Monthly Archives: September 2013

Joint Statement From Behind The Wire:January 1977

This remarkable excerpt from a daily newspaper dates back almost 40 years.  The original cutting was kept as part of a scrap book which had a starting date of October 1976 and was the property of a UVF Life Sentence prisoner who at that particular time was incarcerated in Compound 19.
It clearly shows that even in those darkest of days that many of the so-called protagonists were thinking of a positive way forward.  As was aptly illustrated in Tony Novosel’s recent book–The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism–loyalists-in the shape of the UVF/RHC were quite prepared to take chances for peace.
It is through articles such as this that people of today can look back and learn about the attitudes of ex combatants.  It will also illustrate in a very clear way that many of these far sighted initiatives were condemned to the dustbin by those who are now firmly esconced in power–the same people who were quite prepared for the “commoners” to continue fighting until their own selfish dreams were fulfilled.

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Compounds Closure: Late 80′s Long Kesh

As this article in the Irish News shows plans were implemented as early as 1986 to close the special category compounds.  This article tells the story of the closure of Cage 20 which then housed the remaining Official IRA-Stickies-prisoners.  Just over a couple of years later the remaining UVF/RHC political prisoners were transferred to H2.

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A Little Bit of Long Kesh History: Primo

 

With the granting of political status in late 1972 the compound-or cage-system was set in place to house those prisoners who were deemed to be politically motivated.  Four years later and government policy had changed with the inception of the new H blocks where those still deemed to be incarcerated for politically motivated “offences” had to endure a system set in place to criminalise them.

The compounds that remained from a UVF/RHC perspective diminished in keeping with the number of men being released when their determinate sentences expired.  Gusty Spence was released in 1983 and two years later the last of the men who had been sentenced to 20 years were also gone.
In effect what was left was a group of men–now housed in a single compound-21–who were either Life Sentence prisoners or SOSP’s.–younger guys who were serving Secretary of State’s Pleasure.  No new faces arrived into Long Kesh after early 1977 and they were people who had been sentenced for something that occurred pre March 1976.  With the numbers dwindling–not just in the UFV/RHC compound–but in the others–compound 20 housed Official IRA men and the numbers there dropped to 3 before the decision was taken to close the compound and move the trio to the Crumlin Road jail.  The talk then was the authorities had “done a deal” with the Stickies to close the cage.  The theory was that they would be looked upon favourably in the next Life Sentence review.
By 1988 the writing was on the wall for the entire compound system and we knew for quite a while that the move was inevitable. The move actually came in June that year after much wrangling about how we would be locked up–free association–doors unlocked–yard opened up for running–being able to keep pigeon lofts and bird cages etc;  By the time we moved there was less than thirty of us–just enough to occupy one leg of H2.  There was–through our compound command staff–much negotiation and a host of communication from the highest echelons at Dundonald House.  Here LKIO produce some of those communications that still–25 years later–make for fascinating reading and gives an insight into the lives of our Life Sentence prisoners.

Primo

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Dispelling The Myth of The Knuckledragger: Primo

The University of Anti terrorism.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison”,  Victor Hugo

As it became obvious that I wasn’t going home for a while I started to turn my attention towards education. I was a loyalist life sentence prisoner in Compound 21. I had begun my sentence by completing a fair bit of art work. It was a discussion with Davy Ervine that led me to veer towards education as a full time ‘occupation’. He said to pick one or other and give it my full attention. I picked, thankfully, education. ( I would keep on doing some art work over the next 10 years  as a pastime). I started off fairly easy with an ‘O’ level in Art.  At this time some of the men had started their Open University courses. I was prompted to begin a Social Sciences course and started this by undertaking D101 Making Sense of Society. Quite ironic really, when I reflected on my life experiences to date. The course involved some geography, some psychology, sociology, etc. I passed it and decided to go for the Degree. At this time we were limited by what the prison would allow us. This course was a full credit and we could only do one credit per year. Later I would do 2 half credits in a year. That was a lot of work.

The next course was an introductory Technology course, ‘Living with Technology’. I really enjoyed this and came away with a top class mark. But I now decided to select Psychology as my basic degree. There was Mathematics (I wasn’t bright enough), Computers ( had not a clue), Philosophy ( still less of a clue) and so Psychology it was. As well as academic studies there were other courses available. Evening time classes involved a teacher coming in and delivering various courses such as English, Maths, etc. Some of the men in the cage learned their own foreign language, German being a common one. Gusty already had some men learning the Irish language.

One course I do recall was the Football Coaching course as run by the IFA. This was demanding, required a high level of fitness, ability to understand football theory and then a fair degree of social skills to implement and interact while being assessed.  This was a tough course which happy to say I passed.

In the Open University I moved onto the Introduction to Psychology which I found surprisingly difficult. I may have passed but no top marks. Within the O.U. there were basic sets of courses that would get recognition by outside bodies, so from here my courses where easily chosen. The next course was the most difficult; Cognitive Development: from Birth to Adolescence. It was heavy going that required a lot of reading, rereading and writing. Next was ‘Personality and Learning’ which was informative and applicable to myself and others.

