Saturday, 10 January 2015

Borstals… Bring on the Clowns!

The latest ITV offering on the subject of our failing criminal justice system is Bring Back Borstal, a sort of dysfunctional Big Brother where bad lads in their 20s wear short trousers and play up in front of the camera. I watched the first episode and quickly realised that this was twaddle masquerading as serious comment on how we could better deal with our young offenders.

Kent: where it all started
Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole show – and I use that term intentionally – is that what was portrayed on television bore little or no relation to the reality of borstal institutions, either back in the 1930s or up to the time of their abolition and replacement with youth custody centres in 1982. It was also somewhat disconcerting to see a former prison governor – now a respected academic criminologist – David Wilson, fronting the performance and thus risking giving it some misguided veneer of intellectual credibility. Professor Wilson is also a former trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform and really should know better.

Fortunately, I was never a borstal boy myself, although I have a close family member who was a governor grade at two very well-known borstals in the 1970s – both still exist as dysfunctional Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) and are regularly panned in alarming reports by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. I’ve listened to my own relative’s horror stories of the bullying, self-harm, suicides and how lads who ran away were punished. By all accounts, the regime back then was pretty nasty, brutal and – for some – short, as they ‘escaped’ by killing themselves.

A real borstal in the 1940s
Although he was an ex-serviceman himself who had joined up as a teenager, my relative really didn’t approve of what he saw going on in his own establishments – both the brutality of some of the staff, as well as the macho culture of violence and exploitation that prevailed among the inmates. By then it really had become a violent, dog-eat-dog world where the ‘taxing’ (levying of protection money) and bullying of the weaker boys was thoroughly institutionalised. He told me on many occasions about how the bigger, tougher lads – dorm captains or ‘daddies’ – actually imposed much of the informal and violent discipline in the dormitories with the tacit approval and collusion of the housemasters.

"I'm the daddy now!"
I remember that after he had watched the infamous borstal film Scum, directed by Alan Clarke, he observed that although it had been somewhat sensationalised, he recognised many of the typical characters, especially the ‘wing daddies’ who terrorised the younger, weaker lads. Totally disillusioned by his experiences, my relative opted for early retirement before borstals were converted into youth custody centres.

I did, however, have three personal insights into borstals prior to my own time inside, where I also met a fair number of borstal ‘graduates’ – now men in their 50s or older, most of whom had extensive criminal records behind them. When I was still at school, one of my close friends had an elder brother who was regarded as a bit of a ‘bad lad’. In his mid-teens he smoked, drank, took soft drugs and was a bit of a bully. He was eventually expelled from his school.

I only really remember him well from visiting my friend’s home on one occasion when I was about seven or eight. He hit me hard round the ear for nothing other than the pleasure of hearing me cry. He really wasn’t a nice person and during his mid-teens he ended up in trouble with the law for various minor offences until he finally pinched a car and went joyriding. He was sent to a borstal in the early 1970s – I believe it was Guys Marsh, although I’m not certain 40 years on.

His brother rarely spoke of him, but after his release I knew that he’d returned home to his family. He had been damaged by his borstal experience, which I later discovered had included being subjected to severe sexual abuse (whether by other youths or members of staff I never found out). He resumed drinking heavily and shortly afterwards was found drowned in the local harbour. It was never established whether this had been due to suicide or an accidental fall when drunk, so the coroner returned an open verdict. He was around 23 years old when he died.

Boys at North Sea Camp in 1935
My next exposure to borstal boys was back in the late 1970s when I was a teenager myself. I was working as a volunteer on an archaeological excavation that was going on right next to what was then the borstal farm. A work party of boys from the institution was assigned to help us move large piles of earth in wheelbarrows under the supervision of two grim-faced officers who scowled at us almost as much as they did at the youths under their direct charge.

I spent a couple of days working alongside these lads and had some chance to chat with them during breaks. They seemed very subdued. They all had roughly cropped heads – the infamous ‘bad borstal boy’ haircut – some had fading black eyes, visible bruising or scabs on their hands and arms and all appeared to be very wary of the two screws watching over them. I asked them about how they were finding borstal. “It’s fucking horrible, mate,” they whispered.

Their main interest in me was whether I smoked and had any tobacco to share with them, but they also wondered why the hell I was doing manual labour without having to be forced to work. I must admit that I found myself feeling very sorry for them, especially as they were around my own age.

My final personal experience inside a borstal was to actually visit the local establishment several times in 1980. This came about because I was a member of a youth club that was asked by the governor to come in and spend some time – mainly playing board games and table tennis or reading – with some of the younger borstal lads.

A young Ray Winstone in Scum
Just going into the establishment was daunting, including being body searched by staff and getting dire warnings about not smuggling in any kind of contraband – tobacco, money or sweets. “Or you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of this wall doing time with these toe-rags”. No-one even mentioned drugs back then. I do remember that we were specifically instructed never to ask any of the borstal lads what crime they were in for.

We definitely didn’t get a very warm welcome from the screws on duty – I think they resented the idea of yet more teenage boys (no girls allowed on these visits for obvious reasons) being foisted on them to supervise during association periods. Again, the lads were very quiet during these sessions and scared of even looking up. I played draughts with one who asked me in a whisper whether I smoked, which I didn’t. It seemed that the main obsession was getting tobacco.

