Radio review: Stories from behind the bars of a prison

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Nuala McCann
Nuala McCann

Inside Stories RTÉ Radio 1

“The wife says you can get Christmas dinner in the Crum now,” a Belfast taxi driver told a friend of mine.

“I told the wife that I’d already tasted a few Christmas dinners in there and I wasn’t up for any more.”

It was a joke with a jag.

I don’t do prison tours. Last time I was in Crumlin Road jail it was as a journalist standing at the Christmas carol service as the men gathered on the balconies up above and listened to the songs of home.

I never wanted to go back.

Carlo Gebler is the son of Irish novelist Edna O’Brien... but he’s his own man.

For 27 years, he has worked in the Northern Ireland prison system.

Inside Stories was a thoughtful, deeply human look at the education he gave and the education he received in prisons down the years.

He’s done it all, he confessed. He has helped prisoners write letters to their victims and he has guided them as they pen Open University essays.

The bulk of his work was done unescorted in cells ... “I’ve spent a lot of time inside,” he jokes.

His boss in one prison tells him that it took prisoners a while to warm to him – this fella with an upper class English accent coming in to teach them creative writing.

But they came back to give the English fella the thumbs up – he was doing a good job.

Carlo recalled how his boss told him: “Your first task isn’t to teach, it’s to be a human being.”

He took that lesson to heart.

Conor Garrett’s documentary captured the atmosphere of “Her Majesty’s Prisons”.

There were the familiar clangs of cell doors closing and the thud of heavy footsteps on metal staircases.

The men talked about prison life ... it’s just what they know. Some of them came through the care system.

Poetry helped them express their deepest fears.

One man’s biggest worry is that his sons end up like him, in jail.

There was music, writing and art. This was a poignant reflection on prison life.

“This has been my university – the richest experience of my working life,” said Carlo.

“It has made me a better writer and maybe even a better person.”