CRIME CULTURE: A former police officer who killed his wife was up for parole. Gary Johnston explains what happened next in this piece taken as an excerpt from his book No Previous Conviction.
I’d gone to Grafton prison to interview a bloke called Basil* for a Parole Report.
Long term prisoners convicted of serious offences are usually released under license, subject to close supervision and with certain conditions attached to their release, no booze or drugs being typical. Before their application can be approved, prospective parolees need a stable address, a supportive family and a job – some sort of tangible structure intended to to support their re-integration into society which, even in the most nurturing of circumstances, is still likely to be an arduous process, with little or no guarantee of success.
Basil didn’t have any support mechanisms. He had no tangible structure whatsoever. No prospective address on release, since his family had completely dis-owned him and in fact had actively campaigned against his comparatively light jail sentence. Basil’s chances of ever picking up a job were non-existent, notwithstanding the fact he had a heart condition and was nearly 70; if released, he’d be on his own with no underpinning support and no realistic prospects, aside from a sad, lonely, dismal demise.
Basil’s parole application was certain to be refused. The report I’d driven a hundred kilometres to prepare was a paper exercise, pure and simple. Basil wasn’t going anywhere, even if there had been somewhere for him to go.
The only thing was, no one had told Basil.
He’d been a policeman. Basil’s was a complicated case which had taken some years for the authorities to make sense of and they hadn’t really managed it. By way of some sort of legal compromise, they’d found Basil guilty of the manslaughter of his wife, taking into account his previous good conduct and the fact he might have been suffering post traumatic stress as a result of various eye-watering incidents he’d witnessed as a grizzled Sydney cop.
Basil was sentenced to 10 years, a term which no one – his family or the Australian public – considered even halfway adequate. The family – two sons who were both smart and media savvy – had agitated forcefully for life.
But only because the death penalty was obsolete.
Ten years isn’t a cakewalk, though the sons didn’t see it that way, especially as he’d only served five to date. And now they had support – Basil’s parole application had become a bit of a political football hoofed around various elements of social and traditional media. A local would-be 60 Minutes show was currently on the case and had broadcast damning interviews with his sons accompanied by the tag-line – “Why PC Death should not be freed. By the sons who knew him best”.
Basil wasn’t getting out. But no one had told him.
Though he wasn’t the only one in the dark. Prior to driving to Grafton, nobody had told me either.
Sending people to prison doesn’t always work. But it does work, some of the time. The threat of incarceration does the job for some people – law abiding people generally. The prospect of having to share a cell with Big Bubba night after night, being almost certainly, the main reason more banks aren’t robbed, every other house isn’t burgled and ritzy cars don’t come with a pot still instead of a twelve-volt espresso maker. Obviously it doesn’t stop everyone, but in straight deterrence terms, prison is comparatively successful, if somewhat limited in its scope and strategy.
Where bars, gates, locks and chains come into their own however, is how successfully it protects society from the beasts. The worst of the worst. The absolute c***s. The scumbags.
There are people in prison who simply can’t be allowed to roam free, they’re too dangerous. Some of them are mentally ill, some so utterly institutionalised they’re a disaster waiting to happen and others – not many, but one is too many – who are quite simply, bad.
Malevolent, monstrous scumbags. Psychotic individuals who for various reasons – neglect, addiction, psychosis, trauma, lack of intelligence, serious misfortune, skewed thinking or no thinking at all – are completely irredeemable and immutably dangerous.
Prison does an excellent job protecting us from them.
Violent sex offenders with no insight and a sickening horn no amount of sustained wanking could ever gratify. Super-aggressive blokes with hairpin tempers they can’t – don’t even attempt or want to – control. Fucked-in-the-head abusers who love the idea of inflicting pain, sexual, physical, emotional – preferably all three – on anyone they happen to come across, wives and children being a particular speciality.
Blokes like that, deserve – have – to be in prison, because it’s the only way. It’s very sad but also very, very necessary.
Then, there are people like Basil.
I was expecting a sneaky, snide sinister character, very much in keeping with the Harold Shipman model but with a truncheon instead of a stethoscope. He was nothing like that. Instead, Basil was an angry, belligerent, loose-mouthed, delusional ring-piece.
‘There’s some right fucking nongs in here, you know that?‘, he told me by way of an introduction. ‘Fucking low scumbag c***s, most of these blokes and they’re the fucking better ones. You fucking listening, sport?’