Still from ITV's Bring Back Borstal
It wasn’t a ‘normal’ youth club atmosphere by any stretch of the imagination. I once got told off by a screw for putting my hand in my own pocket in case I was passing contraband. It wasn’t a nice experience for a law-abiding teenager like me.

I think the highlight of the evening for the inmates was getting a mug of weak orange squash and a biscuit. Again, I found myself feeling sorry for these drably uniformed kids as most of them were aged 15 or 16, although some looked a lot younger.

We repeated this grim experience three or four times before the experiment was discontinued. I suspect that the screws put a stop to it, probably citing security concerns, although I also think that they didn’t want nosey outsiders – like us – who they couldn’t control talking to the inmates in their charge during association periods.

Another view of borstal
So, prior to ending up inside an adult prison myself, that was the extent of my own knowledge of our borstals. Probably a bit more than the average member of the public, but hardly extensive or in-depth. I’d also read Brendan Behan’s famous autobiographical account Borstal Boy, as well as having seen the 1962 film of the Alan Sillitoe novel The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, which made borstal seem like being at a minor public school – which seems to have been the original idea when the first institution at Borstal in Kent was set up back in 1902.

Years later, while in prison, I met fellow cons who had ‘progressed’ through the entire criminal justice system: approved schools, borstals, detention centres and finally adult jails. Some of them were willing to discuss their experiences, but others didn’t want to for reasons I can only guess. However, I did get the impression that many of the real horrors had been inflicted by fellow borstal boys on each other, rather than by the screws or other staff.

Violence and intimidation seemed to have been rife, along with extortion (‘taxing’). Few felt that they had emerged from the experience better people than they were when they were sentenced to ‘borstal training’, although a couple did recall that they had enjoyed the sport, especially really violent games such as British Bulldog or Murderball (a kind of no rules basketball). Clearly, since all the people I was talking to were back in prison – some serving life or very long sentences – the deterrent effect, if any, of their stint in a borstal had been limited.

Volunteers on Bring Back Borstal
What did become clear, however, was that detention centres in the 1980s were where much of the real physical, mental – and sexual – abuse seems to have taken place under cover of the Thatcher-era ‘short, sharp shock’, introduced by the Conservative government in its Criminal Justice Act (1982). This provided for young offenders aged 14 to 21 to be sent to the new detention centres for up to four months for minor offences. It remains to be seen whether more of those who experienced this regime will start to disclose the extent of the alleged abuses that were committed.

I think that the real disappointment I felt after watching the new ITV Bring Back Borstal show is that it was a missed opportunity to really explore what interventions would help young offenders turn their lives around. Hearing snippets from some of their life stories during the show you might conclude that the sort of methods being proposed by ‘let’s pretend borstal governor’ David Wilson were far too little, too late for many of these adult males, some of whom were already dads themselves.

These borstal ‘boys’ were actually troubled young men, some of whom had already been in a YOI or adult jail. Treating them like 1930s teenagers was never really going to achieve very much.

Borstal 'governor': Prof David Wilson
The sense of unreality was compounded by the fact that these were all volunteers who could get on their toes as soon as the going got a little bit tough – and several did so, much to the obvious exasperation of Professor Wilson who one suspects might have liked to have had the power to keep them all there by force until the end of his little ‘experiment’. As we all know, real incarceration just isn’t like that. There is no choice to go home from prison because a screw yelled at you or tipped you out of bed early in the morning. Imprisonment is all about not having choices and being forced to comply or face serious consequences... including real physical pain.

Scene from ITV's Bring Back Borstal
Moreover, all this nonsense was being recorded on camera, thus providing an ideal opportunity for every class clown to continue playing up, secure in the knowledge that his mates back home would be having a good laugh with him over a few beers when the show was eventually broadcast. All of this really writes itself and, to be honest, the whole experiment seems doomed from the start. I really can’t see how it can get any better in future episodes.

This was a missed opportunity. We are in desperate need of a very well-informed debate about youth justice in the UK – and about the lack of positive adult male role models for many troubled boys and young men – but sadly this fanciful punishment-fest TV show wasn’t it.


  1. You know it always puzzles me that absolutely no one in the entire criminal justice system ever asks those very basic questions: "What would have stopped you committing crime in the first place?" and "What will stop you for doing so again?"

    As an inmate you spend your entire sentence having things done "to" you by "experts" who are usually anything but. No one really engages with you as a human being or spends any time at all exploring your past, what led you to do what you did and what would help you turn your life around. Mind you this doing things to you continues on the outside when you get out. be a lot more helpful if they actually tried working with you instead of doing things to you that are never going to work because these idiots have never taken the time to get to know you, the human being.

    Offender behaviour courses are ridiculous because they are a one size fits all to a problem that is basically different for every single individual and requires an individual solution for every single person who commits a crime. Plus, let's face it, have any of us ever met anyone who really did turn their lives around based solely on their attending an OB course??? They simply don't work because they are predicated on a ridiculous premise to start with.

