We Will Not Cease
The terrace jail was a survival—and there are many such in the world—from the days when security, lack of light and lack of air, seemed to be the main things aimed at in building a prison. High outer walls successfully cutting off sunlight and view from the yards. Then more walls, still further preventing the admission of light to the small barred windows in the cells. The Terrace jail has now been pulled down, but as far as New Zealand is concerned, Mt. Eden jail in Auckland still remains, of very much the same type and housing hundreds of men within its walls. Of country prisons in New Zealand I cannot speak, for I have had no experience of them.
We were marched in through the main gates to the reception office, where our escort formally delivered us over to the prison authorities. Several warders were present and one stern-looking individual in blue, the Chief Warder, an old army man.
‘Are you men New Zealanders?’ he asked us.
‘We are,’ I answered.
‘Then I wonder you're not ashamed to look a New Zealander in the face.’
‘I am not ashamed of looking anyone in the face,’ I was beginning, when he silenced me with a roar of ‘Shut your mouth! No back-chat from you!’ and I had to submit. I had begun to realize that one need not expect to be treated as a human being here. Our particulars were taken. I said I did not belong to any organized Church and I did not notice at the time what they put down for me under the heading of page 24 religion. Next, an official seized me by the arm, and pulled me roughly over to a table. Holding my hand down, he pressed each finger with considerable force and weight, so that I felt as if the bones were being crushed, on to a sheet of some white substance. He did the same with the other hand and dusted the results with a black powder. Whereupon the finger-prints sprang clearly into view.
‘By jove,’ I said, ‘that's pretty hot. They're actually taking our finger-prints!’
‘Will you shut your mouth!’ shouted the warder.
We were herded into an adjoining room where we were stripped to the skin. We were weighed and scrutinized for body marks, which were noted down where there were any. I believe that a prisoner on reception has usually to take a bath, but as we had come straight from another prison our cleanliness was presumably taken for granted. Our own clothes were taken away, every object in the pockets being carefully examined, noted, and put away, to be returned to us intact when we went out. We then put on the prison clothing; woollen underclothing, quite good of its kind, and outer garments, shapeless, ill-fitting and badly patched in many places, consisting of a brownish coat and white trousers, plentifully bespattered with broad arrows. The boots, too, were shapeless and hardly to be recognized as boots. We wore, whenever we were outside our cells, a white cloth cap just as shapeless as the clothes and the boots. The others, especially Jack, who put on an air of ferocity befitting the occasion, looked typical criminals. I could not see myself, perhaps fortunately, for I don't doubt I looked even worse. It is astonishing the difference that clothes and a haircut can make. A few minutes before, we had been ordinary citizens, unnoticeable in any particular. Now anyone would have picked us as belonging unmistakably to the criminal class.
We were marched along, clumping in our clumsy boots, through corridors and doorways, till we came to a hall in the main building, flanked by cells on either side. Here we were each locked in a cell. I had had some experience of cells in the preceding month, but this was infinitely worse than anything page 25 I had known. To begin with, the door was always shut with a resounding slam and locked with a great clashing of keys, producing a sense of the inexorableness of the grasp in which one was held. The cell itself, narrow, dank and airless, gave me a feeling of physical oppression. The building was so large, the cell so small, that the walls seemed to be closing in upon one. The window, tiny, high up and closely barred, gave upon a wall; consequently so little light found its way into the cell that it was hardly possible to read at midday. It contained a straw mattress, up-ended against the wall, and blankets folded neatly, a pillow, a stool, a shelf, a tin basin, and a tin chamber-pot. I had not been long in the cell when the door was opened with more clashing of keys and dinner brought round by prisoner orderlies, escorted by a warder. It consisted of stew with vegetables and potatoes, quite wholesome. When we were taken out into the yard a little later, Jack whispered to me: ‘Well, the dinner wasn't too bad, anyway. Perhaps things won't be so bad here, after all.’
The exercise yard was surrounded by high brick walls. On the roof was a pagoda-like structure, built to shelter the armed warder, who, from his position, could command the whole of the yard. For the first part of the exercise period the prisoners mingled together and talked indiscriminately amongst themselves; but on a given signal from the warder in charge, they formed into pairs and marched around and round the ring. At the side of the yard stood a row of w.c.s. Anyone wishing to use them—and one was supposed to train oneself to do so at this time—shouted ‘Rear!’ An interchange of shouts with the warder generally followed, depending on whether there was an unoccupied cubicle or not. In time we became quite accustomed to this public performance.
We were brought back and locked in our cells again. Soon afterwards, tea was brought round. It consisted, invariably, of a twelve-ounce loaf of new bread which had to last till the same time the following day, and a cup of nauseating bluish liquid without milk. It was bitter stuff, but one got used to it in time to a certain extent, for it had the one advantage of being hot. Nothing else. It required a considerable exercise of selfcontrol page 26 not to demolish the whole of the very moderately-sized loaf at one go and leave nothing for breakfast. I noticed that the knife with which we were provided was of soft tin. This and the prohibition of razors, was supposed to prevent the possibility of suicide. One could be shaved by the prison barber; but the experience of being shaved in cold water with a blunt razor, by a prisoner who didn't care how he did the job, was so unpleasant that I only went for a shave when I was compelled to. As was to be expected under the circumstances, the shave was not a clean one, the stubble showing as soon as one left the barber's hands.
The tea, so-called, though I got used to it later, I felt that first time I could not touch. So, my cell door having been left open, I ventured out into the hall to get some water from the tap. An angry warder caught me just as I was drinking the first mouthful. ‘What are you doing out here? Get back to your cell!’
‘I only came out for a drink of water. I don't like the tea.’
‘Drink what you're given; you'll get nothing else, you understand that you don't come out of your cell unless you're told to.’
