50 Years Ago: Prisoner’s Story
In the summer of 1953 Rupert Croft-Cooke, a novelist by profession, was arrested on a charge of homosexuality. A few months later he appeared before the Quarter Sessions at Lewes, was found guilty on some charges and not guilty on others, and sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment. Apart from a few days at Brixton he served out his sentence (actually six months, allowing for
remission) in Wormwood Scrubs. His book, “The Verdict of You All,” is the story of his experiences there.
Rupert Croft-Cooke, to judge by the scraps of personal information scattered throughout his book, has not been too hardly dealt with by life.
Well-educated, much-travelled, a lover of things good to eat and drink, he was living a well-ordered and comfortable existence in the Sussex countryside until he was rudely awakened one night by the village policeman and two detectives. These, after due observance of the usual legal ceremonial, took him off to the local police station, and from then on he found himself in a world he had hardly known existed. “The Verdict of You All” records his reactions to, and observations of, this world into which he was so suddenly and so rudely thrown, an alien world inhabited by beings he had heard about only through the crime stories of
newspapers, a world a million miles removed from the bright and comfortable surroundings he had been accustomed to enjoy.
To those who cherish comforting delusions about the wonderful reforms that are supposed to have been wrought in our prisons, this book will come as a shock. The tale told by the author is of a penal system grim, drear, unimaginative, mean, and degrading – to prisoner and keeper alike. It tells only of Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton the first a prison for first offenders serving sentences of
six months and over, the second for men sentenced to less than six months ( . . . )
If it is, in fact, an essentially reliable and authentic account of life as it is actually lived in such prisons today, then it is a downright,
uncompromising challenge to all the fine words that have been said about the reforms in our penal system. If it is but half true, it is a grim and sorry reflection on the efforts of those reformers who have laboured over the years to improve conditions in our prisons.
(Article by S. H., Socialist Standard, June 1955)