LIFE AS A SUPERSCREW. Part 2.

By John Catley.Armourer.


Having successfully completed my initial month of training at Bedford, I travelled north to Wakefield, although I had a couple of weeks break before the course started. This was now January 1969 and it was freezing.

This training establishment was very new and purpose built, and we were instructed in no uncertain terms to look after it. There were about 30 candidates and each allocated individual rooms. After settling in we assembled in the main hall which doubled as the dining room. The staff were introduced, then gave an outline of the course and what was expected of us. The training would be divided into 2 periods, each lasting 4 weeks. The first period would consist of a brief outline of a prison officer's duties, expanding a little on what we had learnt at our previous establishment, but mainly checking on whether or not they felt we could go forward into the second period of more intense training.

Any candidate that owned their own property was advised not to sell their house until they had passed the first period (the prison service at that time provided housing for all their staff). We were to be scrutinised intensely for the attention we gave, behaviour, and cleanliness of the accommodation (cleaners were under an obligation to report untidy rooms). The problem was that some establishments had allowed totally unsuitable candidates to progress to Wakefield, and these and any others would be weeded out at the end of the first 4 week period.

A high percentage of the candidates were ex-Service like me, and the Prison Service encouraged this type of applicant because of it being a disciplined based occupation. A great many prison governors were ex serving officers.

We were given instruction on how the law applied to the Service, prisoners' rights (a bit different than they are today). All of us were taken on the parade ground, and each in turn given command of the party in basic drill instruction (inmates had to be moved about in an orderly manner). Each day one member would be in charge, and his duty was to make sure we all attended each class of instruction on time, together with various other duties.

The establishment had a very well equipped gymnasium with 2 PTIs. we learnt basic judo mainly with the object of self-defence. The instructors taught us how to deal with attacks with various weapons i.e. heavy clubs, bike chains etc. All good fun, but taken very seriously. Another task set for us was each one being put in charge of a team, and then given a task to complete. This was a test of leadership, and if necessary how to delegate, today they would call it Project Management.

An interesting aspect of the course was the visit to various penal establishments i.e. Detention Centres, Borstal Institutions and a Prison. After this tour we were requested to select the type of institution we wished to be assigned to. This did bring on a degree of scepticism, in that most being ex-Service we still believed that whatever choice you made, you can be sure they would send you in the opposite direction, but we must wait till half way through the course.

During this early stage each candidate was given a subject by the staff, and informed that during the course we would have to give an 8 minute lecture on that subject, and a 2 minute period of answering questions related to it. Mine was on the subject of "Teenagers and Drug Taking". The college had an extensive library for us to do our research, but I cannot remember any of us looking forward to giving lectures, but we all put our heads together and planted questions on each other that we would be able to answer. Naturally the staff were wise to these shenanigans and put their own questions which had us all floundering.

After 4 weeks, and at the end of the mornings training, the staff gathered us together; 7 candidates were called out to the front, the rest of us were sent to lunch. We never saw the 7 again, during our lunch they had quietly and quickly been removed and sent home. Despite overwhelming curiosity on our part, we never found out the reason for their going, but we naturally speculated. After lunch we were informed as to where we would be posted. I was selected to a Detention Centre in Surrey, and events there will be related later.

Now began the more serious aspects of training, and after a while it became obvious that details of what we were being taught had to wait until those that were not completing the course had left.

The intimate searching of prisoners and the complicated method of searching cells made us greatly aware of the security aspects of the work we are going to undertake. In one of the classrooms there had been constructed a complete prison cell, an exact replica of one that is found in almost all prisons in the UK. We were paired off and instructed to search the cell for any form of contraband. I cannot recall any of us finding anything, but it became embarrassing when the staff took us all back inside and showed us a gun, knife, hacksaw and loads of other items that had been hidden. And that the window bars had been sawn through and the cut hidden with boot polish. We were informed that cell searching was done on a regular basis, and that it had to be done thoroughly. Prisoners liked nothing better than having one over on the prison staff, sometimes just for the fun of it, but usually with an ulterior motive.

