1937: A Visit to No.2 Division, Male Prison

The front gates of Brisbane's Boggo Road Gaol, 1936.The following is adapted from an article titled 'WORLD APART: A Visit to His Majesty's Prison at "Boggo Road"' by Myles Rutherford in the Telegraph, January 1937. 

'PRISON walls, always seemingly grim in their appearance, have no place in the plans of any one of use, while so much as a thought of being behind them causes an involuntary shudder. With feelings such as these it can be said any prison is approached. Once within these walls however, things are to be found which are more or less beyond the conception of those outside, and those same grim brick t walls shut from inquisitive eyes, the activities of another little world, well controlled and smoothly running.

A RAP on the steel doors, with but a small movable circle of glass breaking their massiveness; a short wait, then the appearance of a warder's face at the "panel"; some explanatory words as to who you are and what your business is, then the face disappears; another short wait, then the v. warder returns, the rattling of a lock precedes the opening of the door, and at a word from him two steps are taken and the door clangs shut once more; but this time from behind. Thus admission has been gained to His Majesty's Prison, Boggo Road, a little world all its own.

Yes, entry has been gained to Boggo Road Gaol, and as it happens not merely to that division, in which one finds the 'small fry," those who are in for short periods and are in and out like outdoor-patients at a hospital. But the excursion ahead covers No. 2 division, where-in are the long sentence men serving from 18 months to life sentences. To realise that here are men with deeds of violence, treachery, cunning, fraud, and perhaps, some through circumstances which were not all their own making, causes this visit to be attended by feelings not a little mixed and heartbeats, which are a little quicker, than normal.

Immediately it is well for ones conscience to realise that the old belief, long implanted by popular films and novels, of convicts wearing an outfit with a generous supply of "broad arrows" has to be cast aside. Maybe such are the rules existing in other countries, but to some Australian prisons, and certainly Boggo Road, this is not the case. Instead each man has white mole-skin trousers, grey diagonal tweed coat, blue striped Scotch twill shirt, black boots or moleskin topped shoes and cabbage tree hat.

The most cursory glance when once within the gaol precincts reveals several tall brick buildings, and around these neat green grassed lawns and flower plots, the whole surrounded by the prison walls. All bespeak the neat and tidy arrangement that might be expected at any proud householder's residence. It is with this enlightened feeling of mind that a further "step" is made into the unknown and an inspection carried out of the wings, D, E, and F, better known as the cells.

The opening of any one of the steel doors, not grids, as well remembered in films, in the two long rows, which run lengthways of the buildings on each of three stories, tells a story most refreshing. The interior of the cells is spick and span and is a credit to both officials and the prisoners.

But more outstanding than even this cleanliness is the evidence, which presents itself to the eye, in the efforts of the inmates to remove any look appertaining to drabness of the interior. A great number of the men have their cells looking most attractive and to say this, is not merely allowing a careless throwing of "bouquets." Some for instance have a picture gallery, which contains photos of leading cricketers, including Walter Hammond (Don Bradman was not noticed), some magazine souvenir pictures of other personalities, of which King George VI. is prominent, and also finishes of prominent rowing events in the south.

Others there are who even go farther in their ingenuity, which extends to having paintings on the white cell walls. These paintings are carried out with ordinary house paint, and in all their attractiveness vary, according to interests, from general subjects to vases of flowers. Whether or not flowers be in season there will be some men who will always have theirs before them. At the same time, for one who has visited these quarters, the mention at some later date of everlasting flowers must cause some slight subconscious turning of the mind’s eye to the everlasting flowers of the men in Bogga Road.

Discipline. Yes, discipline certainly exists there and it is the claim that discipline and cleanliness "register one hundred per cent." But in what walk of life does discipline not exist? can well be asked. The military man is subject to it, so is the naval recruit, or members of the air force, and even in lesser decrees discipline is to be found in the ways any man or woman conducts himself or herself in a place of employment. These thoughts all flash through the mind of anyone interested enough to delve into conditions in this unusual world.

Stricter perhaps it is in prison but without it, men serving long sentences would hardly be likely to obtain finer qualities of character, while unfortunately for them there would be a great chance of nothing but a rabble as the result.

Known by Name and Not Number
ONCE again the visitor has to be disillusioned. This time in his belief that once a man "goes in" he is no longer known by name, but answers to a number. Certainly each man has a number, but at the first roll call every morning when he leaves his cell for the routine of the day, it is to the calling of his name that he answers. Possibly it is the routine of life within this world all to itself that forms a great portion of a man's punishment, and the routine of the day starts at 6.30 in the morning. From this time onwards there are no less than another four roll calls, with the last at 4. 10 p.m., when they return to their cells for the night. On each of these occasions the men again answer the roll call by name.

Following the arrival of a long sentence man at No. 1 Division and the carrying out of certain regulations, he is drafted to No. 2 Division and placed at a trade for which he might show some aptitude. Making one's way to carry out an inspection of the men at work it is well not to let the mind run rampant and to conjure up visions of poor shackled brutes sapping their strength working in quarries, as we feel must surely fit into events. Indeed no, we must pause a moment and say: "'Tis 1937, the days of such are gone. But better still than that moment's hesitation are the scenes which unfold themselves before one's eyes.

Men making furniture; several elsewhere putting soles on boots and shoes; some here bustling about making billycans and other tinware; others sitting at machines making clothes and so on: as the eye travels round, are seen workers on jobs covering mats and furniture making, bookbinding and numerous other occupations.

