1984 in Mountjoy
IN MOUNTJOY JAIL ON SUNDAY MORNING, 3 June Patrick Ennis, a prisoner serving a five year sentence for larceny found a black polyythene rubbish bag in the A3 landing which he subsequently discovered had been put there by a fellow prisoner who had taken it the previous day from the censor's office along the landing. There were two bags taken from the office that day: the other was placed where rubbish is collected on D3 wing, also close to the censor's office. By Colm Toibin
The bags contained around 400 letters which had passed through the censor's office during the first four months of 1984. Some had been sent by prisoners, but most had come from outside. They had all been opened; at least four different initials of censors could be identified on the envelopes.
They all had one thing in common: not one had ever been delivered.
When Ennis discovered the letters he contacted other prisoners including David Kearney and Christopher Cox. They took one bag into the toilet and began to examine its contents. Kearney found five letters which were addressed to him but which he had not received.
They spent the afternoon of June 3 distributing letters among as many prisoners as possible. Some letters accepted by prisoners related to themselves. Other letters were given :0 them for safe-keeping. By no means all inmates of the prison were given letters and many would remain unaware of what had taken place.
The letters found in the two plastic bags, a sample of which have been seen by this reporter, can be divided into three categories.
Firstly, legal documents.
These include letters from the courts and the Departtment of Justice to the prisoners advising them who their legal representatives would be in pending cases. They include transcripts of trials which prisoners had asked for. The withhholding of such legal material may have subverted the course of justice in several cases. Two cases seem particularly worthy of comment. We are unable to name the prisoner in either case. One for sub judice reasons. This one we will be able to investigate in greater detail in the next issue of Magill when the sub judice restriction will no longer apply. We cannot name the second prisoner as doing so could damage someone who may be entirely innocent.
The first case involves a prisoner who was up on several charges; for each one the prisoner was appointed a different solicitor and told to contact that solicitor immediately. Since he did not receive the letters nor know of their exisstence he did not contact the solicitors and his case was heard without any planning on the part of a legal team. The strategy, essential to any legal case whether the party is innocent or guilty, would have been different had the prisooner been in a position to have contacted the solicitors assigned to him. It is possible that the outcome would also have been different.
The second case involves a prisoner who had pleaded guilty to an offence and been sentenced. The prisoner subsequently made serious allegations against his solicitor in a letter which he addressed to the Incorporated Law Society. It is important to point out that his allegation could have been totally unfounded. However, it was never investigated by the Incorporated Law Society. The letter, which bore a censor's stamp, never left Mountjoy, although it was given to the prison authorities to be posted in January 1984. On June 3 it was handed to the prisoner by one of his fellows. It had been found in the black rubbbish bags. Had it been received by the Incorporated Law Society the case would have been investigated immediately.
The second category of letter found among the 400 in the rubbish bags are personal. They were written to prisooners from friends and relations outside. They all bear the censor's stamp.
Every letter coming in or going out of Mountjoy is read by a censor. There is no one individual censor in the prison and has not been for several years. Every prison officer functions as a censor. Some of them are reported to find it a degrading and boring activity; to be sent up to censor letters is considered to be one of the worst aspects of a difficult job. However, the censor's office has always been a good place for prison officers to go when they want a smoke and a chat. Prisoners have noted that there always tends to be more than ·one prison officer in the censor's office. They have also noted that letters seemed to be read by more than one officer.
Some letters which pass through the censor's office are highly personal. Prisoners greatly resent the fact that the prison officers are allowed read them. One such letter which was found in the black rubbish bags and later passed out of the prison has been seen by this reporter.
It comes from a woman in Dublin who had been involved with a man who has just been sentenced. There is a note of bitterness in the letter which someetimes verges on mockery. She talks about his coming home and then refers to his home as a certain pub in Dublin. But the main point of the letter is that he can no longer count on her, she has found another man, the prisoner can serve his sentence for all she cares.
The prisoner, however, did not receive the letter until it was found in a rubbish bag.
Another letter is from a girlfriend of a prisoner. It is an extremely intiimate letter, using lines from pop songs to express her feelings towards the prisoner. She specifies that despite pressure from her family that she will wait for him. This was also not deli· vered.
