There are pictures painted in my mind that I don’t need to revisit: one, the image of Port Arthur serial killer Martin Bryant carrying out certain ‘acts’ on fellow prisoners as a means to obtain chocolate; the other, Anita Cobby killer Gary Murphy being used as a plaything by his fellow inmates. And of course, probably the most publicised inmate of more recent times, convicted Hey Dad! TV star, Robert Hughes and his induction to prison life courtesy of projectile milk-containers filled with less-than-savoury contents; another picture I’d rather forget. However all laid bare by award-winning journalist, James Phelps, in his latest book, Australia’s Toughest Prisons: Inmates.
With the opening graphic stanza out of the way, you’re primed for what is an uncomfortable – but strangely addictive – read about the goings-on across Australia’s toughest prisons.
Thankfully, the book’s opening assault describing Martin Bryant and Gary Murphy is brief. Trust me, you don’t need a more vivid image than the one Phelps paints. With the shock and awe of the opening 5 pages complete, Phelps brings readers through the country’s juvenile “correctional” system, told through the eyes of inmates who’ve known little else than prison cell walls since they were teenagers, and it ain’t pretty. The fear faced by new inmates, young and old, is something I can only imagine – but Phelps’ writing style is such that you’re drawn into the minds of the inmates, indeed through their own words, and it’s a dark and horrible place. In fact, Australia’s Toughest Prisons: Inmates should be compulsory reading for school students and so-called law-abiding citizens alike; trust me on this: you begin to drive within the speed limit and you suppress those thoughts of terrorising your in-laws for fun, i.e. you do all you can to distance yourself from the law.
Phelps’ writing style is such that you’re drawn into the minds of the inmates, indeed through their own words, and it’s a dark and horrible place.
You know you’re in for a dark read when you buy Australia’s Toughest Prisons: Inmates, however James Phelps does a fair job keeping things light by allowing the inmates themselves to do the talking (the language colourful, the tone oh so sinister). The interviews are superb. The insight provided by prisoners is chilling: the bashings, the murders, the daily assaults, the lives of inmates both “petty” and more deeply serious, are all laid bare in graphic detail and with a frankness that leaves the hairs on the back of your neck quivering in fear.
With this book I guarantee you’ll cringe, recoil, spit in disgust, and do all you can to disconnect from the inmates’ minds that Phelps does such an incredible job to share. Want to experience the horrors of Pentridge? Phelps takes you there and delivers a swift kick in the backside as the gates slam shut behind you. Fancy a helicopter joyride and prison break as bullets whoosh past you from Silverwater jail’s watch towers below? There’s more about that well-publicised helicopter prison-break’s rollicking story describing how the Russian bride forgot the car keys for the getaway car after the helicopter landed in a sports field in Sydney’s west. Oh well, at least she managed to pull off the most exciting part of the escape (the helicopter pilot eventually escaped more or less unharmed; the escapee and Russian bride less fortunate – you’ll have the read the book to learn their fate in finer detail – a highlight because it’s just so bloody stupid).
You’ll not find a more descriptive exposé on Australia’s toughest and roughest prisons and the people within them (hardened prison guards included – and ain’t they a pretty picture!)
Amongst all the bashings and assaults, there’s at least one relatively bright note – when Phelps interviews former NRL star Craig Field, who is currently serving time for manslaughter. That interview is probably the most insightful of all because Field manages to keep his head down; you really feel for him. The frank discussions with Field, held across multiple visits to Cessnock and Grafton prisons by Phelps, are fascinating and a highlight of the book.
This is a fantastic read, for want of a better word. You’ll not find a more descriptive exposé on Australia’s toughest and roughest prisons and the people within them (hardened prison guards included – and ain’t they a pretty picture!). Phelps deserves kudos for what he’s achieved – bringing us, the readers, not only past the prison walls but into the twisted and damaged minds of this country’s toughest inmates. Want to know how mobile phones are smuggled into prisons? Ok, maybe not…
Australia's Toughest Prisons: Inmates
Locked up in Pentridge, Cessnock, Minda, Goulburn, Silverwater, Risdon and Lithgow Jails
These are the stories about Australia's hardest inmates, from Australia's hardest inmates: the true and uncensored account of life inside Australia's toughest prisons. 'Porky Pig' stalks the yard, snorting and grunting as he stares down the prison guard. 'Whatcha looking at,' yells Martin Bryant, Australia's worst serial killer. The guard stays silent. Says nothing. He simply takes one step towards the monster, now fat...