It might all be a dream, for each man looks contented. But no, it is reality and one remembers once more. "'Tis 1937 and times have brought their changes." And what pleasant changes they are. Instead of crushing stones they are here learning trades helpful to all and also giving them a chance to make a fresh start in life when Boggo Road fades from their view after the doors have closed behind them. The results of their labours, one finds are excellent, and from the Prison Store the manufactured goods pass to the State Stores, from which they are distributed to Government institutions.

Many fine works of woodwork are carried out, and while tables, chairs, and bookcases are the more common results there are some by far more intricate accomplishments. One of these is an inlaid cakestand, not more than six or eight inches in height, and in its making seven different kinds of timber, requiring 84 pieces, were used.

Cigarettes? Yes, even cigarettes are to be found among allowances to the prisoners. Each smoker is allowed two ounces of tobacco, a packet of cigarette papers, and a box of matches a week, while for the non-smoker there is an allowance of jam in lieu of the tobacco. For long-sentence men there are also what are known as indulgences and these include half an ounce of tea and three ounces of sugar a day.

The regulations of the prison also include the supplying of tooth brushes to every inmate, with of course the exception of those who are unable to boast any teeth. In addition to the tooth brush any man is entitled to purchase for himself any one of several brands of tooth paste.

Alone Amid the Night's Silence
WHEN the tranquillity of night overhangs the Wings, alone amid all this silence sit the men in their cells. Alone with their thoughts they undoubtedly are, but what these thoughts are, and where they rove, the men alone can tell, and for the visitor it is merely a matter for conjecture. Some release from these thoughts they have, in that they are allowed an exchange of books twice a week from the prison library numbering from 3,000 to 6,000 books. Nevertheless, a great number of the works of well known authors must cause some strange effects on the feelings of the readers.

In one cell perhaps a man is made to fully realise that "his sins have found him out" as he passes from page to page of that fine story, "The Master of Man." by Hall Caine. Another who has revolted against the laws of the land, is reading of another type of revolution by the pen of Alexandre Dumas, while a third is reminded of Christmas rejoicings at home and possibly brought near to tears by the reading of "Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. And so on from cell to cell each man has his book to break the monotonous silence and his thoughts, but vividly each book must bring happy recollections of what has been lost.

A chat with the librarian, a prisoner, revealed that the popular choice of the men was for "the deep type of matter" and it certainly seemed a little strange that men found guilty of low and dastardly crimes should find pleasure in the works of such writers as Chaucer and Spenser.

It is rarely realised what great chances there are of disease and sickness spreading within these walls, but actually the health of the men is well watched. Well painted smartly coloured walls, with two rows of beds, all spick and span, go to make a comfortable and bright hospital, but fortunately, however, sickness is stated to be rare.

Each year seems to find more humane methods being adopted in our prisons and prominent advocates of reformative rather than punitive methods are the Minister for Health and Home Affairs (Mr. E.M. HanIon) and the Comptroller-General of State Prisons (Mr. J.F. Whitney). Under their guiding hands better conditions in many forms have been introduced and one of these was the installation of a wireless receiving set on December 18 last.

From a general receiving room the most suitable programme is selected, and by means of two amplifiers in each of D, E, and F wings the men are able to listen in for one hour between 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock. While many arguments might arise in one's mind against such an innovation a moment's reflection causes the realisation that such a diversion must have an uplifting effect on the minds of the men and thus help to banish morbid thoughts.

In some ways those in prison lead a life closely resembling the lives of those outside the walls. Cleanliness is certainly one of these things, but another is that they even have their "gaol holidays," which hold sway on Christmas Day. New Year's Day, and the King's Birthday. On these days a special fare of steak or sausages for breakfast and roast meat, vegetables and plum pudding for dinner assist to make conditions more homely. During the Christmas- New Year week they are permitted to receive certain gifts from relatives and friends.

Entertainment for the long sentence men is provided on various occasions during the year, when prison chaplains arrange concerts. These occasions result in a great display of selflessness, when "Uncle George" Hardman of 4BH and a number of other kindly thinking people give of their own time to entertain the prisoners. Naturally it gives a visitor a thrill to know there are people willing to give in such a cause, but at the same time, that visitor's main interest is centred on the men gathered for one of these concerts. Seated on forms in two long rows beneath the verandah awning of the cook house are the men, some murderers, some thieves, all with crimes against their fellow beings. Not more than 30 feet away across a lawn on chairs beneath the awning of the officers' mess sit the visitors and entertainers. 


The Uncrossable Gulf
BY appearances all gathered might be people free in every sense of the word, listening to the performers. But although only 30 feet separate each of these men from being on the “right side," in reality it is almost a vast uncrossable gulf. It is this metaphorical gulf which controls the visitor's thoughts at first. Then as the programme continues and one’s interest is naturally reverting to the picture unfolded, one must have feelings of steel if they don't experience some slight pang for these men who have wandered from the right path.

Moreover, to watch them some their faces glowing with pleasure, their eyes dancing and happy smiles upon their faces as a light number is offered; then downcast eyes and a placid look upon their whole countenances as a tune with a touch of pathos in it is rendered: while to the right another gazing reverently in front of him with a look of anguish on his face as the plaintive strains of "Mary Rose" fall upon his ears, it is all so hard to realise that they were capable of committing offences beyond the realms of good society.

This feeling persists and one's thoughts continue to run on in similar channels; where they might end their chaotic rush is probably unknown; then a plane overhead causes all eyes to lift skywards and with it comes grim reality with its facts cold and stern, that the law has been carried out and these men are paying for the infamy of their deeds. The concert over, three cheers are given for those who presented it… the men fall into line and march away, later to answer the last roll call of the day and then enter their cells for the night. For the men night has begun, the completion of which brings them one step nearer the end of their sentence. The visitor bids officials good-bye, the steel door closes behind him, and he breathes the air - the same air - but as of a different world.'


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