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Women in Prison

Prison Characters Drawn from Life by a Prison Matron(author of 'Female Life in Prison') Vol 1 1866

It is a marvel that under the very hard conditions of long hours and few holidays, of constant mental excitement.....that the right woman is ever found in the right place. The calling is not an attractive one to women of any degree of mental culture, and the necessity must have been a stern one that first placed them in the ranks.

Chapter VII 'Airing Grounds'

Conspicuous in the airing-ground is the peculiar walk of the women, from which scarcely one in a hundred is exempt, and which is imitated unknowingly one from another, I imagine. No one teaches this walk, and no one attempts to inculcate a different style of progression,... So odd and marked a gait is it that a matron can often tell in the streets a woman who has been in a Government prison. It is a flat-footed, lumpish kind of tread, approaching at times to a waddle - a style of progression difficult to describe, and which I can only compare to a movement from the hips, as though the chief locomotive power was centred in those joints, on which ten out of every twenty rest their hands as they walk. It is supposed by some old officers that the walk was originated on the occasion of a general distribution of new aprons, when the anxiety to display the apron to the best advantage led to this eccentricity.

Chapter IX 'Prison Labour'

Let it be recorded here that labour women at all female prisons are the best behaved. Labour that necessitates work of hands, movement of the body, and change from place to place - sheer hard work at the wash tub or in the bakehouse, or in any fashion that will keep women from their brooding fits. The refractory female convicts are those employed in sedentary pursuits; coir pickers, bag makers etc, are generally ill-behaved and quick to take offence.

Chapter XXIV 'The Laundry'

The women are disputatious......and the soap question is always in the ascendant in the 'washing house'. The prisoners are always on the watch for stray pieces of soap - which is handy for smoothing the hair, for instance - and quick is the eye to detect an error in a contemporary who, in her absence of mind, places her soap by her tub-side instead of in her pocket, and quick are the fingers to confiscate it accordingly. Quarrels about soap are constantly recurring in the laundry; there is no honour among soap thieves; women will rob their dearest pals of the two or three o'clock soaps, and maintain 'til the last, and with all the power at their command, their innocence of defalcation.