Wednesday, February 24, 2010


An eternally good prison film that retains its edge, watching Scum kept me up late last night. It was a couple of hours full of resonances.

Such as the green jackets that Young Prisoners (YPs, i.e. under 21) had to wear to distinguish us from the big boys. I recall arriving at a new prison and presenting at the clothing hatch for my kit. The con behind the counter flatly refused to give me my green jacket, insisting that I could never be a YP. In fairness, even at that tender age I sported a beard that Rasputin would be proud of and looked like a middle-aged biker.

And the meeting with the Kitchen screw, who tried to excuse serving fish which was 'off' with a tale of how they were 'the new Atlantic fish'. It took me straight back to an incident when we were served sour milk at breakfast, which had the Kitchen screw insisting that the taste was due to the 'cows eating a different sort of grass'.

And, best of all, the character of Archer. It was like watching myself in a slightly distorted mirror. Archer was educated and verbally agile, with the view that the system would not break him down. And so he annoyed the hell out of the Governor by becoming a Vegan, refusing to wear leather boots, and going about barefooted. The perpetual struggle for individuality and dignity are comprised of such small efforts. It was a joy to watch.

The film was made in 1979, before I even entered prison. So many years have passed and yet it retains so many echoes of the prisoners experience. That has to be a mark of a good enterprise.


  1. A great film, by a great director.I must re-watch it.

  2. Cows Milk! Yuk, i have to know someone well before i drink their body fluids. I was a vegan prisoner, and they went out of their way to give me anything i wanted (within reason). There is a very good support group for vegan prisoners, Vegan prisoners support group, who have worked really hard so we have the best possible prison diet, and better toiletries, which smell better that the prison issue.

  3. And of course, Wakefield Prison, where the Kitchen PO would have a good looking screwess as a distraction serving out shit!

  4. is that the one with the horrific rape scene in it? Tainted the film for me a bit.