John credits a trio of brilliant teachers for sparking his lifelong interest in history and English.
“And my mother was a great reader; she encouraged me.”
Before he entered the prison service, John trained as a chef, worked as a Lighthouse keeper, and considered joining the Gardaí.
“When I went in I was shocked at the conditions,” he says.
During his thirty years of service, working in prisons including Mountjoy, Portlaoise, Spike Island, Arbour Hill and Castlerea, John questioned the treatment of prison officers by the state.
“I wrote, because I felt constrained in my job,” he says. Commenting on the prison system, he also wrote about sport. “I had a couple of slots in a Ballina provincial paper.”
Who is John Cuffe
Date of birth: 7th August 1952 in Blacksod Bay, County Mayo.
Education: St Muredach’s College, Ballina. Open University, IT; Institute of Public Administration: (Validated by UCD) Post Graduate Degrees in Crime related and social issues.
Home: County Meath “But I still think of Mayo as home.”
Family: Wife Kathleen, Niamh, Conor, Eoin and Fiona.
The Day Job: Retired prison officer. “I write and give lectures, and am a commentator on criminology.”
In Another Life: “I’d have lived in California and played music with Neil Young.”
Favourite Writers: William Golding; Michael Herr; Edward Conlon. “And I love history books.”
Second Novel: “I’ve lots of ideas for fiction, and have written a book following the Mayo football supporters.”
Top Tip: Never give up.
The Debut: Inside the Monkey House: Collins Press: €12.99. Kindle: €7.49
In his thirty years as a prison officer, John encountered Larry Murphy, Malcolm MacArthur, and Veronica Guerin’s killers. He dealt with the Spike Island riot, and witnessed the special treatment meted out to IRA prisoners. But his main problems, including being bullied, came from those in authority.
As a raw recruit in 1978, John was shocked not just by the prisons; which were out of the Victorian age, but also by the harsh working conditions and lack of recognition.
“Prison staff were suffering psychological damage for which there may never be compensation or resolution. I’m lucky to have survived the job, and to have written the book.”
The Verdict: A shocking, poignant expose of life behind prison walls.
Published in The Irish Examiner on 2nd December
© Sue Leonard. 2017