Another letter was from a father to his son. It included messages from all the family. More important, it included a message from the father that he believed his son was innocent and detailed instructions on how to lodge an appeal. This letter was found in a rubbish bag on the morning of June 3.
Another letter came from a man living .near the prison who had disscovered by accident that an old friend was in Mountjoy. He promised to send newspapers.
The third category of letters conntained money. "Money to office", was written on the" envelope" of each of them, which is the normal way the censor registers the fact that there is money in the envelope. When the envelopes were found on the morning of June 3, some contained letters but there was no money in any of them. The censor's initials could be clearly read on the envelope. This reporter has seen a sam pIe of these letters.
The letters found in the bag also included Christmas cards and Valenntine cards. One prisoner Edward Sherrlock posted two Valentine cards in February and later asked the governor if the cards had been posted. Accorrding to Sherlock, the governor said he would see and ask the censor. The letters were never received.
CERTAIN INMATES OF the A3landing in Mountjoy are considered by the authorities to be resourceful and clever; they have a fair understanding of their legal rights. On the afternoon of Sunday 3 June they were aware that they had something quite important in their possession. One of those involved in distributing the letters, Christopher Cox, claims that he had gone to the governor on numeerous occasions over the past four years to complain about letters not being delivered. He claims that he sent his wife a large birthday card which she never received. He says he complained about this to the governor. Later, three weeks after he had sent it out, the birthday card, he claims, was left back on his bed in his cell.
Those who were involved in distriibuting the letters knew that the issue was emotional enough to start a riot in the prison. They decided, however, that this should be avoided, if possible. Instead, they would seek legal advice and find out what redress they could get in the courts.
There was, however, to be a protest.
At 7.30 on Sunday 3 June, after recreation, the prisoners on A3 and D3 landings sat down on the ground and refused to go into their cells. They were approached by two crison officers one of the prisoners ~€W a number of letters towards the officers. They told the prison officers ~ out the letters. They were told that :he would be allowed to see the governor the following morning even - ough it was a bank holiday. They greed to go back to their cells.
The following morning Patrick Ennis was told that he was wanted in the governor's office, but he did not see the governor and was told that the governor was not available as it was a bank holiday. He left the office and as he approached his cell he saw two prison officers standing outside each cell door on his landing.
The prison officers were searching the cells. One prisoner, David Kearney, who had not been involved in the protest the previous evening, was strippsearched in his cell on A wing and then removed to B2 landing and asked to remove the contents of his cell from A3. Later that day he was strip searched again and his new cell was searched.
Kearney had been given five letters the previous evening, all of them adddressed to himself. He had not seen the letters before. One was from his girllfriend and its contents were personal. The letter seemed to have been written on April 4; the postmark was April 5; the censor had stamped it on April 6. This was June 3 and Kearney was reading it for the first time. Of the five letters he got, Kearney was to hand up three of them later in the week; howwever, he was to keep two of them hidden in the prison.
On the morning of June 4 between 50 and 100 letters were found by prison officers in a search of all the cells on A3 and D3 the refuse sacks had been found. Around a dozen letters for example, were taken from the cell Joseph Malley.
The following morning was Tuesday and Patrick Ennis, who had become an unofficial spokesman for the prisoners, was taken on e more to the governor's office but as with the previous day the governor wasn't there, merely two prison officers. Ennis was told that the governor would be there in the afternoon. Other prisoners were taken to the offi e the same morning. One of them, John McKeon, brought a letter with him which he had given to be posted several months previously but which was not sent out of the prison. The letter was taken from him and, it is underrstood, is now in the possession of an official of the Departtment of Justice.
On Tuesday afternoon Ennis was called back to the governor's office; he told the governor what had happened and was informed that a full enquiry would ensue. Ennis was asked to arrange that all the letters found in the refuse bags be handed up to the authorities. He refused to do this and pointed out that the letters would be given to lawyers.
The next morning David Kearney met the governor.
