When Don Osborne went to Pentridge in 1970, he found a nineteenth-century penal establishment in full working order. It held about 1200 inmates, most of them cooped up in tiny stone cells that sweltered in summer and froze in winter. Some had no sewerage or electric light.
Assigned to teach in the high-security section of the prison, Don worked in the chapel, which doubled as a classroom during the week. There, he saw the terrible effects of the violence that permeated H Division, the prison’s punishment section. He found himself acting as confidant and counsellor to some of the best-known criminals of this era, and to others who’d become notorious later, after H Division had worked its magic on them.
This book offers an insider’s reflections on how the prison emerged as it did, and is supplemented by a stunning pictorial section. It focuses especially on the rebellious 1970s, when the military ‘disciplines’ of H Division began to give way in the face of prisoner resistance and public criticism. Don writes of the people and events that shaped Pentridge’s history and etched it into the memories of the city that was its reluctant host.
Written by an author who has spent some time in Pentridge as a worker / teacher this is one of those books that's really fascinating when it's getting into the nitty gritty of life behind bars and the history of Pentridge, its construction and eventual closure. It's less successful when it basically retells the stories of some of the more famous inmates of place - much of which will already be known to True Crime readers anyway, but mostly because it feels a lot like padding.
The parts where the experience of Pentridge are described were interesting, and it was worthwhile if only for the insights into life for inmates like William O'Meally as a result of his brutal treatment. Parts of it are written in a very engaging style, and it's obvious that the author was uncomfortable with much of what was happening behind the walls. A lot of the treatment described is confrontational and as it's an individual's retelling from their own perspective undoubtedly there will be different opinions, differing viewpoints and different constructs on everything, but in terms of what's presented here - it reads very much like this author's truth.