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Coping in isolation: Time to Think
Coping in isolation: Time to Think

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1 The confines of space and time

This is an image of a Nissen hut in the compounds at the Maze and Long Kesh prison
Figure 2 Exterior of a compound, The Maze and Long Kesh prison.
This is a photograph of the interior of a cell in the H Blocks showing a window and a bed.
Figure 3 Interior of H Block cell

During the thirty years of conflict in and about Northern Ireland (1969–2000), most people arrested under Emergency Powers were held on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast while they awaited sentencing, as you heard from Michael and David in Session 1. Loyalists and Republicans who were given indeterminate sentences experienced a range of living conditions in prison. In the Maze and Long Kesh Prison for example, some men lived in political groups in what were known as Compounds or Cages. These were old British army Nissen huts (left over after the Second World War), each containing up to 30 men and separated by fencing and razor wire from other huts in the prison. After 1976 others lived in individual cells in what were known as the H Blocks, given this name because each block was constructed in the shape of the letter H. In the following audio recording of a conversation between Michael and David, they discuss their experience of these different living conditions – David in the Compounds or Cages and Michael in the H Blocks. Now listen to the following audio conversation, taking some notes as you go along:

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Audio 1: Life in the Compounds and H Blocks of Maze and Long Kesh
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Audio 1 transcript (Word document) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Activity 2

Having listened to the audio, answer the following questions:

  1. What struck you most about this discussion?
  2. What similarities or differences do you notice with your own experience of confinement?


How you respond to your new situation is likely to be shaped by your life experience and your world view. Like all of us, you will all have different attitudes, backgrounds and experiences – good and bad – and in times of duress, you may find these come to the surface. Some of you may already have experiences of dealing with adversity or extreme situations. For others this may be an entirely new experience. One of the challenges with a novel situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, is finding ways of making sense of the profound changes you are living through.