This week marks the end of the 1981 hunger strike, in which ten republican prisoners laid down their lives against the criminalisation of their struggle for Irish freedom. The first hunger striker to die, Bobby Sands, described the conditions inside the H-Blocks of Long Kesh prison in September 1978.
A stretch of tarmac surrounded by barbed wire and steel is the only view from my cell window. I’m told it’s an exercise yard. I wouldn’t know. In my fourteen months in H·Block 5, I haven’t been allowed to walk in the fresh air. I’m on ‘cellular confinement’ today. That is the three days out of every fourteen when my only possessions, three blankets and a mattress, are removed, leaving a blanket and a chamber pot.
I’m left to pass the day like this, from 7.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. How I spend my day is determined by the weather. If it’s reasonably warm, it’s possible to sit on the floor, stare at the white walls, and pass a few hours day-dreaming. But otherwise I must spend my day continuously pacing the cell to prevent the cold chilling through to my bones. Even after my bedding is returned at 8.30 p.m. hours will pass before the circulation returns to my feet and legs.
Methods of passing the time are few and far between, so I am left with many hours of contemplation: good times, bad times, how I got here, but, most importantly, why I am here. During moments of weakness I try to convince myself that a prison uniform and conforming wouldn’t be that bad. But the will to resist burns too strong within.
To accept the status of criminal would be to degrade myself and to admit that the cause that I believe in and cherish is wrong. When thinking of the men and women who sacrificed life itself, my suffering seems insignificant. There have been many attempts to break my will, but each one has made me even more determined. I know my place is here with my comrades.
I think of the only break in the monotony, the forty minutes I spend at Mass each Sunday - ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘love thy neighbour’ - and I wonder, because over the months I know that bitterness has grown inside me. A hatred so intensive that it frightens me.
I see it also in the faces of my comrades at Mass: the hatred in their eyes. One day these young men will be fathers and these attitudes will inevitably be passed on to their children.
This is the harvest Britain has sown: her actions will eventually seal the fate of her rule in Ireland.
It is frightening to see men become aged at eighteen and nineteen. Young men who were fit and strong in mind and body a year ago, now resemble shrunken shells of human beings. Every aspect of H-Block life, from cold, empty cells and denial of every comfort, to refusal of medical treatment, is designed to grind down our resistance, but it will not succeed.
They may hold our bodies in the most inhuman conditions, but, while our minds remain free, our victory is assured!