I was once a man in prison and it was the most horrific part of my life so far and I’m going to tell you all about it.
I had seven years to serve in jail for pick-pocketing from a man at the bar, I was desperate, I had no choice! I didn’t care if I was locked up for the rest of my days as long as my family had the money to live on.
I barely slept at night, bugs and rats often crawled over me and I always thought about how my family were getting on, especially my daughter Elizabeth. She was eleven when I got sent to this wretched place and she would be eighteen when I got out. I also thought about death and whether when I died if I would be sent to a better place or a worse one because on one hand, I had still committed a crime however, on the other hand I only did it to keep my family healthy, so my heart was in the right place but it’s my actions that were not.
In jail we wouldn’t be sitting around doing nothing you would have to do hard labour which was hard work we would have to do it for fourteen hours each day and there was no reason for it except to keep us bored and tired and if you refused you were sure to be whipped. The first part of hard labour was turning the crank hundreds of times. The crank was a box full of sand and a handle on the outside, you would have to turn it for two hours straight. The next part of hard labour was the shot drill. The shot drill was carrying a cannon ball in a circle, putting it down and picking it back up again and we also did this for two hours. Picking oakum, again, there is no good reason, it’s literally picking apart rope except it’s smothered in cold hard tar. We would be given a pile of oakum to pick throughout a week then, the following week, we would have to put it back together again; it made your fingers feel like they were going to fall off it was torture. Next was what the warden used to call the great finale, it was the tread wheel I don’t know but I think I overheard the guards talking about what the tread wheel, and what it can do, apparently it turns another wheel to help make the gruel - I’ll tell you what that is later. Let’s get back to the treadwheel. The treadwheel was terrible, crucifying in fact, and since it was the last part of hard labour for the day we would have had to do it for eight hours! It was like a never-ending staircase but a painful one for sure.
Now I’ll tell you about that gruel I mentioned earlier on in the diary, I suppose the hard labour wasn’t as pointless as I made it out to be. After we had done all of the hard labour we would get our small serving of gruel. The gruel was revolting however having to eat it day after day, week after week and month after month you would get used to it and maybe even learn to like it.
After a few years I noticed the wardens had acquired a new whip it was called the cat o ‘nine tails. The wardens were cruel and urging to use their new terrifying weapon capable of mass destruction, well that’s what my crazy imagination was telling me anyway. There was a man in jail and he was so infuriating, it was unreal, because he was the man who got me whipped. I could almost swear he did it purposely, what he did seemed as if it was a minor problem but believe me, in here it was a bigger deal than you think. Whilst I was picking oakum he was constantly whispering to me, “Why are you in jail, why are you in jail?” After a while I lost my temper and I exploded. I shouted out, “Shut up!” and of course the wardens heard me so they yanked me over by the hair right to the front of the room for everyone to see. They told everyone to look and one of them said, “This is what happens when you disobey us,” and I think you know what happened next, that’s right I was savagely whipped. You’re probably wondering why I was whipped for something such as speaking well I’ll tell you why because you couldn’t just have a good old chat while you were doing your hard labour, not even the slightest chance of that, you would have to do it in absolute silence.
At night I used to run around my cell like a madman and I know it sounds crazy but how else was I supposed to fall asleep because I’m kept up by well ,you know, worries and stuff.
Eventually I got out of that hell-hole, I was relieved, over the moon if you will. Sometimes, I just wish I could get a sponge and wash away that whole chapter from my life however, at the exact same time, I’d like to keep that one chapter because it made me man I am today.
I will pass this diary to my daughter and tell her when she has a child and her child comes of age she should keep passing it down through the family. I would like for the family line to at least have an imprint on this diary so it would be amazing for everyone in the family line to write their name below and if this diary goes on for long enough you could even use the next page in the diary.
That’s all from me Sidney Mathews and remember, anyone who feels they have the urge to commit a crime I suggest you turn around and walk away.