    It's like trying to get someone to give up drugs. They are only going to when they are ready to and really want to. You can send an addict to rehab over and over and over but unless they really want to quit the moment they get out of rehab they are probably just going to go seek a fix. Same with habitual criminals. They aren't going to give up crime unless they really want to and to get them to that stage you need to spend the time and invest the effort to work with them to get them to really figure things out.

    I remember talking to a YO in one of the prisons I was in who was telling me about a cousin of their who was just starting college doing a course they had always dreamed of doing and this YO was really envious of this cousin having a passion and a focus. It turned out that no one either at home or school had ever spent any time with this kid looking at options, what they were good at, what they enjoyed and helping and supporting them to figure out a future that was both possible and which excited them. it was little wonder this kid had drifted into crime because it seemed glamourous and exciting and they were just looking for a focus and somewhere to belong. Prisons are full of people who no one bothered investing in or supporting when they were younger.

    The path to crime does suddenly roar into life at the time the crime is committed yet the entire system sees you as nothing more than a crime statistic to be managed and assessed on the most inane and stupid criteria. You are not considered a human being worth getting to know. You are not considered someone capable of turning your life around or investing in but merely an annoying crime stat.

    The whole tone of the above post seems to confirm this and points up the massive ideological flaw at the heart of our criminal justice system. You are never going to reduce crime and stop people committing crime unless you invest in them emotionally and financially before they get into crime. Or once they do a tailored individual approach will be the only way to really reduce the problem

    1. Thanks for your very relevant and interesting reflections on this important subject. I completely agree that a proper analysis of what has led a person to end up in prison is often completely lacking. That is perhaps why prison actually fails to reduce reoffending in so many cases.

      As things stand - in our overcrowded and understaffed prisons - there is very little, if any, focus on real rehabilitation. Perhaps there is an automatic assumption by the 'professionals' that once a person has committed a crime he or she is beyond redemption of any kind, so the default setting is to warehouse them until release and then chuck them out of the main gate for probation and police to deal with until they end up back inside. I just hope that we can stimulate a more inclusive and meaningful debate about these issues.

    2. My uncle Stanley was killed in North Sea Camp Borstal.

      By whom and for what reason we cannot know, because the 75 year rule permits the Prison Service to withold all information. All the family knows is that in 1945, at the tender age of 18 he was brought unconscious to the hosptial in Boston, Lincolnshire and the doctors could not revive him. A post mortem was carried out and the cause of death on his death certificate says "Immersion Pulmonary Edema". Look it up. IPE results from immersion in ice cold water for periods of 30 minutes or more. No-one deliberately immerses themselves in ice cold water for half an hour. Someone forced him in and kept him there. Quite literally, cold blooded murder - and as far as we know, nobody has ever paid the price for it.

  2. I like Prof Wilson, he talks a lot of sense!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I just wish that the format for this important debate hadn't been a reality TV show.

    2. I'd say its a disguised vehicle to bring back 'national service' in some form, not necessarily in a military form!

  3. I think its uplifting to see how the boys take pride in their efforts especially making the chair & baking and the best of all seeing the boys with the ladies in their 80's. Shows to me that, as ever, a role model/mentor works wonders

    1. Thanks for your comment. My problem with the format of the show is that it is simply so far removed from what a 'real' borstal was like that it is in danger of selling a product on totally false pretences. These weren't "boys" - they were young adults some of whom had already served prison sentences. In this 'unreality' show the fact they can just walk out the gate at will as soon as anything gets a bit tough or challenging is the real flaw in the entire scenario.

      However, on the mentoring issue I fully agree with you. I'd offer some of these young men extended 'Outward Bound' style experiences, maybe travelling abroad to work on specific charity or community projects for months where they could learn various skills, thus genuinely making the whole experience worthwhile and more meaningful.

  4. I have respect for David Wilson as a criminologist but, as you observe, Alex, he really should have known better on this occasion. I found the series quite absorbing but only because it re-triggered my undying curiosity as to why, as your first anonymous respondents asks, these young men had come to be in trouble with the law in the first place. As s/he observes, no-one ever seems to ask this question and the series lost a really good opportunity to explore it. If we know anything about how to work with young people it is the need to model the respect we want them to give us and others, and certainly not to humiliate them with ridiculous clothing and military-style discipline. Many of them have lived through abusive and otherwise traumatic childhood experiences and all this does is to re-abuse them. I am sure that David Wilson knows this, which is why his participation is puzzling. The person who most fascinated me among the 'inmates' was Burniston, who quite cleverly mocked the process all the way through and yet possessed good looks, intelligence and charm, which properly harnessed, would have transferred very effectively into some form of legal citizenship. I agree with Anonymous (4) that the programme did show some positive effects on the young men of an interest being taken in their achievements, but we didn't need an 'experiment' to tell us this, and as someone who supervised post-release Borstal boys back in the day, I know how brutal many of these regimes were, so 'Bring back Borstal' - no thanks!

    1. Thanks for your very insightful analysis of the TV show. I couldn't agree more with your points. What we saw was a 21st century 'Disneyfied' version of a 'let's pretend Borstal' without the vicious brutality that often went on behind the fences in real institutions. It was basically 'Bad Lad's Army' being replayed in shorts and overalls.

