1. INTRODUCTION TO THE WINGS
INTRODUCTION TO THE COMMUNITIES
On entering these wings you will have a general idea of the type of structure you are coming into, especially since the closure of Crumlin Rd as a holding center for political remand prisoners. It is
important that this general idea is developed into a working knowledge and understanding of:
a) What sort of environment you are in.
b) How this environment was created.
c) Why it is important that this environment is maintained.
d) What your own responsibilities and attitudes should be.
Before these points are dealt with in detail it must be pointed out that the present conditions here did not come about by accident nor are they the result of a more liberal attitude by the administration. These wings and the structures within them have emerged from the conscious actions of republican prisoners over the years. The most obvious of these actions and the starting point for any understanding of this place is the blanket protest and Hunger Strike. But the years after those issues also saw their share of struggles. It is the end result of these struggles that have ensured that these wings have emerged in the form that they now have. In other words this place today is a direct legacy of the Hunger Strike and subsequent struggles. It has been built on the sacrifices and effort of many people over the years and it is the responsibility of all in these wings to ensure that these sacrifices have not been in vain.
a) WHAT SORT OF ENVIRONMENT IS THIS?
The first thing that will strike many people is the fairly relaxed environment that they have come into. This is sound enough. It suits all of us on these wings to have as relaxed an environment as possible
thus ensuring that we do not have to undergo any unnecessary hardship. However we should be careful that this relaxed atmosphere does not lead us into an attitude of complacency. We must not take this place for granted. Certainly enjoy the benefits here but always keep in mind that these benefits were won as a result of many struggles and that we must always struggle to preserve what we have. There are many obvious, although this might not be immediately clear to all, is that one has entered a collective. The term collective will seem strange to some but simply put it means that on these wings we work and everything is organised as a group not leaving any individuals to get by on their own. This is reflected in many ways: Work wise the burden is carried by the wing as a whole, no one is expected to do everything. As regards necessities such as teabags, coffee and the like, these are catered for by the commune in the wing. Again this ensures that all of us can have access to these things regardless of our personal financial circumstances. All decisions concerning entertainment and wing activities are made on the basis of what is best for the wings as a whole. So everything is designed to suit us all not to suit one individual. But our collective is more than simply material things it is also an attitude. To be part of the collective means displaying the correct attitude to those around you, to be aware of others in the wing. One word that sums up the proper attitude towards the collective is consideration. The collective works if everyone shows consideration towards those around them. This can range form simple things like not blasting your radio and annoying everyone else, up to accepting and implementing the ideas of the collective regardless of your personal feelings. This is an important point. We all have personal likes and dislikes but we should realise that if a decision has been made by the wing or camp, that our personal feelings should not come into it. Be aware that you are part of a group and not simply an individual.
Of course this works both ways. The collective ensures that there is a support network there for all in times of need. It means that if a person decides to try and develop themselves that they will not have to struggle on their own but can and should call upon others to help them. It means that if some one has a personal problem that they will receive help and support where possible. Furthermore being in the collective ensures that people do not have to live their lives here in fear of intimidation or threat. This applies to threats coming from either screws or our own. The collective is designed to tackle almost any problem that may arise on the wing and everyone should recognise this and use the collective. We don't need people pursuing personal vendettas or taking their bad moods out on the wing, nor do we need people causing unnecessary trouble simply because they woke up with a sore head one morning. The collective means all of us behaving in a responsible manner and being aware that we are not individuals doing what we like but part of a group with responsibilities to everyone else in that group.
Politically our collective approach is also very important. By acting as a collective we break down one of the principle weapons of jail administration. Jails throughout the world function by treating prisoners as isolated individuals. One prisoners problem is nothing to do with anyone else. This way they ensure that prisoners never realise their collective strength. Wings are easily run because prisoners are kept divided. Simply put jails run on the principle "divide and conquer". However in these wings we defeat that by acting as a unit. One body united in response. This forces the administration to accept that anything they try and impose on us will be resisted not only by isolated individuals but as a group acting together. This restricts to a great degree the actions that can be taken against us.
Overall then these wings act as a collective, working on the basis that the common good comes first. This is not to say that there is no room for an individual to express themselves. It is in fact one of the strengths of these wings that individuals can be free to develop themselves in many ways. No one should feel under pressure to conform to everyone else's way of doing things As long as it is kept in mind that no one is allowed to walk on anyone else there will be no problem. There is plenty of room for an individual but no room for individualism. If we all remember that then we can live here with a fair degree of "freedom".
b) HOW THE ENVIRONMENT WAS CREATED.
