Prison visit opens eyes to Limerick inmates’ talents

Rebecca Laffan

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Rebecca Laffan

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rebecca.laffan@limerickleader.ie

Prison visit opens eyes to Limerick inmates’ talents

Members of the Southill Active Age Group visited the prison and were treated to hair styling and facials as well as viewing crafts made by the inmates

LIMERICK PRISON’S female wing opened its doors to the public for the first time ever last Thursday, July 4 for a very unique event. 

Over 15 women from Southill Active Age Group were present at the event, which showcased the skills developed by the prison’s female inmates. 

Attendees were treated to nail-painting, hair styling and massages and facials provided by the females of the wing. 

Governor of Limerick Prison, Mark Kennedy said: “It’s an unusual thing that people from the outside would come in, an awful lot of the girls would be here for a long period of time. 

“From our point of view, it showcases the prison and their talents, and it gives the female prisoners a sense of worth and their practical learning is being transferred into situations with other people.”

Limerick Prison provides certified training through the Educational Training Board across areas such as beauty, catering and hairdressing. 

“Events like this provide an opportunity to showcase the talents of the prisoners that we have and it also gives the community back something from the Irish Prison Service,” adds Governor Kennedy. 

“It’s very worthwhile, it helps with interpersonal skills of the prisoners themselves and it’s kind of a restorative justice piece, the prisoners feel like they’re giving back to the community.”

Assistant Governor Theresa Beirne says: “We received hugely very positive feedback from the Active Age Group.  All were treated to a line dancing exhibition after their beauty treatments ended and most of the group ended up joining in with the females, even staff gave a dance as well. 

“It is hoped to work on this event and create future events that involve the community where a lot of the females are from,” Ms Beirne continued, “it was important for them to have a sense of ownership of the project. They really enjoyed it and were very thankful to the group that came in.

“The group said it felt like a day at the Oscars, it was a real treat and they’re eager to return again soon – it was a hugely positive event.”

Meanwhile, Mary O’Hare, who works with Limerick Social Service Council, Southill Dining Club and Active Retired in Southill, agrees that there are benefits of restorative justice. 

“It’s wonderful, I think the best form of restorative justice you can ever have is bringing people into the prison and completing an activity with them. You can come into a room with someone and speak to them for weeks and weeks and it just doesn’t grasp, but when you physically come in and take part in an activity it’s totally different.

“It gives everyone a whole new perspective on prison,” Mary added. “This is the first time we’ve ever been in the female wing and prior to that we’d been in three times for the gentlemen. 

“It's great to keep up the social skills, especially when visitations are limited. Its great that they can still have social interactions with people they don’t know and there’s no discrimination.

“I could have brought in 90 ladies today - they were all mad to come in,” Mary laughed. 

Bernie O Grady, Social Worker with Bedford Family Project that works with the female inmates both while they’re in custody and when they’re on release in the community, said: “This is all about building connections, which is very important for the women and that they get the opportunity to welcome someone into their space.

“These women haven’t had too many opportunities themselves like this, and have now found themselves in addiction and criminality and unfortunately in custody.”

“Our vision is about change, and helping them make positive changes. It’s ultimately about making a safer society and better opportunities for their children,” Bernie added. 

Amanda Ryan, who teaches hairdressing and beauty within the prison says: “The prep for today has involved the girls feeling happy and secure with what they’re going to do for everyone. They’ve been practising all week, and refining their skills. 

“They’re so excited. I think it’s really lovely for their self-esteem,” Amanda added. “It’s about being able to say to them ‘well done, you’ve done a great job’. Many have never heard something like that.”

Anita Dooley, head teacher added: “You can see the girls blossoming, and you can see their personalities, it builds their confidence that’s been knocked all their lives. It’s important that we affirm everything they do, it’s about positive enforcement of their actions.”

The prison has a current figure of 39 female inmates, with a new female wing due to open in mid-2021.