Laurence Mc Keown - Imprisonment and Hunger Strike

Imprisonment and Hunger Strike

While in prison McKeown took part in the blanket protest and dirty protest, attempting to secure the return of Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners. In late 1980 the protest escalated and seven prisoners took part in a fifty-three day hunger strike, aimed at restoring political status by securing what were known as the "Five Demands":

  1. The right not to wear a prison uniform;
  2. The right not to do prison work;
  3. The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
  4. The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
  5. Full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

The strike ended before any prisoners had died and without political status being secured, and a second hunger strike began on 1 March 1981 led by Bobby Sands, the IRA's former Officer Commanding (OC) in the prison. McKeown joined the strike on 29 June, after Sands and three other prisoners had died. Following the deaths of six other prisoners, McKeown's family authorised medical intervention to save his life on 6 September, the 70th day of his hunger strike. He described his recollection of the events in an interview:

You're very sleepy and very, very tired and you're sort of nodding off to sleep but something's telling you to keep waking up. This was the thing that kept everybody going through the hunger strike in trying to live or last out as long as possible. I knew death was close but I wasn't afraid to die - and it wasn't any sort of courageous or glorious thing. I think death would have been a release. You can never feel that way again. It's not like tiredness. It's an absolute, total, mental and physical exhaustion. It's literally like slipping into death.

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