Having looked at the obvious benefits of these wings we must now turn to the means by which this situation was arrived at. Most people in coming into these wings should have at least some idea of the blanket protest and the Hunger Strike period. The foundations for these present conditions were laid in that period so it is important that everyone has an understanding of the issues at stake then. The book "Nor Meekly Serve My Time" should be read by everyone as it gives a clear insight into this period.
Firstly it must be made clear that the Hunger Strike was not simply about prison conditions. Certainly the conditions that republicans were being asked to accept in 1976 were intolerable. It was a regime where republican prisoners were being forced to wear the uniform of a criminal. Where they would be integrated with loyalists. Where there was compulsory work which was designed to degrade and humiliate the prisoner. In this regime the screws were in complete control of every aspect of a prisoner's life. Violence and brutality were commonplace and the host of petty rules and restrictions were too numerous to mention. Prisoners were stripped of their identity and became nothing more than numbers. Now this regime was not the results of the actions of a few "bad" individuals, it was part of a consciously planned system designed to deal with the influx of republican prisoners expected after March 1st 1976.
With the removing of "special category status" (political status) for all prisoners in March 1976 the British had decided to use the prisons as another weapon in their arsenal against the republican struggle. On the outside the struggle was to be portrayed as the actions of "gangsters" or criminals. Works like "Godfathers" were thrown about to lead people to believe that the problem in the North was simply one of law and order not a political problem. This was to be reflected on the inside as well. The regime built up in this camp was designed firstly to treat republicans as nothing more than ordinary prisoners, that is criminals. But secondly and much more importantly it was designed to break republicans by breaking down republican structures and denying the political motivation behind anything they had done. Bobby Sands talked of the dangers for the struggle if this regime was allowed to succeed when he spoke of this camp becoming the "breakers yard" for republicans.
The British hoped that by imposing a harsh regime on republicans that individuals would waver under the pressure and break away from republicanism. Anyone who tried to maintain their republican identity and beliefs could be singled out and subject to increase harassment thus others would see that maintaining a republican identity cost too much. In this way gradually the republican identity of prisoners in this camp would be broken down altogether and eventually disappear. If the prisoners lost their republican identity then it was hoped that the struggle outside would lose it also. How could the struggle outside be a political one if there were no political prisoners? If they could succeed in removing our republican identity and our political motivation the British could distort the whole war as nothing more than some sort of criminal conspiracy. Therefore to allow this regime to succeed would have been to undermine the whole war. It would have been admitting that everything that had been done was wrong, that opposition to British rule was wrong. In effect to show that the British had a right to be here. In other words the whole purpose of the regime in here was to criminalise republicans and attack the republican movement by attacking its imprisoned members. If the prisoners could be criminalised then so could the whole struggle. So while the conditions here where intolerable and unacceptable to republicans this was never the main issue. The main issue was one of identity. It was vitally important that the prisoners were able to maintain their republican identity and so this is what the protest was all about. In pursuit of this the prisoners formulates 5 demands.
1) The right to wear our own clothes at all times.
2) The right not to have to do prison work.
3) The return of all remission lost during the protest.
4) The right to have one visit and one parcel per week.
5) The right to have free association.
Now these demands dealt with prison conditions but in effect what they demanded was the minimum necessary to enable us to retain our republican identity and to live our lives in a dignified manner befitting our status as republican prisoners. If these demand were not won there was a great danger that this place would become the "breakers yard".
The Hunger Strike ensured that it didn't. The sacrifice of the Ten Hunger Strikers meant that the policy of criminalising the struggle failed. While never publicly admitting it the British recognised that they couldn't run this jailor treat republicans as ordinary criminals. And while all of the 5 demands were not secured, enough was won to enable us to move forward. The most important concession being the right to wear our own clothes. With this secured we were in a position to move on. In other words the Hunger Strike laid the foundations that everything else could be built on.
Despite the coming of a new regime and the removal of many of the petty restrictions there was still much to be done. Segregation and the ending of work still had to be fought for and the early "80s saw the struggle in these areas. Following the escape of 1983 the next years were spent resisting all attempts by the administration to roll back the gains we had made. After a period of defensive struggle in the mid 1980s we went on the offensive and instead of just defending what we had gained we demanded overall change and improvement in our conditions which effects the quality of our lives. All of these issues will be dealt with in more detail other drafts.
But the main point must be repeated. These wings came about as a result of a hard struggle. They were not fought for simply to ensure that we had an easy time on these wings. There was and still is a major political motive that we must concentrate on when we look at how important it is that these wings be maintained.
c) WHY IT IS IMPORTANT THAT THIS ENVIRONMENT IS MAINTAINED
Anyone entering these wings is coming into a ready made environment. Most men have not seen the struggle and effort that went into setting up the conditions that existed here. This being so some may have a tendency to take this place for granted. Their attitude could be one of "This place is okay, there is no need for me to do anything". This would be a major mistake for anyone who has the welfare of the republican movement at heart.
