Thursday, April 1, 2010

Toilets cost jobs!

This should come under the heading of 'unintended consequences', the inevitable outcome of any prison policy.

When the Victorians built their great radial prisons, such as Pentonville, the cells were single occupancy and included a toilet. Of course, both of these were abandoned and single cells remain far from being universal.

This left us sharing cells, with all involved malevolently eyeing the piss-bucket in the corner. The smell of a crowded cell, piss-buckets, 23 hour bang-up and a hot summer really was something. It explained why a "long, hot summer" was a phrase not to be celebrated, but one which conjured up the prospect of fractious cons and riots.

In the 1990's, toilets made a return to cells. This remains problematic; taking a dump in front of other people isn't a pleasant experience for anyone involved.

But this systemic largess killed off a dirty prison habit - "shit parcels". With only a communal bucket to use, defecating in shared cells was strongly discouraged. In emergency situations, then, the turd was deposited in newspaper, torn up sheets, t-shirts, even a sock (prisoner inventiveness!) and swiftly slung out through the window. Even novices understood that dropping it straight below one's own window was a bit silly, so it became necessary to extrude an arm as far as possible through the bars to get a good swing, depositing the parcel as far away as possible.

In-cell sanitation removed the necessity for any of this. But it also saw the disbanding of the "bomb disposal squad". These were prisoners whose task was to clear up around the wings, particularly to remove shit-parcels.

In return for their disgusting efforts, they were rewarded with extra tobacco and - or only - the chance for an extra shower. This job used to be "voluntary", and gave a chance for the poorer end of the population to earn a little something. Now they are no more...

The Wombles still exist, though, the men who generally clear up the litter. But now the only parcels they handle are the ones filled with drugs and phones that are lobbed over the walls. Ain't progress grand?


  1. eugh! The things we take forgranted on the outside man; what a horror storey this one is

  2. A disturbing picture you're painting here.

  3. Ah those were the days. It was the shower block (married quarters) that i dreaded. Backs firmly against the wall and if you drop the soap leave it.

  4. I remember sharing 3 to a cell at the scrubs in the late sixties at the borstal allocation wing.
    We never used shit parcels then as to crap on a pot in front of an audience was a no no.
    But at Wandsworth in the seventies whilst in a single I would do it often. Felt sorry for the Chief Officers Party collecting them up in the morning. Slopping out was the pits. The smell and the sight of the huge sink blocked by turds still haunts me today.


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