For all intents and purposes Jails are a microcosm of society. There are representatives from all walks of life, from vagabond street dwellers to Members of Parliament and the majority will tell you, ‘Boss, I didn’t do it, it was some other bloke.’ I will be the first to admit that there are miscarriages of justice, some people end up inside that shouldn’t be there. The first step in rehabilitation is to acknowledge that you have done wrong, that you are there for a reason. Only then can you change your life. A lot of prisoners found God inside, the majority of them conning visiting Padres so they could get early parole or in some cases have letters smuggled out. These men of God saw only good in their flock and naturally wanted to help put them back on the straight and narrow. The majority followed the path right back inside. Some people never learned from being locked up and came back for a variety of reasons.
The winter months saw an influx of homeless men, too cold at night on the outside, they’d commit a property crime and get sentenced for a few months. A room, three meals a day, clean clothing and a TV in the recreation room beat living under a bridge. There were regulars with substance abuse problems who committed offences under the influence and because of their lengthy record would come back in. Some came back in to reunite with family members, there were a few father/son prisoners, brothers, cousins etc. It gave me a sense of security knowing that I would always have a job. Prisoners were released at about 6.30am, they would have their personal belongings, whatever money they had in their account and a chit to take to social security for a fortnight’s unemployment payment. Some would be picked up by family while others hit the road to the railway station. One man who didn’t want to leave, it was mid winter, made his way to the nearest café and held it up. He blew his parole and we had him back for another year the following week.
The French Lesson. These anecdotes won’t always be about inmates, this one is about a high-ranking officer who worked in the offices in Brisbane. Some background is required here, the jail had a Lawn Bowls Club situated higher up the ridge. The club, built by prison labour was for the use of officers and local people in the community. Functions were held there, retirements, Christmas parties, hired out basically to anyone who wanted to use it. Several prisoners staffed the club and looked after the greens, kitchen and catering. One of the tasks that befell the afternoon shift was perimeter security, you would physically check each panel of the fence before sundown. After the last prisoner came in from the dairy you would be issued a M1 carbine and a .38 revolver then patrol the front of the jail, car park, admin offices, some outbuildings and the bowls club when it was vacant. When the night shift came on you would hand over to the new bloke and he would patrol until the early dairy worker went out to bring the cows up for milking.
On this night I’d come on at 10pm and took over armed patrol duty. The bowls club was in full swing and I plodded around my area looking very efficient. The car park was for officers cars and I noticed a sleek, grey sports car parked in the far corner against the stone terraced wall. Figuring that someone from the club had left it there, I checked on it, nothing. By 1 am the festivities ended and the car still sat there. The night was cold and a damp mist had crept up from the river, huge pine trees fronted the car park casting eerie shadows over everything. I finished securing the club, a job I hated as there were half a dozen feral cats that called the place home. They’d jump out in front of you when you walked around the back, or fight and scream at inopportune moments. The occasional kangaroo looming up at you out of the dark never failed to keep you awake. I returned to the car. When I’d checked it previously it was empty, now a dark figure sat inside barely visible through the misted windows.
I unslung my carbine and approached the car, movement – tapping the end of the barrel on the passenger window I waited. It slid down and I stared into the barrel of a Colt .32 semi auto pistol, held in the hand of the male passenger. He switched the interior light on and I recognised him. I’ll call him The Count, he had another nickname that would identify him even now. The Count looked a lot like Errol Flynn and had his taste in women, and one was leaning over with her head in his lap busily bobbing it up and down. This gal didn’t miss a beat, school was in and the French Lesson couldn’t be interrupted. Never mind the Mexican standoff going on above her pretty little head. The conversation went something like this, Me: “Put the gun down now.” Him: “Don’t you know who I am?” Me: “I don’t care, you’re pointing a gun at me, put it down.” Her: “Urgggh,” Me: pushing carbine through window, “Put it down.”
He put it in the glove box and lost all interest in what was happening in his lap. She sat up and smiled, then went about fluffing up her exquisite blonde hair as though nothing had happened. He went on with his bluster and threats, the pompous ass trying to regain face with his date, then he drove off with a squeal of tyres and fish-tailed a little down the hill. I knew I’d acted correctly, I spoke with the senior and his answer shocked me, “Yeah he does that all the time, not supposed to carry the pistol when he goes home or to functions.” Obviously the little Colt impressed his date, I can only wonder if it made him feel a bigger man to carry it.
The Tattooed Penis. No, not his. One fact of life in jail is this, you are going to see naked men whether you like it or not. Naked bodies have never fazed me, after six years in the army you couldn’t be bashful. When you were in charge of a cell block you had to supervise the showers in the afternoon. They were situated at the end of each block, there were six cubicles and your job was to make sure nobody was engaging in sexual activity or getting bashed. You would stand in the doorway and try to observe without ‘looking.’ Ladies, men come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Tattoos are quite common, from beautiful works of art, I’ve seen a couple of Fox Hunts on backs that are quite unique, down to the old sewing needle and ink jobs that are horrendous. They would be on faces, necks, ears, bums and yes penises. One prisoner, a bike gang vice president, thinking he was being smart decided to show me his latest tattoo, a blowfly on the head of his penis. I could have thought of something nicer. Him: Trying to be smart in front of his cronies, “What do you reckon Boss, like it.” Me: “Naw, the tatt’s okay but your dick’s still bloody ugly.”
Which brings us to the subject of this story, we’ll call him Jethro. A large, not too bright, straw haired country boy, turned big bad biker. He rode with a local gang, lost the bottom half of his leg in a motorbike accident and then ended up inside on drugs charges. Prisoners were not allowed to tattoo themselves in jail, in effect they were changing their appearance. They would make tattoo guns out of biros, with sewing needles in them and use melted boot polish for ink. Jethro’s job was to clean the showers on my block, he wasn’t the most industrious and like a stubborn mule couldn’t be pushed. We worked out that if he did his work on time he could have a shower to keep his stump clean. I left him to it and went for my morning tea, when I came back the shower door was shut. I ripped it open and there he sat, naked, on the wooden bench against the wall, his stump resting on a plastic chair. In one hand he held a penis that would’ve made Linda Lovelace blanch, in his other he held a razor blade. Looking up at me he smiled and nodded at his prodigious weapon, Him: “G’day Boss, how’s it going? Neat tatts eh?” Dipping the corner of the razor blade into the melted boot polish ( he had a lit candle under the lid ) he continued tattooing the large swastika onto the glans. Me: “What the…..?” I was lost for words.
Jethro became a little upset when I told him he would be charged. I knew he’d be found guilty and lose a couple of days off his remission. Why? Because he didn’t have a leg to stand on. ( Sorry, I couldn’t help that one ). He left jail a few months later and received about $30,000 in compensation for losing his leg. Naturally he bought a new Harley and a week later died in a traffic accident.