      Another key flaw was that - as anyone who has experience of the criminal justice system is well aware, including David Wilson - is the risk of recidivism as soon as the individual returns to his (or her) dysfunctional home environment. Clearly, some of these young men did come from very problematic backgrounds, as you point out, and going home may not necessarily be the best option for some of them.

      I think we also need to remember that there will have been a careful selection of candidates to appear on the show. The producers will have been keen to have personalities that would appeal to the viewers - Burniston, Spence - etc so that people started to care about what happened to them. To what extent the progress each man made after his 'release' from the fake Borstal actually rested on the experience of the show I think is very unclear.

      Personally, I'd have preferred to see a completely different scenario where a group of challenging young men are taken away from the UK, or at least someone very remote, to learn to work together as a team. Maybe voluntary work abroad or touring on a training ship for a few months. This would have been much more genuine and relevant than dressing up valid theories about mentoring and rehabilitation in 1950s short trousers and pretending that the Borstal experiment was something of a 'golden age' of youth justice.

  5. Yes, you're of course right, Alex, that these young men will have been carefully selected to appeal - and most of them did. Those with less apparent 'personalities' were largely kept in the background. However, the frustrating thing is that, given that the likes of Burniston, Spence and the Kearney brothers all had this appeal, albeit in very different ways, it would have been so good to see those aspects of their personalities identifed and worked with appropriately, perhaps in the way you suggest. And, yes, the risk of recidivism once they get home is huge - and so another useful 'experiment' would have been to provide them with long-term mentors to help them stay motivated. I wonder if there will be a follow-up programme/series to find out what happened to them - or will the extent of failure be too embarrassing for that......?

  6. I offended many times as a youth from 13 years old, eventually being remanded many times into local care whilst waiting my fate at court. By the time i was barely 16 Detention centre or short sharp shock was my prescribed punishment, this was very brutal. About 18 months later borstal training was my next step up the offenders ladder. After doing DC Borstal was in relation easier, however including remand i spent over a year inside that time. The thing that sticks in my mind the most was at Strangeways Borstal allocation prison. There were some nasty officers there, i often wondered how they treated their own familys, could these officers be a victim of their own abuse? I think the abused are more likely to become abusers its a circle that has to be stopped. After Borstal i did do a couple of short prison sentences and eventually stopped offending. I will never forget the way i was treated, although i can forgive, i do think the abusers were a tool in a messed up system. Borstal in the old sense of the word would never work again, dont bring back Borstal again its dead. All types of prisons are academys that can produce career criminals. I do understand there is a line where prison is the only answer, but thats not the answer for low level crime. We need to get our heads together as crime is only going to get worse, thats what this issue boils down to.

  7. My uncle Stanley was killed in North Sea Camp Borstal.

    By whom and for what reason we cannot know, because the 75 year rule permits the Prison Service to withold all information. All the family knows is that in 1945, at the tender age of 18 he was brought unconscious to the hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire and the doctors could not revive him. A post mortem was carried out and the cause of death estabilished as "Immersion Pulmonary Edema". Look it up. IPE results from immersion in ice cold water for periods of 30 minutes or more. No-one deliberately immerses themselves in ice cold water for half an hour. Someone forced him in and kept him there. Quite literally, cold blooded murder - and as far as we know, nobody has ever paid the price for it.

    1. Hi Frank, i would take no notice of any 75 year rule, for starters i hope you have wrote a letter of complaint to Lincolnshire police. Keep complaining, do not be fobbed off.

  8. As a young lad i received 6 weeks and 3 days in foston hall detention centre.
    It was July 1979.
    I had appeared in front of the magistrates in sandbach Cheshire.
    The three years previous to this I had been in danesford a nch home in Congleton .
    Stealing cars and various other crimes found me on my way to foston hall.

    6weeks and 3 days later fit and aggressive aged 15 I was out and stood at Crewe train station.
    Back into the care system and sent to bersham hall in Wrexham.
    Then to Bryn estyn in Wrexham.
    Back in front if the magistrates in Wrexham for car theft .
    Remanded in custody to risley remand centre.
    Mold crown court where I received 6 months to two years borstal training in march 1980 still aged 15.
    Off for allocation to strangeways.
    Then lowdham grange in Nottingham.
    From there an 11 day on the run I was caught sleeping in the back of a car in a hotel carpark in Wrexham.
    I had no family so it was inevitable I would get caught as I had no where to go.
    Back to strangeways for re allocation then sent to everthorpe in north cave near hull.
    There I remained till march 1982.
    I lost all my bird and did the full 2 years.
    I learnt nothing in borstal.
    I did not participate in any of oi it I was housed and that was it.
    I did four inductions in St George's and was on every wing David's Patrick's Andrews.
    I did no work no education.
    I received one visit.
    And very few letters except for the last six months of a sister of a mate I made in everthorpe.
    I spent quite a lot of time down the block in everthorpe and found it peaceful.
    Mr Duncan was a block screw who introduced me to books (thank you)
    There was bullying violence breakdowns .
    People taking canteen of people.
    All the usual things males do when locked up.
    It was easy for me as I had been in care since the age of 4.
    I have never done a day behind the door since march 1982.
    Never been arrested never committed a crime.
    Why ? I got a trade.
    Nothing to do with the care homes d.c borstal or anybody else.
    I met a girl who is still my girl 33 years later.
    3 kids and a decent life.
    It did help her father owned a plant hire business hence the trade fixing plant driving plant and now running the company.
    All what is needed is someone to ask the fuckin question why are you running away ?what do you want ?
    What do you want to do to get a leg up from the miserable shitty world you inhabit.
    Colin Flanagan mark Riley Lee stone terry king my mates in borstal years ago never forgot you or the laughs and mayhem we caused.
    Hope it all went your way.

