Sunday 17 February 2019

Viewers moved by Dublin woman's heartbreaking story on Back to the Joy documentary

Back to the Joy, RTE One, 9.35pm
Back to the Joy, RTE One, 9.35pm
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Viewers were moved by one Dublin woman's tragic story as revealed on RTE's Back to the Joy documentary about Mountjoy prison.

The documentary, which aired on Monday night, was a follow-up to a four part series the broadcaster ran in 1997 about the issues facing the prison, from a lack of sanitation to overcrowding and drug abuse.

Several prisoners shared their stories with documentary-makers on the original series, including Gwen, who was serving time in the women's prison.

She was just 17 when she was first incarcerated and did two short stints followed by another of four and a half years. 

Gwen speaking in The Joy in 1997, as featured in Back to the Joy, RTE One.
Gwen speaking in The Joy in 1997, as featured in Back to the Joy, RTE One.

The young woman was struggling with heroin addiction and revealed to the documentary makers that she had arrived "strung out" to prison but had gone through detox and was hoping to stay off drugs.

"I know when I came off drugs at first in here it was the hardest time," she said, adding, "Over the past year I've had slips and I did relapse at one stage but I'm trying to get back on track again because for me it's very important to stay away from drugs, because there's a lot depends on it, my own personal life.

"I have a lot to lose, put it that way.  If I don't stay off drugs, I've a lot to lose."

She also revealed that she had attempted suicide and was saved by a member of staff who checked on her through the hatch in her cell.

Gwen speaking on Back to the Joy, 2018, RTE One.
Gwen speaking on Back to the Joy, 2018, RTE One.

"What helped me was my kids and thinking of them growing up without their mother and hearing when they're older that she [took her own life] in prison," she said.

Back to the Joy caught up with Gwen 21 years later and she revealed that during her time in prison she was "very depressed" and "very ill" and had also been self-harming.

Originally from Tallaght she said she got involved with drugs because she used to drop her brother off to buy his and she was "just curious".  She also tragically lost five of her eight siblings over the space of five years.  They were all in their thirties.

Gwen revealed that she had been sent to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum and spent 16 years of her life there.  She currently lives in a community-based service outside Dublin.

"I actually really love the place I'm in," she said.  "It's a home.  It's my home.  It's the first home I've ever really had."

Viewers were moved by Gwen's story and how drugs can impact people's lives and mental health.

Social Innovation Fund Ireland currently has a €300,000 Equality Fund that is open to projects that strengthen equality and support prisoners and former offenders like Gwen and they are looking for applications:

Back to the Joy is available to watch on the RTE Player.

If you have been affected by any issues raised in this article, please contact The Samaritans free helpline on 116 123 or by  email to

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