Sunday, February 24, 2008


It is a bit grey and cold here in Melbourne today. I am in an internet caff in St Kilda - and the locals queue up to tell you that there was no such person as St Kilda, so it's all a bit of a paradox.

On Friday we went to Melbourne Gaol, which is a pretty harrowing experience and devoid of happy endings. The gaol is based on the panoptic model of Pentonville (as are many of the older prisons in the UK), with the idea being a) securing the maximum number of prisoners with the minimum number of guards and b) breaking the prisoners down by means of isolation tactics. A lot of the time as an inmate, you're not sure if you're being watched - the same principle on which a lot of CCTV works.

We were delighted to find the anti-masturbation gloves that had apparently become a highlight of the tour after a Billy Connolly programme. But mostly each of the open cells described the girsly life and despatch of an executed inmate, usually with a cast of their dead bonce. Again and again the inmates were non-English speaking, and/or convicted on the most scrappy circumstantial evidence. Several of the convictions have since been over-turned.

Worse was realising that the prison's official flagellators and executioners were other inmates. Ned Kelly was hanged by a convict imprisoned for flooding a street with sewage and other public nuisances. This meant that the hangings could be rather botched; the whole point of hanging is, done right, it causes immediate death. Getting it wrong either leads to a slow garotting and asphixiation, or can tear the head clean off.

So was using inmates to do the dirty work a way of not getting your hands dirty, or a way of making the prisoners complicit in the system?

We then went on a tour of the jail cells used up until 1995, with a bolshy actress dressed up as a policeman being very strict. She divided us from people we were with, so we explored the cells with strangers. She called us "it" if we stepped out of line, and she alluded to all sorts of gruesome miseries that had happened in the cells. Again, it's all about authority breaking down the individual, but also you pick up very quickly how to play the game. Do as you're told, don't make yourself noticed, and you might survive...

Needed some beer after all this institutional stuff, and hooked up with some buddies later on. I have also done a lot of reading, which I shall write up another time. Pip pip.

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