    1. Thanks for sharing your own experiences with us. Although some things have no doubt changed, there are still lots of problems in the YOIs.

      Most lads I've known who 'graduated' from Borstals or YOIs to adult prison have told me similar things about their time there. I'm just glad to hear that you've done so well following an obviously difficult time as a lad. It's always great to read a success story. Alex

    2. Thanks Alex, just wanted to get it off my chest.
      I came across your site by accident and it took me back to a time in my life that was funny sad hopeless scary and fuckin funny.
      It seems unreal 33 years later when I think about it but it was real, one memory always make me laugh.
      Reporting sick for anything was always treated with asprin.
      Repeat offenders had two asprins sellotaped to their forehead.
      Another funny moment was getting of the coach that had brought us from strangeways at lowdham grange, and a bunch of seasoned boys singing we wish you a merry Christmas lol it was April 1980.
      Anyway I'm good best of luck to you if your on the same path.
      My girls father asked me what what I needed to get out of the shitty world I was in, I told him a job so he gave me a shovel and a brush and pointed to the yard.
      Up to you ain't it.

    3. I started offending at the age of 13, looking back it seems to have started when my parents divorced. My first convictions for burglarys meant i was sent to attendance centre. Here we did PE for a couple of hours a week, the police ran this punishment.
      Next step of offending for me was to be remanded into local authority care, this happened a few times, then given probation, i was eventually sent to Whatton detention centre Notts, i was just 16. This was an harsh brutal regime, we were often abused, this i will never forget. I did come out of DC super fit and ready to resume crime as was now the norm to me.
      After a couple of years and more convictions for burglary twoc etc i was sentenced to Borstal Training. After a short spell in Armley it was off to be allocated at Strangeways, not a nice experience. Its now late 1979, i was sent to Wetherby Borstal, freezing run down old army style huts i only stayed a few weeks. Myself and two other lads went over the fence, one was caught nearby. Me and the remaining lad stole a car and off we went, we then split up and went our own ways. I was out 3 months before i was caught and sent back to Strangeways for re-allocation. A screw cracked me there in the face with some keys, it left me in a bloody mess.
      My new Borstal was Deerbolt, when i arrived i was asked about the bruised and bloody face, i made no complaint. I told them who did it but just wanted to get my head down and finish my time. Deerbolt was ok, i learned a trade which helped me to be more industrious. However shortly after release i started offending again, i ended up in prison doing short sentences. A few years later i stopped offending on my own back, i learned the error of my ways.
      These days i look as myself as being very honest, as are my grown up children, im so proud of them. I do sometimes have thoughts of my previous life, im not proud of it. Worth a small mention, i was convicted on most of my crimes by false or manufactured evidence, this included being veballed. Seemed to be the norm back in the day (Before Pace)
      Thanks for reading.

    4. Thanks for sharing your own experiences of borstals and DCs. I think that there is a gradual recognition that these really brutal regimes did nothing but provide opportunities for sadists and the sexually perverted to indulge their own sick fantasies at the expense of kids and youngsters. The truth is slowly emerging about Medomsley and other establishments.

      Even if society was more brutal and accepting of violence back in the 1960s and 1970s, some of the physical abuse that went on inside back then is now starting to catch up with the perpetrators. A few of them may well experience time on the other side of the door in the not too distant future!

      For some people, I think juvenile delinquency is exactly that... a youthful phase that they do grow out of as they mature and take on adult responsibilities. It's great to hear that you succeeded in going straight and I do think that is a significant achievement. Anyone can make mistakes, but the important thing is to learn from them and not repeat them again and again. Sadly, too many people still in our prison system haven't made that transition and there are plenty who have pursued an - unsuccessful - life of crime. Of course, the really successful ones just haven't yet been caught!

  9. Forgotten voices of borstal is a book that needs to be written.
    Input from the screws and the lads.
    Be a good social record.

    I left a comment further up the page about everthorpe borstal.
    I would love to know how my peers got on after a life of offending.
    Maybe you stopped offending yourself ?

    How did it affect you later on in life regarding jobs and crb checks etc.

    I don't believe a word written by anybody who writes about crime borstal prison and the reasons why , unless the person lived it and committed the offences.

    You have to have been there and done it
    Come on somebody.
    All borstal boys had a story, some no doubt the same,broken homes no dads.
    Care homes and damaged long before the prison service got hold of us.

    Others victims of circumstance wrong place wrong time.

    Surely out of an undertaking like writing a book , a message will reveal its self at the end.

    Thoughts ?

    1. Thanks for your comment and questions. I agree that this is an area where much more needs to be written and read by a wider audience. There are two volumes of Prison Voices, but these are historical records from the Victorian period. A modern collection of borstal memories and comments would be a great idea. Let's see if anyone is up for taking it on!

