Carrie O'Hara

The pouting and ponderings of a single 30 something year old

The Crime and Punishment of the ‘Sons of Ulster’ March 25, 2008

Filed under: Drama/theatre,Literature,Politics,social rules,Society,Teenage Years — carrieohara @ 12:33 am

This began life as a 365 blog but I realised that I wanted it to reach a broader audience (or perhaps just one more likely to comment): I’ve also been wanting to resurrect the pondering of Carrie for a while and hope that perhaps this will lead on to something bigger and better. I also thought I should wait until all four episodes of the ‘Sons of Ulster’ programme I’m writing about had aired; but social plans will interrupt my TV viewing for the remainder of the week (I am making a mental list of my ‘Sky-Plus’ friends or even just those I know who can work a video). So will too ponderous an intro…

I’ve just finished watching a BBC Northern Ireland programme: ‘Sons of Ulster’. It had been commissioned a while ago but bureaucratic red-tape got in the way. Over the next few nights it is telling the story of a group of young offenders incarcerated in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders’ Centre, being taken under the tutelage of local actor/ director Dan Gordon to present Frank McGuinnesses’ play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, to an audience of their prison peers.

I’m a huge fan of the play; having seen a relatively recent production at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre I have ‘directed’ ( in the Drama teacher sense of the word); two A-level Exam performances of the same play. Each time I presented the story using a group of eight girls. It’s a man’s play; dealing with the complex relationships of Northern Irish World War One soldiers. A play that any synopsis here would do little justice too. It is an obvious choice for the project Dan Gordon is undertaking: it deals not only with male relationships but also political and religious identity,  sexual orientation and the inner-struggle each man’s encounters in  finding his sense of self and feelings of self-worth as he faces the fear of  ’going over the top.’ (So much for avoiding the synopsis…)

I was struck tonight by the humanity of the boys taking part; and how similar they are to the boys in my own classroom. Dan Gordon refuses to deal with the details of their criminal past; wanting instead to offer them a different perspective than whatever one had led them to this frightening and freedom-less place and time. My aunt used to teach in Hydebank and even now is still connected to Prisoners’ Education and I continually ask her how she copes with the idea that the men in her classroom are murderers, rapists, thugs of the highest order and her simple answer is always the same. She doesn’t: she sees them as students; men her education can help in the slow process of re-entering society.

It is easy, to only see the positive here. As a Drama teacher it is easy to applaud the inter and intra-personal skills these boys will gain from their literary and theatrical experience; to write at length of how the exposure to literary culture that is both alien but entirely relevant to their own experiences could be postive in ways beyond measure. 

But all crimes have victims and somewhere in the immediate locality are the victims of the crimes (some of them fatal, many of them violent) these boys committed. How do they, and their families’ feel watching these boys being presented with this particular opportunity?

Tonight’s programme posed the difficult question: should prison be punishment or rehabilitation? These are young offenders; boys who are typically victims of social deprivation (and the Northern Ireland paramilitarism that so often accompanied it), boys who the mainstream education system  and society as a whole has in some way failed, boys who have made horrifically bad choices; but Dan Gordon certainly believes they are boys who deserve a second chance.

I await tomorrow night’s episode…

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7 Responses to “The Crime and Punishment of the ‘Sons of Ulster’”

  1. meinmysmallcorner Says:

    Aww, I should definately watch this. The grace of a second chance appeals to me greatly – even the call to those who suffer because of these guys crimes, the call to forgive at great cost for the greater good. Grand themes of love, forgiveness and grace – how often is that played out in reality tv?!?

  2. qmonkey Says:

    i watched it tonight on your recomendation… and sky+’d the rest of the series.

    brilliant stuff… Dan gordon is great.

  3. I am delighted that programmes like this are being run in prison, but am less happy about it being televised. As you have asked, how will the victims of these “actors” crimes feel watching this on TV and seeing these young men get airtime?

  4. lambypie Says:

    Now that we have met, albeit briefly, and you have commented on my blog, of which I am very appreciative, I feel free to comment on your posts without wondering whether it’s appropriate or not.

    I sat down to watch this last year only to find that it couldn’t be shown and it was replaced by Dan Gordon talking to a granny about something or other in a repeat of another programme. Really wanted to see it for two reasons:
    1. I often see Dan Gordon in the gym (no, seriously) and he is a very quiet man there so I thought this would give me a conversation starter.
    2. Before teaching I spent an abortive social work career in a children’s home and saw a few teenagers on their way to Hydebank.

    Frustratingly I missed it last week because of being away in the North Coast so I can’t pass comment on the actual programme. However, based on what I have read about it I would have to concur with yellowcranes. I think the project itself sounds excellent but at the point where it is celebrated in a television programme I think the cons outweigh the pros. Surely there would have been as much benefit to the boys involved if Dan Gordon had carried out this project without a film crew? But then I suppose he wouldn’t have done it.

  5. carrieohara Says:

    Lambypie: feel free to comment anytime..I await your words of wisdom. It is a sad reflection on us all that we are so cynical to think that part of Dan Gordon’s (do say hello at the gym: ask how he feels about working with Drama students and inept Drama teachers…well maybe not during your first conversation…) masterplan was obviously the TV exposure.
    Perhaps maybe even the ‘boys’ (somehow inappropriate term here)/ inmates would have been less reluctant too?
    I’m not convinced that ‘the cons outweigh the pros’; these are society’s neglected children; if we’re really going to facilitate their rehabilitation we have to stop ignoring that they exist…
    But still I hear your point…

  6. There is no doubt an element of truth that at least some of these boys (offenders?) have been neglected by society and that is why I agree that programmes like this are great to equip and empower the people in question. It has given them an opportunity to express themselves in a way that they would never have had the chance to before, which is great.

    However, the more I have thought about this, the less and less comfortable I have been with it being shown on TV with an ‘enertainment’ element. Some of the crimes committed by these guys were fairly brutal (my brother represented one in court) and I think the feelings of any victims who might end up watching the programme should have been given fuller consideration.

    Am I showing a distinct lack of grace? I don’t think so. Small corner talks about forgiveness and that is a hugely important Christian concept. However, who can forgive these guys other than God and the people against whom they have committed the crimes? It would be wrong for me to say that those people should simply be willing to move on and embrace the potential rehabilitation of these guys until I am put in the position where I find out whether I could truly forgive in such a situation.

    That doesn’t mean that these guys shouldn’t be rehabilitated, because I believe that that is a vital part of society’s responsibility to them (as is the punishment element). I would just be more comfortable with being done quietly and off-screen. (And this is no dig at the admirable Dan Gordon, who I seem to be alone in actually having spoken to.)

  7. pros and cons – brilliant


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