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Monday, 27 November, 2000, 12:46 GMT
The Maze: The prison officer's story
The H-Blocks
The H-Blocks: Maximum security - but unique regime
A prison officer tells of his years in The Maze - and how it was a constant battle to remain sane amid death threats.
In the interests of his personal security, certain details have been altered.

In my time inside I have worked on all the wings - republican and loyalist. I worked with paramilitaries of all these backgrounds and it was the loyalists who have caused me the most trouble on the outside.

There are many things that stick in your mind but I will never forget some of the reactions I saw after certain killings.

I remember when a couple had been killed in an attack by paramilitaries. And when the news reached the wing, the prisoners whose comrades had carried out the shooting began cheering. I will never forget it.

Being a prison officer in the Maze turned you into a cynical person, wary of everything.

Outside of this secure environment you had to keep a close watch on who you allowed yourself to become close to you - who became your friends, where you went and how you got there.

You would end up losing control completely and becoming paranoid - many officers did.

But most of us had to learn some kind of balance just to lead any kind of normal existence.

A good officer wary of his own security would try and avoid doing anything that highlight him to prisoners - something that would lead to him being targeted on the outside.

But the threats were there - and the death lists existed.

If the prisoners wanted you to know that you were being targeted they had various means of doing it.

Sometimes you would be told directly by the RUC that they had intelligence.

Sometimes they would talk within earshot of an officer and reveal details about a colleagues' life - who his wife was, what car he drove, where he went for a drink - and then you'd know that they were really serious.

Sometimes they'd appoint a spokesman from within their own ranks and let the officers know that someone is targeted.

And so you would be immediately taken off shift, you'd be offered a degree of police protection in terms of home visits and other advice - and then you'd sit up all night from midnight until five in the morning, sitting with your official weapon in your hands, knowing that if they're going to come, it would be now.

That's something you don't see the prison officers doing in England.

And even if the threat went away, you'd still avoid creating any patterns by changing the times you came and went from shifts and your home.

You would change the way you drove to work and would avoid having a regular bar to drink in.

When officers began working in the Maze they would try and assert some kind of control over the regime.

But it was a war of attrition - and they slowly wore us down.

They would make demands and we would give ground just to keep the peace on that day.

But then you can't take that ground back easily - and if you tried to then you would be putting yourself at personal risk.

We as officers wanted to do our job properly - we weren't there to grind anyone down - but almost every normal prison duty involved an element of negotiation.

Say you had been told to carry out a search of a wing containing a certain paramilitary grouping.

The search team would contact the principle officer in charge of the wing. He would then speak to the Officer Commanding of the paramilitaries in that wing.

They would then negotiate some kind of deal to allow us access and their co-operation - typically the O/C would agree to us searching an area between 9am and noon only.

Even routine searches of visitors caused problems.

I remember occasions when we were absolutely certain that a visitor was smuggling something into a wing and they would object to the search.

But our security officers would sometimes let the person through without the search because they knew that the consequences for not doing so could lead to them becoming a target.

For many officers it simply became a futile experience.

They see guys like [loyalist killer] Torrens Knight getting out after a couple of years and they're thinking to themselves, 'well that's a good deal he's got there'.

There are a lot of people who will be watching this happen and I don't think that they will be coming to terms with it. I don't think this is what many people expected when they voted for the Good Friday Agreement.

As for prison officers, those leaving are going back to normal life, on to the circuit.

Their faces will be seen. A mechanic could see 20 customers and not remember their faces.

But they will remember his. That's something we have lived with for years - and with everyone now out, we always will.

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