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LIFE IN AN ENGLISH PRISON.

THE STORY OF A VICTIM,

CHAPTER XXIV, DISCHARGED.

After a long term of penal servitude the echo of such a word as discharge falls very unreal on the ear. It seems too good to be true. The prisoner asks himself: Can it bo that I am at liberty 1 Can it be that I shall once more bo free to wander at my will, and that I shall elbow persons in civilian costume 1 Nay, that I shall myself assume the garments of civilised life ? It almost seems impossible, over and over again is said, ft gives a strango quietude to the feelings to think that in a few months, or even weeks, the tasks will be finished, the penalty to the law will have been paid, and then face to face onco more with life and the world to begin again, perchance to fail once more, although I venture to say that ninety-nine out of every hundred resolve they will be doubly careful in the future and never commit themselves again. Tho procedure of discharge commences about three months before that event takes place by the warder opening the cell door and informing you that you have permission to grow your hair. About a month after that, at the dinner hour, the key is unturned in the door, and No. "special"is sent down to the warder's hall. Ranged with others who intend making some application, or are called up on a similar errand to your own, you are taken outside the governor's room, and in your turn called in before that functionary.

" No. , you are due for discharge on such a date. Have you any friends to go to, or do you wish to join a society 1" So says the governor. Reply : " I wish to join the Christian Mission Society, please, sir." " Very well; you will be discharged in London on such a date."

You are then despatched back to your cell. There is evidence now of the date of your discharge before you, so that you can carefully resolve on what your line of action will be.

There is this difference between country and London prisoners : If a man has been convicted at country assizes (or, shortly, not in London), he is discharged at the prison where he may then be lying; but if convicted in London ho is sent under escort to Pentonville Prison, and is there discharged. I was to be discharged in London, and I had applied to go to an aid society. When prisoners go to an aid society in London they are not furnished with clothes by the prison, but a certain sum (LI 15s) is allowed by Government to the society for that purpose, the prisoner being allowed to add something out of his gratuity if he chooses, so that he may obtain a better class of clothes. A prisoner about to be discharged and going into the country is furnished with clothes by the prison authorities. These are nearly all of the same class and cut, usually a tweed suit and felt hat of a kind well known to every policeman or detective in the country ; two very common striped shirts; two flannel vests; two pair of flannel drawers ; two pair of rough-knitted socks; two red handkerchiefs ; and two neckties, make up the sum total of the belongings of a prisoner discharged, say, at Portland Station. The boots I have not mentioned, because they are a little better in quality and make from the list of things I have mentioned above. I need hardly say that the quality of the things in the above list is of the very poorest, and they last at the most but a few weeks.

In the event of a prisoner discharged in London not going to a society, he is furnished with the same list as those mentioned for a prisoner discharged at Portland or elsewhere. By making application in the usual way to the governor it is also possible for a prisoner to have the prison clothes even if lie goes to an aid society on discharge, although I would not recommend anyone to do so on account of the cut and inferior material. One slight exception is in the case of sailors. There is a much more decent-looking suit of navy-blue kept for this class, but the wear is, I understand, of the same nature as the check suits supplied to other prisoners. I am also informed that corduroys are kept for laborers, but are in little request. After the interview with the governor, which I have before related, nothing is done for some weeks. Then again a prisoner is called down in the dinner hour and put under the charge of a principal warder who is a photographer. Generally there are about half a dozen prisoners who are called down to have their " moniker s " taken, as the expression goes. In single tile they are marched off to the photographer's studio. Arrived there they circle round a flower bed while one of the number is called into the studio. He is there divested of his felon's jacket, and a shirt front, collar, and necktie, all sewn together, are clapped on to his neck ; then an old coat of cloth or tweed is handed to him, which he dons, and takes his seat, the hands being spread out on the breast, giving a stiff and yet comical expression to the finished photograph. The operation over, he doffs the borrowed plumes, joins his companions circling the flower bed, while another enters and undergoes the same operation. When all have finished they are marched to the wash-house for the afternoon, it being generally too late for them to join their respective parties. Nothing now remains to be done till the day. before removal from their prison. After the dinners are served on that eventful day, No. is sent downstairs to the principal warder's desk with his dinner and all his belongings. There he waits till the roll is taken. That being all right, he is marched to the separate cells (the wheel within the wheel), and ushered when there into a cell. He is, however, soon fetched ou* to appear before the governor. He enters with name and register on his lips. Some printed matter is handed to the governor by his clerk, who proceeds to read it. It is the pi doner's license, stating that the prisoner will be discharged on a certain day, and setting forth the paius and penalties which will attach to him