  10. I think you are the man for it Alex.
    Set a website up gather the stories sort the real from the fake and get it published .
    It would I think make people who talked about reforming borstal boys realise that the words they spouted were just that words.

    I did all 104 weeks in everthorpe, one screw Mr smith asked me to explain why the system did not work.
    I pointed to a lad who was back on a recall (16 weeks) .
    That's why it don't work Mr smith.

    1. Everthorpe Borstal

  11. I didn't have a problem with Borstal me and two pals legged it from gains hall open Borstal then I went to reading which was a punishment centre for Borstal boys piece of cake after first week then I went to Portland Borstal for 16months I had a pretty fair time there had a good job and always had a few bob in my pocket


    2. I was in drake house 1972/3,first stop was everthorpe,then next time off to Portland,which was ok,did about 18 months in there

  12. Reading your article and the comments has saddened me. My eldest brother spent many years in care homes n borstals in the 80s. He was a good kid but starting rebelling when my parents divorced n mum got with an abusive partner. My mums way to deal with him was to put him in care, where he picked up bad habits, stealing n petty crime which led to him going to various borstals. On leaving the last 1 he seemed like he wanted to change his ways n settle down. Unfortunately he met a girl who introduced him to a new set of friends and 1 night at a party he had a go of methodone and overdosed. They could of phoned an ambulance and save him but they didn't. He had celebrated his 18th birthday 2 weeks before.
    It haunts me to think of the physical and emotional abuse he must have suffered in these places and kills me to think he could have been sexualy abused too.
    He was a good kid who was failed by his parents and a system that was meant to be there to help him get on the right track in life.
    Thank you for raising such an important issue that has affected many people's lives.
    R.I.P Colin Jones xxx

  13. It's late but I couldn't put this down. I was in Blantyre House 79/80. Boy have I got a story for you.......tomorrow

  14. Eastwood park 79 . Brutality and punishment beatings were commonplace.

  15. I was looking at the news about sexual abuse in football clubs and it stirred up my memories of Borstal.
    On my 16th birthday in 1959 I was sentenced to Borstal (no fixed date in them days ) at Liverpool Crown Court, I was a little kid and very frightened but tried not to show it, later that day I was bussed to Walton Jail, jail then was a million miles away from what it is today.
    Later I was transferred to Latchmere house a holding and transfer prison in the South of England it served as a prisoner of war camp during the war, after about six weeks I was allocated to Everyhorpe Borstal in North Cave Yorkshire, here began my horror, I was a sexual slave of three older lads this went on for 16 months when one day on an outside work party I ran away, I was captured within a few hours back at the Borstal I was placed before the governor and he admonished me for being so stupid as to run away when I only had two more months to serve, I was placed on bread and water 3 days on 3 days off for about nine days in what was termed The Chokie Block, what happened in that Borstal ruined my life, I could never tell anyone about my sexual abuse I felt so ashamed and blamed myself after all I Was A MAN!, in truth I was a frightened little kid, suicide attempts, alcoholism,addiction to drugs followed leading to a depressed and torturous life.

  16. SEND detention centre, Woking, Surrey Feb 1980 for 6 weeks.
    Screws predominantly fell into two categories; ex army, or not bright enough to go to Hendon. Regime was harsh but not brutal. Some screws tried to be intimidating however it was pretty clear to me at least that they were just playing the game. Drilled daily on the parade square, hours and hours down the farm, some classes, meals in the big hall - - this was also where our mail was handed out) then back to dorm to change clothes, clean the dorm - my dorm was DX) before hopefully getting to watch 1 hour of TV - it was always Sweeney. Then lights out. Weekends were similar but also included going to mass on a Sunday. My allocated job was admin orderly which was great because I could sit in my little cubby hole attic above the education block and smoke the butts left by screws. Abuse(sexual) yes it happened. Two screws were active sadly.

    1983 saw me in Aldington detention centre, Kent. Very similar to SEND but no pedo screws, that I was aware of anyway. Two rather infamous screws were Messrs "fuck-up & Lofty" who both enjoyed "happy slapping" anyone that they could approach with stealth. HAPPY DAYS!

    1. i was in aldington in 83 too,in romney party till my final week,then rushed through the grades.trinder,sweeney,that old sweetheart,mr manley(''put 'em up again'').the presiding cons gov at the time,thinking,obviously,that the best way to deal with very violent young men,was to send them somewhere to make them very fit.that'll learn 'em

    2. Aldington in 1978, Fuck-up and lofty in the machine shop making chain link fences and Trinder in the kitchen. Sadistic bastards all of them. And the woman in the CES store who made you polish her toilet seat everyday, perverted bitch.

  17. Wow,I just read some old comments on DC and Borstal.The memories of these Government sponsored hate theaters,in the early 1970s I went through a good few of these places I'm now sixty the vivid memories of violence are there everyday.I'm trying not to be selfish but with all that is happening in football and churches about sex abuse people who were violent abused seem to have no voice.

