Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Overview of the Hydebank Regime

Researcher:  Overall, were there anything positive about the Hydebank YOC when you were a prisoner there, for example, were there any rehabilitation programs or to attempt to foster family contact?

Jim: No, there was nothing like that. Family contact was restricted to one visit per month (with extra allowed based on what they viewed as good behaviour.) We were allowed one letter per week which was of course censored.  As to rehabilitation programs, none existed.

Researcher: From my research the regime in Hydebank has changed to a certain extent with not the same level of overt brutality.

Jim: I know nothing of the regime in Hydebank now but it would not take much to improve the regime I experienced as it was Hellish.  Everything seemed geared towards intimidating you, humiliating you and brutalising you on a daily basis from unlock to lock up.  Many prisoners self-harmed, others of a less streetwise background loves were unbearable.  It was not uncommon to hear kids as young as 16 crying at night whether after 'special treatment' by the screws or just a feeling of hopelessness.

I can honestly say that it was the most brutal experience of my life and it was made clear by the regime that any kind of complaints to non-prison service agencies would be met with an extreme beating.  We hear a lot of the brutality visited upon prisoners in the likes of Long Kesh,  which rightly should be condemned but Hydebank as I mentioned earlier was the dumping ground for screws who handed out extreme violence to political prisoners in other jails. Many were clearly sadists who enjoyed the cruelty they visited on young prisoners.  It was like giving absolute power to a group of people with no qualifications with the majority revelling in the fact that they were sectarian bigots.

I can honestly say that my experiences in their have stayed with me and played a large part in ruining my life. I've never been able to hold down a relationship or a job of any length. I have used drink and drugs to block out the resentment I feel towards my treatment at the hands of the screws.  I just hope that someday, this brutality will be exposed.  It may not come in my lifetime, given what has come to be my daily lifestyle. I just hope no other kids still have to go through that experience of daily terror and brutality

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Sectarianism At Hydebank

Researcher:  What was the daily regime like in Hydebank in the 1980's when you were there, Jim?

Jim: Basically, it was one of fear, intimidation and brutality.  There was the most petty of rules, like in one wing called E4, there were brown tiles on the floor.  Any prisoner caught walking on these tiles would be punished which could range from two screws taking you to your cell and slapping you about or being sent to the punishment block where you were completely isolated and only had bedding at night.  There was absolutely no-one that you could turn to for help, even the few Probation Officers at the jail, the majority were male and actually boasted of playing football with the screws.

I certainly suffered my fair share of brutality and punishment but what I found even more heartbreaking was being locked up and hearing other young prisoners being beaten, especially if they were being beaten on their way to the punishment block.

Researcher: Was sectarianism a significant factor in Hydebank?

Jim:  Well, it was common knowledge that many of the screws had been moved to Hydebank due to their ill-treatment of the Blanketmen and were no longer accepted in Long Kesh/The Maze due to the political structures there.  Many of the screws regularly boasted of their ill treatment of the protesting prisoners in that prison and regaled us with the methods that they used.

There was no real sectarianism between the prisoners but Protestant prisoners always got the most sought after jobs, despite the about 70% of prisoners being Catholics.  The screws did nothing to hide their sectarian views with Loyalist paramilitary tattoos being openly displayed.  Many of the screws wore Orange Order, Masonic and Loyalist tie pins, even National Front pins.  I can remember a mixed-race prisoner coming into Hydebank and he was routinely addressed as 'nigger', 'sambo' and similar racist names on a daily basis.

One particular screw used to routinely boast of his role in shooting dead peaceful protesters on Bloody Sunday while other screws from military backgrounds would brag about the number of Catholics they had killed or injured, presumably when they were in the British Army.

On one occasion following the 1983 escape from Long Kesh/The Maze, we were all dragged out of our cells and severely beaten by a large number of screws. Unfortunately for one of the prisoners in our wing at Hydebank, his brother was one of the escaping prisoners and this kid was horribly beaten by about ten screws then taken to the punishment block.  God knows what happened to him when he was held there!

During the Loyalist protests following the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, the trade screws had prisoners make anti-Agreement banners, placards etc in the workshops.  These were later displayed in the wings.

There was absolutely zero tolerance of any kind of nationalistic or even Celtic FC artwork that a few Catholic prisoners had drawn in the drawing pads that were allowed in their cells.  These were routinely publicly torn to shreds publicly, with the usual sectarian abuse and 'punishment.'  Even going to Mass, it was routine for screws to announce that it was time for 'Fenian Service.'

Overall, I would say that being a Catholic prisoner in Hydebank was at best a very uncomfortable experience.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Brutal Reception at Hydebank YOC

'Jim' spent most of the 1980's in Hydebank Young Offenders Centre, just outside Belfast.  He is now in his mid-fifties, is a single man living in a Housing Association flat in North Belfast.  He suffers from Clinical Depression, was a recidivist offender in his youth, has had a long history of Alcoholism/Addiction and looks older than his age.  'Jim' has agreed to share his experiences at Hydebank.

Q: What were your first experiences on being admitted to Hydebank YOC?

Jim: As soon as I entered the reception of Hydebank I was punched in the mouth and told by a group of screws that this is what I'd get every day if I ever didn't behave myself.  I then was given a 'Hydebank haircut' that was carried out by a reception screw with electric shears. It was designed to degrade you as basically half of my head shaved bald and the other half left untouched.
The next v embarrassing thing that happened was that all new prisoners were brought to the 'hospital' which really was just a sick bay. There was a panel of screws, some were supposedly Medical Officers (MO's) which I've since learnt is a screw who has the same training as a Healthcare Assistant, other screws and a female nurse. They made me strip naked in front of them while a non-medical screw examined my genitals with a pen. There was no medical reasoning for this, it was simply another method of humiliation and a means to degrade prisoners.

After this prisoners were assigned wings depending on whether they had been detained there before.  There was a complete atmosphere of hostility and fear in the wings.  Before a prisoner could enter his designated cell, he was forced to "mark time" which entailed marching at an impossible rate with screws shouting verbal abuse and slapping you for what seemed like an eternity.  When this eventually ended, there was more threats regarding folding your bedding into what were called 'bed packs'.  More often than not the threats were followed up by a slap or a punch.  On my first time in Hydebank I was terrified and was convinced that the screws were quite capable of killing you and having seen the absolute control they had, it was clear that they would probably get off with it.

Friday, 29 April 2016

My Research Into Abuse in Youth Institutions in Northern Ireland

I am currently studying for my PhD at the University of Ulster.  As part of my Doctoral research, I have interviewed a selection of people who as children or young people experienced imprisonment, detention or what were previously known as 'Training School Orders' (which were along with Life Sentences and Detention at the Secretary of State's Pleasure, were 'indeterminate sentences').

The people who I have began interviewing are now largely in their 40's or 50's but at the time of their detention they would have ranged in age from what were then classed as juveniles to those who were categorized as 'Young People', being in the 17-21 years old category.

Many of my research subjects have been deeply affected by the treatment they received at both state and church administered institutions.  Many suffer from a variety of mental health conditions ranging from Clinical Depression, long term self-harming, alcoholism, drug addiction, Bi-Polar Disorder, Personality Disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and low self-esteem.  This would not be an exhaustive list of Psychiatric disorders by any means.

Naturally enough my Doctoral research is an academic exercise but I felt that some of my research subjects, with their express permission, deserved some of their experiences of detention published in a less academic format.  All names used are pseudonyms.