INTERVIEW Tommy Moran, retired prison officer

Living

Tommy Moran, who spent 30 years working for the Prison Service.
DEDICATED?Tommy Moran, who spent 30 years working for the Prison Service.

Life on the inside


Interview
Ciara Galvin

FOR most people, the thoughts of going behind bars would be terrifying, unimaginable. We play by the rules and live out our lives as law-abiding citizens to avoid a stint in ‘the slammer’. But one Aghamore man chose to do the opposite, and put himself behind bars for 30 years.
Tommy Moran’s father passed away when he was young, leaving his mother to bring up five children. At the tender age of 19, Tommy craved the security of a steady wage. He saw an ad for the Prison Service, and didn’t think twice.
“I never had any perceived notions about joining the Prison Service but it was a pensionable job, a state job and it was secure, and for those reasons, I applied for the job.”
Your first day at work can be daunting in any job. Learning the ropes is stressful enough – imagine if criminals incarcerated for all manner of crimes were thrown into the mix too. Does he think it was too much for his 19-year-old shoulders?  
“I always felt that anyone joining the Prison Service, maybe more so than joining the guards, should definitely be a minimum of 23 before qualifying, because you are dealing with lots of people who are in some cases adults, and experienced with life to a much greater extent than you are.”
Tommy was very much thrown in at the deep. He was given two weeks of training, compared to the 16 weeks or so of training that anyone joining the Prison Service receives today.
Tommy’s first job was in St Patrick’s Institution in Dublin, and so he moved to Kilcock in Co Kildare. He went on to serve in Mountjoy Prison, the Curragh, Shanganagh Castle open prison, Midlands Prison and Wheatfield Prison, from where he retired last year.
In a work environment like no other, Tommy explained he was encouraged to ‘keep a barrier up’ with inmates. Despite this, he said, there was a ‘great marriage of communication between inmate and prison officer’. Tommy found that his job was made easier by ‘being very human and very humane’ and ‘by trying to help them [the inmates] in their daily life in prison’.
As a prison officer, he did encounter some dangerous situations throughout his career. Reluctant to over-dramatise, he refers to most of them as ‘skirmishes’. “Sometimes there might be two offenders fighting and you intervene, and one would set upon you,” he says, matter of fact. One Christmas, he was followed on the streets by a gang of men who recognised him as a prison officer.
Still, Tommy remains resolutely unfazed, saying that in general, his experiences were ‘fairly positive’.
“I actually met more people outside [of prison] who came over, shook my hand and wanted to buy me a drink,” he explains.
However, Tommy did initially find one aspect of the job difficult: Seeing past some of the crimes that the inmates had committed. “In my late teens and early 20s I avoided seeking to work in areas where sexual offenders were incarcerated,” he admits.
Over time, he learned to treat all prisoners the same by pushing their crimes out of his mind and choosing to ‘let the judicial system deal with that’. “A prison officer’s job is not to judge,” he says.
Passionate about sport all his life, Tommy was lucky enough to spend the latter half of his career as a gym officer. He believes that sport is an important and effective tool when rehabilitating criminals, pointing out that sports activities and gym workouts can often help them express built-up tension and anger.
By way of job satisfaction, Tommy cited full rehabilitation of an inmate as top of the list – ‘the ultimate’. However, having any positive impact at all was rewarding. “I’d like to think in some way I made a difference,” he said, adding that he hopes that those prisoners he met on the outside who shook his hand and bought him a drink might have done so because they were thanking him for his kindness towards them.
In an indisputable testament to his efforts, on his last day working at Wheatfield Prison in Clondalkin, the inmates had a cake and cards for him – a gesture that the modest man from Aghamore found very touching.
Describing life as a ‘game of inches’, Tommy believes that “with little positive contributions, all of the sudden it’s amazing the mindset that you will change, and the difference it will make to any given community.”
And now on the outside for good, well, Tommy is enjoying his retirement in his new home of Westport. Taking life, inch by inch.