“When you did nights there – that was something else. There’d be a period between 2 and 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning when most of them finally went to sleep. But as soon as one started – we used to call it the dawn chorus – shrieking and screaming, they’d all start. It was horrible.”
Prisons are said to look after the mad, the bad and the sad. In the 1980s and 90s Brixton’s mad were kept on F Wing. It was known colloquially as ‘Fraggle Rock’, after the puppet television series. It was so poorly managed it was linked to the suicides of fourteen prisoners and three staff over eighteen months – a rate that remains a record in a British jail.
This week I asked a former officer at Brixton about his memories of Fraggle Rock during the 80s:
“Just people killing themselves all the time; people eating their own excrement; people eating themselves. I just remember one guy, he had a wound on his knee and he virtually ate his own knee away.
“But to liven the mood, we’d have some fun. I’m not saying I was inhumane, but I didn’t have the empathy I have now as an older person. We’d bring silly masks in. We’d play tricks on the prisoners by knocking on their door, waking them up and then they’d look out through the hatch and they’d be someone there in a scary mask. Or we’d squirt water pistols through the door and just be generally mean. I’m not proud of it, but it happened and at the time I didn’t see anything wrong with it. And as I’ve got older I’ve realised these people were ill. It was just a horrible, horrible place to work.”