One tends to forget that the cultural left's long march through the institutions began with the Home Office and the Prison Service as far back as the 50s and 60s. Education and social services fell later (corporal punishment in schools was only outlawed in 1982 by a nominally Conservative government, led by a former Education Minister who abolished more grammars than Crosland ever did), medicine later still.
Written in the late 60s, Tony Parker's "The Frying Pan" is a series of interviews with staff and prisoners at Britain's only 'therapeutic' prison, Grendon Underwood. Parker was another middle class grammar school boy fascinated by the rough end of life, but a fine writer.
The portrait of Grendon takes in all sorts and conditions of prisoners and do-gooders. The chapter 'The Wicked Uncle' features the one person at Grendon who's prepared to say the whole thing is a waste of time and effort, and is wonderfully illuminating on the changing Prison Service culture. Here are a few chunks. At the time of these interviews £20 a week or £1,000 a year would have been an average wage.
"I am what is known as a discipline officer, sir, as distinct from hospital officer. That is a man of the same rank as myself but he's been on a three-months' training course at Wormwood Scrubs or another prison hospital, in which he learned how to give-out medicines and empty bed-pans. That qualifies him for an extra twenty-two shillings a week on his salary, but not my mind for all the airs and graces as well which most of them assume.
The reason that half the staff here are hospital officers is they applied for training as such after they arrived at Grendon, knowing it was the correct procedure to match in with the image of the place. Band-waggoning if you want my candid opinion, sir. They know this is the shape of things to come in the penal system, and if they want to stay here and earn promotion they must go along with the official attitude as well as having the right coloured eyes.
The prisoners'll tell you this is the easiest nick in the country, and so it is - and not only for the prisoners, sir. There's a good seventy percent of the officers here who've got nothing to do all day except stand around. You look out of the window of that little room of yours any day of the week - and you'll see a hospital officer in charge of a gardens party. If that isn't a farce, sir, then I don't know what is. 'Over-staffed' wouldn't even begin to describe it, sir. There's ninety-seven officers for a hundred and fifty prisoners, which to my mind is a crying scandal, considering the shortage of staff in every other prison you'd care to name.
Whenever we get the wire there's someone coming down from Head Office on an inspection, we're all told to find ourselves things to do which make it look as though we're busy. I've known officers been instructed to keep themselves out of sight on such occasions, when there's literally nothing that can be found for them to do at all. I've been told it myself; so what have I done, I've gone over to the canteen at eleven o'clock in the morning to drink tea, and found thirty other officers there all detailed to do exactly the same. When I was in Brixton or Pentonville there was many a day when you didn't even have time for a piss from morning till night, sir, and that's a fact."
"... all this about Jones swearing at me because he'd had a letter which had upset him from his daughter. I'm not interested in that: if a prisoner swears at an officer, it's an offence against good order and discipline - or at least it is in any proper prison as I understand it. The man should be put on report and punished for it. But not here, oh no: I have to stand there and let myself be called 'a lousy fucking bastard' to my face, by some slag I wouldn't even let sleep in my tool-shed at the bottom of the garden. And what do I have to do ? Stand there and pat him on the head, that's all.
I haven't put anyone on report f6r over a year now, I've learned my lesson: it's no use. They can swear their heads off all day for all I care. You'll notice they only swear at the screws though: let the Governor or the Deputy Governor come down on the Wing, and it's 'Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir' all the time. If they can't swear at them, then why can they swear at us ? But my God, if an officer swears at a prisoner, then there's hell to pay all right.
There's a few of them, I think 'Just you wait me lad, I'll get you one day, and when you're least expecting it too. I'll catch you with the edge of that cell-door of yours sometime when you're in the right position.' Of course I shall be very apologetic about it afterwards: 'Oh, I am sorry Johnny, real clumsy that was; are you all right, shall I take you down to the hospital for a sticking-plaster on your nose ? Here have a fag lad, will I go and make you a cup of tea while you sit down and recover ?'