Kearney claims that the governor told him that a full-scale investigation was being held into the letters. Kearney told the governor that he did not believe that the finding of the letters represented an isolated incident. He also told him that the prisoners were being harassed. He instanced the visit of his girlfriend the previous Monday when he had been surrounded by prison officers during the-visit. The governor agreed to arrange a special visit the following Friday.
THAT SAME AFTERNOON DERMOTT MORRris, one of the busiest solicitors on the free legal aid panel, arrived at Mountjoy to see a client. He was informed about what had happened.
The prisoners agreed that he would act for them all in any court proceedings which would ensue. On Wednesday one prisoner informed Morris in writing what had happened. On Thursday another prisoner did the same. Morris spent the next few days taking statements from prisoners. Morris may have taken some letters out of the prison on Wednessday 6, but he and his legal team were subsequently stopped from doing so. The legal team at this stage consisted of Senior Counsel Seamus Sorohan, Junior Counsel Patrick Marrinan and Michael Grey as well as solicitor Dermott Morris. They were later joined by Kevin O'Higgins, Senior Counsel.
On Thursday the Department of Justice issued a brief statement which was carried in the evening papers. The statement said that a batch of letters which had not been delivered had been found in Mountjoy and the authorities were investigating.
On Friday morning David Kearney was called out to see an official of the Department of Justice, but due to the fact that Kearney had seen the statement in the previous day's newspapers, he refused to talk to the official as he believed the statement issued by the Department was deliberately misleading.
That same morning Joseph Boylan was seen by the four raembers of the legal team who discussed the case with him. ~- afternoon Boylan was moved to Limerick prison without warning. Three other prisoners were also moved. Gerard Cowzer was one: he was on a list of people the lawyers wanted to see. Edward Johnson was another: he had written one of the letters to the legal team. The fourth was Joe Mulcahy: he had also written a letter to the legal team. The prison authorities said that all four were moveddfor security reasons. All four were from Dublin. One was awaiting an appeal. Another's trial was to occur in Dublin the following week.
To be moved from Mountjoy to Limerick is considered a serious punishment. Prisoners can only have one visit a month and it is difficult for families to travel to Limerick. It is also difficult for lawyers to do so, and it proved immpossible for the lawyers in this case to see their clients the following week. The move had a serious effect on the prison. Prisoners who were previously prepared to give evidence now decided that they could not afford to be moved to Limerick. It strengthened the nerve of others, however, particularly those who had found the letters in the first place.
Joe Mulcahy, one of the four moved to Limerick, alleges he was beaten up in Limerick prison by a number of officers. This has been denied by the Department of Justice. It has been confirmed by a Limerick solicitor, Mr Gordon Hayes, who states that he saw "a fairly large mark on [Mulcahy's] right collar bone and a large bruise on his right leg - mid shin. He could not move the little finger of his right hand and there was some swelling."
As we go to press most prison officers in Mountjoy are unaware of what was found on June 3. Some did not know if there were initials on the envelopes which had come from the censor's office and been found on the landing. No rational explanation has been presented as to how so many letters could have been withheld from prisoners, nor who could have withheld them, nor why. Both prisoners and prison officers who have been interviewed by this reporter express shock at what has happened.
What was the motivation behind withholding these letters? One prison officer, asked this question, said that no officer would be so vindictive to do this or so incompetent as to leave the letters lying around. One theory is that the letters were withheld and then left lying around in order to provoke a riot - as part of the conflict between the prison officers and the Minister for Justice. This, however, would have required planning and conspiracy over months - and there are less complicated ways of starting a riot. It is possible that the letters were left lying around for the prisoners to find by a conscientious officer disgusted at what had happened.
It is also possible that the whole thing was concocted by the prisoners. But this would have required the cooperation over a long period of dozens of prisoners conspiring to execute a very complicated plan. And letters were found addressed to prisoners who had left the prison at the time the letters arrived. Also, the Department of Justice and the prison authorities would be unlikely to make the admissions they have made if they had any evidence that the prisoners were to blame.
None of these explanations seems to provide sufficient motivation for what has happened. Whatever the explanaation, it is clear that something has broken down in Mounttjoy.
The Department of Justice's internal enquiry continues, however, and the case will reach the High Court in the near future. Meanwhile, the censor's office has been moved from the A3 landing.