Monday 23 October 2017

Politicians go behind bars as 'listener' prisoners are finally given a voice

Mark Hilliard

WHEN Eddie first arrived in prison he didn't know where to look, so he stared at the ground.

This is a world where unapproachable men "wear masks" to conceal their emotional fragility, where macho politics rule and where prisoners cry themselves to sleep.

So when a delegation of TDs and senators arrived at Dublin's Wheatfield prison yesterday, several inmates working under a Samaritans-sponsored outreach scheme were eager to point out exactly how many cope.

"I remember walking around the yard; it was hard for me to be taken away from my family," said Eddie, who has been a 'listener' for the last number of years.

On arrival he got talking to another listener who could tell he needed help.

"He didn't tell me what to do, he just listened to what I had to say," said Eddie, matter-of-factly summarising the whole point of the programme.

Listeners are now in six of the capital's seven prisons -- yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the first scheme, established at Cloverhill Prison.

The Samaritans, who train and support the inmates, hope it can be expanded throughout the Irish penal system. It will begin in the women's Dochas prison next week.

Yesterday, the Dail Justice Committee -- including Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch, Senator Ivana Bacik and David Stanton TD -- arrived at the facility to hear individual testimonies as to how the expansion can help our prison population.

Listeners are trained how to listen to fellow inmates with emotional problems, without giving advice.

They don't receive any form of payment and they adhere to confidentiality agreements.

Wheatfield governor Pat Kavanagh, who admitted being an early sceptic, yesterday advised all prisons to adopt it.

He said those involved had maintained confidentiality, the standards of the Samaritans organisation itself and had committed on a long-term basis.

Irish Independent

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