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Emma Lawrence speaks about her YSI experience

Emma Lawrence is an Associate solicitor with Mason Hayes & Curran solicitors. She completed YSI in 2004.

Emma Lawrence

One of the aspects of Transition Year that I was most looking forward to when I began TY in September 2004 was YSI, having watched my older sister take part in it the previous year. Our class in Loreto Balbriggan, following many discussions about a variety of social issues that we felt were a problem at the time, decided to pursue the project titled “Where's Mammy - Mothers in Prison”. We aimed to develop an insight into the reality of life for mothers who were in prison and how this affects their family lives. 

From the outset of the project, we were captivated by the drive to understand this issue better, raise awareness of the issue in our community and seek to make a positive impact on the lives of the women that we were meeting. We took several trips to The Dochas Centre in Mountjoy Prison, during which the mothers that we met and the staff who worked there made huge efforts to help us to understand the social issues involved and to assist us as we strove to make a difference.

One of the main concerns for mothers was the effect that their imprisonment was having on their ability to communicate with their children. Our class subdivided into groups and sought to address this concern by a variety of means, including an attempt to lengthen the daily 6 minute phone call that each person in prison was permitted to have.

During the entire duration of the project, as we analysed the main communication difficulties faced by mothers in prison and sought to find innovative ways of addressing those communication difficulties, we were helped by various scholars, government departments, solicitors, barristers, telecommunications providers, the Irish Prison Service, the staff of Mountjoy and also the Governor of Mountjoy, John Lonergan. We were struck by how willing everyone that we contacted was to assist us, whether this involved the practicalities of speaking to the mothers in Mountjoy prison and arranging visits there, or providing us with a legal or cost-based analysis of whether the 6 minute phone call could be lengthened. 

Whenever we requested help or guidance, individuals provided us with it, and I was struck by both the results that could be gained through the power of asking, and also by the difference that could be made by a group of 16-year olds who were driven to make changes. The assistance and support that we received from our school and our teacher, Ms. Anne Kenna, was also constant and enabled us to pursue our project and our proposed solutions with vigour!

On the day of the YSI Showcase, we walked with fascination around the other schools' projects, while also sharing our project with others and we were delighted to win the YSI Communications Award. I clearly remember the moment that the prize was announced and our immense excitement that our project had been chosen for an award. However my stronger memories from being involved in YSI are of our visits to Mountjoy prison and our year-long pursuit of making a difference, which gave us a sense of empowerment to actually change problems and enhance people's lives. 

Now, working as a solicitor, with charities and not-for-profit bodies, I see the positive changes that such entities are making to people's lives on a daily basis. I like to think that that strong attitude of persisting to drive positive change has assisted, and will continue to assist, me, and the rest of my YSI class, to participate in bringing about positive changes to people's lives. YSI opened my eyes to the power of “asking” for assistance to make positive change and showed me that anybody can make a difference if they persevere in doing so. 

Many thanks to Emma Lawrence for sharing her YSI story. If you were involved with YSI and would like to share your experience, please contact us.