A TURNKEY’S TRIBULATIONS, part 8. Entertainment and a lucky escape.

Yes entertainment, everybody likes to be entertained and prisoners are no exception. Mainly they made their own, I’ve made mention in previous posts about what options they had for amusing themselves. A television series called Cop Shop http://preview.tinyurl.com/a4q7obh aired on Australian television at the time,  it ran from 1977-1984 and I think just about every Australian actor at the time had a guest spot. Don’t get me wrong it was a good series; it became even better when a young actress named Linda Stoner joined the cast. I don’t know whose idea it was within the prison system to host a concert, especially one with some of the cast from a Cop show. http://preview.tinyurl.com/aqpunsl 

When the prisoners found out their first reaction was, ‘You’re just feeding us a load of BS Boss.’ No we weren’t, and then when the word went out that the inmates could volunteer to join in on the concert with their own acts, well. Guitars were dusted off; the library was scoured for books on jokes and skits, poetry and songs. There were impromptu rehearsals in the mess line, oration in the showers and jamming sessions in the rec-room. I believe there would have been a riot if it was called off. One prisoner excelled himself and I think came out of the closet at the same time, we’ll call him Charlie. Another prisoner wanted a backup singer, a female for his act. We all knew that wasn’t going to happen. Charlie put in a request to have a dress, stockings and high heels brought in on his next visit, along with some makeup – done. He dressed up on the day and I have to say he put a lot of thought into it. He had a wig; his face made up – lots of lipstick – a very tight midi dress with red high-heeled shoes and toilet paper for boobs. He couldn’t get the stockings, so he shaved his legs. The term gay, used in years gone by meant a very happy, merry person. Both modern and old meanings could be attributed to Charlie; he spent more time in the toilet block than on stage. I think the term today is flaming and Charlie was on fire. Who said doing time was boring?

There are times in life when prayers are answered, mine were that Saturday. I was picked, not for my rugged good looks and charm but for my size to be bodyguard for Linda Stoner and Bev Harrell. Bev, all 4’ 9” of her had a great voice and when people say someone’s cute as a button they had her in mind. Watch her performance on you tube here,
ttp://preview.tinyurl.com/a9vlcc4 The crew had set their caravan up on the sports oval and my job was to wait in the vestibule for the ladies, then escort them into the compound. We had a cell next to the vestibule cleaned out for them to use as a dressing room. Terrence Donovan had the caravan to himself.

There was to be a lot of coming and going until show time. My tasks were many, fetch the cuppas, flush the cell toilet (they were hard to flush) help Bev pull up the zipper on her very tight jeans. Oh the tribulations. Both Linda and Bev were lovely to work with, professional and they kept their cool even though there were over a hundred prisoners in the audience, along with the Comptroller General of Prisons, the Minister and various hangers-on. For the male readers of this blog pause for a moment, imagine being in between gates in the vestibule and Linda Stoner standing there in a dress that tight it could have been sprayed on. She had been giving out promotional material, pictures and caps and I asked her to autograph one for my son, “Sure, give it here.” She squatted down in front of me and put the cap on her knee and signed it. Then she looked up, her large blue eyes stared into mine…………… Focus Laurie, focus it’s kind of a family blog here. Needless to say she was and still is a beautiful woman and I fell a little in love with her at the time. Where was I? Oh yes, the concert.  I stood at the gate leading into the theatre and held it open while the cast made their way to the stage. I wore an issue slouch hat with the brim down, as Linda went past she grabbed my hat and put it on. The look on the Comptroller General’s face was priceless, the whole thing was being taped by channel 7. Their opening song was this one, http://preview.tinyurl.com/bbdrk2f   and it really had the place hopping.

There were some good performances from the prisoners and some not so good but it was all about the effort: a Micky Spillane comedy monologue stands out, some comedians ‘died’ on stage, there were a couple of passable singers and then there was Charlie. He didn’t care that he couldn’t sing, he soaked up the catcalls, whistles and remarks about his legs, he flamed that much we thought about calling the fire brigade. When the carnival was over and the entertainers made their way out into the real world, a pall of sadness descended over the jail. The guitars were put away and the gates to the cinema locked, back to the dull routine. Prisoners huddled around smoking and chatting like any other post party group. Charlie turned up for muster in his dress and sulked when told to go and change, he kept the lipstick on for a while though. I watched the news that night at home and yes I was there, the funny thing, every prisoner in the front row sat with their hands or their hats over their laps.

LUCKY ESCAPE. The prison had started a guard dog breeding program using German Shepherds, they were for use by dog handlers around jails in the state. I purchased one of the pups who failed the gun shot next to the ear test, a beautiful 12 week old bitch who I named Chum. Her pedigree was good; she came from a long line of guard dogs. This would be my first pure bred dog and I was determined that she would be properly trained. There were many long walks, training sessions at home and in the park. Within weeks she became the perfect house dog. All the basics were covered, she’d only eat from her dish or if one of the family fed her by hand and then only on command. The usual sit, stay, come, etc. were fully covered. By the time she turned eighteen months I wanted to put her to the test, would she attack when required?

It truly was a dark and stormy night, we’d finished dinner and Chum lay in her usual place when we were in the kitchen, next to the stove. Her only vice was ginger bread, as it baked she’d sit next to the stove ears up and drooling, only moving if called. My wife Joyce and I had spoken about testing Chum, to see if she would defend the house if needed. I went to the bathroom where my parka hung to dry and sneaked out through the front door. Going under the house, it stood seven feet off the ground; I slipped into the parka and pulled the hood over my head. Creeping slowly up the back stairs I made my way onto the back veranda and slammed the back kitchen door open. For a realistic effect Joy had switched the kitchen light off, all I saw was a dark blur and Chum leapt on me, latching her teeth onto the drawstring at the throat of my parka. I fell back against the door and Joy called her off. Hurriedly ripping the hood off my head I sat up and called Chum over, I gave her a good patting – she’d passed the test. Then I nicked to the loo and checked my undies.

