not able to sit easy. I felt like I should be doing something and not just sitting there, I had a feeling of guilt not doing anything, but I didn't know what I should be actually doing. My comrade was back in prison, I felt I should have been doing something to enjoy myself, but I didn't know what that was.
There was only one thing I really wanted to do and that was to walk down the beach looking at the ocean. Before jail I wasn't much of a lover of nature, I didn't really care too much for it. But, at the same time I did enjoy walks in nature. Before jail I didn't realize I liked it so much. For the years in jail I would daydream about being in nature, being in the mountains, being by the seaside.
Dollymount beach is a short walk from my parents’ house. To get there I'd have to walk through St. Anne’s Park. As I walked through the park, even though it was winter, there was still a lot of colour. A lot of the big tall trees in the park are evergreen trees so they still had their colour. As I walked through the park my head and eyes were darting around taking in the landscape, walking under the tall trees, their canopy blocking out the sky. It was an amazing feeling being hit in the face with so many different colours, different shades of green.
When I reached the beach I walked just for a little bit and then sat on a sand dune for about 2 hours looking out into the vast ocean of green, reflecting in my thoughts.
On my final night on TR, my sister and her friend brought me on a drive. We drove up to the view point in the Dublin mountains. It was pitch black when we got there. We sat in the car looking out over Dublin. It was a fantastic sight, seeing all the lights of Dublin lit up.
When I got back to jail I had six months left to do, for the final four months I was granted a TR out for a weekend each month.
After about a year into my prison experience I could not imagine ever getting out. I could not imagine not being in jail, I couldn't imagine being outside doing normal things. I felt like this right on up till I was released. But, at the same time I would daydream about stuff I could be doing.
When I was out it didn't take long for me to realize that there was only so much I could actually do. This dawned on me as I was in the welfare office queuing to sign on the dole. After queuing for a time I finally reached the hatch. I said to the man behind the hatch and told him I wanted to sign on the dole. Straight away his snotty attitude came out. He gives me the paper. It takes me a while to fill out some of the questions that I can understand, some of the questions didn't make sense in my head as my mind was racing.
I handed back the paperwork. The man said to me that I didn't fill in parts of the form. I told him I didn't know what to write in them. He started asking me the questions. Eventually he came to, "If you haven't been on the dole for five years and haven't been working, what have you been doing?" I told him I was in prison. He asked me "What was your prison number?" "I was never given one" I said, "Well if you were in prison you would have been given a prison number." I told him again I didn't get one. "You could not have been in jail for that amount of time and never given a prison number" he says smartly and matter of factly in his voice. I told him "Political prisoners aren't given a prison number." He looked at me in amazement like I had two heads. "What jail were you in?" he said with an attitude. I told him. He reached over and pulled the office phone across the table closer to him. He called Portlaoise jail and they filled him in. He put the phone down and looked at me. "Look, this is not up for debate, you would have been given a prisoner number at some point." he said very slyly. He then got the paperwork. I filled in, opened it and stamped the boxes. "You can collect your payment tomorrow", he said without making eye contact.
After a few days of being out I had a deep feeling of anti-climax. It took me about a year to get used to being outside again. When out in public, especially in shopping markets, being in places that had a lot of people, my mind would race, my body would fill with anxiety. I found it hard to stand in a queue in a shop. I hated the feeling when people were standing or walking too close to me.
When in prison I could see people when they were coming down the landing or walking near me. When outside in packed places people will come from every direction going about their business. One of the first days I was out I went into town to have a look in the shops. I was walking up Henry Street. It was jammed with people. After a few minutes of walking before I could even go into a shop I had to turn back and go home.
When I got out of jail I had to get used to being outside. I was still waking up at the same time every morning. When I'd get up and after having breakfast I wouldn't know what to do with myself. A lot of the time I would go for a jog, the length of the coast road. I liked this route. When I was in jail jogging on the treadmill I would imagine I was jogging down the coast road on Sunday.
What I needed was a new routine. After two months of being out I applied for a course and got accepted onto it. The course was to last until May. Doing this course helped me a lot to adjust back into life. It gave me a routine to do each day. I got to meet new people, have normal conversations. When in jail the main conversations I had with people were mostly highly political. I got massive enjoyment from having normal conversations just about every day life. It was a breath of fresh air.
When I got out of jail it was like when I went in, I had to transition from one way living to another.
What I noticed most when I got out of jail was that there was no support groups or information on how to go about things. There was nowhere to find out about rent allowance, or how to get grants for college or any other information on what an ex-prisoner's rights are, or what they are entitled to (such as a clothing grant for example). I didn't know much about any of these things. I gradually found out all these things by investigating them myself or if an ex-prisoner happened to tell me. This process of trying to find out this information can be stressful.
Some people spending years in prison can develop mental health problems. Because of this they may turn to drink or drugs as a way of self-medicating. People have different experiences in prison some people do longer sentences, some people have a harder time. All these things can prey on a person's mental health. A person may do 10, 20, 30 years in jail. Whatever the time, it will have an effect on a person whether big or small. After a person does 20 years they may not be able to cope with the outside world: they might become homeless, they might become alcoholics.
Prisons were set up to (supposedly) reform offenders. But the reality is that prisons are for the punishment and revenge by bourgeois society. If you fuck with private property they will have their vengeance. An armed robber robs a bank or a bookies and gets 10 years if caught, if they get away they will have a few thousand euros; a banker swindles and robs millions, helps to destroy a country's economy, forcing many to live in poverty, the banker gets a promotion if caught. What bourgeois society shows is that what matters when robbing property is what class you are in when doing the robbing.
The person that robs with a pen and fancy office will rob and wreak a lot more people than the person that robs by using a gun.
When a prisoner is finished their sentence they are just fucked out on the street, discarded. In a lot of cases the prisoner will have family or friends that will help them get back on their feet when they are released. But there are many prisoners who, when they are released, have no support from family or friends. These prisoners will find it way harder to get back on their feet, some of them may not ever get back on their feet at all.