Friday 30 September 2016

'There is so much I can do, that I used to only think about before I came to prison' - Inmates at the Dóchas centre are digging deep for Special Olympics Ireland

Cathal McMahon and Jason Kennedy

Published 18/04/2016 | 15:33

UP in the female prison, there are 111 women but the only thing going jingle jangle this week are the charity buckets for Special Olympics Ireland.

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Independent.ie was given exclusive access to the Dóchas centre on Dublin’s North Circular Road today where inmates are digging deep for the important cause.

Prisoners are hosting bake sales, making t-shirts, giving haircuts and taking part in a 'danceathon' - all to raise cash from fellow inmates and staff.

Others have revealed that they are foregoing sweets and chocolates, "but not the smokes", in bid to donate a portion of their modest allowances to the charity.

One inmate, who is serving a lengthy sentence for a serious crime, said: “I’m kept going and my eyes are opened. There is so much I can do, that I used to only think about before I came to prison.

“My brother said: ‘This is the best thing that ever happened to you in a way,’ and I reckon he’s right.”

Dóchas Women's Prison gets behind Special Olympics Ireland's annual collection day on Friday April 22nd. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Dóchas Women's Prison gets behind Special Olympics Ireland's annual collection day on Friday April 22nd. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

Today athletes from various sports, including members of Team Ireland, who won gold in basketball at the World Summer Games in Los Angeles last summer, visited the Dóchas and put on a skills display.

Inmates cheered as players shot baskets and performed lay-ups in the prison’s state-of-the-art gym facility.

One prisoner, who could not be identified, explained how they began fundraising after meeting with the athletes last week.

“The girls decided that to do a bit of fundraising, we would bake cakes. The way it works here is that the girls all have an account so we would sell the cakes to them and the money would be taken out of their accounts.

Dóchas Women's Prison gets behind Special Olympics Ireland's annual collection day on Friday April 22nd. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Dóchas Women's Prison gets behind Special Olympics Ireland's annual collection day on Friday April 22nd. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

“Inmates also made t-shirts with the Special Olympics logo and sold them to fellow prisoners.

“Some of the inmates have trained in hairdressing and they are also offering cuts in return for a donation of €2 or €5.”

Prisoners in Irish jails are on an enhanced regime where, depending on their behaviour and participation, they can get a basic sum of €6.90; a standard of €11.80; or an enhanced of €15.90 per week.

The prisoner said: “Some of the girls that don’t get visits that would be a lot of money to them. It makes it worthwhile for them to be able to donate money to this cause.”

Dóchas Women's Prison gets behind Special Olympics Ireland's annual collection day on Friday April 22nd. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Dóchas Women's Prison gets behind Special Olympics Ireland's annual collection day on Friday April 22nd. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

“To be honest, a lot of girls would be giving up the sweets. They won’t be buying chocolate this week because they would have given money out of their accounts for this week. They won’t give up the cigarettes though.”

A number of the prisoners in the Dóchas are foreign nationals. One woman, who is originally from Poland, said she is taking an active part in the events this week.

“We are happy for that. It is a good thing. We are going to feel part of society. We are not bad people. It doesn’t mean that we are in prison, we are bad people. We get hurt and we are feel too.”

The Polish mum said that when she was first jailed she didn’t speak a word of English. She has learned the language behind bars and is also close to qualifying as a gym instructor.

“I got language. When I came here first I didn’t speak English at all. The girls really helped me, they really support me. I am foreign girl and I wasn’t surprised that Irish people are really really helpful.”

She is coming towards the end of her sentence and she laughed when asked if she’d like to come back to the prison.

“Definitely I’m not coming back here. It is not the worst place but I want to be outside, I want to be with my son. That’s what I learn here, I never forget this.”

Dochás Govenor Mary O’Connor, who attended the event, commended the fundraising efforts of staff and inmates and praised the athletes saying: “Special Olympics athletes are truly inspirational for those who have faced adversity in their lives. It is heartening to see the support and encouragement they get from Special Olympics, from their families and from their communities but also the support and encouragement they give to each other.

"Many of the women here in Dochás have in their own lives faced adversity and we try to help the women overcome the challenges they faces such as homelessness or addiction. The Prison Service and Dochás Centre has a long tradition of working with charitable organisations and this allows the women to give something back to their communities”

Athletes Laura Reynolds (22) and Sarah Byrne (19) said they enjoyed their day in the female prison.

Sarah said: “It’s very important that money is raised for Special Olympics because without people raising money you wouldn’t be able to go to Special Olympics at all.”

Matt English, CEO of Special Olympics Ireland said: “The most important thing is that every little bit helps and everyone can help. Everything they do, no matter how small, does help.”

He added:  “Special Olympics Ireland has always been fortunate in our wide and varied array of supporters. It is fantastic to partner with the Dóchas Centre and to see the efforts that the staff and women here are going to in order to raise funds in support of Collection Day. Supported by eir, Collection Day is a vitally important milestone in our annual fundraising calendar.

"I am hoping the general public comes out to support us in whatever way they can this Collection Day. Every single euro really will make a difference.”

Around 3,000 volunteers will be out in force in 250 locations all over Ireland shaking buckets over the course of Collection Day this Friday.

For further information about Special Olympics Ireland Collection Day please visit here.

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