We were locked up for the night. One could read, if one had a book, which I at first had not, until lights were turned out at nine. Otherwise there was nothing to do but sit and think or pace up and down between the door and the end wall, three paces up, three down, until it was time to go to bed. Sometimes there was a click, and the spy-hole shutter, operated from the outside, would open. If all was in order, as it usually was, the shutter clicked back into place and the warder's slippered feet passed on. I have known him to look in upon me three or four times in one half-hour, sure that he would at last catch me in some breach of the regulations. One night, to create a little diversion in the wearing monotony of those long evening hours, when I heard my neighbour's shutter click. I placed myself up against the door where I was out of sight from the spy-hole.
‘Where are you, Baxter?’ shouted the warder and, hastily unlocking the door, he threw it open, appearing in the door page 27 way in great agitation. He was plainly relieved at the sight of me. ‘What do you mean, standing where I can't see you? Don't you know you're not allowed to do that?’
‘Is that another regulation?’ I asked. ‘I thought at least I had the freedom of the cell.’
‘You'll get something you won't like.’ he said, and slammed the door.
Those regulations! As every prisoner had to obey them it seemed only reasonable that there should be a copy in every cell. Far from it. We were not even allowed to read the copy pasted up in the hall. I tried to, but was driven away every time by the warder in charge. ‘No loitering in the passages.’ Finally, but starting every time where I had left off the time before. I managed to commit most of the printed form to memory. I don't know why there should be this objection to the prisoners knowing the regulations. Possibly because the warders are afraid of being held too strictly to them themselves.
That first night, when I started to go to bed, I found I had struck one of the worst things in my prison experience. No sheets, no pillowcase; only blankets, hard and brittle with age and much baking, and foul-smelling beyond belief. The pillow was a greasy, filthy bit of ticking, filled with small hard pellets of what appeared to be metal of some sort. I never found out what they were. The blankets were too old and hard to have much warmth in them. They were baked to destroy germs and lice, but the knowledge that the dirt and the odour were hygienic did not help me much that first night. In time I seemed to get accustomed to them. Or perhaps it was that I never struck anything quite so bad as those first ones.
Often during the night—and during all the nights I passed in prison—the silence was broken by horrible, long-drawn howls, expressive of pent-up misery, bitterness, hate. The warders rushed about, trying to locate the culprit. But they seldom succeeded. Such sounds echoing and re-echoing as they did were exceedingly difficult to trace to their source.
In the morning I was roused early, washed in the basin provided and emptied the dirty water into the chamber-pot. Shortly after, the door was unlocked, and I had to empty my page 28 slops into the tin brought round by the orderlies. The door was locked again, to be opened not long afterwards for breakfast.
A cupful of thin, watery porridge without milk or sugar and often without salt, the unappetizing tea, and whatever one had been able to preserve of the bread from the night before. Breakfast and tea never varied. For dinner one might sometimes have rice instead of potatoes. The entire absence of fat in the dietary resulted, on my part, in an abnormal craving for any kind of fat. At the same time the smell of the stuff that was used for greasing the boots made me sick, though I have known men to eat it. If the absence of fat in the diet had such an effect on me, what must it have had on men with long sentences? In some cases long-sentence men reached a stage when the prison allowance was more than they could eat, and I have seen bread lying uneaten in their cells after they had gone out. This implies, not an excessive allowance of food, but an unhealthy condition of body and mind. Most of the men who had been any length of time in the prison had a yellowish pallor as if they had been reared under a tub. There was no outdoor work in the Terrace. Breakfast over, a prisoner, brought in by the warder, gave me a demonstration of the proper way to fold my blankets, in a sort of symmetrical cascade, with the stripes running exactly in sequence. Then I had to do it in the same way, with the warder standing over me and shouting at me if I failed in any particular. Afterwards he gave me cloths and polish and told me to polish the steel of the stairway. I made what I considered a very fair job of it and went back to him.
‘I've finished it. Have I done it all right?’
‘Go on with your work,’ he said.
‘But I've finished all you told me to do.’
‘What does that matter? Get on with your work and don't stand talking to me.’
‘Do you mean to say that I've got to go on doing what I've already done?’
‘That's part of the punishment,’ he said.
That conversation has always remained in my mind as typifying page 29 the attitude of those who run our prison system. The authorities looked upon prison as punitive and still do, in spite of minor alterations for the better since that time, such as the abolition of broad arrows, the addition of golden syrup and a small quantity of dripping in the dietary (and I am told if you have golden syrup you can't have dripping and vice versa) and an increase in the amount of bread. Such being the system, it is impossible for the warders who carry it out to do anything but rule by fear and be ruled themselves by fear, fear of their charges and fear of spying and reporting which prevails among the staff.
On the second evening, I was put into another cell in a different part of the building. This cell had a drainpipe in a corner, covered with a grating, and a hammock instead of a mattress. Not being accustomed to hammocks, I put all the blankets on top of me as the night was cold. During the night I awoke with my back like a sheet of ice and found that the drainpipe was directing a shaft of cold air right onto it. It put blankets underneath, but, as it turned out, I was already too late. Towards the evening of the next day I felt hot and at the same time shivered, and my back ached. During the night I grew worse and in the morning when I tried to rise. I was too sick and giddy to stand and had to get back into the hammock. After a while the warder came in.
‘Come on, you've got to get up.’
‘I can't. I'm too ill.’
‘Well, I don't know what to do about it,’ he said. ‘I'd better go and see.’