Passing it I went onto what was regarded as a very difficult course called the Biology, Brain and Behaviour. It was amazing and a new world opened up. However I loved this course and fared well. By this time I had run foul of the security department of the prison who seemed to thrive on blocking and annoying students at every turn. One of the funnier times came up over a plastic model of half a human brain which outlined all the different parts of the brain, occipital lobes, medulla, etc. This was held by security for some reason. The joke was that some of them wanted it for themselves. So it was M.P.s and petitions to Governors and what not. What a farce. So compare and contrast visions of men at bomb classes against me learning about a human brain. ( As a side note, I never once seen one of these bomb, gun or terrorist classes.) The O.U. courses involved meeting with a tutor on a monthly basis to go over essays and other issues. I found all the tutors very intelligent, dedicated and of a great help to me.

I started on level 3 courses. I began the Social Psychology full credit. Here was the real meat of the course.  This was superb and parts of it could be applied to my prevailing situation. How do we all interact? Why do we follow certain people and ideas? Why are we social animals and why does conflict occur between individuals and groups?

Possibly the most interesting course and relevant (in a way) was the course ‘Crime and Society’. This of course was geared to the British system of Law and Order and not our lovely little spot with its Diplock courts, internment (although that was used in the war years on the mainland), scheduled offences, supergrasses, hunger strikes, etc. However here was a clear and systematic explanation of the normal criminal justice system. From the police to the courts, from the law makers to the prison and probation. I was of course interested in the stories about lifers in G.B.

An interesting course (A Level) was Government and Politics. Here was one of the few times that 3 of the factions could study together. Due to declining numbers of Special Category prisoners a compound came free which was turned into a study place. Both the UDA, the Sticks (Officials) and UVF/RHC could study together. A few of us on the politics course had discussions. Of course ‘real’ politics was a faraway cry from N. Ireland.

Another funny event was when one of my evening time teachers said he was getting a new job and would not be back. I wished him well and thanked for his time and effort. Shook hands and said goodbye. It was a short time afterwards that I saw him walk back into the phase accompanied by lots of staff. He had got another job all right. He was now an assistant governor! I laughed. We did speak later and I still held my respect for him.

At this time I was undertaking many courses to help pass the time and there was quite a variety. I studied Yoga (pretty good) except I was so relaxed I kept falling asleep! But very useful when I was on punished, by being on the boards. I took up Statistics following on from my Psychology stuff. Next I completed an ‘Awards for All’ in Weightlifting. I finished an Athletics coaching course with one of the senior instructors from outside. A few of us completed a Boxing course with an absolute gentleman who was the Irish boxing coach at one time. Some of us tried our hand at Irish History. Quite a laugh.

A decade of captivity had passed now and with a shift to the H blocks away from the cage/compound I undertook ‘A’ Level Art and ‘A’ level Statistics.  But I have to admit I have easily failed ‘A’ levels Maths three times!  I was very happy at passing the ‘A’ level Statistics which required a lot of revision.

However at this time I had gained my Honours Degree in Social Sciences (Psychology) and had to decide what I was now going to do. Fairly simple, start another degree! This time it would be Science as other lads had blazed the trail. So I started S101 but I was not to finish it. Events moved quickly and I was to be released. However I had been paid into the course and I was pushed to undertake the Summer School part of the course.  None of us ever had completed a summer school while in the Kesh for obvious reasons. Of all places I had to go it was Stirling, Scotland. I had never been to Scotland before.  I had been to England once and never out of the British isles.

So while still technically a serving life sentence prisoner I went to Stirling University which was brilliant. The people there knew nothing of my background or circumstances but I made friends and we had a great time.  However, I would not finish the course as life events over took it. I was back at home, had a job for a year, was building up new relationships and getting back into the real world.  During my workout phase I began a Creative Writing evening course in QUB. That was really good, but a bit odd. On Monday night I would be sitting in a class in QUB and the next evening I would be back in the Crum ‘work out’ unit locked in a cell.

Being a glutton for punishment I went for some reason to QUB to do of all things an MSc in Computer Science. Not one of my better choices. Totally flunked it and went and got a job in 1990 at the grand wage of £50 per week.

So my time inside was not totally wasted. One funny recollection concerns the term ‘University of Terrorism’. As I said above not once did I see a bomb or gun class. There was no talk of armed conflict and the use of terror. Obviously I have missed all that. I had people like Davy Irvine, Gusty and Billy Mitchell all urging us to use our brains. And I did discover, the pen is mightier than the sword (or gun).

I came out with quite a few qualifications which was satisfying but meant nothing in the face of prejudice, ignorance and discrimination. I have carried on my education and training since then and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I enjoy studying and learning. I can only hope to pass that attitude on to the young people (and older ones) that I meet and work with.

Primo.

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A Life In The Day: Just Another Day In The Compounds.

