Former prisoners give the inside information on life on the outside

By Maurice Garvey

EX-PRISONERS have helped local agencies put together a booklet intended as a useful information resource for pre- and post-release prisoners.

The booklet ‘Insiders Guide to the Outside’ was launched on Monday at Áras Chrónáin by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Wheatfield Prison booklet July 2016

It is produced by Clondalkin Citizens Information Service and Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) – with support from the pre-release education team and work/training team at Wheatfield Place of Detention.

The book covers a range of supports nationwide for prisoners – from social welfare to education, accommodation to health and employment.

Ex-prisoners Niall Walsh and Pete McCann set up an after-care prison programme two years ago.

Niall, a Pathways teacher, said the success relies on prisoner involvement, and hailed a great response by prisoners in Wheatfield in kickstarting the project.

Niall said: “This year, we had something like 62 workshops and 152 prisoners involved at Wheatfield and we are trying to bring it nationwide.

Wheatfield Prison booklet July 2016 1

“All the work is done by ex-prisoners. A girl from the Dóchas Centre is working on the website. A lot depends what you put into it. You have a guy out of prison, going to college, helping his kids with their homework. It helps to break the cycle – society benefits.”

Pete McCann, who has been in education “non-stop” for the last 10 years, says the programme “uses peers to break down barriers.”

He said: “Wheatfield have been brilliant in allowing us to bring back 10-12 ex-prisoners to do talks. It’s for prisoners who want to engage. A lot are into sports and fitness, with all their training and gym work. But a lot of that knowledge goes to waste without qualifications. It’s about changing the attitude of prisoners.”

Wheatfield Assistant Governor Austin Stack encouraged other community groups to join the project, to ensure prisoners don’t return back to prison.

Minister Fitzgerald said peer-to-peer work was important, and said she hoped to support the project.

Nuala Crowe Taft, Clondalkin CIS said another reason for the booklet’s importance was the lack of available internet service for prisoners, who appreciate reliable information.

Clondalkin CIS has two centres – Clondalkin village and Ballyowen – sees 13,000 people annually, and offers free information on a wide range of services.

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