Basil was being held in the protective wing of Grafton, ‘for his own protection’. Every jail has a protection wing, separated from the general populace for one very good reason. If the blokes not on protection were given the chance – and some of them entertain themselves by trying to devise situations where they might be – they’d exact a fearful retribution.
Like, for example: pissing in the tea urn. Gobbing milky, blood-stained phlegm into the porridge. Laying a fresh cable and then rolling it up into the new mattress about to be delivered to Cell 666.
Quite ingenious, really.
The blokes in the protection wing are there for a reason.
They’re there for protection.
And they’re in protection, because of what they did.
Who they are.
The blokes in general – the prisoners in the main section – hate the blokes in protection. Despise them with a passion that’s summed up by the words they use to disparage them – rock-spiders, nonces, beasts.
The blokes in general – and here we’re talking decent upstanding convicted criminals who’ve committed any number of good-hearted, perfectly understandable crimes such as burglary, theft, stealing cars and domestic violence, to mention only a few – want to hurt them. Physically if possible, but since the opportunities for giving a protected prisoner a good kicking are few, psychological discomfiture is a more accessible, more likely option.
Basil was in protection because he used to be a policeman, not because he butchered his wife.
He was the only copper – ex-copper – in there because, with the exception of a couple of white collar criminals who’d made the mistake of trading in their innate fear of the general wing for the perpetual loathing and suspect company they’d have to endure in protection, everyone else was a sex offender.
Rapists. Every possible shade from blokes who’d shagged women without consent, to gay adult predators who’d groomed small boys for months before buggering them for years.
Other sex pests. Blokes who stole women’s underwear from washing lines, frottage merchants who felt up women in packed suburban trains. Men who’d digitally penetrated small children, a bloke who’d held his ex-girlfriend hostage in a motel room for 7 interminable days, during which time he’d raped, murdered and then had sex with her dead body, another who’d fathered 3 generations of his own family and numerous men who’d sexually assaulted their daughters, their step-daughter, their step sons, their nieces and even in one case, his parents.
‘I get to live with these blokes, see ’em every day, listen to ’em fucking wanking every night. No c**t should have to put up with that’.
At least Basil knew he was a c**t.
That fact aside, he was arguing the inarguable – that his horrific crime should be seen in context with far worse atrocities, and that justice was only a matter of explicit scale.
‘I’m only in here because I used to be in the job, sport’, he told me numerous times, spoken with the bluff, bullying authority of the policeman he’d been for years and seemed to think he still was, before launching into a familiar diatribe about everyone else in protection being a loathsome crud ball whose life wasn’t worth a ‘a fucking Moreton Bay Bug – a slug that tastes like a pussy’.
The rest of the jail assumed the protection wing was full of degenerates. Basil knew it was.
But, despite the reality of his own crime, he wasn’t one of them.
Despite the immutable, proven fact that after a sustained period of some years during which he used his wife like a punching bag – and a kicking, burning and cutting bag – he’d finally managed to choke the life out of the utterly defeated, powerless women after yet another night of spiced navy rum, Basil thought he was a cut above.
An aristocrat. Of molluscs.
He wasn’t going to be released on parole.
He had nowhere to go, but that wasn’t the major reason. His case was political dynamite – nobody was going to ignore it, and showing public support for tougher sentencing, to a politician, is organically produced, chocolate coated catnip.
Though Basils’ sons had fucked him successfully, I suspect they took little satisfaction from it. For fairly legitimate reason they despised their father – wished him only the worst – of course they’d have known he’d be released eventually – but they did everything they could to ensure it wasn’t happening quite yet. It’s not closure, but maybe it’s ensuring the door is, at least unopened, albeit with resentment naggingly oiling the hinges.
Basil had no money, no likelihood of starting a new life, no friends, no contacts and seemingly no chance of rehabilitation. His life was barely worth a Moreton Bay Bug.
No charm, insight, remorse or winning personality, it was hard not to see Basil as a bigger, more disgusting mollusc than any of the other scumbags.
But that’s not how he saw it.
The factor that led to his utter delusion, completely inhibiting any sense of regret, ownership or acceptance of blame – the stimulus that kept him going in a belligerent, bullying, grotesque style – was a mindless self-belief that not being as big a scumbag as the blokes he lived amongst, somehow made Basil less of a c**t than he unquestionably was.
It – the whole fucking thing – was almost indescribably depressing.
Basil’s application for parole was unsuccessful.
I heard, on the probation grapevine, that he blamed me.
* (name changed)