Last year, a trip to the Pentridge Prison grounds – what's left of them – gave me a hundred insights into the horrors of life in that institution: the close quarters, constant surveillance, poor sanitation, and dependence on interminable, senseless routine, an imagined reform through discipline. These insights gave only a small understanding of the rigours of incarceration in Pentridge.
Don Osborne's Pentridge: Behind the Bluestone Walls seeks to repopulate the compounds and yards behind the stark bluestone edifice. Part memoir, part 'true crime' rehash, the handsomely designed work provides a range of stories both compelling and gruesome – and almost uniformly sad. Most of the men Osborne describes in his book, many of whom he had interaction with when he worked at the prison forty years ago, seem to have been victims of abuse in childhood which set them on an early course as perpetrators of (often horrifying) crimes. Linking the stories is an archaic set of reform and/or punishment principles, rigidly enforced. These made Pentridge Prison a nightmare for thousands of inmates for close to a century and a half until it began winding down operations – with a few misdirections during the reform process initiated by the Hamer government in the 1970s, leading to the ill-fated Jika Jika compound of 1980–87.