Prisons have almost always been awful places. There is, I believe, a pervasive view among Australians that prisons ought to be awful places. People are sent there for punishment after all, not for a ‘holiday camp’ as ‘A Current Affair’ might describe any half-civil accommodation for prisoners.
But what are prisons really like? What are they really supposed to achieve and what do they actually achieve? The vast majority of Australians are largely ignorant of the conditions in jails here, preferring it that way and behaving in a manner that will never see them enjoy their discomforts.
A significant proportion of people do go in there, however, and then later come out and probably go back again and so on. So, if one maintains an interest in the well-being of society, it befits one to take an interest in what happens to those people while they’re in there.
Personally, the things I have learned about prisons in Australia have led me to believe that they serve little purpose besides containing criminals while subjecting them to barbaric conditions replete with physical and sexual abuse, rampant drug abuse and expert criminal training – they are basically a production line for hardened criminals who come to see society as a heartless and brutal enemy.
Is not the deprivation of liberty enough? No association with the opposite sex. No choice about what you do when and in whose company. Weeks, months, years spent marking time, unable to aid and protect your family. The worst of it is enforced boredom.
Must a criminal also be subject to bashings, humiliation and victimisation at the hands of guards and inmates? Do we accept that any young man going to prison is liable to be brutally raped, unless a willing sex-toy he be? Is it right that illicit drugs are easier and cheaper to obtain in prisons?
There is much that is wrong with our prison system, I believe, but it’s a difficult subject to find out much about. That’s why I thought people might be interested in this new series on Loadedog, ‘Letters from Prison’.
I recently re-acquainted with an old school chum who has had the misfortune of enjoying a number of stints at Her Majesty’s pleasure. During his last two confinements, he began writing to his uncle and he has agreed for these letters to be published and so, with no further ado, I present ‘Letters from Prison’ (complete and unexpurgated except for names of real people).
G’day P-! How is everything with you? Fine, I hope. Well, I finally got some paper and envelopes. It only took 3 weeks! The first week I missed out on Buy-Up because I arrived too late (plus I had no money). The second week I had to buy some smokes (I couldn’t keep bludging) and then this week I bought some Tally-Ho papers, matches, a pen, three envelopes and a note pad (I couldn’t afford smokes).
They give you three meals a day. In addition to the (so called) food, each bloke gets three sachets of coffee, seven sachets of sugar, a piece of fruit, cereal for breakfast, a 300ml carton of milk and a serving of jam. Also you get seven slices of bread.The Tuesday (19th April) that they brought me in I arrived about 4.30pm after an hour in the back of the paddy wagon.
They placed me in a ‘Reception Cell’, gave me my greens (clothes), photographed my wonderful face (after strip-searching me, how humiliating!) and made me stay in that Reception Cell until just after 7pm when I was relocated into Unit 4 (or D-Wing), also known as the Remand Yard.
When they opened the door to the cell there was a gigantic fellow standing inside. I thought I was dead. His name is G-. He was the ‘The Akubra Bandit’ in Canberra and Qbn. Six foot four, about 115 kilos, the man had arms like 3 litre coke bottles and legs like a house on fire.
It seems he had an extreme gambling problem and the only way he could cope was to rob banks. He told me he spent over $65,000 at the casino in one night! Go figure!! A lovely man, who had been in Scotland where he was working as a handyman/gardener for some Scottish Lord and had even met the Queen Mother and Prince Charles. Anyway, we sat up for about 5 or 6 hours talking about anything and everything. I think my body was still worried because my bowel system shut down for about three days.
Anyway, the next morning he was being transferred to Sydney and, because I was supposed to be two-out (two men in a cell), they took me back to the Reception Cell so they could watch me. Bloody 6.30am in a cold room with nothing but a wall to look at.
I sat in that cell till 2.30pm when they told me I would be going back into remand (or Unit 4). Once the Screws (Guards) had put me back into my cell, they asked me if I’d be alright on my own. I told them I would be. So there I was. Four walls to look at, no TV, no radio. Not even a kettle for a cup of coffee.
I made a boiler, from two bits of an aluminium tray, and so I had my first cup of coffee as a crim. God it was horrible! [Ed- read to the bottom for instructions on how to make a water boiler out of strips of aluminium. Scary stuff]. I decided I would read and, after reading for couple of hours, fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of the door’s slide bolt and the screws said I had a new cellmate, A-. A red headed bloke who was about 95 kg and who looked a bit tapped (mad). He was only a young fella (about 25) and, as I found out, was more worried about me than I was about him. He arrived on Wednesday night (I gathered it would have been 7.30pm going on my own experience) and we ended up talking well into the night. He wasn’t very bright but had a good heart so we got on pretty well.
That’s one and a half pages of the first six page letter. There’s plenty more to come. Read on to find out how to make an emergency electric boiler. Definitely do not try and do this. It is extremely dangerous:
You need two thin strips of metal, hopefully bendy, about a foot long each. Tearing thin strips off an aluminium take-away food container works. Lengths of coat hanger might too. Insert the metal strips into an electricity outlet (probably best to do this with the power off) so that one is in the positive outlet, one is in the negative, and they both hang down, not touching, but close together. Fill a ceramic mug or jug with water and place it so that both the strips enter the water in the jug, still without
touching. Turn on the power and wait till the water boils. Drink your disgusting, aluminised, hot drink (don’t forget to turn the power off).