Between 1917 and 1952, most New Zealand men convicted for sex with other males were sent to a particular prison: New Plymouth. This project sets out to tell the story of the prison during these years: its narrow corridors, tiny cells and sodden quarry, and the inmates and staff who spent their days and nights there. For most of this period, officials believed that hard work, carefully controlled socialising and civilised leisure pursuits strengthened inmates’ characters, enabling them to abandon same-sex desires and re-enter society. Key questions include:
- How did men end up at New Plymouth Prison?
- What was it like to be incarcerated there?
- Was there scope for erotic or emotional attachments between inmates?
- To what extent did prisoners obey the rules and expectations of prison life, and what did resistance look, sound and feel like?
- What did staff and prisoners believe about 'homosexuality' and 'treatment'?
- And what about other ideas: masculinity, rehabilitation, respectability, citizenship?
- What kinds of work and leisure activities did prisoners engage in?
What was the relationship between prisoners, their families, friends, and state officials – and what about advocacy for prisoners?
The project uses publicly available materials and restricted archives, weaving together men's own lives and stories while preserving anonymity where required. It will generate new insights into the history of homosexuality and incarceration in New Zealand, drawing from prisoners' points of view wherever possible.
The project has so far generated one publication:
Brickell, C. (2021) ‘Psychiatry, Psychology and Homosexual Prisoners in New Zealand, 1910-1960, Medical History, 65(1): 1-17.