I awake but lie still listening to the sounds that come though the open window. I know it is night outside. It is December, but light streams in from the hundreds of orange and red lights that surmount the walls, fences and gates. It is cold. There are no heaters in the hut. Above me is the steel corrugated iron roof. I am in my room or cube on my own, a welcome change from being doubled up with someone for years. I have been here for over 10 years now. It is very quiet in the hut that has 20 men. There used to be over  30  men when sharing was a necessity.

 

It is 7.15am and the hut will be opened by the guards in 15 minutes. In the stillness I can hear them coming through the gates from far away. The clangs ring loud and clear as they have done since the Long Kesh /Maze prison opened in 1972 as hundreds of prisoners swamped the meagre prison system. I get up and put on my training gear. There are 3 or 4 people waitng to get out to go the gym or their early morning run. We wait in silence as the rest of the men do not need to get up until 9am. We hear the footsteps, the jangle of keys. Locks being opened and bolts being snapped back.

 

We get out. I go to the gym. The gym is a large Nissan hut divided in two. There are punch bags, lots of old rough free weights and some gym items such as parallel bars. It is a weekday and I have no visit. We get 30 minutes a week with our visitors.  The gym routine is sit ups, press-ups and some light weights. Later I will go out for a run. After 3 miles I go back to my cube, get my stuff and go to the shower. It is primitive and spartan. Concrete floors, wooden roof and plastic sheets divide the showers. Other men are getting up. Those on visits usually get in early to get the warm water before it runs out. I find that exercising early warms me up and keeps out the cold that settles in with a vengeance. One year I had frost and ice on my window. On the inside.

 

After this I go and get breakfast. Tea, cornflakes and some bread; if there is any. We all have chores after 9am, the lights go on and the place comes alive. Men cleaning out their own space – their cube. Then the communal areas are cleaned. The central space running the length of the hut, the toilet and shower block. Outside the main huts men are picking up litter and butts. After this I go to the small square wooden study hut. I am completing my Degree with the O.U. Forward planning and a realisation that I’m not getting out of here for while yet.  This is Compound 21 of the special category section of the Maze prison.  Less well known than the big brother across and behind,  the 20 foot high concrete walls of the infamous  H Blocks. Prison life continues on inside and there is a sense of normality despite being in, it was claimed, the highest security prison in Europe. Men go to visits. A guard comes to the wire, shouts a name. Both men will go in a mini bus to the visiting block. Men also go to see the doctor or the welfare.  It approaches lunchtime. Some men supplement their food from parcels that were left in by visitors. Others go to the canteen to see if it’s edible today. Stew is always a careful meal to eat after finding some things in it such as the mouse’s head, bits of a brillo pad, etc. There is time to talk to friends and engage in some craft or artwork. In the afternoon I get ready and go for a run or back to the gym. We run round the wire fence that surrounds us and becomes the first line of defence for the prison system.

We run 21 laps to cover 3 miles. It is a short section at the back of huts then turns left. Up the side of the gym, and turn left. Up to the corner of the compound and turn left. The long straight parallel to main concrete wall and turn left back in behind the 4 huts. And so on and so on. Daily, weekly, monthly,  yearly.  Looking through the steel mesh of the fence I can see other men in other cages doing exactly the same thing.

 

I go in get my stuff and go for a shower. At 5pm dinner is served. Some men take it, some do not. People gather around the single black and white T.V.  in the hut to watch the news for the day. Some days there is plenty of news about prisons, protests and releases. Those who had visits would receive a parcel from their visitor about 6 o clock. Its checked for smuggled items. A good excuse to mess up someone’s highlight of the week. Not all of the staff are sadists but there’s usually one there to mete out some injustice. Today there is nothing on the news. Many men wait for the increasing number of TV soaps to come on and live out lives in another place away from this concrete grave. Evenings are spent writing letters. By 8pm most men are out walking the wire. Groups of  2 or 3 men walk and talk. After 10 years of prison it difficult not to recover precious memories from a time of freedom that seems long ago and dream like. Much talk is about the troubles outside and what we will do in the future when we get out. Whenever that may be. Better to live in hope that wallow in reality.

 

At ten to 9 we see the screws gathering at the compound gate. They walk in and we know it is time to lock up. We go to our huts. They count heads. That’s it for the night. The hut seems bright and lively. Men get tea and toast on. It is warmer now. There is debate and discussion about what to watch on the TV. Films are a favourite. Some men go to a friends cube to talk the night away. To relive their war memories and some spoof the night away. Others are still writing letters or re reading one left in from a visit during the day.

Another day gone.  Another day closer to getting out? Don’t really know. A lifer doesn’t have a date.  Midnight and the lights are put out by the hut officer.  Most men are in bed but the die hards can watch the TV in the dark as long as the volume is turned down. The fence lights shine all night. We have curtains to keep the light out. It’s quiet now except for the birds singing away. Fooled by the thousands of lights. I read for a while until sleep overtakes me.

 

I awake. It is 7.15am and the hut will be opened by the guards in 15 minutes. In the stillness I can hear them coming through the gates from far away.

Another day.

G.Igitur

 

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