Newstalk documentary ‘Mary and the Joy’ aired on 4 November 2018 and recounts the experiences of Mary McLoughlin, a 93-year-old Roscommon native who worked in the Irish Prison Service between 1947 and 1956.
The documentary, produced by Colm Wallace and Ciarán Ryan, highlights the differences, and similarities, between prison life during the 1940’s and 50’s compared to today’s prisons and gives an insight into the experiences of female prisoners of that time. A very different Ireland than the one we have today, Dr Lynsey Black (Maynooth University) discusses the public outrage at the question of executing a female prisoner, which she says is a result of the “paternalism” in Ireland at the time regarding the lives of women.
While the documentary shines light on the differences between prisons in the mid-twentieth century compared to our current system and infrastructure, there are still some aspects which ring true today, particularly regarding relationships formed between prison staff and prisoners. Mary recounts fondly on some of the relationships she had with the female inmates, a relationship which IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone says remains critical in modern day Ireland.
Speaking in the documentary, Deirdre Malone emphasises that while the power imbalance at play between prison officers and prisoners must be acknowledged, “relationship-based care within prison is immensely important” and “there is also a huge opportunity for officers to have an amazing impact on the lives of women”.
‘Mary and the Joy’ offers an insightful glimpse into the lives of prisoners and staff in the 40’s and 50’s in Ireland and provides listeners with food for thought on modern Irish society’s treatment of prisoners throughout history and today, as we move towards achieving a more humane and successful prison system in Ireland.
Listen back to the documentary in full here.
- Health Inside: Exploring the history of prisoner health (2018)
- IPRT: Newstalk: Time for change? Women and mothers in the Irish prison system (2018)