How to Survive in a Victorian Prison



Many people are asking how to survive in a Victorian prison. Well, the prison system in the late 18th century is way different from the prison system of today. During the Victorian Era, prison is defined as “a detention camp for individuals who are sentenced or still awaiting trial for a felony; a place of imprisonment.” However, this is not entirely accurate.

During the early 19th century, people were sent to prison camps or workhouses just because they were begging on the street. Even today, people who are mentally challenged are sent to a prison-like institution against their will. With that being said, a better definition of a prison would be “a place of imprisonment for people who are deemed unfit to live within a normal society.”

In 1601, the responsibility of managing the inmates of these kinds of prisons fell to the local civil government. During those times, local civil government is just another word for the local parishes run by harsh, cold-hearted parish priests. These parishes built more workhouses and began to employ the inmates on a profitable basis. However, managing these workhouses turned out to be a difficult endeavor.

Realizing that they’ve bitten off more than they could chew, the parishes that ran the workhouses began to neglect their responsibility. This eventually led to the degeneration of the workhouses into mixed receptacles where every kind of convict was dumped. Conditions within these workhouses or Victorian prisons were harsh.

A typical jail was mostly filthy, dark, and extremely overcrowded. Delinquent juveniles, felons, and minor misdemeanants were herded together with no separation of the young and old, men and women, the sane and insane, and the convicted and non-convicted.

Victorian prisons exhibited high death rates due to the restrictive diet they imposed on their inmates. A prisoner’s diet is composed of only one pound of bread per day, while dinner consisted of one pound of potato or a quarter pound of boiled rice with treacle. Meat was never included in a prisoner’s daily dietary plan. This restriction ultimately led to the illness and death of the majority of prisoners.

During these times, the people who ran the “gaols” make prisoners pay for their own keep. Due to the limited supply allocated for the prison system at the time, most inmates had to ask their friends and relatives to bring clothes or food for them in order to survive. The local civil government handling the Victorian prisons at the time wanted to give the prisoners a life worse than the that lived by the poor. It is because of this that prisoners were made to live a life like a pig in a pigsty.

In addition to the restrictive diet that Victorian prisoners get, each prisoner gets a different diet based on their prison sentence. While diets improve as the prison sentence gets longer, the amount of food given is still not in proportion to the hard labor that these inmates with longer sentences are required to render.

When it comes to prison labor, all Victorian inmates are required to work—no exceptions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman, a child, or an elderly person. Everybody must work. During Victorian times, confinement inside prison was not considered as punishment for the crimes committed. Instead, what’s considered punishment for crimes committed is the hard labor that prisoners must do while incarcerated.

In a Victorian prison, a prisoner’s main enemy is the prison system itself. Remember that during these times, basic human rights still did not exist. If you are one of the unfortunate individuals who get to spend time inside a Victorian prison, then you’d better embrace the fact that death is just around the corner.

If the incessant hard labor that they make you do doesn’t kill you, the harsh, unsanitary conditions will. But in fairness to the prison system at the time, the medical care given to the prisoners slowly improved along with the prison’s hygiene level. Before their improvement, Victorian prisons were often the source of many diseases that plagued society at the time. Outbreaks of typhoid fever and cholera became so rampant that prison officials at the time decided to do something about it.

To curb the incessant outbreaks, Victorian prison officials employed surgeons who would examine the inmates’ health condition upon their arrival and during their incarceration. All of the prison uniforms were kept clean and the prisoners are made to wash at least twice a day, particularly before and after hard labor. In addition, the surgeons were also responsible for assessing which inmate is fit to carry out hard labor on the crank or treadmill.

It was also during this time that criminals were believed to be born inherently bad. People during the Victorian era had the notion that the only way to effectively control these criminals was to make prison so undesirable and tough that they wouldn’t dare commit any more crimes that would land them in such a facility. Others also believed that an inmate’s personality can be determined through their physical appearance i.e. their physiology. This was the main reason why most inmates at the time were photographed—so that people can find a scientific way of determining who was likely to commit a crime.

To make sure that prisoners don’t die due to extreme fatigue, special prison committees were assembled to decide the amount of hard labor that could be expected from the inmates. After countless deliberations, prison experts concluded that inmates who are sentenced to do hard labor on the gaol treadmill were to reach 8,500 feet per day.

Then there are the mental challenges that they will force you to endure. Imagine being in constant solitary confinement coupled with an unsanitary dwelling and restrictive diet. You’re better off resisting arrest and getting killed than spending time in one of these prisons.

So one might be asking the question, how to survive in a Victorian prison? The answer is don’t be in one. Do everything you can to avoid arrest because once you’re inside, your chances of survival go down drastically. In this case, it is safe to say that a fast and quick death by resisting arrest is better than a slow and painful death inside a Victorian prison.