‘I don’t want to be in Mountjoy Prison, nobody does’

‘Going to college, and all of that; it is possible. These students showed that to us’

The Story Exchange programme involves prisoners from Mountjoy and students from Maynooth University, Co Kildare, meeting weekly for 13 weeks inside the Dublin jail. Photograph: Eric Luke

The Story Exchange programme involves prisoners from Mountjoy and students from Maynooth University, Co Kildare, meeting weekly for 13 weeks inside the Dublin jail. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

“We were meant to be the tough ones, but I think we were the most nervous before it started.” So begins Eoin, a young prisoner in Mountjoy, explaining a new programme involving prisoners and students from Maynooth University, Co Kildare, meeting weekly for 13 weeks inside the Dublin jail.

The Story Exchange programme saw each university student, many from disadvantage backgrounds, paired with a prisoner and exchange stories about their lives based on pre-selected themes.

The technique was developed in the US and has spread around the world, including among police forces whose officers meet teenagers from the neighbourhoods they police, in a bid to break down the assumptions they have about each other.

'College wasn’t handed to them, they had to go out and work for it and they didn’t come from the best of backgrounds either. Some of them would have come from Deis schools'

“It was bringing people together from different backgrounds and sharing their experiences with each other and breaking down barriers,” explained Mountjoy prisoner Eoin (not his real name).

“It helped you get an understanding of each other and it just showed in the end that we were all the same really.

“Before it, we also probably thought, here’s a load of posh people coming into us. But it wasn’t like that at all,” he says of the course work, which was part of the prisoners earning a Gaisce award.

“As we got to know them, they were just normal people, the same as ourselves. Obviously we went down the wrong road [by ending up in prison], we’re the ones who made the mistakes, and this is why we are working with the students; to get back on the good road.

“I don’t want to be in prison, nobody does. And I think the effect the students had on us was showing us that there is more to life. And when you looked at the students, college wasn’t handed to them, they had to go out and work for it and they didn’t come from the best of backgrounds either. Some of them would have come from Deis schools.

“I don’t think they realised the effect they had on the prisoners and the hope they gave us; of realising that there is more to life than coming into prison. Going to college, and all of that; it is possible. These students showed that to us.”