John Lonergan is a former governor of Mountjoy Prison and has decades of experience of dealing with the country’s worst criminals. We were told beforehand that he had been coming to the school for many years so we knew that he would give a worthwhile and interesting talk.
When we all sat down he started off the talk by introducing himself and asking us a few questions. He asked us to guess what percentage of people in prison were men or women. We all knew that the majority were men but we were surprised that it was such a high figure, 97%, compared to 3% women.
He then asked us what age we thought people had criminal responsibility. He told us that the answer was 12, which he said he thought was too young. Immediately we all thought about how responsible we were at 12 years old. When he told us it used to be 7, we were shocked. He then told us that most of the children put in detention centres went on to go to prison as adults. This was because they weren’t put in an environment to grow and learn from their mistakes.
He described to us what prison life was like, and the circumstances that put people there. We learned that most people are in prison because of drug related crimes. He gave us a piece of advice which he reiterated many times: Never do drugs, and never owe money for drugs. He told us a story about how owing just a small amount of money for drugs can escalate into a huge problem which you will carry around with you for the rest of your life.
He warned us that a moment of stupidity can result in something extremely serious and land you in prison. At the end of the talk, he answered some of our questions. When asked about the scariest incident he’s ever witnessed, he told us a very interesting and honest story about how one time some prison guards were held hostage by prisoners with HIV-contaminated, blood-filled syringes. He spoke about how vulnerable and scared he felt in that situation, which told us just how serious it was.
Overall the talk was very interesting. I was expecting John to be a very serious, and somewhat harsh man, but to my surprise he came across as pleasant and energetic. I learned a lot from the talk and some of the things he said will definitely stay with me for a while.
By Jessica Gallagher