About a month later on a hot summer’s night I had a night shift; ginger bread was baking in the oven and Chum sat by the stove guarding it. My son’s room was on the front veranda which had been built-in, so we had a child safety gate at the front door, there were thirteen steps down to the front garden. After wishing them all a good night I drove out of the front gate and turned up the road. There was our house, the landlord next door, another house then a large sports field. Being a main road I didn’t take too much notice of the car parked outside the last house, or the man behind the wheel who stared at me. A lot of people parked there to use the public phone across the road and I had left a little later than usual. An ordinary shift followed then the drive home to bed. I had a cup of tea and sat in the kitchen, Chum sat next to me eating a large piece of ginger bread: Me, ‘What’s the go here, is there any left for me?’ Joy, ‘She can have as much of it as she likes, she saved us last night.’

The story went like this; within minutes of me leaving there was a knock at the open front door. A man in his mid-thirties stood there, a couple of steps down from the top, his waist in line with the top of the safety gate. He wore an old suit coat and T-shirt, had short blonde hair and was obviously quite nervous. Joy had stayed in the kitchen after I had left; she looked up the hallway, ordered Chum to stay and walked out to the veranda. The man demanded to know if I was at home, Joy inquired as to why, he took another step, grabbed hold of the door jamb and went to climb over. She stood to one side and called out, ‘Chum.’

Our house was old with linoleum floors, Chum, on the alert slipped in her drool and slid to the doorway. The dog didn’t seem to be the same family pet that played with our little boy and licked your face, or guarded the stove at baking time. Hackles up, ears flattened, lips curled back, teeth popping she bounded to the front veranda and launched herself onto the man. Hitting him in the centre of the chest she drove him down to the front garden, where she began savaging him. After what seemed to be an appropriate length of time Joy called her off. Chum backed away a few feet and snarled, keeping him under her watchful eye, ‘come’ and she trotted back upstairs. The man hurried to his car parked down the road and drove off at speed. I came out with the usual, ‘Why didn’t you call me, the police, the neighbours?’ Her reply, “Why, I had Chum?’ Indeed.

I made a few inquiries at work that night and found out that a prisoner who had served his time for raping and shooting his girlfriend dead had been released the previous day. A police sergeant’s son he’d had a good lawyer who had the charges lessened, because of the ‘diminished mental responsibility’ of his client. He fitted the description but I couldn’t have made a good ID. What I do know is he may have thought twice before attempting to enter someone’s home. This happened in the late seventies and home phones were expensive, we had one installed within a week. I never found out where the ex-crim ended up, I only hoped that Chum had managed to take big lumps out of him.

The following year I had her serviced and she gave birth to three beautiful little pups. The soft drink delivery man turned up one day and Joy warned him about Chum and her pups, he laughed it off and Chum attacked him biting him on the upper thigh. Our landlord wouldn’t let us put up a fence in half the yard so our Chum had to go. I found her a home with an Air Force policeman who needed a guard dog for his family, as he spent a lot of time away on investigations. And so ended a happy relationship with Chum, a brave and faithful companion, she was the only good thing to come out of my time working in jail. An interesting post script, in my first posting in the police the above sergeant worked as a duty sergeant, he knew my previous work history and that I knew his son in jail. Until he died six months later he made my working life as miserable as possible.

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4 thoughts on “A TURNKEY’S TRIBULATIONS, part 8. Entertainment and a lucky escape.

  1. liz blackmore

    Great post Laurie! She is cute as a button! Her mouth movements remind me of Cher in her younger singing days (.It’s OK ..I am tired and heading off to bed shortly). I just notice facials features because I like to draw them. I am pleased with the way a common thread can work wonders in lives, even if it is only temporary. Hmmm a lesson to be learned here. Thanks for sharing! Hugs!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Liz, a little lady with a big voice. She has nice features and yes a little brightness was brought into a few people’s day. I had a great time. It was my pleasure to share.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  2. patgarcia

    Good morning,
    Your life has been so interesting! It is a carousel of experiences that you are now able to share because you have grown through them. How sad that you had to give Chum’s away. I know how that felt because I am an animal lover.

    How nice that the prison allowed the musicians and singers to come into the prison. I have been there before in that same situation and know that nothing makes prisoners more happy than being able to show off their talents. I did a workshop in a prison three or four years ago. At first, the director said no one would volunteer, that the prisoners would not be interested. They put out the word by tacking a paper on the bulletin boards throughout the prison facility. Two months before I was supposed to show up, the prison officials already had a problem. I asked the organization that I was helping what the problem was. You see, this community organization had called me to let me know there was a big problem. I thought it was that no one was interested or wanted to atttend. It was the opposite. Out of 1400 prisoners, half of them wanted to attend the workshop. I could only laugh. The officials then told me that the limit would be 60 people for the workshop and 200 people could come to the concert to see the workshop attendees show off their talent. I said to the organization, I wonder how they are going to convince those prisoners that they have no chance.

    To make a long story short, it was a fantastic four days. I was there from Thursday to Sunday. A few of the guards told me they heard singing all through their hallways. The prisoners sang until late in the night in their cells and on that Sunday morning, we had the best concert ever.
    It was an experience for me.

    To be very honest with you, those prisoners taught me how to use my own authority and get attention without yelling or screaming, but they also taught me how to reach out in loving acceptance of others.
    Really enjoyed your article bro. Keep up the good work.
    Ciao,
    Patti

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