During my 35 years as a member of An Garda Siochana, I had to visit our prisons from time to time, and on those occasions, I got to see what life was like for some of those who ended up behind bars.
During the prison officers’ strike in 1988, the gardaí were sent in to keep the prisons functioning for the duration of the dispute, and I got to see the daily routine and to observe the regime prisoners had to comply with, so I do have some insight into what prison is like for inmates.
The creature comforts, such as they are, don’t compensate for the loss of liberty. Confinement is the toughest part of any sentence and we’re all getting a small taste of that now thanks to Covid-19.
Just imagine how you would feel if we were told tomorrow that we were going to remain in Level 5 for another few years. It wouldn’t go down well.
In the beginning, we didn’t mind so much because it was a novelty, but what was supposed to be a short sentence to flatten the curve hasn’t worked out like that and many are struggling.
We’re a year down the line and we miss our grandchildren, family, and friends. Some of those living alone don’t see anyone for days at a time and rely on a visit from the postman to see a friendly face. We’re doing our best, but it isn’t easy.
When I hear politicians speculating about the end of the Covid-19 restrictions, it reminds me of my childhood when we used to go for a spin in the car. At the end of the day, when we got fed up, we would be impatient to get home to play with our toys and we’d ask a thousand times from the back seat: “How far more dad?” And the answer was always the same. “Nearly there now, just around the next corner.”
Others are in the driving seat now, telling us to hang on, pretending we’re nearly there, but there’s nothing around the next corner, only more of the same.
The news on Covid-19 is coming from all directions but not always from the same hymn sheet. The messages are mixed so if you are confused, don’t despair, you’re not alone. There are many of us in the same boat, including possibly some of those tasked with sailing it.
There was confusion over getting the children back to school, confusion regarding the sourcing of the vaccine, and confusion regarding travellers still flying into the country by the thousand. The delivery of the vaccine to the GPs isn’t straight-forward either.
I heard a character on the radio saying he only listens to Morning Ireland on Fridays to get the gist of what happened during the week and he watches the news on TV once a week and that’s his fill. I’m beginning to think he’s onto something because it’s all doom and gloom. Some of it is our own doing though.
The Christmas freedom was a disaster and we’ve been paying the price for that. The Government is being blamed, but it was us who demanded the right to meet our friends and relatives and it was us who insisted on the right to be able to go out for a meal.
We wanted a normal festive season but, in all honesty, we were in no position to look for it.
Moving to another lockdown in the new year was a consequence of that and it was hard to take, but news that a vaccine was on the way picked us up again.
There was a bit of light at the end of an extremely long tunnel, but that bulb burst when we heard there was going to be a supply issue with the vaccine.
Those filmed by RTÉ coming from Lanzarote weren’t apologetic about taking their break. They were determined to carry on as normal, regardless of the consequences.
Others are more rebellious, as evidenced by the scenes we witnessed recently on Grafton Street in Dublin when anti-lockdown protesters caused violent clashes with the gardaí. Up to 2,000 gathered at St Stephen’s Green and made their way to Grafton Street where gardaí later baton charged the crowd after fireworks and other missiles were thrown at them.
That kind of behaviour is not acceptable, but thankfully, while the vast majority of us might be struggling, we’re still prepared to follow the rules — although the confusion isn’t helping.
It was easier last March when we had a complete lockdown with no grey areas. We were told to stay at home until we got the all-clear and that’s what we did.
Now though, we have five different levels, including half levels, and it’s constantly changing, which leaves us conflicted.
I know it’s complicated and the pandemic is an evolving situation, but we’re battle weary. With rumours of further protests coming down the line, we need a proper plan. Something positive as a reward for how well we’ve done.
Prisoners get a release date, they can even shorten their sentence with time off for good behaviour. It would be nice if we could avail of that too.