Biding Time Behind Bars

A Memento of Life Inside Maitland Gaol

What would you do to ward off boredom if you were facing a life behind bars?

Despite being resigned to his life sentence in Maitland Gaol, Vietnam War veteran Ken Graham found a focused way to remain resilient. In the late 1980s, recycling whatever timber he could gather from around the gaol, Graham spent five years skillfully and meticulously piecing together this model of the Baltik.

Creative activities such as model making, music, painting and wood carving were allowed at Maitland Gaol from the 1970s onwards. Inmates sold their works to the public and the proceeds enabled them to purchase ‘buy-ups’ – tobacco, soap, coffee, televisions, and ghetto blasters.

One day in 1986, ‘Bad to the Bone’ was blaring from someone’s tape player when 18-year-old Troy Johnson first entered B-wing in Maitland Gaol. Imagine the sense of dread he felt, entering the gloomy cellblock and seeing the improvised sign on the wall, ‘The Ghetto’. For so many new inmates, life behind bars at Maitland was brutal and frightening. But Johnson was lucky, soon being briefed by one of the ‘heavies’ about the workings of gaol culture.

Graham befriended Johnson, who watched the ship project evolve to completion, and in 1992, after his release, Johnson purchased the model. It was a reminder of his own prison experience and a symbol of the resilience of the human spirit despite the desperation of a life behind bars in one of Australia’s harshest prisons.