He returned with the information that he supposed I'd better stay there. Then he went out, slamming and locking the door behind him. For days I lay there without attention of any kind, wretchedly ill, in the extreme of physical and mental misery. I would see the walls closing in on me and fight them off desperately. They would melt away and I would swing right out into space. When my head was clear enough for me to be aware of my condition and surroundings, I was even worse off. The pain in my back was frightful. I was constantly sick, and I was forced at frequent intervals to pass, with excruciating page 30 pain, a small quantity of blood and pus. I was very thirsty, but there was only the tea to drink and that I could not touch. The ordinary prison meals were put in at regular intervals and removed untouched. Occasionally one of the warders came in and I asked tor a doctor, but in vain. One of them looked at the contents of the tin.
‘What's all this blood and stuff?’ he asked.
‘That's my urine.’
‘By jove, you're in a bad way.’
But nothing was done for me.
After five or six days the fever left me, though the other symptoms remained, and I managed to take a little porridge. The warder came in and ordered me to get up and accompany him.
‘You're going before the doctor,’ he said.
I went with him, hardly able to keep on my legs from weakness, and bent with the pain in my back, but buoyed up with the hope that I should now get some treatment. In the office were the stern Chief Warder, a man in civilian clothes sitting at the other side of the room looking at papers, and the doctor who had examined me at the Barracks.
The Chief Warder followed me into the passage and shouted at me: ‘Stand up straight and walk properly! None of that slouching! We don't allow it here!’
I was too utterly crushed to attempt to defend myself. Completely in the hands of men who were determined to show me neither justice nor mercy. I saw not one ray of hope. The warder took me back to the hall outside my cell and told me to scrub the floor.
‘I can't,’ I said. ‘It's not that I'm not willing to. I really can't.’
‘I know that,’ he answered, ‘but I can't let you off. I'll have to report you to the Governor for refusing to work.’
I wondered what would happen. I would be punished, I supposed, and how was I going to stand punishment in such a condition?
When he took me, later, back to the office, the doctor had gone; only the man in civilian clothes was there and with him page 31 the Chief Warder. The warder who had brought me made his report, and finished up with: ‘He looks a pretty sick man to me, sir.’
‘And to me too,’ said the Governor. ‘Give him a spell for a few days and then we can see.’
Only a few words, but they were spoken kindly, and they made all the difference to me. I went back to my cell a different being, with faith and hope and strength for the future springing up anew.
Health came slowly back and in those days of complete idleness I had plenty of opportunity for thinking matters over. What would happen to me I could not foretell, but that the path before me would not be an easy one, I had very little doubt. Come what might, I hoped I would be given the strength to go through with it
It was Easter time. On the Sunday, a Catholic choir came into the prison and sang. The hymns of joy and aspiration floating through that abode of misery, seemed to me, lying in my cell, like angel voices, and my spirit was lifted up above pain and weakness to union with all the aspirations and ideals of man at one in God.
A few days later the warder asked me if I felt up to a little work.
‘Do just as much as you like,’ he said, ‘and no matter how little it is, I won't say anything.’
After my illness most of the warders showed me what little kindness they could, which was not much, as the seniors spied on the juniors and the juniors on one another, and they all knew that the discovery of the slightest leniency towards a prisoner meant a report. Hence anything in the way of kindness or friendliness had to be clandestine.
It was very little I could do at first, but gradually my strength came back. The Governor, passing on his rounds, stopped and spoke to me. ‘How are you getting on, Baxter? Feeling better?’
‘I'm very much better, thank you.’
‘You're not finding the work too hard?’
‘No, not now.’page 32
‘I'm very pleased to see you better and getting on all right.’ he said. ‘You had a rough time, but I did my best for you and I hope you will soon be quite well.’
He spoke as man to man and not as jailer to prisoner. He made me feel an ordinary human being with an individuality again, a feeling one is apt to lose in the routine of prison. Moreover, seeing and talking to a man who was not in uniform was a relief to the eye and the mind.
I thoroughly served my apprenticeship in scrubbing and cleaning. I scrubbed cells, corridors, and halls. Every day I soaked and scrubbed the boards I had soaked and scrubbed the day before. The cells in that damp sunless place never got a chance to dry properly from one day to another. If by any chance the boards did look dry by the afternoon when the Chief Warder made his rounds, this was regarded as proving that they had not been properly cleaned, and I was told to use more water. I protested at the futility of it and the un-wholesomeness, but of course fruitlessly.
Scrubbing out the next cell to mine I found it less damp and rather better lighted, owing to its position, than the one I inhabited. Moreover, it had a mattress instead of a hammock which I though would be of an advantage to me with my sore back. As a matter of fact the mattress needed airing; lying as they did on the floors that were never quite dry, they were all more or less damp all the time. I approached the warder with a suggestion that I should move into it as it was empty. He looked in and agreed that it was better. ‘Move in, and I'll say I told you to shift.’
When my card, giving my name and particulars, was shifted. I noticed that I was down as ‘agnostic’. ‘Who put that down?’ I asked the warder indignantly.
‘You must have given it in your particulars when you came in.’
‘I said I didn't belong to any organized Church. That's not to say I'm an agnostic. I'm not, and you can take that down.’
To my surprise he did so. Evidently one had the freedom of one's religion in prison. I asked him what he thought agnostic page 33 meant, and he said: ‘A man who doesn't believe in God or Devil.’
The space for religion remained a blank, but not for long. The following Sunday I was ordered to join the Catholic squad on its way to service.
‘But I'm not a Catholic.’
‘Yes, you are, it's on your card.’ And it was. My predecessor in the cell had been a Catholic, and the hymn book and book of devotions he had used were still on the shelf. I had found them very interesting and had objected to giving them up. Seeing this, the prison authorities, greatly worried about the blank on my card, had thankfully put down ‘Roman Catholic.’
Most of the political were labelled ‘agnostic’, as I found when I happened to be near their cells on the upper landing. They wore their own clothes, did no work, and exercised apart. It was not easy to obtain speech with them, since they came out of the yard before we went in, but occasionally I managed to snatch a few minutes. The political wheel has made a complete revolution in New Zealand since those days, and some of those men are now members of the Government.
