'I ended up stabbing a fella, dragged him into the cell; they couldn't catch me for it'


Interview: A former inmate says you must stand your ground in a violent climate

“When you first go in you have to be careful. People can be friendly to you, but they just want to use you; they want to get something off you. When they start to threaten you, when you’re tested, you have to make an impact. I ended up stabbing a fella, dragged him into the cell; bang, did it. There was no CCTV or nothing, they couldn’t catch me for it.”

Marty is recalling his experience of prison life. He came from a disadvantaged Dublin suburb and was first jailed as a young teenager. He spent time in detention schools before going to St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders and then Mountjoy.

His longest sentence was for armed robbery, for which he spent more than 10 years in jail. All told, he has been locked up for almost half his life. He has had a drug problem but, having been released from jail in the past 12 months, is determined to go straight.

He explained the nature of prison violence. “You can go into a wing and you might meet fellas there who are from your own area so they more or less let on . . . to be friendly. But if they’ve been together for a while in prison they’re all working together to get you to do things for them. It can be anything; to stab or slash another fella they want to get. Or they can threaten you you’ll be got yourself unless you get visitors to bring stuff in to give to them. It can be anything, but usually gear or phones.

“For most of the time I was in, they hadn’t got all the searches in the cells they have now and all the checks on the visitors. So the pressure was there the whole time because they knew if you put pressure on your visitors you could get the stuff in. Then when you got it in, they own it. But they want you to hold it in your cell so they won’t be caught.”

He said that when he began being threatened he felt no option but to take a stand, saying the violent manner of his resistance was deliberate.

“If you stab a fella, they know they can’t mess with you. So you have to make that kind of impact.”

Cycle of violence

However, while the non-fatal attack he carried out in prison ensured the efforts by others to use and intimidate him stopped, it led to a more serious problem.

“They wanted to get me back after it. So they put a half ounce on my head: heroin. A half ounce was worth about €800 outside so you can double that in a jail. It’s more expensive inside because it’s harder to get in. So they basically made it known to other prisoners that if they got me, attacked me, stabbed me, they’d get the heroin.

“So then what you have to do is be careful and try to be clever. You have to try and work out who is going to take up the offer. And then you put a half ounce on their heads.”

Having been judged a security risk because of his associations with some paramilitary figures, he was transferred to the E1 landing in Portlaoise Prison – the only high-security jail in the State. The E1 landing is reserved for the most well-known criminals, who represent a threat to the State or to the stability of other medium-security jails.

“It’s different there compared to Mountjoy or Wheatfield . . . It is kind of more relaxed. You can cook your own food in the cells and that. Most of the blokes are into the weights room, pumping the free weights rather than going to classes or workshops or that.

“You’re dealing with a lot of well-known people, big personalities and big egos . . . There is probably less violence there than, say, the Joy. But if there is a row it can spill outside, that’s the big difference. They can get your family if they want to because they have the phones and they have connections on the outside who will do things for them.

“You can get drugs down there too. Some of them are running the drugs in the prisons. It’s not just a bag of gear over a wall; they’re selling it and making money for when they get out . . . You might end up owing money to them for gear. So then they ask you to do things for them in jail or maybe when you get out to wipe the debt; robberies, attacks. That’s how a lot of fellas get back into right after they get out.”