Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Sectarianism At Hydebank

Researcher:  What was the daily regime like in Hydebank in the 1980's when you were there, Jim?

Jim: Basically, it was one of fear, intimidation and brutality.  There was the most petty of rules, like in one wing called E4, there were brown tiles on the floor.  Any prisoner caught walking on these tiles would be punished which could range from two screws taking you to your cell and slapping you about or being sent to the punishment block where you were completely isolated and only had bedding at night.  There was absolutely no-one that you could turn to for help, even the few Probation Officers at the jail, the majority were male and actually boasted of playing football with the screws.

I certainly suffered my fair share of brutality and punishment but what I found even more heartbreaking was being locked up and hearing other young prisoners being beaten, especially if they were being beaten on their way to the punishment block.

Researcher: Was sectarianism a significant factor in Hydebank?

Jim:  Well, it was common knowledge that many of the screws had been moved to Hydebank due to their ill-treatment of the Blanketmen and were no longer accepted in Long Kesh/The Maze due to the political structures there.  Many of the screws regularly boasted of their ill treatment of the protesting prisoners in that prison and regaled us with the methods that they used.

There was no real sectarianism between the prisoners but Protestant prisoners always got the most sought after jobs, despite the about 70% of prisoners being Catholics.  The screws did nothing to hide their sectarian views with Loyalist paramilitary tattoos being openly displayed.  Many of the screws wore Orange Order, Masonic and Loyalist tie pins, even National Front pins.  I can remember a mixed-race prisoner coming into Hydebank and he was routinely addressed as 'nigger', 'sambo' and similar racist names on a daily basis.

One particular screw used to routinely boast of his role in shooting dead peaceful protesters on Bloody Sunday while other screws from military backgrounds would brag about the number of Catholics they had killed or injured, presumably when they were in the British Army.

On one occasion following the 1983 escape from Long Kesh/The Maze, we were all dragged out of our cells and severely beaten by a large number of screws. Unfortunately for one of the prisoners in our wing at Hydebank, his brother was one of the escaping prisoners and this kid was horribly beaten by about ten screws then taken to the punishment block.  God knows what happened to him when he was held there!

During the Loyalist protests following the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, the trade screws had prisoners make anti-Agreement banners, placards etc in the workshops.  These were later displayed in the wings.

There was absolutely zero tolerance of any kind of nationalistic or even Celtic FC artwork that a few Catholic prisoners had drawn in the drawing pads that were allowed in their cells.  These were routinely publicly torn to shreds publicly, with the usual sectarian abuse and 'punishment.'  Even going to Mass, it was routine for screws to announce that it was time for 'Fenian Service.'

Overall, I would say that being a Catholic prisoner in Hydebank was at best a very uncomfortable experience.

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