#whitefeather diaries

Abused in prison

Monday 14 March 2016

Conscientious objectors' experiences of prison varied considerably. Some spoke of how well they were treated, while others were physically abused by prison staff, sometimes sexually. Some of the most extreme incidents took place at Wandsworth Prison in 1918, when COs engaged in hunger strikes and other protests. One CO described how he was treated after joining the protests.

I was taken before the medical officer who informed me that I was a lunatic and that I should be treated as such. I was then taken to the padded room and placed in a strait-jacket. My dinner was brought in, together with a convict to feed me. I again refused to take any food, but asked to be allowed to make water, as I had been many hours without having done so. I was told I must wait till after dinner, but it was not till nearly 3pm that an officer brought a convict to me for this purpose.

By this time I was experiencing very much pain from the strait-jacket which appeared to me to be strapped much too tight and was cramping my shoulders and preventing me breathing freely. The convict I found was to hold a chamber to me and do those things necessary which, owing to my hands being confined, I was unable to do myself. Under these circumstances, I found it impossible to ease myself.

I was then left until tea-time, when having refused to eat, I complained of the pain I was experiencing and asked if the straps could be slackened a little. I was told to ask the doctor if this could be done, when he visited me between 6 and 8. He arrived about 7pm, and I at once complained to him and asked could he have the jacket removed or eased a little, as I was in great pain. He replied that I was not responsible for my actions, being a lunatic, and that it was unsafe to allow me out of the jacket.

The prisoner remained in the cell for several hours, before developing an urgent need to relieve himself.

I called aloud to the warder for some time and when he at last came to the door, I told him what I required. He replied telling me to shut up and do anything I wanted to do in my clothes as I stood, the same as others had to do. Telling him I was not a beast, how impossible it was to do as he suggested, and appealing to him to be reasonable, I was still unsuccessful in obtaining anything but his absence.

I continued to call after him for some time until I began to vomit. After the fit of vomiting, during which I was successful in ejecting a little bile, the desire to visit the WC somewhat abated. I once more fell on to the mattress, until the pain and the cold once more forced me to struggle to my feet. In this manner I spent the night, alternately lying and walking, but always in great pain. About 7.15am, I was released from jacket to wash, all my clothes but my shirt and socks being taken from me.

Breakfast and a chamber were then left in the cell with me. I enjoyed about half or three-quarters of an hour's freedom from the jacket, which was again placed upon me, and from which I was finally released about 10.30am. I was in all about twenty hours in the body belt and about twenty-three and a half in the strait-jacket, with only the brief respite at breakfast time mentioned above. I made no complaint to the Governor regarding the above, knowing it to be useless to do so. 

Source: The Tribunal, 23 January 1919.

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