Nagging and Threatening, Warders Can Make Lives Unbearable and Break Up Their Charges' Nervous System. Veritable Wrecks Are Made of Many – Jailed Firebrand John Maclean; PETERHEAD UNLOCKED CONVICTS SENT TO NEW JAIL ORDERED TO BUILD SAFE HAVEN FOR SAILORS
Byline: John Maclean
Peterhead jail has, from time to time, been called "Scotland's gulag".
Its distance from the Central Belt inspired the nickname. And the connotations of a faraway jail where political prisoners and agitators could be exiled were fitting when one of the most famous of the Red Clydesiders was sent there for campaigning against World War I. John Maclean did not lack guts in the fight, proclaiming: "I have been enlisted in the socialist army for 15 years. God damn all other armies."
At one stage, the firebrand was held in Edinburgh Castle as a "prisoner of war".
But when Maclean was sent to Peterhead in 1918, he found himself surrounded by common criminals rather than political agitators and intellectuals.
An article he wrote in Peterhead lays bare conditions in the jail.
Jailed dissidents like Maclean often went on hunger strike as a means of protest. He was force–fed in jail and there is no doubt his health suffered.
Maclean was just 44 when he died in 1923 and, even now, he remains a revered figure in British left–wing politics.
His legacy spawned many books, poems and songs.
Maclean's own story of his experiences "up north" – as the Glasgow cons say – is fascinating.
He contrasted life in a Glasgow "local" prison, Duke Street, with the daily "scientific torture" of what he rather oddly described as "a convict prison".
He told how convicts had their hair cropped once a fortnight. A thick knitted cap was provided and it "kept the head quite warm".
Hygiene standards were different in those days. Maclean described how prisoners' underwear was kept "clean and sanitary" – by being washed once a fortnight.
He had a regular cell – about 4ft wide, 8ft long and 7ft high. In 1918, two cells were knocked together for English prisoners brought north, although why they got special privileges is unclear.
Maclean described how the glass in his cell was twisted so badly that little light entered the tiny space and you could not see out.
He believed, perhaps with a touch of paranoia, that the idea was to make prisoners brood and fret.
Maclean highlighted the Sunday misery of fellow prisoners who could not even read to help pass the time on the day of rest.
He said the regime was deliberately oppressive and designed to push inmates beyond breaking point.
Maclean wrote: "Of course, anything can be made a crime and by nagging and threatening to bring men before the governor, the warders are able to make their charges' lives unbearable.
"The purpose is to break up the men's nervous system and veritable wrecks are made of many."
The heating system in the jail was primitive and inadequate and prisoners were not allowed, by decree of the governor, to wrap their blankets round themselves when they weren't in bed.
In an article, first published in Red Dawn in 1919, Maclean describes the harsh daily routine.
He wrote: "At 5am, a bell rings and every prisoner must get up, make his bed and wash.
"About 5.30am, the orderlies serve out a big pot of porridge containing half a pound of meal and threequarters of a pint of skimmed milk. …