It was stressed to us that while the majority of prisoners behaved themselves and just did their time, there were always the few that considered police and prison officers as their hated enemy, and would inflict harm at any time. Therefore it was emphasised that no prisoner could be trusted, even what appeared to be the most harmless prisoner might have received a "Dear John" letter that day, and he is going to take out his anger on someone, usually you.

We were also shown the procedure for dealing with an inmate who was going berserk and wrecking his cell. This required 2 officers, one with keys in the door and observing the prisoner through the spy hole in the door, the other officer would be carrying a chair. At a suitable moment when the prisoner was furthest from the door, both officers would suddenly charge in to the cell screaming their heads off. The officer with the chair would pin the inmate to the wall while the second officer would dive for his feet. While the guy was pinned to the wall with the bar of the chair across his neck the officer would whip off the prisoners shoe, grab his big toe and twist (it hurts), by this time the prisoner will be on the floor still pinned by the chair. He will then be invited to put on a straight-jacket, which he does voluntarily; then he will calmly walk down to the choky block. This is how it was put to us by our training staff. We did not argue.

Another demonstration we were given, that probably would not be tolerated today was, how to remove a prisoner from the dock after sentencing by the judge, which the prisoner was not happy about, and consequently started mouthing off. If you grabbed him by the arms he would inevitably grab the dock rail and hang on for dear life while shouting his piece. We were told to get behind him and with both knuckles sharply dig him hard in the ribs, he would normally let go at this point and be expediently removed from the dock. If this didn't work, using the same knuckle treatment but this time sharply behind the ears. These 2 methods were demonstrated on us in a slightly milder form, they worked.

Radios were being introduced at this time, some prisons having had them for some time, but at Bedford they had not been introduced. The type we were trained on was the two part system i.e. a separate transmitter and receiver. I found that the radios were invaluable in the institutions as there were times when you isolated and need assistance in a hurry but finding yourself some distance from an alarm point.

A Prison Officer's duties in court were explained to us with a visit to the court of Quarter Sessions in Wakefield (what are now Crown Courts today, were either Quarter Sessions or Assizes then). When the accused were brought to court, they were accommodated in cells below the court until called for their case to be heard. They would be escorted upstairs into the dock by a minimum of 2 officers. Technically the dock and the cells were part of the prison, so that if one had an accused that came into the dock from remand, he was in fact now in prison custody. He would be taken down the steps out of site of the public and searched for anything offensive. If at he end of the trial he was found not guilty, on no account was he to be taken back down to the cells, even to obtain his personal effects. He had to be released back into open court, and his gear handed back to him at another entrance to the court. This process was to alleviate any accusation of wrongful imprisonment. These things have happened.

One of the lighter moments we had was an invitation to Wakefield Little Theatre Club, this was one of those Northern clubs that were very popular at the time. We were all very impressed with the club and its facilities. Top of the bill that evening was Peter Noon with Herman's Hermits, I wonder what happened to them ?

At the end of the course we had a celebration with all our instructors at a local hostelry, together with members of the Wakefield Trinity rugby team. Now it was time to return to our original establishment as fully fledged Prison Officers, we would remain for a week and then travel on to our assigned postings. I was welcomed back at Bedford and was very kindly accommodated by one of the married staff.

Now that we had finished the course, the staff were a little easier with any advice, little tricks of the trade so to speak. One piece of advice that sticks in my mind was that when checking on prisoners through the spy hole in the cell door, as you moved the small cover to one side, always let your thumb check that the glass was in place. If the glass was missing, it had been known for inmates to poke a sharp object through as soon as they saw the officers eyeball. Like I said previously there were some nasty bastards inside. One had to check through this hole first thing in the morning, to make sure matey wasn't waiting just inside the door with his piss pot in his hand, ready to empty the contents over you. It could ruin your whole day, and his, I hasten to add.

I was sorry to leave Bedford, I would like to have stayed, but I had to go to a Junior Detention Centre at Send in Surrey, just a few miles north of Guildford.