Once I was fit again I did not find the work very hard, but some of the casuals, usually in for fourteen days for drunkenness or the like offences, had a rough time. The warders were always hard on newcomers, shouted at them, bullied them, and harassed them until they had them thoroughly cowed and amenable to the discipline of the place. The casuals never got beyond that first stage. They were often in a poor state of health, recovering from a drunken bout, or ‘without lawful means of support’ because they had neither the mental nor the physical stamina to do steady work. I did my best to show them the right way of doing things, and they were very grateful for the assistance, but they found that they were still shouted at and bullied, no matter what they did or how hard they tried to do things the right way. There were some who took it quite calmly.
‘Put some elbow grease into it,’ a warder said to one of them.page 34
‘I'm doing my best,’ he replied. ‘A man can't do any more, can he?’
‘Use your holystone.’ said the warder.
‘You've got me,’ he said with a resigned air of bewilderment, sitting back with a scrubbing brush in his hand.
One poor old wreck roused my sympathy. He had got fourteen days for sleeping in a shed on his way into the country, having been warned to clear out of the town within twenty-four hours. He was manifestly unequal to the task he had to perform, and, having finished the job I was on, I offered to do it for him. He leaned against the wall, while I scrubbed, and we talked. Unfortunately we neglected to keep a look out and the warder eaught us. He directed a stream of abuse at the old man, who seized his brush in terror. I explained that it was my fault, that I had offered to do it for him.
‘He knows right enough what he's not allowed to do,’ said the warder.
The last I saw of the old man, he was scrubbing for dear life under the eye of the angry warder.
I came to know a good many of the other prisoners at work and on exercise. An old Scotchman, whose books had failed to pass muster at the time of his bankruptcy, warned me on no account to ask anyone what he was in for.
‘You'll get something frightful if you do,’ he said, ‘and often not the truth at all.’
Nevertheless, I heard a good many unsolicited stories. Several told me they were innocent of the crimes they had been sentenced for, and in some cases I found it hard not to believe them. One man in particular was very convincing. He had had a shop, and one day the small child of a customer, known to him, wandered into the shop. He took her hand to lead her to her home, only a short distance away. On the way they met two women who recognized the child, and said that he was taking her to a vacant section across the street and only turned back when he saw them. They afterwards admitted that he hadn't even left the pavement to cross the street when they first page 35 saw him. But the police searched his premises and found some indecent postcards, and that, he said, finished him.
‘I haven't led a good life,’ he said. ‘I haven't been right with women. I admit that. But touch a child! Me! Never! And the funny thing was, the judge was on my side. He said he didn't understand how the jury could have convicted on the evidence, and he gave me a light sentence, only nine months, and here I am.’
Some, on the other hand, were quite ready to admit their crimes and their interest centred on their own sentences and the crimes and sentences of others. One remarkable-looking individual with one eye was awaiting trial for robbery with violence. He had held up a man in the street with a revolver.
‘The revolver was no good,’ he said, ‘and wouldn't shoot. But he wasn't to know that. Didn't John Fat flinch and tremble when I pointed it at him! It was worth my sentence to see his jaw drop.’
He asked me what sentence I thought he'd get.
‘Judging by other cases,’ I said. ‘I should think you'd get ten years.’
‘I think it'll be fourteen,’ he said. ‘Threatening to shoot; they always give it hot for that.’
A man came into the yard after his sentence had been pronounced, and burst into tears.
‘Four bloody years,’ he wailed over and over again. ‘Four bloody years.’
The others were angry at this fuss; they had worries enough of their own.
‘What's four years?’ they said. ‘You ought to do it on your head.’
The savage sentences that were given a few decades ago are fortunately no longer so common. There were men in the Terrace doing as much as fourteen years for certain offences, such as homosexuality. That there was also a certain amount of it in prison, I believe, but not nearly as much as the warders suspected.
One day I was placed by the warder just round the corner from the bathroom, to await my turn in the bath. He went page 36 away for a moment and the man ahead of me called out: ‘You can come in now; I'm ready.’
I went to the door and found him just finishing dressing. The warder came rushing back.
‘What do you mean, going away from where I put you! Don't you know two men are not allowed in the bathroom together?’
‘How can you expect me to obey the regulations when you won't let me read them?’ I asked.
But he stormed on. ‘I could put you up for this. Going into the bathroom when there's another man there is counted as being taken in the act.’
I was thoroughly sickened and disgusted.
‘What's all this fuss about two men being together in the bathroom?’ I asked the other prisoners.
‘Just because there are one or two crazy men here.’ they said, ‘the rest of us decent chaps have to put up with treatment like that. That screw's had trouble when he's been in charge. so he's always on the look out for it.’
In the large majority of cases such precautions were not justified, and their application to everyone resulted in a lowering of self-respect.
We were always searched when we came in from exercise. The coat was handed to the warder, who looked through it, then ran his hands over one's body. One evening, as we came in, four names were called out in my section, my own amongst them. Each man of the four, as he came to his cell door, remained standing beside it instead of going in. When my turn came I stood in the doorway and removed my clothes until I was stark naked, throwing each article one by one to the warder waiting in the corridor. He went through them carefully. Then he came into the cell.
‘Open your mouth. Raise your arms. That'll do. Now lean forward and spread your legs.’
He passed round behind me. When I realized what he was doing I said: ‘That's a pretty disgusting thing to put on to a man.’
‘Yes, it is,’ he replied, unexpectedly, ‘and I hate doing it to page 37 a man like you. I won't do it to you again if I can help it. Don't think that any of us like it. We all hate doing it.’
‘I'm sure you do,’ I said.
The next time my name was called he kept his word, and when he came into the cell, merely stood in front of me for a moment with a smile, then went out.
