There is something about prisons that inspires the popular imagination. They are places (relatively) few of us have ever been to, whether voluntarily or otherwise, yet they exert a fascination which means that stories of life behind bars, both fictional and factual, have long been a staple of books, films and TV programmes. Perhaps the fascination we feel results from the sense that prisons represent an extreme in our society: the places where those who cannot or will not conform to the rules we live by are placed for a while, and in an ideal world perhaps reformed. Though anyone who truly believes that to be a common outcome has not read or seen many of those books, films or TV programmes.
Craiginches Prison, more officially known as HM Prison Aberdeen was a medium-security prison in Aberdeen. It opened in 1890, and closed on 11 January 2014, when its role, and that of the old Peterhead Prison, were taken over by the new HM Prison Grampian in Peterhead. In its final years it gained an unenviable reputation as one of the most overcrowded prisons in Scotland. On the other hand, it also received high praise for the way it sought to create links with local communities and encourage prisoners to take part in local projects.
Who better to give an account of life in Craiginches than former prison officer Bryan Glennie, who spent much of his 24 year career there? His book tells the stories behind the history of the prison, including its only hanging, rooftop riots. botched escapes, drug smuggling and even an attempt by prisoners to brew beer in a dung heap. He also tells of his role helping train other prison officers, and of having to join colleagues in responding to riots at the old Peterhead Prison, including the occasion in October 1987 when men of the Special Air Service were deployed to release a hostage and end a riot.
The style of the book is personable and approachable, and it is clear that Bryan Glennie cared a great deal about his work and about those he was charged to look after and guard. There's a real sense of enthusiasm that comes through when he talks about the community projects he was involved in, where prisoners helped install walkways at a nature reserve or clean up local beaches. In his introduction the author says: "I enjoyed just about every minute of my twenty-four years at Craiginches. Every day was an adventure and more often than not my work gave me a real sense of achievement. It is a time I look back on with great pride." Anyone reading his book will understand why Brian Glennie feels that way, and will share our view that his pride is justified.