IWOC: Interview on Irish Prison System & Disability
IWOC Ireland has created a series of interviews on what it is like within the prison system and as part of Disability Awareness Month, a fellow prisoner sent the following interview on living with a disability while in prison to help raise awareness of prisons and disability.
If you are a prisoner or a relative of a prisoner in the Irish prison system, north or south, and would like to highlight an issue of concern, rights or prisoner struggle then please get in touch with IWOC here.
Could you tell us about your disability?
I was temporarily disabled and wheelchair bound with no use of my legs for about six months having multiple compound fractures. Even after I was out of the wheelchair I still wasn’t fully mobile for a long time.
When you look over that period now what jumps to mind?
Before I got remanded to prison, I was at court. I was wheelchaired to the dock which was elevated by a few steps. It was shown to me that a narrow wooden ramp had been temporally installed in order to push me up. Now i’m 14 stone, for one court officer to achieve this would be good work, it wasn’t. He had to take a running start, and the ramp was not much wider than the chairs wheels, so I ended up flat in my face in front of the Judge, solicitors and spectators. The newspapers then spun this as ‘the accused stumbled into the dock’ as if I was some drunk or something.
And how did you feel after all that?
I felt embarrassed and afraid of people jumping to conclusions. As if I was in some way on drugs or inebriated of something. Or even affected by the court appearance or something, when in fact it was down to my disability and being ‘man-handled’.
So eventually you get to prison, what happened then?
I was sent to the Health Care wing which was good. I had a hospital bed and treatment from NHS nurses. I was still a prisoner and ultimately the prison establishment gets a say. After two weeks there I was moved to a cell and the toilet which was closed off like a cubicle. I had to try and weight bare on my broken legs, spin around and sit the toilet or I had to use a bed pan. After days of complaining, uniting in a bottle and passing no solid waste, I was sent to a disabled cell on an ordinary landing.
And what was that like?
I quickly learned that prisoners are genuinely more concerned and more inclined to help than the prison staff. My cell got cleaned daly and my food was brought without me having to ask, and all this by prisoners. So this was more suitable but many more things weren’t such as travelling.
I was going to ask about that. How was it getting about the prison?
Well, having been relocated I was now at least one thousand to one thousand, two hundred meters away from the visits building and the Health Care building where I needed to attend there regularly for treatment. I made this journey, I’d say on average, at least two or three times every week. I was told prison staff weren’t allowed to push me over there or back, so I had to do this myself. Then the snow hit and I was refused help again. My hands were froze and I was out of breath from trying when thankfully as passing prisoner offered to help. My family couldn’t believe it when I told them during a visit.
That sounds horrible, it seems that the prison didn’t seemed to care?
Did they ever try to actively penalise you because of your disability?
Yes, drug testing was an issue. My first one was classed as a failure. It was a while before I got through to them that I couldn’t do it because I simply couldn’t get into the testing unit. There was only steps and no ramp. Eventually they saw sense and I was tested on the wing and never failed. Although urinating while being watched, proving myself up and holding a plastic beaker without soaking myself may have been more difficult than even coming to prison in the first place.
It defiantly hasn’t been easy for you and thankfully you are almost fully recovered now, but what about your treatment, access to doctors and health care generally?
The very fact the prison security makes it so difficult. One morning I was surprised to learn that a had a hospital appointment for X-rays and a meeting with the consultant. that after being forced to travel to the prison reception building, being strip-searched in my wheelchair and being subjected to a long wait. I was told that there was no one available to take me to this pre-planned appointment. So I was sent back to the wing feeling humiliated from the strip-search and frustrated with not getting my treatment and unsure when the next appointment would be scheduled as I had no control over this.
And what about help with pain and stuff?
I was advised by the consultant not to take Ibuprofen to help my bones mend quicker. So I needed alternative pain relief. I have a copy of this letter of recommendation to the prison doctor but staff supposedly lost at the time. No doubt because of an unspoken policy within the prison of legitimate medications that could in theory be abused, even it seems at the risk of medical malpractice and a legal case being raised. It was only after I did get a lawyer that I got the correct prescription.
Unfortunately we are almost out of time, but you have given us a great insight in to what it is like living with a disability in prison. Thank you so much for your time but is there anything you would like to add before we finish?
I have come across people who are permanently disabled and my heart goes out to them having to deal with all this for their entire sentence, and indeed their entire lives. I was only subjected to this for a short period of time and it will remain with me always.