Getting into Hot Water in a Boggo Road Cell



"He took a roll of toilet paper, unrolled and loosely rerolled a bunch of it, then tucked the bottom up through the hole in the middle, put it on the rim of the toilet bowl, and set it afire. It burned in a cone, like a burner, and lasted long enough to make a metal cup of hot tea."
That's how Edward Bunker (Mr Blue from Reservoir Dogs to you), writing in his book Education of a Felon, described how a fellow prisoner used to illegally heat his water in the Los Angeles county jail in the 1950s.
Reservoir dogs
"We'd kill for a cup of tea"
Here, as a follow-up to my article on illegal prisoner-made tattoo guns, is another piece on ingenious cellblock contraband, although this time I cover the somewhat less-edgier subject of how prisoners got to make themselves a lovely cup of tea while locked away for the night. Kettles and heaters were not allowed in the Boggo Road cells, but a number of objects in the Boggo Road Gaol Museum collection show that some thirsty inmates managed to get around this problem. As with the tattoo machines, it usually involved a bit of imagination and scrounging various items from around the everyday prison environment.

In his book Doing Time, about life in Victoria’s Pentridge Prison, author Barry Ellem described how inmates could rig up a simple electrical device in their cells:
"Another technique prisoners employ to get hot water is to make up an electric gadget similar to an element in an electric jug. This is called an immerser. If the cell is not a power cell the immerser is plugges into the electric light socket. Electrical shorts and power failures have occured because of this."
The plastic cup below, found in a Boggo Road kitchen, was similarly adapted to work as a mini-kettle. It contains an immerser constructed from matchsticks, electrical wiring, cotton thread and a razor blade. The wiring would have been attached to a power source such as a light socket.
Discover how prisoners used to improvise cell-made kettles to get a cup of tea after dark.
Queensland Museum item #H-46038
This immersion heater made from a power cord and razor blades was found in a prison cell in Hamburg, Germany.
The metal jug below, confiscated from a Queensland prisoner, has been adapted in a similar way:
Discover how prisoners used to improvise cell-made kettles to get a cup of tea after dark.
Queensland Museum item #H-45725

This grill, from a Mexican prison, is made from a tin can, electrical wire, dirt and a stove burner surface element.
Discover how prisoners used to improvise cell-made kettles to get a cup of tea after dark.
Image: Marc Steinmetz
Like the one described by bunker, non-electric stoves were a bit simpler and could be made from a couple of empty tins, a few screws, and a bootlace for a wick. The upper tin sits on the three screws in the lid of the lower tin. The wick was coated in lard, which acted as wax does in a candle. The lard was sneaked out of the prison kitchen and rolled into balls so it could be ‘sold’ to other prisoners. When available, paraffin could also be used. The stove below was made from an old coffee tin and used in Boggo Road during the 1980s.
Discover how prisoners used to improvise cell-made kettles to get a cup of tea after dark.
 Improvised water heater, Boggo Road Gaol
Collection, (BRGHS)

So there you have it. Inmate resistance to authority took many forms, not all of them necessarily confrontational. Sometimes getting a hot cup of tea or coffee during the long hours couped up in a cell was one of the little ways in which prisoners got one over the system. 'C'est la tea'.



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