These wings as we pointed out in the last section were not set up simply to give us an easy time. Instead they are set up and run so imprisoned republicans can play an active part in the ongoing struggle. When arrested a republican has two real choices. They can see their arrest as the end of their involvement in the struggle until their release. To take this attitude is more or less allowing the British to remove you from the struggle for x number of years. The time spent in here is completely wasted and can be marked down as a victory for the enemy who have succeeded in removing a republican activist from the struggle. On the other hand a republican on arrest can decide that all that has changed is the nature of the struggle. They are no longer on the streets and therefore the type of activity they can engage in has altered but their involvement in the struggle does not have to end.
Within these wings there are numerous ways for a republican activist to stay involved. There are the formal structured activities such as the Sinn Fein cumann on the education process, (subjects to be dealt with in greater detail later). There are numerous tie ins with various departments on the outside, people can write for An Glor Gafa or the Republican News. All these avenues are there for those who wish to avail of them. On top of this there are continuous discussions and debates on every aspect of the struggle. Anyone, be they a republican or otherwise, can get themselves involved in these activities and so they can contribute actively to the struggle. All that has changed is the nature of their contribution.
It is for this reason that it is so vitally important that what has been built in these wings is maintained. These wings today serve as a part of the republican struggle. What republicans must always deep in
mind is that there are more ways to struggle than simply those used outside. Even the personal development that people undergo in here is part of that struggle. Every republican who goes back to the struggle with a better understanding of what it is all about and their own role in it has used their time here productively. They will have used their time for the good of the movement and so well have contributed to the struggle.
To view this place as somehow separate from what is going on outside is to have the wrong picture altogether. These wings are here for the benefit of the republican movement and the republican struggle. People did not fight, lose remission, spend many more years in jail than they had to just because they wanted an easy time. These sacrifices were made to ensure that the republican movement would benefit from this place. They turned this place into a place of learning, A place of development, a place where the needs of the movement are actively dealt with, a place where republicans can develop themselves and their understanding of the overall struggle so that on release they can go back to the struggle outside with a clearer sense of purpose and direction. These wings allow us to turn our imprisonment into continued resistance. But this can only be done if what we have at present is maintained therefore it is up to everyone to recognise this and behave accordingly.
d) WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES AND WHAT ATTITUDE SHOULD ALL HERE HAVE?
If we accept the importance of maintaining these wings then we must see ourselves as having a role to play in this. What exists here can only be secured if everyone accepts their responsibilities. The first point that everyone should take note of on entering these wings is that they have a role to play. It doesn't matter if you are doing 4 years or life there are things to be done and we will all have a responsibility in seeing that they are done.
Accompanying this document is a Charter. This Charter, which was drawn up after discussion with everyone in the Camp, sets out the minimum requirements necessary to be on these wings. Everyone who the republican movement accepts onto these wings must accept the Charter and once having done so they are entitled to all the benefits that come with being here. But it must be stressed that the Charter only deals with the minimum required, it lays out what is allowed and not allowed but an active republican should see that there is more to being here than simply accepting the Charter.
For these wings to function properly it is essential that everyone has a positive attitude towards what goes on here. So the question may be asked how does a positive attitude reveal itself? To be positive means accepting your responsibilities in every area of activity. This begins with the everyday tasks like work which is the responsibility of us all. To sit back and not do your share is to allow others to carry the can for you. In other words you are living of someone else's back. But there are more to our responsibilities than just work. There are a range of jobs to be done in every wing - shop, exchanges, visits etc, up to and including the role of O/C. Now it is the responsibility of everyone to ensure that these jobs are done. Some may take the attitude, "Sure somebody else will do it!" but if you allow somebody else to do what you are quite capable of doing are you meeting your responsibilities to those around you?
Another aspect of accepting responsibility is being prepared to take things unto your own shoulders. If everyone waits to be asked to do something then no one will ever get anywhere. People should not be afraid to volunteer their services, to ask about joining the committee or such roles. Get involved, ask questions. There can never be to much knowledge so it is your responsibility to find out as much about this place as you can. If there is something about here that you are not sure of ask and keep on asking until you find out. If you have an opinion put it forward. No one is going to laugh at it and the opinion of someone just down carries as much weight as that of someone here years. How much you get into things is up to you. No one was ever faulted for doing too much.
The key to recognising and living up to you responsibilities here is to ask yourself how do you see your self? Are you just going to exist here and let everything pass you by while contributing the bare
minimum to stay here? Or are you going to involve yourself in what is going on? Are you going to contribute what you can and get as much benefit from your time here as possible? These questions can only be answered by every individual but your answers will determine your role here.