Socialist Worker

Class divide concentrated behind bars

by Brid Smith
Issue No. 1876

MOUNTJOY WOMEN'S prison in Dublin is a modern institution. Built three years ago to house 90 women prisoners, it is known as the Dochas Centre (Dochas is the Irish language word for hope).

But for its inhabitants there is little or no hope both within and without the walls. Recently I was jailed for two weeks along with eight other women for defying a High Court order preventing us from peaceful protest to oppose bin taxes in Dublin.

From the moment we entered the holding cell in the jail, the class divisions that condemn women to prison stared us in the face.

The jail was full to capacity. We were 10 percent of the prison population for the period we were there.

The vast majority of the rest of the prisoners are there simply because they are poor. You might think that is an exaggerated 'bleeding heart' statement. But the more time I spent there the more I was aware how true it is.

Most of the women in the prison are very young.

Some have been there for ten and more years, some for crimes they committed when they were as young as 15 years old.

The other thing I noticed about the people in the prison was that many were immigrants. They are scooped off the streets by the police, deposited in Mountjoy and then just deported. They disappeared quickly, often put back on a plane to a country dominated by poverty or repression.

A criminologist recently conducted a survey of Mountjoy. It found that 80 percent of prisoners were unemployed before being imprisoned. They had low levels of education and many suffered from psychiatric disorders. Everything I saw confirmed that survey.

Prisons concentrate all the division in this society. They are lock-up shops for the poor. Over 15 of us, men and women, were jailed for daring to take action against bin charges. We stand proudly in the battle line against neo-liberal policies that turn everything into a commodity.

From the streets of La Paz in Bolivia to every corner in Ballyfermot, there is a shout going up: 'Hell no-we won't pay!'

Our ruling class is rattled. One of the top businessmen in Ireland, a certain Denis O'Brien, who made £200 million profit from selling off a franchise for mobile phones, has recently denounced the whole population for 'talking shite' (his words). He thinks the people are not being respectful enough to politicians and entrepreneurs, and are for taking Ireland down the 'communist route'.

The Irish rich sound like Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution. Someday it will be the fat cats who will occupy those same cells in Mountjoy. There is an angry mood rising among working people. They have watched for years as politician after politician has been revealed to have taken bribes. Our esteemed former leader Charles J Haughey got a monthly 'donation' of £20,000 from Irish businessmen.

Yet nothing was done about these crooks. And the reason: because the judges come from the same class and the same political background as the wealthy crooks. From the courts to the prisons to the parliament the system is rotten and it is that system that has to be challenged if there is to be any real 'dochas' for the poor.

Brid and the other prisoners would like to thank all Socialist Worker readers who sent messages of support while they were in prison.


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Sat 8 Nov 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1876
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