The cellblock was at the rear of the station, a low-rise, redbrick-and-iron building the length of the yard. Once hammered and charged in the watch-room, detainees were frogmarched along a narrow hallway and dragged across the kitchen floor, through a heavy metal door and along a cobbled laneway. The cells had been built 80 years earlier and had never received minor repairs let alone a modern renovation. Running water, hot or cold, was non-existent, natural light and fresh air were minimal, and those locked up, sometimes for weeks if they couldn’t get a slot at the overcrowded remand wing at Pentridge, were left to piss and shit in shared rusting metal buckets. Each cell, eight by five, was furnished with a wire-framed bed, a narrow mattress, the said bucket and a blanket that grazed the skin.
The walls held stories of damaged bodies; traces of blood, calcified vomit and dried shit that looked like it had been smeared across the walls by a childish finger painter. The putrid smell, accurately indescribable, even for a wordsmith, was perhaps a cocktail of decaying flesh and the must scent of well-nourished bed bugs. Men had died in the cells over the years. Some choked on their own vomit. Others of untreated injuries dealt prior to, or during, arrest. It was known that several men had been dead-on-arrival. Their bodies were dumped on the cold floor of a cell and left until the arresting officers enjoyed their evening meal. Suicides were another dubious cause of the expiration of life, to use the technical term for a death in custody. When police did admit to being the cause of the cuts, bruises and broken bones on a body, a statement of self-defence was rarely questioned, let alone investigated.
This is only available to a Meanjin subscriber.
But we can fix that.
It\’s just $100 for a print subscription, $5 for a monthly digital subscription, and $50 for an annual digital subscription.