Senator Lynn Ruane on her new podcast, Conversations on the Margins, talking to men within the Irish prison system
As the title suggests, these are conversations on the margins. They are conversations that rarely happen, especially in a public forum. I have created a podcast about education, understanding life before and after prison, understanding motivation, gaining insight into a person’s hopes and dreams and aspirations. It is a podcast about life, both its light and shade. The loss of one’s liberty has always impacted me, especially when we know that in some cases, people have done things that aren’t acceptable to society; in some cases, humanity ends up in prison. However, many in prison shouldn’t be there or no longer there after years of intervention, introspection and progress.
The objective of exploring these topics directly with people in the centre of them is to inform society, and get to the honesty and truth at the heart of all men who wanted something different once in their lives. How can we better support vulnerable adults and children to live differently, and who better to express an opinion on that than those who have experienced punishment through circumstances both in and out of their control?
If you didn’t already know, you quickly learn that these men, at a young age, experienced a myriad of adverse childhood experiences and, in many cases, were let down by arms of the state, only to end up imprisoned by the state.
Anto and Paul are two intelligent, thoughtful men. Paul is a little shy, and Anto’s gritty Dublin accent grabs you quickly. While not yet teenagers, both men were considered in their words, or the terms of the school system, ‘thick’. When the state and the school system gave up on them, they quickly followed the state’s lead and gave up on themselves.
It’s essential to have these conversations because I, and I hope you too, are tired of only hearing from people at the point when society has considered them a success. I will likely hear my accent on a podcast if their life has done a one-eighty turn. We ‘successful’ working-class are rolled out on every media platform or podcast as inspirations, but inspirations to who? I have a sneaky feeling when we see someone like me do well; it gives the status quo the cover. It needs to not look inwardly at itself and externally at the systems. It is up to us, the individual. This podcast is a perfect mix of men taking accountability but being acutely aware of how state systems let them down and how society and our rejection of them creates the environment for recidivism.
In each episode, you won’t be waiting too long before you hear them talk about their mothers, daughters, or girlfriends. Although they have their freedom, women very much share the sentence with them both in terms of emotional and financial support. In a later article, I will explore the role of women in their lives. These men know that without the women in their lives, this journey through life would be more complicated than it already is.
This podcast is to allow the voice of those who rarely find a platform to be heard. It is to facilitate a society to listen. As humans, we must give mutual recognition to those we don’t necessarily identify with; in that recognition, we find common ground and find our fellow man and woman. Only when we see each other and witness each other’s lives can we truly show compassion and support to friends, neighbours, and peers.
There is a clear power dynamic between me and the men regarding my life being in a good place, in terms of income, education and a home. Knowing this, it was vital for me to not do a ‘snatch and grab’ on their lives, produce an excellent podcast, and live my life. Instead, I spent some time with the men before we ever recorded a thing, learning about who they are, listening to their ideas, and conversing with them about life, art, and politics. After spending that time there, I now can’t leave, so I will volunteer a couple of times a month to help build on some of their life plans; you never know, maybe we will create an art collective, prisoners, but now they are artists, returning citizens with a contribution to give and a society that lets them.
In the first episode, we introduce four participants and their early years. You will hear from people, not prisoners. When you drop the idea that they are prisoners, you will listen to articulate men, talented men with excellent insights on solutions, mental health, and life. Do you want to know what a man in prison thinks about being a father, restorative justice, playing the piano, touch, home and what punishment is? For too long, creators of podcasts and tv shows have been making money off the back of people’s pain, crime sells, it sells like there aren’t real people behind the story. So, spoiler, this is **not a crime podcast**.
Conversations on the Margins is recorded on location in Wheatfield prison and features interviews with the people who have first-hand experience of the Irish reform system. The focus of this limited series is not on the crimes or the prison system itself, but on the individuals within the system. The podcast is not framed through the prism of the individual contributor’s incarcerations, but rather approaches their respective stories on a human level. Conversations on the Margins provides an intimate snapshot into the lives of a handful of individuals currently residing in Irish prisons, of which there are close to 4,000 nationwide.
Conversations on the Margins aims to give a voice to the people behind the prisoners. Over the course of the series, Lynn Ruane explores the root cause of incarcerations with senior officials within the Irish prison system and the individuals themselves, discovering common denominators, including that the majority of Irish prisoners have never sat a State exam and over half leave school before the age of 15.[/restrict]