When sentenced to three years, Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform and said the prison guards would have to “…nail it to my back”.
Nugent’s adolescence came at a time when Northern Ireland was exploding into turmoil. On 20 March 1973, aged 15, he was standing with a friend on the corner of Merrion Street and Grosvenor Road, when a car pulled up beside them and one of the occupants asked them for directions. Another occupant of the vehicle then opened fire with a sub-machine gun. Nugent was seriously wounded after being shot eight times in the chest, arms and back by the Ulster loyalists in the car. A friend, Bernard McErlean, aged 16, standing nearby, was killed.
At some point afterwards, Nugent joined the Provisional IRA. He was arrested, aged 16, by the British Army and spent five months on remand in Crumlin Road Prison. When he was eventually tried, the case against him was withdrawn and he was released. He became an active volunteer until his arrest and imprisonment, without trial, on 9 February 1975.
He spent nine months in Cage 4 of Long Kesh prison camp until 12 November 1975. He was imprisoned again after another arrest on 12 May 1976, and sentenced to three years imprisonment on 14 September 1976 for hijacking a vehicle. Upon entering prison, Nugent was the first paramilitary prisoner from whom Special Category Status had been withdrawn under the new British policy of ‘criminalisation’. Nugent was no longer allowed to wear his own clothes and refused to wear the prison uniform he was given. He was not provided with alternative clothing and wrapped himself in a blanket from his cell, beginning the blanket protest.
He was soon joined in his protest; Jackie McMullan was the next prisoner to don the blanket, followed by six more Irish republican prisoners from the Beechmount area of Belfast. By Christmas 1976 the number had risen to over forty prisoners on the blanket protest. Most incoming republican prisoners emulated Nugent and this started five years of prison protests in pursuit of political status, which ended in the 1981 hunger strike and the death of seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners.
He died from a heart attack. He was a father of four.