Wednesday, 8 July 2009

18 August 1942

Lights dim last night and also from 9.30 to 11 pm.  Again this morning from 9.45 to 10.30.  Book issue yesterday afternoon.  I have ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ very small print.  Had a shave this morning with my rolls and have taken off my moustache just to see what has been behind it all these years.  The revelation does not greatly please me so now that my curiosity is satisfied I shall let it grow again.  Razors are issued about every 10 days.  These together with all other sharp objects like scissors, nail clippers and nail files had to be surrendered on entering here.  Goodness knows why – there are plenty of other ways to committing suicide if one is determined to do such a silly thing.  The only chance of getting one’s nails cut is to go on sick report and to take advantage of the presence of an impossible pain of surgical scissors in the dispensary.  I had my rib painted again with iodine yesterday, thanks to my getting through the door to the dresser as he passed along the corridor.  It feels better but is still far from being as it should be.  Lay till 9 o’clock this morning.  Our daily routine is as follows:  Awakened by the clutter of breakfast preparations in the corridor between 5 and 5.30 am, the cell doors are opened a few at a time at 6 am and we pick up our plate of rice porridge or ketan hitam (black sticky rice pudding) which has been laid down outside the door and extend our mugs for coffee which is brought round in a large basin carried by two coolies. The rice is slightly sweetened but there does not seem to be any sugar in the coffee.  I improve matters by adding sugar and powdered milk, of which fortunately I still have supplies.  Having partaken of this repast in the half dark, the empty plates are recollected and at about the same time the first light for cigarettes, or pipes is brought round.  All matches and lighters were taken away after we had been about a month.  The light, or ‘api’ as it is called in Malay, is given by means of a smoldering piece of twisted rope which is pushed at us through a small circular hole of about 1.25 inches in diameter whcih is situated at about chest level in the iron door of the cell.  Immediately above this hole which can be closed from the outside by a circular metal shutter, there is a small window of thick glass measuring about 9 by 2.5 inches, which is practically fully covered by a metal flap hinged above it on the outside so that we can be fully observed if necessary while our view of the corridor is limited to a mere strip under the bottom of the flap.  i never smoke so early in the day so after the plates have been removed I go back to bed where I stay until the bell, which hangs just inside the main entrance of the prison, strikes 9 am.  I have quite a comfortable bed.  I have three prison blankets.  Three months ago when the grass was cut outside, it was left in heaps in the exercising yard and I took advantage of this opportunity to make myself a mattress out of one blanket by having it doubled in the length and sewed up into a bad which I filled with the fresh, dry hay.  Mr Frommelt, a South African missionary did the sewing for me as I had then no needle and thread of my own.  A few others followed my example and more would no doubt have done so, had the further removal of hay not been forbidden soon afterwards.  I lie on the mattress with the second blanket spread over it and use the third for cover and sleep as snug as a bug in a rug.  On getting up, blankets etc are shaken out at the window and then I commence my housework which comprises going over the inside of the door, the cupboard, table and chair with a damp rag, cleaning the toilet inside and out and finishing up with swilling out the whole floor with water and drying off with my rag – an old pair of prison pyjama trousers issued to me during the first week.  Every ten days or so I go over the walls and ceiling with my small broom, wash my bed frame with soap suds to keep away the bugs, and clean my windows and bars.  The window opening which measures approximately 6 feet high by 2.5 feet broad is barred by 4 vertical iron bars strengthened by a cross bar in the middle and set in an iron frame built into the concrete walls.  These bars are equidistant from each other about 6 inches apart.  The bottom of the window is about 3.5 feet from the floor.  On the inside, there are three window panes which can be opened or closed at will.  The upper frame, of four glass panes, covers the top half of the window opening and opens inwards and downwards like a skylight.  The lower half has 2 frames of 2 panes each which open inwards from the centre, one to each side.  Housework occupies about an hour and, that done, I wash my face, brush my teeth, comb my hair and dress.  Dressing means putting on an undershirt, a pair of shorts, socks and sometimes a sports shirt or pyjama jacket if the morning is chilly, as it often is.  When very cold, I wear long khaki trousers in addition to all the rest.  After performing my toilet I have my first cigarette of the day, usually at 10 am.  The ‘api’ collie comes round the cells about once an hour the whole day until lights out.  After the cigarette and a chat with my next door neighbour on my left, I usually write these notes, read, play patience, sew, darn or wash some clothes according to the exigencies of the moment.  At noon, lunch is served.  Two courses are the rule – soup and rice.

The soup is made from a variety of vegetable and with the rice, in addition to the variable dab of hot spicy compound (sambal) or other mysterious native concoction, we sometimes get half a duck egg, salted or fresh.  Three times in four months we have had a small dried fish which stinks to high heaven but which has nevertheless been highly acceptable as providing some taste to the palate.  The plate of rice we pick up from the ground, the soup we receive in our tin plates from a big basin as with the morning coffee.  After lunch and plates removed, a smoke and chat and I then let down my bed and lie, usually reading, sometimes dozing until recreation time which has been lately roughly from 3 to 5 pm.  Recreation over, we return to the cells to be let out for a shower in batches of 10 or 15 minutes, later.  The bathroom, each containing 4 showers, are situated at the end of each wing nearest the centre of the building.  The prison is built in the form of a cross within a square.  imageThe cross, two storied, contains cells, about 130 to each wing, the wings being designated North, East, South and West respectively.   My cell #316, is on the ground floor of the South wing, the sixth cell from the far end.  The arms of the cross radiating from a circular hall in the centre run towards the corners of the square of workshops, offices, hospital etc which forms the outer wall of the prison so that within the precincts four open triangles are thus formed, each triangle being bounded by one side of the square and two sides of the cross.  The cross and square stand quite free of each other, the end of each arm being about 10 or 12 yards from its respective corner.  The southwest and southeast triangles which are situated at the rear are used as exercising yards, the other two are more or less planted up with shrubs and flowerbeds.

After the bath, supper is served and consists, like the lunch, of soup and rice, although the soup is usually rather tasty and thicker by the addition of peas than at midday.  On Tuesdays and Fridays a small piece of boiled meat is added, also two bananas.  Supper is served at 5 pm and plates are removed and cells locked for the night about half an hour later. Until the lights dim at 10.30 pm the time is passed in smoking, chatting with one’s near neighbours, reading and playing patience.  Each day is exactly like the other except that on Sundays breakfast is half an hour later.  Depending on the whim of the doctor in charge, and changes in command occur about every 5 days, our recreation hour may be in the forenoon, afternoon, or both and can vary from only 20 minutes to 3 hours.


Note from Pat O’Neill

Sukamiskin prison was used from the late 1920's as a prison for Indonesian nationalists and was known to the people as a symbol of colonial suppression. President Sukarno was here in prison, after his conviction in the sensational trial against him and some other Indonesian leaders in December 1930. The irony was that Sukarno some years earlier, during a short period as an architect, probably worked on the building drawings himself. During the Japanese occupation Sukamiskin was a prison for Dutch civil servants, until February 1944.

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