The senior warder in charge immediately shouted: ‘You haven't searched that man properly! You haven't had time.’
He came into the cell. ‘Did he search you properly?’ he asked.
‘Certainly,’ I said
‘I don't believe either of you,’ he remarked, with some justification. ‘This time I'll let it pass, but you won't get away with it again.’
When the next time came I had to stand in the doorway of the cell while the warder examined me under the eyes of his superior.
‘He beat you that time,’ I remarked to him afterwards.
‘No damn fear,’ he said. ‘I kept my eyes shut.’
Many of the prisoners complained of a lack of sex feeling. One would have thought this would have been an advantage, in a place where they saw no woman from year's end to year's end; but they strongly resented it and were unanimous in putting it down to dope in the tea Nothing could shake this conviction. ‘I know them,’ they'd say, with the queer over-excitement characteristic of them, resulting, partly at least, from the constant repression, and certainly the strange appearance and taste of the tea lent some colour to the theory.
They were full of theories, always to do with prison life or police-court proceedings that were so closely connected with it. One man told me that when autumn came and the prison gardens all over the country needed expert manuring and treatment, a number of Chinese were always rounded up and given long enough sentences to enable the work to be done.
‘No nonsense about it,’ he said when I laughed, ‘and it's coming close to the time now, you'll see.’
Strangely enough. about ten days later, several Chinese appeared in the prison.page 38
The interests of the men, naturally enough, centred round the petty gossip of the prison. They had nothing else to occupy their minds or to break the monotony of existence. Completely cut off from ordinary life and doing everything under orders and nothing that was not ordered, all initiative was slowly sapped, even in thought. Nothing was done to encourage them to organize amongst themselves for concerts or games. Now, I believe, interested people from outside give concerts and lectures at intervals, and others start men on suitable courses of study, providing the necessary books for them. But even now, I do not think there is any organization for recreation within the prison. Not in Mt. Eden at any rate. When I was in the Terrace little or no interest was taken in the prisoners by the outside world, and of recreation they had absolutely none. Many of them were not readers and could not concentrate on a book for any length of time. They had no guidance in the choice of books. The library was a poor one and the librarian was chosen, not for his knowledge of books, but for his smartness in patching and re-covering them. It was small wonder that in the dreary monotony of their life the prisoners found amusement in childish and petty behaviour. The making of obscene noises was the favourite diversion, rendered all the more exciting by the notice the warders took of it. I attended the Anglican service one Sunday, after having extracted an assurance that I would not be compelled to attend it every Sunday thereafter if I did not wish to. An aged clergyman conducted the service, and preached a sermon as far removed from the needs and difficulties of his congregation as anything could well be. A loud, explosive noise was heard. The warders rushed at a man a few places from me and dragged him out of the chapel, amid lcud shouts from him of ‘I didn't do it, you've got the wrong man this time,’ and answering shouts from them of ‘Well, tell us who did it, then.’ The aged clergyman took not the faintest notice and went serenely on with his sermon. It would have been better if the warders had done the same. We listened to the gradually receding bangs, thuds and shouts, which went on outside the door.page 39
‘And did they get the wrong man?’ I asked the others afterwards.
‘You bet they didn't; it was him all right. He's a champion at it!’
The same noise would also be heard after the men were locked in their cells for the night. It was not easy for the warders to trace it, and no doubt the champion got the blame, sometimes unjustly
I was told that punching and battering went on when men were being taken to the punishment cells. I never witnessed anything of the kind myself, but that is not to say it did not happen when men put up any resistance, as they sometimes did. To make a complaint against a warder was doomed to failure from the start. According to the regulations, which I did in the end manage to memorize, if a prisoner considered that an order given him by a warder was not justified, he was to obey the order immediately, but was allowed to make a complaint to the authoritiess If he failed to substantiate his complaint, he was deemed to have made a frivolous complaint, and he was punished. In actual fact, no prisoner could make anything but a frivolous complaint, as his word was never taken against a warder's and the only witnesses he could bring were prisoners too. The only successful complaint that I ever heard of was when, a little while before I arrived in the prison, nearly all the prisoners combined to complain of the staleness of the bread. Stale bread, when it has to be eaten dry as the sole article of food at a meal, is not very attractive. The consequence of this most unusual solidarity was that when I was there the bread arrived for tea damp and smoking. As it was usually consumed then and there its effect on the digestions of men who ate it every night for years on end and remained in their cells for the night afterwards, can hardly have been good. In prison one can hardly ever get the men to stand together for anything and it is this characteristic that makes it easy to rule by fear.
One night I was awakened by blood-curdling yells. I leapt out of bed before I realized that if there was a tragedy I was prevented by the locked door from doing anything. It was a page 40 terrific uproar. Stentorian shouts at the top of a powerful voice, of: ‘I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God!’ Then more yells and scufflings and bumpings and shouts from the warders. By this time I had come to the conclusion, which was correct, that it was a drunk in the D.T.s The sounds continued for some time, then gradually died away.
Next morning the warder called me out. I followed him along to the padded cell. Instead of the usual spy-hole in the door, it had a hole nearly large enough to admit a man's head. The principal warder in charge approached his face to the opening. Immediately the fist of the occupant shot out, catching him between the eyes and laying him on the broad of his back. There was a rush of warders to the door and the man was dragged out attired only in his shirt, a mass of filth from head to foot. They handcuffed him and ran him down the passage to the bathroom. I went into his cell.
‘Have I really got to clean this?’ I asked the warder. ‘Come and look.’
He stepped in. Walls, floor and even ceiling were plastered with filth. ‘Isn't it something awful! But it's got to be cleaned so you'll have to get on with it. You can get it off the ceiling with a mop.’
Several days later, passing by, I saw the man standing in the door of the padded cell, completely naked, catching lice.
‘Not enough light in there to see them,’ he remarked to me.
