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The harsh lessons of Christmas in B Block, Sir David Longlands

By Bernie Matthews - posted Monday, 8 December 2003

There was an air of expectancy inside B Block at the Sir David Longland Correctional Centre. It was Christmas. Yuletide. The festive season. A time of peace and goodwill to all men.

In the week before Christmas nothing had stirred in our house. The contractors had already sprayed for cockies, fleas, flies and mice but the cockies were guaranteed to re-emerge once the effect of the watered-down spray lost its potency. The heat and muggy conditions inside the cells helped to breathe life back into their tormented existence. It was an existence that meant dodging a flying thong or the slap of a wet towel as they scavenged through the cells during the night searching for crumbs and other morsels of leftover food that might be lying around.

Televisions in B Block fluctuated between Christmas savings at Michael Hill Jewellers and the bombing of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq while the screws (prison guards) geared up for their usual round of parties and beery cheer.


The prisoners contented themselves with private thoughts of parole, remission and release that mingled with hazy dreams of a family and friends. At home. At Christmas. In another place.

It was about that time when old Merv hobbled into the Education Block. I hadn’t seen him for nearly two years since the Remand Centre in ‘96.

A spinal operation had left Merv with an awkward limp that made it hard for him to walk but he had managed to master a crab-style gait that enabled him to get around without the aid of a walking stick. His tenacity and perseverance was a credit to every step he gained without falling over.

“Hello mate. What’s ya doin’?” Merv said with a cheeky grin.

“Ten years mate.”

The cynical reply was lost on Merv and his obvious pleasure at seeing an old familiar face was apparent.


“Ya know where the Education Officer is?" he asked. “Gotta get some courses done to get me classification points down.”

The Education Officer wasn’t around so I invited Merv to sit down and have a cuppa. He didn’t need a second invitation. There’s nothing Merv likes better than to reminisce with another old crim. Especially about days gone past.

The Road. The Bay. Parramatta and Pentridge. He had been there and seen it all. The time when they had shit tubs in Two Jail. And the riots of ’87 in The Road. The escapes that succeeded. And the escapes that had come undone.

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About the Author

Bernie Matthews is a convicted bank robber and prison escapee who has served time for armed robbery and prison escapes in NSW (1969-1980) and Queensland (1996-2000). He is now a journalist. He is the author of Intractable published by Pan Macmillan in November 2006.

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