    1. lofty in the wire shop
      making chain link fences 1973

    2. Im 60 too Canterbury remand,aldington dc ,dover borstal ,feltham borstal ,finimore wood.

  18. Aldington skidmark of the week announced because boxer shorts numbered
    got one of the laundry boys to wipe his arse in a niggers boxers
    We have a winner

  19. I'm looking for info on Maurice Halford deceased who I understand was sent to Borstal approx 1959-1962. I've tried to get records as to what he was put in Borstal for & where he was placed. Can anyone out there help me please as I think the incarceration in the barbaric place determined his future anger through his lifetime.

  20. Was anybody sent to Whatton in the very early 80s?

    I was sent there when i was 14, in 1980/81 for 3 months, and had to put up with the regime of the brown tie then red tie then green tie, made to work like a dog etc.

    The place was ruthless.

    1. Hi Mate, I was in Whatton in 1984 and was physically abused by several screws. There is currently an investigation going on. If you would like to make a claim please contact Jordans solicitors in Wakefield.

  21. I was at Rochester Borstal 1962.Escaped on a tractor 1963.Eventually captured and sent to Reading punishment borstal.Released 1964.Also got a recall of further 6 months.Very nasty things went on at Reading borstal.Some things still haunt me after all these years.

  22. PART ONE -I was pretty much a feral kid from the age of about 10 when inducted into the *system* for stealing some fruit from a veg shed on the side of the road, we had to push the door in but no big deal really. Just brats at work. Mum and dad had split up, and dad though still around wasnt much of a good influence. Mum was overwhelmed with 8 kids, aged from around 6 to 17 on her own and I guess social services were a bit of support. We loved our parents dearly but....... too much freedom and too much time on our hands. The devil makes work for idle hands indeed. That first offence (my older brothers had been in trouble too) saw social sending me away to a reception centre, like a childrens home..lovely place. Mum had to go to court to get me back home. It was too late I was already on the slippery slope. Never made secondary school. I then ended up in various childrens homes, borstal, DC, back to borstal, and finally YP at 17 (1975) I then sort of grew up...but only ever drifted through life at best. I got smart and never got caught again when I finally gave up crime around 1991 (only ever stealing cars etc and some burglaries as a brat) Not so much I got *smart*, but rather the police gave up. As a kid/teen the police were everywhere and it was inevitable we were almost always caught, be it stealing, or driving with no insurance etc. From about 1978 the police where few and far between...since then they are almost non existant. Crime is much worse then it ever was, the stats lie. We just dont bother reporting it cos the police never show up, or dont even answer the phones. Plus the judiciary just make a mockery of sentencing.

  23. PART TWO - I went to rochester borstal (around 1973) supposed to be a hard place. I also did remand, often in the scrubbs and feltham. The one thing above all that we required was strict discipline, and it worked. We behaved inside mostly. Whatton DC (thought it was watton in those days) was the hardest...very physical and strictest discipline. just what we needed. Scum was a great representation of borstal. The show you refer to that was just reality tv nonsense, though still interesting. You guys are quite right when you say NOTHING is done to find out why we went off the rails, and nothing was done to keep us back on track. Today its a free for all. You cannot run a healthy society on the cheap. Public service these days is at best (this includes NHS/Police/Law and order etc) is a sticking plaster mentality. We have to get to the root cause of crime, which is a sick society, but first and foremost we must remove criminals from the streets each and EVERY time they progress up the ladder. Some people are just bad, and should be incarcerated forever. Others like me just need support to get on the straight and narrow and to stay there. Its a lifetime thing. Even we dont know why we do stuff, so there is no point spending millions on hot air discussions/debates and cobblers trying to shortchange society. Society above all else needs strict discipline and solid structure. Free will is the bane of society, when most of us dont have a clue what to do with it. Then the devil steps in with the idle hands stuff. The victorians had it pretty well sussed for the period...we need more of the same...more mental health, more mental homes, more prisons, more childrens homes and more vocational training, instead of trying to make everyone an academic which is nonsensical. The sicker society gets the more help we need. You cannot run it on the cheap. How can we have 1.7m unemployed and yet be selling off all our public services.....if the managers cant run them properly, get someone who can...dont sell it off to fat cats so they can make millions off of our family silver, whilst the country goes to the dogs. We have all been fed a big fat lie and it needs to stop whilst we still have something left worth saving. The places I was in were many and varied.....all have their tough times,and many have fond memories. I had God on my side so thankfully came out relatively unscathed but you simply cannot let the sheep roam free.... we need (some of us) shepherds from cradle to grave. The reason no one in power wants to hear our side of the story is because the truth hurts. We would expose their failings and their cheating of society. Their I'm alright Jack mentality costs us dearly.

  24. I was in Whatton 1978, bad memories still.

  25. I was sent to a Junior Approved Near Woking. At the age of 11. I was sent to a Senior Approved School in Herts. I got sentenced to a Detention Centre near Guilford. I ended up in BORSTAL at Rochester. I worked on a farm, I milked Cows and learned to plough. I made Chain Link Fencing. I made Coconut Door Mats for the QUEEN and the PRIME MINISTER. I made Target Boards for the Armoured Corp and Meat Hooks for the Navy. I witnessed assaults, buggery, suicide and the Bullying. I was an ABSCONDER and good at it.I took my beatings and thrashings, my Bread and Water in solitary confinement. In the end I gave my self up and went back to finish my time. They put me on the Main Gate delivering the Mail and Showing visitors around. They kept me away from the other inmates, I was a bad influence. I was 17. The Governor called me up to his office one day. He'd read my file and come to the same conclusion as me. The whole thing had been a waste of time. He had to let me go. I had run out of time. I'd done the FULL whack. I came out of there with nothing. I had made a couple of GOOD mates over the years but lost contact. I started my life from new. I'm 70 next month. I've been married to the same woman for nearly 50 years. I've got children and grand children. I own my own house and I've NEVER been out of work. I've met people with so much potential, wasted. Thrown away. My Education was NEVER finished. I've BULL SHITTED my way trough life to survive. What a waste.

