8 things we learned from TV3's compelling, fascinating documentary 'The Joy'
The Joy is a tough, uncompromising new documentary about Ireland’s most notorious prisons. TV3 gained unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to give a full, rounded portrait of life in Mountjoy, for prisoners and staff. It’s not always comfortable viewing, but it’s compelling, fascinating and well worth doing.
Here are eight things we learned from tonight’s first episode of four:
A City Within a City
Episode 1 is sub-titled “A City Within a City”, and that’s accurate: Mountjoy holds more than 750 inmates and 700 staff within its walls, watched over by no less than eight governors.
18 new prisoners every day
C Base is where all new prisoners spend their first night, and there’s a serious flow-through of traffic here. Mountjoy gets up to 18 new committals from the courts every day.
There are four institutions on the whole campus: the main prison (Ireland’s largest, which opened in 1860), the Dochas centre for women prisoners, the semi-open training unit, and Mountjoy West (formerly known as St Patrick’s), which is the protection wing.
Drugs are rife
Drugs are a problem in the prison, as everyone knows. People try to smuggle them in all the time; if suspected, there’s a P19 disciplinary hearing – and if found guilty, inmates can lose privileges. We met young inmate James McArdle, who took a job as a cleaner on C1 landing to help get off narcotics by keeping his mind busy. He’s now hoping to get transferred to the training centre.
As is violence
Violence is also a constant problem, with attacks on other prisoners and staff using improvised weapons: shanks, blades, brushes, plugs swung by their lead. The thrice-daily feeding of one very violent inmate requires four staff in full riot gear, plus a supervising officer, plus another warder to video it. He uses a metal toilet bolted to the wall and his telly is inside a metal box – so he can’t break up porcelain or glass as weapon.
D wing uses a colour coding system to identify rival gangs; green, yellow and pink. Travel to and from mealtimes and prison facilities have to be staggered. As one staffer wearily explains, prison is a microcosm of the real world – and gang wars from the outside often continue inside.
y-fronts not boxers
The prison uniform recently switched from jeans and shirts, to tracksuits (no sign of those orange jumpsuits they use in America, thankfully). They’re still wearing y-fronts, incidentally, but plan to move to boxer shorts at some stage.
It's a hellhole
“Prison is a dangerous place,” says Michael Ellis, serving four years for theft. “It’s a hellhole.”