An article in The Irish Times today reports on the 'listener scheme' operating in three of Dublin's prisons, which sees prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide an in-prison service to their fellow inmates.
Reporter Pamela Duncan writes that the Samaritans have set up listener schemes in Mountjoy, Arbour Hill and Wheatfield Prisons. She talks to Mountjoy chief officer Patrick Gavigan, who describes the vulnerability of prisoners, removed as they are from their support networks on the outside.
“It’s the loss of liberty, loss of freedom, removed from their family and loved ones and confined to their cell . . . it can be soul-destroying for people. They have a lot of time and things can play on their minds and as a consequence of that they can turn into themselves and can become a bit depressed and withdrawn and can cause harm to themselves or even suicide,” he says.
The scheme is entirely confidential; there is no requirement on the listener to give any feedback to the prison service as to what transpires during the sessions. Prisoners who wish to use the listener scheme can contact a member of staff between 8pm and 8am; the listener and his fellow prisoner are then brought to a listening suite, where they can talk uninterrupted and unsupervised.
The article details how to become listeners, prisoners are vetted by staff – eligible prisoners are those who have served part of their sentence and are seen to be of good character. Those who provide the service are ordinary prisoners who volunteer their time, for no material reward.
There is "no remuneration, no time off, no temporary release or inducement of any description... but they get a lot from it themselves insofar as they get an inner sense of achievement and satisfaction from being able to help someone else,” says Gavigan.
Read the article in full in The Irish Times.