The Hidden Violence of the State on Prisoners: Night Checks

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(2) 262 –266
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221096740
The Hidden Violence of the
State on Prisoners: Night
Michael Irwin
When we hear the phrase ‘violence in prison’ our thoughts naturally conjure images of
bars, wire, shivs, batons, prisoners fighting, prison officers beating prisoners and
showers. Or perhaps you’d seen a movie where prisoners at night coughed with muf-
fled mumblings as a night guard walked past their cell. What we don’t automatically
think of are the hidden institutional processes that inflict immediate and long-term
violence on a prisoner. For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the checks
made at night, after lock up, and how debilitating and harmful they can be to the men-
tal health of a prisoner. They are, I would argue, not just a primary source of violence,
but are themselves a form of violence perpetrated upon prisoners without leaving a
single mark or scar.
When I started my prison sentence in June 2007 at HM Prison Lewes in England I
went ‘cold turkey’ from cocaine and alcohol and have little or no recollection about
night checks at that time. It was only when I went to HM Prison Rye Hill in 2008 that
I first become aware of the concept of prisoner “night checks.” On one of my first
nights there, I was rudely awoken by a member of staff shining a torch in my face
around 03.00am. I was fuming and when unlocked in the morning I was straight down
to the office to complain. “Unfortunately, Mr. Irwin, we have to do random checks and
last night it was your turn.” Ok, fair enough I thought and went about my business.
I never noticed any more checks until I was informed that my father was critically
ill and might die (he didn’t at that time) and that they would have to keep an eye on me
at night for my own safety (I became a “suicide risk”). I fully understood this and over
the next few nights an officer gently tapped my door and whispered to see if I was ok.
They didn’t need to turn the light on as I was usually awake and sitting having a cup
of coffee and cigarette anyhow. I welcomed this interaction at the time and after a few
days they left me alone as the staff who worked at night also worked during the day.
They knew me on the wing, I reassured them I was fine, and they left me alone. Dad
got better and I transferred to a prison closer to my home in Belfast.
This is when my ordeal really began. Here is my journal entry for my first night in
HMP Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland excerpted from my book, My Life Began
at Forty1:
1096740CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221096740Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeIrwin

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