He was a good physical specimen, tall and well-built. His nakedness was not obtrusive as he was covered from head to foot with a fell of reddish silky hair. The card over his door stated: ‘Remanded for medical attention,’ and beneath that, ‘4s. 6d.’. I asked him: ‘Have you seen the doctor?’
‘No,’ he said.
I asked some of the others about it.
They said. ‘He may have had some dope shot into him the night he came in.’
The four and six, they told me, was the fee, at the rate of one and six a day. It would be added on to his fine when he went before the court. I have only his word and theirs for this.
* * *page 41
There were men in prison who were obviously mentally unbalanced, not just subnormal or mentally deficient, as quite a number were, but actually of unsound mind. In one case especially I was struck with the cruelty of keeping the man there in such a condition. He was a man of some education, had been a lawyer's clerk or something of the kind. He held forth continually on his wrongs and on the injustice of his case, using much legal phraseology. He was blind and I was told that in his anger and desperation he had destroyed his own eyesight. He was in a wretched condition, unable to feed himself properly or to keep himself or his cell clean. Even if the warders had had time or opportunity to help him, he fell into such a state of rage and excitement if they came near him that they usually left him to himself and to the filth that, unaided, he got into.
With the other prisoners he did not get on much better. Many of them were too full of their own miseries to take the trouble to show him friendliness, and there were some who teased and annoyed him, driving him to frenzy. He responded, however, to the least attempt at kindness or sympathy and would let me lead him in the yard and clean up his cell which was in a frightful mess as he spilt everything. The warders were thankful to find anyone who would attend to him and I was allowed to do what I could for him.
A man whom I had often seen in the streets, propelling himself in a wheelchair, was serving a sentence while I was in the Terrace. His legs were shrivelled and atrophied—quite useless. As he could not have his chair in prison he had to drag himself about on his hands and feet. His hands had hard pads from constant walking on them.
One day I saw clay on the floor of the passage I had lately scrubbed. This meant that someone had come over from Mt. Cook prison. The prisoners at the Terrace never had dirty boots. One of the other cleaners told me a man had just been brought over for punishment.
‘He's in that cell.’
I went over and looked through the spy-hole. The man was like some trapped wild animal, his eyes glaring, his whole page 42 appearance expressing desperation and defiance. I rattled the spy-hole shutter and whispered: ‘Got any tobacco?’
‘Too right, I would.’
He came up to the door, human again, his face relaxed from his fierce revolt. I got him a piece of tobacco from the library where I knew the librarian had a store secreted, and pushed it through the hole.
A few days later one of the warders called me from my work. ‘Come along; I've got a job for you; you're to come and talk to a man in the dummy. Wait a minute; I'd better search you; we don't want you to be taking him tobacco.’
The ceremony over, I asked him: ‘Do you always do this when a man's in the dummy?’
‘When he's in for fourteen days. We're not supposed to let him go the whole time without someone to talk to. He might go batty.’
We went down stairways until we were well below the level of the ground. The warder unlocked a door and we came into a small enclosed passage with a door opening into it.
‘This is where he takes his exercise,’ he said, unlocking the other door. ‘You go in here; I'll be back for you after a while,’ and he locked me in.
The punishment cell was a cement box, without a stick of furniture in it, nothing to sit on but the concrete floor. At night the inmate could get his blankets, but in the daytime he had nothing. There seemed to be no opening in it, but some sort of outlet to the passage there must have been, for there was sufficient light for me to make out the face of the occupant, who was the man I had given tobacco to a few days before. His defensive hostility melted almost immediately and he was soon pouring out all his bottled-up resentment against the injustice of his treatment. His sense of his wrongs prevented him from submitting quietly to jail discipline, and raised a whole host of new wrongs to fight against. He told me that he should not have been in jail at all. ‘I've not done anything different page 43 from what thousands of men like me do every day and nobody thinks of putting them in jail and I'm here.’
He had gone, he said, to a picnic with a girl who had taken him and other men too, many times before. They had gone away from the others. Suddenly, people, strangers, had come upon them. To save the situation for herself the girl had screamed and there was a great uproar.
‘Not that I blame the girl, mind you. She didn't mean to send me to jail, but once she'd told her story she had to stick to it. Up I went as high as a kite and got eighteen months for indecent assault.’
Coming to jail with a well-established grievance, the whole system had appeared to him as another grievance and he fought it all the time. He had had an argument with a warder at Mt, Cook.
‘I was in the right and the screw knew it, but d'you think he'd say so? Not him, and his word was taken against mine. so I threw down my shovel and here I am.’
I admired his pluck, but it seemed pretty hopeless and I said so. Most men were done after fourteen days on bread and water in the dummy, though even in the short time I was at the Terrace I knew a man who was not. He got another fourteen days on top of it. He was done then.
We argued over the pros and cons of fighting jail authorities on one's own. I didn't see that he could help his case by making things hard for himself in prison. It went rather against the grain to advise him to act expediently rather than on principle, but it seemed the best way out for him, and hadn't I done it to a certain extent? I was obeying orders in prison and I had come there on a military sentence. My illness had come on me before I had thought the matter out.
We talked till the opening door showed that time was up.
‘You've done me good,’ he said. ‘I'll think over what you said.’
Outside, the warder asked me: ‘How did you get on?’
‘All right; he seems a decent sort of chap.’
‘I wouldn't be left alone with him for a good deal,’ he said.
‘And yet you'd lock me in with him!’page 44
‘That's quite different. He wouldn't touch you.’
They ruled by fear and were afraid of the men they ruled. And yet those men who fought against the system were not always the worst, by any means. There was often more hope of the man whom the authorities would call ‘one of the worst men here’ than of the ‘good’ prisoner, who was often subnormal and who, obedient and well-behaved under orders, was quite incapable of looking after himself in the normal life of the community.
