It's fair to say that Peterhead Prison, which opened in 1888 and closed in 2013, amply earned its reputation as Scotland's most notorious prison. It was built to house the convict labour needed to work on Peterhead's huge harbour project, and had a history of poor conditions and of violent protest by prisoners. On one occasion, in October 1987, a riot was ended by the deployment of the SAS. A prison inspection report in 2005 noted that electricity had only just been made available in cells, and that slopping out still took place. It was perhaps no wonder that Peterhead was sometimes referred to as "Scotland's gulag".
A number of books have been written about Peterhead Prison, and it would be fair to say that between them they have offered the reader little in the way of joy or amusement. "Peterhead Porridge" is a little different. First published in 2007 it tells the funny side of life in Peterhead. There are faint echoes, as the title suggests, of the TV series "Porridge", but the humour in "Peterhead Porridge" is far from gentle. James Crosbie found himself in Peterhead Prison after carrying out a series of armed robberies on banks in west central Scotland. Why a man with a successful business, a wife and a young son who enjoyed golf and had just gained his private pilot's licence, should have become a bank robber is left unclear. Whatever the untold story behind his saying that "greed, circumstance and opportunity intervened", it was a change of direction that saw him sentenced to 20 years in prison and sent to Peterhead Prison.
The book largely revolves around the exotic nicknames given by the prisoners to one another, and to the screws, or prison warders: and in may cases the reasons the names were given. Some can be guessed at, such as prisoners Rent A Rope, Raving Rampton Rab and Stinky Steve, or warders Cement Heid and Hank the Yank. In other cases the reasons for the names were much less obvious. Tweety Pie was named after he contracted yellow jaundice in prison and Tam the Tapper was forever borrowing things, while the Ham-Handed Spy was a German found guilty of spying (not very effectively) on a US submarine base in Scotland. Perhaps most surprising of all was how the prison governor known as Slasher Gallagher came about his nickname.