A purpose in life is a wonderful thing, whether you are working or not. I don’t think we are wired for sloth and inactivity, there must be something in us that wants to move forward and accomplish. I know there are many people out there who have had their wiring disconnected or rewired and they spend their lives doing sweet bugger all. I’m not referring to those with disabilities or who are restricted in some way. No, it’s the young healthy individuals who choose a life of lethargy over purpose. You meet many of them in jail, it’s a wonder they had the energy and resolve to commit the crime that landed them there.
Let me fill you in on the old way of sentencing. Say for instance you were sentenced to five years for robbery. The judge would weigh up what type of jolly fellow you were and maybe add on ‘with hard labour.’ In days of old this meant the rock pile and performing meaningless repetitive tasks designed to piss you off. In my time it meant the prisoner had to work at whatever job he was assigned. That job would earn them a meagre wage which would allow them to buy essentials, like coffee, better tobacco and toiletries. If they weren’t sentenced to hard labour then they didn’t have to work in prison industries or workshops. Most did and even the slackers would line up to do a little sweeping and cleaning.
Imagine my surprise when on my first day after muster I had the task of giving out jobs, some were saying, “Sorry Boss but I don’t have to work.” Hang on, “This is a work camp.” My supervisor took me aside, “He’s right, they don’t have to do a thing.” I shook my head ruefully. Those who wanted to put the time in did it well, knowing that boredom makes a stint inside drag. After the prisoners had attended to their tasks they could return to their rooms and relax. It took a little time for me to adapt to the new ways, I shook off the old and sort of embraced the new. Oh the joy of it all.
Supervisors on the other hand, were extremely well paid for our work. After our administration duties were completed the searching would commence, or a check of smoke alarms, or spot checks to make sure they weren’t in other prisoner’s rooms. Supervising by its very nature means there’s not a lot you have to do, you watch and direct, follow-up, check it out. It all becomes a game in the end. I must admit in my time there were a few prisoners who you could give a job to and know that it would be done and the rest? Well it was like herding pre-schoolers after they’d been drinking red soft drink (soda). “Here you go Jones, you’re out front sweeping up leaves.” Ten minutes later he’s: lying on the grass verge smoking, wandering down the road to see what’s happening, back in his room playing his X-box. You get the drift. Some needed explicit instructions; you could spend fifteen minutes telling them how to pick up rubbish around a hut. When you go back it would be stacked in a pile by the steps, “Well you didn’t tell me what to do with it.”
A co-worker who I’ll call Harry had an acerbic wit and a great talent for mock outrage. He had many a crim ducking for cover out of the office. We would go for a walk and see who we could annoy, open a room and there would be one snuggled up, air conditioner on and snoring softly. Harry would shake their shoulder gently and put on a soft voice, “Room service, we stopped by to see if you needed anything and to turn you over. We don’t want you getting bed sores.” “Huh?” Harry at the top of his voice, “Get your lazy arse out of that festering pit, you can sleep at night.” None of them would answer back, Harry was a big man.
I wondered at the process used to pick prisoners for the camp, I’ve mentioned previously that those sentenced for violence or sexual offences were not accepted. Yet I remembered quite a few ‘bad boys’ from the old days. There must have been some criteria or time limit that they used to vet them but I don’t think it was fool-proof. There were however some interesting ones: an extremely wealthy man who took over a relatives brothel and ended up inside on tax evasion. A polite and cultured man he found that money didn’t always work your way. Feeling piqued at his original sentence of two years he decided to appeal, and spent heavily on a Barrister, silly boy, he lost and they doubled it. The veneer cracked a little after that. Then there was the man with a huge gambling habit who stole two million dollars off his government employer, and blew it all in a Hong Kong casino. Another who decided that all the weapons in the government buyback scheme didn’t have to be melted down and made quite a bundle in selling them onwards. Some were your average traffic fine defaulters, dangerous drivers, thieves, ne’er do wells and drug dealers/addicts.
An American drug smuggler graced our splendid establishment for quite a while. In cahoots with two Australians and a Canadian he conspired to import a yacht laden with about a ton of high quality marijuana. What they didn’t know was, the Feds knew all about it and they sailed into a trap. He unloaded his cargo and ended up with an eight year berth. Then there was the farmer whose life took a turn for the worse when his ‘get out of debt’ quick scheme flopped. He agreed to let criminals grow marijuana – lots of it on his failing farm. Yes he got caught. Drug dealers/users were a royal pain in the arse and we would do spot urine checks for drug use. Whatever your drug of choice it could make its way inside, our security level was very low which meant that the prisoners were being relied upon to go some way to helping themselves rehabilitate. It didn’t work; addictions of any kind are hard to kick. The game went on; we would search them when they came in, when they went out. Their visitor’s belongings would be searched, the drug dogs would come in, and there would be early morning raids. Yet in it came.