    1. ye did well same here proved them wrong same woman forty years three kid all no bother no cheek no drugs where both lucky well done mine is the post bellow stoke heath yes suicides bullying seen it all

  26. I was in stoke heath in the sixteis and had to apply to a visiting court to be realeasd because the wing govener could not get to the bottom of me and i had been senteced ib two courts he said they should run consecutivly the court released me but he ibsited i could only be realesed on a defined realease date i was never give the rigth to come outside the blocks by myself think iwas a different colour tie the same wing govener pot me in a doem with his bully boys did nt work had to move out the next day i could go on but i hope there is alife afterdeath because i wanna meet them fuckers again, when i left the govener said i would be back in months he was wrong i had made my mind up before i went in there i was on the wrong track that what stumped him i just wanted to do my time and leave but he was determind in his words to break me well the fucker didn t and i never went back but i have been and looked from outside and laughed at the sad warders i have to say some where good mainly ex forces who had had a life i still feel like suing them nearly fifty years on

  27. I was given three month detention in 1967 in Aldington. I came from a very ordinary working class family but suffered epilepsy from birth up until I started school at the age of five.
    I was always stealing at school which was the start of my petty criminal life which eventually landed me in Aldington at the age of 16. I cried uncontrollably on the first night...I missed my family and my freedom.
    I soon settled in to the routine which I found hardwork but weirdly comforting, the physical exercise was really hard for me as I was not built for it, getting up at 6 and dressing in a vest, shorts and army boots to do bunny-hops on the square in mid November was not my idea of a good time....and to this day when I hear crows cawing this takes me back to those freezing mornings.
    I had always been a fussy eater as a kid and so being served up with big pies and ever bigger helpings of watery mashed potatoes and little gravy disgusted me..but not for long, being up at 6 and going to bed at 8 and working and exercising all day soon improved my appetite.
    I can remember some of the 'screws', 'Lofty', who ran Weavers 1, a giant of a man who's bark was worse than his bite, the PE teacher was apparently an ex-mercinary man, hard but fair, 'Big Bob' who liked to be sadistic from time to time, but the worse one was the youngest screw who's name I can't remember, I saw him give some awful beatings to kids who he knew would never retaliate, a truly nasty little fuck. I never heard of or witnessed any sexual abuse.
    I never gave into anyone in there, not to the screws or other boys much to my detriment sometimes, if I had I would have lost my self respect and so when it came to the time for my mid term assessment I was told I would lose remission for not being 'institutionalised'....then I thought so be it, you will never ever break me, I may not be big in stature but I was big of heart, eventually they realised that I had respect for myself and as I never broke the rules there wasn't a lot they could do about it.
    There were some hilarious moments, some very sad moments and some extremely frustrating moments. Many years later I realised that a number of boys I came across would continue to offend for a number of reasons which almost always stemmed from family problems, some never had family and one boy openly admitted to liking being inside... he'd been given up at birth and had only known institutions which had become his 'family'.
    I was released after 2 months, with 1 month off for good behaviour, I never re-offended and they never broke me.
    Aldington became a holding prison for illegal immigrants and is now a small housing estate.
    I'd like to hear from others who were in there around the same time including 'Billy the Fish', 'The Milky Bar Kid' and 'Sloth Bear'..... hahahahahah.

  28. I went to Aldington in about '83 after doing a runner from Hollesley Bay. I was from the Medway area though so it actually worked out better for me - eventually. I was in red ''runners gear'' for the first few weeks, but eventually got swapped into normal kit. I was in the workshops, where barbed wire had been made before I got there. My job was tying knots in the ends of prison blankets made on looms. I actually moved on to the looms once out of runners gear. It was in the workshop where ''Fuck up'' and ''Lofty'' took me and a younger traveller lad into the ''treatment room''. It was a cupboard really but it didn't have an alarm bell and they tried to get one of us to punch them. They were just a couple of spineless bully's really and got off on trying to intimidate kids. There was another screw who looked like Christopher Biggins and would practice submission holds on kids. I let slip about his looking like Biggins to some other screws and he hated me for it.
    I never saw anything too serious though. Nothing more than kids just trying to get through the day and the tough regime. I struggled with the physical stuff and the assault courses in the gym. The using long benches and lifting them above our heads etc. I came out of there way fitter than when I went in. I'm in my 50's now and seldom think of my time there. I do recall one night where we were ordered to stand by our beds for some petty reason and the whole dorm just laughed uncontrollably. It was down to nerves but the screw was furious at his loss of control. With hindsight, that strict discipline was what I needed. I wish I had joined the services to find it though, rather than tarnishing my life with petty crime.