There were a number of prisoners on remand at the Terrace. They did not exercise with us but actually we had plenty of opportunity of mixing with them. Two boys, brothers, came in on a charge of stealing a sheep. The younger must have been fifteen, but he did not look more than twelve. In the daytime, when he was with his brother, he managed to stand up to it and keep a brave face to the world. But at night, locked up alone in his cell, his control gave way and he wailed and sobbed far into the night. The desolate sounds, echoing through the empty corridors, tore at the nerves of prisoners and warders alike.
‘What's the matter?’ a warder called through the door at the boy.
‘Oh, my heart is broken.’
‘Well, stop that noise or it'll be more than your heart'll be broken if I have to come in to you.’
He'd stop for a while and then break out again, uncontrollably.
Very different were three boys of about the same age, convicted of car conversion and on their way to Borstal. Bright-faced, high-spirited boys of a good type, they never allowed anyone to see them or hear them without the shield of pluck they held up, whatever lay behind it. The principal warder in our section read them a lecture, to which they listened respectfully. They were not to consider themselves criminals or to lose their self-respect. They were merely being sent to where they would be taught to behave. I wondered how they would fare in the Borstal. Would it be cells, warders and prison routine page 45 or would there really be a different system of development instead of repression?
One afternoon, on exercise, I saw Mark Briggs. I knew him, for I had had him pointed out to me when we were at the Barracks. He was walking in the second offenders' yard, barred off from us lest he should corrupt us on his return from Trentham with a second sentence of hard labour. With me in the first offenders' yard were men doing life for murder and men doing long sentences for crimes of violence and perversion. And Briggs might corrupt them! Red tape run riot! I managed to exchange a few words with him at the gap in the barrier.
‘Anyone who takes a second dose of this is a glutton,’ I said. I said.
‘Does that mean you'd throw it in rather than face a second go.’
I hastened to explain that I hadn't meant that at all, but was merely amused at seeing him in the second offenders' yard. He passed on to Mt. Cook and for the time being I saw him no more.
I was not anxious for the change to Mt. Cook, which, I supposed, would come when someone, perhaps the Governor, considered me fit for the work there. I had become accustomed to the routine at the Terrace and knew the worst that could happen to me there. Whereas Mt. Cook I didn't know and I had heard lurid accounts from prisoners sent over to the Terrace for punishment of the hard work over there, of a brick kiln in which you were baked alive and the soles of your boots curled up with the heat. I thought that, not being up to my usual strength. I might find the work too hard.
However, what I thought on the matter was not likely to affect the course of events. In due time I found myself sitting on the back of a lorry on my way to Mt. Cook. It was pleasant, anyway, to be out in the fresh air again and see hills and the harbour down below me and hear the ordinary street sounds, after having been completely cut off from them for weeks, although I could not help being self-conscious in my conspicuous attire. The thought of escape did not pass through page 46 my mind, for the driver never turned his head, and I could easily have slipped off when the lorry was going slowly; but the broad arrows would have put it out of the question, even if I had had any real thoughts of escaping, and I had not. I had made up my mind on that matter long before.
The lorry ran up to the gates of the prison, passing a group of men shovelling out clay from the hillside with an armed guard over them. I recognized several of them, my brothers amongst them.
The warder who received me said I must have another pair of boots; the ones I had worn at the Terrace were not strong enough for outside work. I tried on a pair.
‘No good. I'd go lame in five minutes in these.’
They brought me several pairs and I rejected them all. Finally, the warder took me up to the stores. Trying on all these boots had given me the illusion of being in a shoe shop, and it was with a distinct jar that I heard the warder say to the man in charge of the stores: ‘Here's a prisoner can't get fitted for boots. See if you can fix him up with a pair.’
A prisoner! Well, I knew I was, but I never felt like one, and as it happened in the Terrace I had always been referred to as ‘this man’ or ‘Baxter’.
I tried on pair after pair. Dreadful boots, impossible boots, all apparently made for men with feet as broad as they were long and mine are long and narrow. When I did get anything to fit in length there were inches to spare in width. Moreover, they were all out of shape and had bumps and ridges in the most unexpected places. At last they brought out a new pair and these I accepted in some triumph.
Next, I had an interview with Burrows, who was in charge of Mt. Cook. The two prisons were run in conjunction, under one superintendent.
Burrows was very reasonable. He asked me whether I looked on my sentence as military or civil. I said as it had been imposed by a court-martial, I would regard it as military.
‘That's so, but once you are handed over to the civil authorities, you are entirely in our hands. The military authorities have nothing more to do with you as long as you are here. So page 47 you won't object to working as it won't be under military orders.’
I saw that he had probably had trouble with the others and wished I could have spoken with them first, but that, of course, was what he wanted to prevent. I said that as I had worked at the Terrace I did not see that I could refuse to work now. He seemed relieved. He always endeavoured to avoid trouble, often compromising when another man might have been unyielding, in order that things might go smoothly. Offences against discipline were fairly common at Mt. Cook, and men were often sent over to the Terrace for punishment, but I don't think it was due to greater leniency. Most of the prisoners at Mt. Cook were short-sentence men, who as a rule were less amenable to discipline than the men who had been in prison longer, having retained some spirit. They looked much healthier than the men in the Terrace.
I found a considerable difference between the two prisons. The work, for one thing, was nearly all in the open air. I worked in a gang with my mates. The cells, owing to the fact that the building was of lighter structure, were much airier, and admitted more light, especially where we were, on the upper landing, on which the cells had skylights instead of windows. We washed in the hall instead of our cells, and, consequently, never had time to wash properly as the warder's whistle always went before we could possibly have finished and we had to stop immediately and go back to our cells. The bread ration was larger, sixteen ounces instead of twelve, and so was the meat ration.
