Have you heard of a BBC TV show called Porridge? Ronnie Barker stars in this comedy about a thief sentenced to five years at an isolated facility called Slade Prison. Airing between 1974 and 1977, this show deals with the changing beliefs of how prisoners should be treated. The deficiencies of discipline and leniency are humorously pointed out as well in this eighteen-part series.
I can identify well with Porridge. Being at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind had many similarities to being in prison. One of which was the terrible food.
We had a dietician named Mrs. Anderson who figured she knew what we would enjoy to eat. She was also rather stingy regarding the money spent on our food. Breakfast was often porridge with cocoa and toast. To break up the monotony, we sometimes had Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Any requests for tasty cereals such as Honey Comb or Alpha-Bits was summarily dismissed by Mrs. Anderson.
I hated the Spanish rice and omelets we were served at lunch. There also was some sort of melted cheese goop which the dining hall staff served. To make matters worse, we were given coleslaw. That was the worst I ever tasted. We used to call it “cold slop.” Though we liked Jell-O, the staff often mixed celery and other vegetables in it. Rarely did we get anything tasty like corn fritters and vanilla ice cream.
Life was highly regimented as well. Our supervisors woke us up promptly at seven o’clock. After dressing, brushing our teeth, and washing our faces, we marched down to the dining hall in a line by twos. Though we didn’t have to line up for lunch, our supervisors ordered us to do that for supper. We were never allowed to wander far from the school building during recess and after school. Neither did we go anywhere unescorted after dinner or on the weekends. We had to stay on the grounds at all times like prisoners in a minimum security facility.
Our parcels were regularly opened and searched. Some supervisors confiscated any treats we received and doled them out to everybody, all in the name of fairness. One woman even ate our treats. I suspect she took our money as well for “safe keeping,” meaning her keeping.
Little victories meant a lot in Jericho. When a mean supervisor was on holiday or was sick, we knew we could stay up later or eat our treats. This happened once on Halloween. When the greedy woman returned and found out what we did, she became furious.
Then there was the incident of the midnight tea party. The school arbitrarily banned coffee and tea so my friend Geoffrey bought and shared his tea with us. For no apparent reason, coffee and tea were served again in the dining hall.
Our letters home were read and commented upon by teachers, just as prisoner’s letters are scanned for coded information. Most of us had families in distant places so even if we had access to a phone, it cost a lot to speak to our folks. Because we had only fifty cents a week for our allowance, we couldn’t afford to call our loved ones, even on the pay phone in the intermediate kids dorm.
I wrote much more about the “porridge” I did in Deliverance from Jericho: Six years in a Blind School. It, and my debut paperback, can be purchased through the Bruce Atchison’s books page. My latest e-book and paperback is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.