in caso he does not report himself, or commits any indiscretion during the term of his license. The governor also gives a little wholesome advice as to future conduct, and trusts he will not see him there any more. Then he is re-ushered to his cell to eat his dinner, the last which ho hopes he will ever take in that prison or any other. During the course of the afternoon the now happy man is unlocked and taken to the bathroom, and that operation over he is marched probably with three or four more to the stores, where he is fitted (?) with the suit and underclothes I have before mentioned, which he takes with him back to the separate cells ready to put on the next morning, the eventful clay of his exit from prison. Presently he is visited by a schoolmaster, and his books taken away, a shake of the hand and good advice as usual, and then shortly afterwards the chaplain follows, says a few stereotyped phrases, shakes hands, and departs.

He will now be left to his own reflections for the remainder of the afternoon (unless he choose to read the Bible given him by the schoolmaster) until supper-time comes. He is then given tho usual dole, takes in his bed, and goes to sleep if he can. Generally the night is one of wakefulness in anticipation of the morrow, and, as can readily be imagined, he longs for the first streaks of dawn or the live o'clock bell calling all to rise. I should mention that when a prisoner is discharged from Pentonville he is sent to London on the Tuesday in each week only under the charge of a warder; if there are more prisoners the escort of warders is increased.

After breakfast on the eventful morning, and while the warders and prisoners in the halls are at their breakfast, tho prisoner is escorted to the warder's hall, and taken upstairs outside the chief warder's room. There is a list of any property he may have obtained, and nvery article rigorously searched for a "stiff" (letter) which lie may have secreted. He is stripped perfectly nude, his hair, beard, and mouth, and other parts of his person minutely examined. He passes to the other side of the room to whero his free clothes lie in a bundle, and puts them on. That performance over, he finds himself face to face witli his escort armed to the teeth, who lead him to a small one-horse omnibus in the main gate-yard, entering which he is driven with his companions to the railway-station. If he is a country man his ticket is taken by a warder, and handed to him with half a sovereign, and when the train starts he is a free man once more—if a reflective nun, full of thoughts of the future and the greeting that may await him from those from whom he has been so long separated.

If he is bound for Pentonville he will quietly wait till the train is ready, and then with his companions take a seat for London. This is the time that the usual sternness of the warders relax, and a pleasant conversation may be entered into. About half-way to London the " toke" is brought out, and each prisoner furnished with a 12oz loaf and 4oz of cheese, all the dinner that he will get that day. At Waterloo he will find a prison omnibus waiting, and all are driven once more to Pentonville. Entering the gloomy portals after being inspected by the chief warder the escort is relieved of its duty and goes to some " pub " for the night, returning to Portland the next day, the prisoners being ushered into cells appropriated for that purpose.

The following morning is a trying one. All the prisoners who have arrived the day before from the various convict stations are ranged in a room. Presently they see two individuals in private clothes enter a side room. One by one and alone each prisoner is called before these individuals, who hold papers in their hands describing minutely every mark and appearance of the prisoner, which is compared and its correctness certified ; few words aro spoken on either side. These individuals are two Scotland Yard detectives told off for the express purpose of watching convicted men.

Nothing more during the stay at Pentonville happens ; daily exercise is taken for an hour in one of the yards till the clay of release. After breakfast, accompanied generally by one or two more and an individual in private clothes called the discharge officer, the prisoner is ushered into a cab and quits the gates of Pentonville bound to one of the aid societies. If he has selected his clothes from the prison little remains to be done on his arrival there, but if he prefers to get his clothes at the society's office he doffs those lent him by the prison and selects others according to his taste. Lodgings will be found for him, and 10s handed him to live on. A pleasant conversation as to his future will probably be held, and lie will be told to call again, when something will be found for him. If this be at the Christian Mission Society it is genuine, and Mr Wheatley, the indefatigable secretary, will find something in a marvellous way. From the doors of the aid societies the now free man wends his way to Charing Cross and reports his address to the convict office in Scotland Yard; thenceforth he is, comparatively speaking, a free man—all depends on himself. (To be continued.)

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890511.2.39.2

Bibliographic details

LIFE IN AN ENGLISH PRISON., Evening Star, Issue 7904, 11 May 1889, Supplement

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2,037

LIFE IN AN ENGLISH PRISON. Evening Star, Issue 7904, 11 May 1889, Supplement

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