It makes me sick, the hypocrisy of this place. These men in here, officially everyone's supposed to talk about them as 'inmates' or 'patients'. To me sir, they're not patients, they're criminals. They're convicted felons who've committed an offence, been given a fair trial according to the laws of the country, and been sent to prison quite rightly as a punishment. I agree with all that business about them being sent as a punishment and not for punishment: I don’t believe they should be mishandled or knocked-about or ill-treated while they're inside, not unless they're the ones who start any trouble themselves.
But I do think they should be treated firmly, and while they’re here they should do exactly as they’re told. They know they haven't got the same rights as ordinary citizens outside; their liberty's restricted, they can't indulge in business, or vote, or any of those things. And that's quite right: they've offended against society, and the Judge in his wisdom has sent them to prison for it. One of the penalties of prison is that you're not a free agent any longer: that's exactly why-we have prisons.
To give them the idea when they get here that they're important, their only trouble is they're misunderstood, they need sympathy: well to me, quite frankly that just seems ridiculous. They get more attention paid to them here, more mollycoddling, more listening-to than they’ve ever had in their whole lives outside. It makes them feel, it can't help it, that they're not really bad people at all; it's everyone else outside who's wrong, not them.
Thirty-four pounds a week I understand it costs to keep a man here: thirty-four pounds a week, of your money and mine, poured straight down the drain to look after some layabout who's never done an honest day's work in his life. There's men in here doing five years for £20,000 robberies--which if my arithmetic's correct is four thousand pounds a year. I'll tell you, for four thousand quid a year I'd do five years myself in Dartmoor and think it was worth it. But five years in a place like this, good God sir, it's a rest-cure and a bonus on top as well. It's nothing more or less than a pantomime. Well, there's got to he a few Wicked Uncles in fairyland hasn't there ? I certainly don't mind being one of them.
But don't think I'm the only odd-man out here because I'm not. Ask them up in the Administration Block if they'll tell you how many officers have applied for transfers to leave here in the last few years. It's the thick-end of ninety since I came, and that's well over two- thirds of the uniform staff. So it can't he one big happy family, can it ? Of course staff don't give the real reason why they want a transfer, that'd be very unwise; they'd no more put it down in writing or tell anyone anymore than I do myself with my own applications. We all know Grendon's the prison of the future; loving and understanding and getting to know the prisoners is now official policy, not only of the Home Office but of the Prison Officers' Association as well. If you say you don't approve of it, down it'll go in your record; and when you come up for consideration for promotion, you'll find you've been unaccountably passed by.
So what you say is 'My wife's unhappy living out here in the country, she prefers the town life,' or 'All our relatives are up in the north, we'd like to move somewhere in that direction.' When you're really stuck for an excuse, a very good one indeed, which can gain you a bit of credit too, is 'I'd like to move on from here and put into practice some of the valuable things I've learned. The more these ideas are spread around through other prisons the better.'
Sometimes those up at the top'll scratch their heads, they'll say to themselves 'Why the hell are so many people going, what's the matter with everyone ?' They go around asking other members of the staff. Well, you've heard about a code among thieves sir, I suppose; but there's an equally strong one among prison officers. They know perfectly well what the real reason is for a man putting-in for a transfer; but when the big-wigs ask them, they come out good and pat with the answers: 'I understand his wife doesn't like it here, sir'; 'He's a good man, sir, he wants to broaden his own experience.' There's not one of them brave enough to tell the truth - or stupid enough for that matter - to come out with it straight from the shoulder, especially as they know it'd spoil the man's future career ...
Only what really a gets my goat sir is this: the only two kinds of people who don't do a full-time job are the doctors because they speak in posh accents and think they're above the hoi-polloi like us - though any other doctor, so far as I'm aware, if he works in a hospital is on call any hour of the day or night to attend to patients who need him, and if he's in general practice doesn't think twice about running an evening-surgery for people who can't see him during the day. And believe it or not, sir, who's the other class who don't demean themselves with working here during normal hours ? The bleeding prisoners !
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