Back to the urine tests, now weren’t they an eye opener. Users would flush themselves the night before leaving the camp, this involved drinking copious amounts of water and Bi carb of soda if they could get it. Naturally it meant either: many trips to the toilet block or urinating in an empty plastic milk bottle. Of course they didn’t think we knew about this, I mean how hard is it on night shift not to see the same bloke scurrying for a pee, or when you did the rounds you spotted someone peeing out of their window. After one drug user failed a test, his room-mate an old crim I knew early in my career took me aside, “Bloody idiot, I watched him last night he had two bottles, one to drink from and one to pee in. The silly bastard nearly choked through the night, he picked up the wrong bottle and took a big swig. Bloody hell Boss I had to put my head under the pillow to stop laughing.”
Our Intel officer would give us a sheet with about ten names on it when he knocked off for the evening of those requiring testing the following morning. So before wake up time we would go and escort them from bed to our office, where they would wait until they needed to go. If you didn’t watch them they would pee their pants and then you would have to wait an hour for them to have another go. Plastic test cup in hand two officers would escort them to the toilet block, stand on each side of them and wait for that golden flow to arrive. Some would do it immediately; others would wait until their eyeballs backed up. If they failed to supply they would be sent back to the big jail. We would turn taps on and whistle anything to get them going. With a sample in the cup back to the office, shake it up and wait. There would be a few nervous nellies anxiously waiting on a result. The test could detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine and amphetamines. Some drug users would feign injuries to have codeine prescribed, that way it would mask heroin use. No blue line and away they went, the slightest hint and they would be gone within two hours. The excuses were pitiful, especially with marijuana users. “It’s not fair Boss, the last time I had a smoke was before I came inside.” Tough, it takes about a month for all traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient to leave your system. One inmate a heroin addict for years had a clever little device he used to try to fake the tests. We eventually found out he always had a plastic bag of apple juice taped to his belly, with a tube running from it to the underside of his penis. Test time and he would happily supply a sample, of healthy juice. Let’s face it people, standing waiting for someone to pee is bad enough, no way were we going to crouch down and look at dicks. After I left the establishment a proper facility was built so suspect drug users could be stripped down and placed in a dry room under observation.
Some people never learn when they are jailed for their indiscretions and stupidity, let’s look at this fellow, we’ll call him Dingbat (an Aussie slang term for ‘bloody idiot.’). Dingbat was twenty going on twelve, something of a disruption and a real bludger. (Didn’t believe in working). In one of my many sojourns through the old barrack building I found him playing a game on X-box, with two of his mates. Nothing wrong with that, it was the content of the game that bothered me. I have car racing games for my X-box, however I don’t like the ones that give you points for running people over. Dingbat was in his element, the game had been turned up to full volume. You could hear the screams of dying pedestrians and when I looked over his shoulder at the gore splattering the screen he didn’t notice me. They didn’t realise that we had some access to their files and knew what they were in for, Dingbat had been sentenced to four years for running a person down on a pedestrian crossing and fleeing the scene.
Now here he sat laughing his head off as he raced through the electronic streets, killing make-believe people. I’m an understanding man and believe in certain rights, this went beyond the pale. Naturally he got his knickers in a twist when I ripped the power lead from the wall and threw the case for the X-box at him. I strongly suggested that he pack it up, take it to the store and have it put in his property before I stomped on it. He may have seen where I was coming from and realised how it would look on his progress report. Dingbat certainly wasn’t a poster boy for rehabilitation.
The prisoners who worked out west in the country camps usually received leave of absence for five days and went home. They would come back to camp on the Sunday afternoon or the Monday morning, and then the searching would be on. Going through the belongings of fifty or sixty prisoners can be hectic. Let’s call our next fellow Richie Rich, a university student who thought he would pay his student loans by becoming a small time drug dealer. He had wealthy and influential parents and had made a few complaints about the officers over time that went nowhere but they rankled, the lad hadn’t grown up. On this morning I searched his bag, no drugs but when I opened the bag containing his game console all I could see was a large, dark semi auto pistol. When I picked it up then the realisation came, hmm it’s for his game.
“Put it into your property, you can have it back when you leave jail.” The whining went on and on, I took him to see the manager and had the pistol in my back pocket. Richie stated his case, the manager hummed and aahed then I pulled out the pistol. Holy crap he says get it out of here. My argument seemed simple, how bad would it have looked for a prisoner to be out west with something like that. They were allowed to go into the town on Saturday mornings, what if he had taken it with him? Yes he complained to his parents and they had their solicitor write to the manager. It didn’t do Richie any good at all. I liked this job: it entertained me, gave me a reason to get out of bed, provided an excellent wage, the other supervisors were a great bunch of blokes, management were okay. What more could I want?
Next week, the three-ring circus called weekend visits.