Monday, February 8, 2010

Model Prisoner

Maitland Mercury, Monday 8 February, 2010

While researching “Unlocked” articles, Maitland Gaol staff has evidenced numerous inmate created artworks including beautiful painted landscapes and other items of craft-ware worthy of exhibition. Former inmate, Troy Johnson, believes it is a testament to the human spirit that within the walls, side by side with the violence, sadness and desperation, there was beauty.

Troy Johnson first entered Maitland Gaol in 1986 and did 3 lags over the following years before being released for the final time in March 1990. His first tentative steps into “the grey stone university” have left an indelible impression. “I walked into B Wing and across the back wall was a big sign saying ‘The Ghetto’, and someone’s tape player was blaring out “Bad To The Bone”. I was a kid, 18 years old. It was very intimidating at first.”

Troy remains thankful that a senior, “heavy” inmate recognised him as a local, Maitland boy and briefed him on the intricacies of gaol culture in those first few days. Others were not treated so benevolently and for some, life in Maitland Gaol could be an increasingly violent nightmare.

During his first lag in Maitland, Troy was befriended by Ken Graham, a Vietnam veteran in his late 40s, serving a life sentence. Reconciled to his lengthy incarceration, Ken had begun work on a replica of the frigate “Baltik”. Completed over a 5 year period using requisitioned materials including recycled cedar panels and other timber from the gaol, the model ship displays exquisite craftsmanship, and as Troy explains, is evidence of “the strength of character of the artist”. Troy purchased the model from Ken in 1992 and it has remained a treasured item in his home and a constant reminder of the ability of the human spirit to flourish in even the direst circumstances.

Readers wishing to share their Maitland Gaol related stories or artefacts are encouraged to contact gaol staff at or by phoning (02) 4936 6482.

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