There was one warder at Mt. Cook who thought my pride needed taking down a peg—my overweening pride that was such a trouble to officers in the army. At least a dozen times. I am sure, in the six weeks, he made me strip naked for search. He succeeded in making me very angry, but not in taking down my pride. I very nearly revolted, but only refrained because I had so little time to go.
When I joined my friends in the clay-cutting gang I was heartily welcomed. No one seemed to have hit on illness as the reason I had been left befind at the Terrace, and as I was page 48 by now pretty well again I don't think they believed there had been much the matter with me. Many of these men I had known at the Barracks. Some of them I met for the first time. My new boots came in for admiration and envy. Did I think they could get new ones too? I thought it very unlikely, since they had put up for weeks with the ones they had.
As I had thought, my brothers and Little had doubted when they first came over whether they should work in prison, but Burrows had explained to them carefully that they were entirely under civil control, and they had taken it on, though rather doubtfully.
The work was not hard for men accustomed to manual labour, and Jack and I, at least, soon found that we had to accommodate ourselves to a much slower pace than anything we had been accustomed to. Once we forgot ourselves and went on shovelling clay into the trucks with such vigour that the man who drove the trucks to the brick yard came back with a strongly worded message that we were to moderate our stroke; they couldn't keep up with what we were doing. Some of our lot, who were unused to work of that kind, didn't make a very good showing. One man, who had worked in a shop, used to get hold of a ridiculous little shovel that had somehow got amongst the others, which hardly lifted more than a spoonful of clay. The warder would say: ‘There's Hugh got that shovel again,’ and take it from him, but he nearly always managed to get it back.
I recognized several familiar faces amongst the civil prisoners. A Maori, who had been waiting his turn in the office when I had my memorable interview with the doctor, said to me with a friendly smile: ‘Glad to see you well again. When I see you last you just one inch from the peg hole.’
One of our group told me hair-raising tales of the crimes he had heard of since he had come to prison—crimes he had never known existed. He pointed out the Maori as having committed a particularly bestial crime. I said I didn't believe it. He was not that sort, and anyway, I had heard something quite different about him.
‘Who told you?’page 49
‘Did you ask him?’
He admitted he had. I said that that was what he could expect to get if he asked. They had feelings and would fire out that kind of thing as a sort of defence. But I don't think he believed me.
There were men there who had committed horrible crimes. There is a great deal of difference between crimes that are really horrible and crimes that are made to appear so by law. Words can hypnotize people. Nothing exemplifies this better than the phrase ‘Habitual Criminal’. It conjures up a picture of incorrigible rascality and marks out the possessor of its brand as a being of a different species from his fellows. Even amongst the prisoners this was the case. I have had a man pointed out to me.
“Do you see that man? He's just been declared an habitual criminal.’
As if the man in question had suddenly become something entirely different from themselves. And what does it really mean? That a man, convicted of an indictable offence a certain number of times, has been declared by the judge who tried his case to be an habitual criminal under the Act, the Dog Act. as it was called in prison. Some judges would frequently make use of the act, others never at all. Having been declared an H.C., a man could be and often was, upon the expiry of his definite sentence, detained in prison until the Prisons Board, which as a general rule means the jail officials, saw fit to release him. And even then the brand is still upon the man, and the indefinite sentence can come into operation again if he is reconvicted, the judge of course being aware of it, and the jury too, in many cases, with the result that a conviction is certain on the sketchiest evidence. Men have no right of appeal against that sentence, no means of breaking out of the trap that holds them.
The habitual criminals I knew in prison were filled with bitterness and despair at the hopelessness of ever freeing themselves or being freed from the grasp of the Act. I was particularly sorry for one man. A kind-hearted, decent little chap, page 50 his trouble was drink, and he had frequent convictions for using obscene language when silly with it. For this he had been declared an H.C. and was being held for an indefinite period in prison.
He said to me: ‘You've been one of us; you know the life we lead here, better than anyone outside can ever know it. Do something for us when you get out. People will listen to you. They won't listen to us. Try to get the H.C. Act altered. We're helpless and can do nothing for ourselves. Don't forget us.’
I have not forgotten them, but my influence on the legislators of the country has been negative rather than positive and I can only work indirectly by influencing others.
Often men worked themselves into a state of nervous excitement at the prospect of approaching release. One unfortunate man, who was to be released in three months time, became so worked up about it that he could bear it no longer and, the opportunity offering, he escaped. We could see him for a long time running up the road that led to the hills, his clothes making him a conspicuous mark. Recapture was inevitable and in a short time he was back amongst us with a year to serve instead of three months
All prisoners, at the conclusion of the first three months of their sentences, were allowed to smoke on exercise. But we, having only a three months sentence to serve, were not allowed to smoke at all. Many of our gang were not smokers and the deprivation meant nothing to them. Though I was only a light smoker when I came to prison. I found the craving much stronger than it had ever been before and very hard to withstand. A tobacco allowance was sometimes put into my cell by mistake and as I couldn't smoke it I chewed it, as most of the other prisoners did, for their time for legitimate smoking was short. Sometimes I, and others too, risked smoking in my cell. It was a big risk, of course. One night I had just lit up, when there was a shout of ‘Someone smoking!’ in the passage. I hurriedly put it out, hid it and waited for my door to open. It did not, but some other unfortunate's did, and I heard him being removed from his cell with the usual accompanying din. But attempts at smoking were necessarily few and far between.page 51
I chewed and the habit called down many rebukes from my fellow-objectors. What filthy habits I had picked up in jail!
We talked together on exercise and we talked at work, too. within limits, and in my opinion we talked far too much on the everlasting subject of what would be done with us. Our business was to stand out against military service, come what might.
The consequence did not concern us and endless speculations on them did no good. But that fact did not stop the speculations.