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Diary: A Nice Prison In Prison Architect Will Always Go Wrong

Attack the block

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Introversion’s deservedly popular Shawshank simulator is a lot of fun. It’s also incredibly difficult to manage. If a full-scale riot isn’t the problem (rarely), then a lack of funds is. And I don’t think building Cell Block B without any plumbing helps. I’ve run my fair share of ruinous hellholes but now that several updates have been added to give the player some more control over the disorder. In lieu of this, I wanted to see if it was possible to create a lovely, warm, sweet-smelling prison, just like ma used to make. CCTV, perimeter walls, sniffer dogs and guard patrols are sure to help make this a reality.

Welcome to Brendan’s Nice Prison For Agreeable People.
Day one – The plan

The first thing to do is to build all the basics. A holding cell for new arrivals and extraneous scoundrels, a canteen, a yard, a shower (including drains), a kitchen, a visitor centre, some power stations and an office block for the admin staff. All rounded off with a neat double-ring of fencing. Other buildings – the infirmary, the morgue, cleaning cupboards, etc – will have to be finished some time after the initial batch of medium security inmates. It is unlikely I’ll need those places straight away anyway.

The reality

I forgot to station a guard in the canteen during lunch hours and it turns out you can’t trust prisoners to finish their tea without incident. Now two prisoners have been murdered, three are knocked out cold and two others are bloody and injured. Presumably a brawl began over some garlic bread – the most coveted of breads. When my guards were finished whacking everybody round the bonce with cudgels I saw that only one prisoner had not attacked anyone or destroyed anything. Warren Scutt, a 41-year-old father of three who has served 10.5 of his 12 years for Death by Dangerous Driving. His prize for not being a violent sociopath is the fashionable grey uniform of minimum security.

Day two – The plan

A new cell block will be built to accommodate the six remaining prisoners, plus more new arrivals. The cells will be individual, for privacy’s sake (if Prison Architect can teach us anything about the justice system, it’s that man was not meant to poop side-by-side). A cleaning cupboard and a janitor will be instated, to clean up the filth left behind by everyone. An infirmary will be built with enough beds and doctors to treat multiple patients, in the unlikely event of another riot.

The reality

There has been another riot. Honestly, you try to treat these people right but they just SPIT. They just SPIT it back in your face. The new arrivals were all fairly minor criminals. I looked through their rap sheets. Car theft, vandalism, car theft, possession with intent to supply, car theft, car theft, videogame piracy (plus car theft). It didn’t seem possible that they’d be the kind to take part in the older prisoners’ shenanigans. But sure enough as soon as dinner rolled around a ruckus broke out and both cooks were attacked by two repeatedly rowdy prisoners, Batty and Lawrence, who between them have been responsible for more misconduct than all the other prisoners combined.

All this disruption resulted in two prisoners punching each other, almost dutifully, on the way to the showers and two of my (already overworked) engineers being pursued around the cleaning cupboard by a crazed maniac. Surprise, surprise – the maniac was Lawrence. Eventually, he was apprehended and given a sound bludgeoning after he chased the poor workmen out into the open. All unruly prisoners were escorted back to their cell block, which has incidentally been built with some useful solitary confinement units. Scutt continues to show exemplary behaviour. Why can’t they all be like Scutt?

Day three – the plan

The new features such as CCTV monitors, patrols, access to prison policy and other juicy upgrades all require some new bureaucrats. This means an extension to the office space and the hiring of a couple of new admin folk. At the end of the day we should have: a psychologist, a lawyer, a security chief, a warden, an accountant and a foreman. With a full roster of office-bound wage slaves I will be able to invest in all sorts of penal delights. Although I should perhaps, in future, avoid the phrase ‘penal delights’.

The reality

Another riot. God, it’s almost like these people don’t want to be here in my damp, confined, poorly lit paradise. Luckily there was not too much damage and a few extra guardsmen got things under control quickly. I believe only two people died. In other news, there’s been some kind of miscommunication with the builders and they’ve left the office block extension half-built. I’ve hired the staff and installed the rooms with all the necessary equipment, so the research on CCTV, guard deployment and sniffer dogs has begun. However, it looks like the admin building itself has been left unfinished. There are no lights and the scaffolding is still fixed around the offices of the accountant, lawyer and psychologist. I think this may cause a slight draught but I doubt it is a security issue. The research is underway and that’s what matters.

Day four – the plan

It is imperative that we invest in some extra powers. Researching patrol routes and the prison policy clipboard will allow me to station guards along any corridor or pathway I want, while also ramping up the punishment for prisoners for attacking staff or fellow inmates. The installation of cameras throughout the facility will allow one guard to monitor every unmanned room from one tiny boxed security closet. This way we can administer our unique ‘baton solution’ to uncooperative inmates far more efficiently. This firm yet caring attitude may help solve the murder problem I have having, not to mention the extremely disruptive Garlic Bread Riots. Scutt, that steadfast gem of minimum security, is due for release. Worryingly, so is Lawrence.

The reality

The ultimate goal of Brendan’s Nice Prison For Agreeable People is to make life incrementally better for our legally misdirected guests. Sadly, the ultimate goal of these guests appears to be to cluster at the entrance of the yard where they can shiv anyone who approaches. Once again, the cudgels are in order. Now that CCTV is everywhere there is no need to station guards as cautiously as before, which means more men are free to administer fierce but fair beatings.

While the culprits were being rounded up the bodies from the day before were dealt with. The last prison I ran did not have a morgue (some oversight by the foreman, definitely not my fault) and so bodies were often left out in the open, where they would fester as the inmates and prison staff went about their normal routines, lithely stepping over the cadavers of their fallen colleagues. That’s now fixed and eventually a medical van will arrive to collect the corpses, as it has today. But the van is fooling no one. It is essentially identical to the garbage truck that comes to take away rubbish, except it has been painted white and has a red cross on the bonnet. Its presence cannot be good for morale, so I make a note to install a morgue, no matter the cost.

It’s release day for Scutt. A man in a suit arrives and our golden boy appears to be leaving with him. It feels good to see a prisoner go on his way, a much corrected man. I will miss him and his silly sunglasses and his unerring silent obedience. Goodbye, Scutt. The system works!

Shortly afterwards, the murderer Lawrence is also released.

Day five – The plan

Enough is enough. New arrivals will all be minimum security until I can get some more orderly routines in place. I can’t risk anymore Lawrences or Battys. Which reminds me, I have to build that morgue I promised. It will be a sterling and professional facility, with enough room for the absolute worst case scenarios. I have also noticed that prisoners are happiest when they sleep, so from tomorrow their regime will include four or five extra hours of shuteye, as well as a redistribution of yard and free time. It might be prudent to build a laundry, a workshop and a recreation room, to keep the boys in orange busy… but as I say, the morgue obviously comes first.

The reality

A prisoner has murdered – straight-up MURDERED – one of the workwomen. Mike “The Mole” Master is the reprobate responsible. He has been confined to solitary. This came as a huge shock, as I had just finished overnight construction on the workshop, the laundry and the recreation room for the men. Surely, I thought, between their busy new work schedule and all the games of pool they’d be playing they wouldn’t even have time for disorder. I was so convinced by this (and why wouldn’t I be?) that I decided to postpone the building of a morgue until I had more money. But “The Mole” in his bloodlust has forced my hand. The consequence is a much diminished coroner’s space, squashed into the infirmary.

Now. My first instinct was to put a wall between them as a divide. But that would mean another expensive CCTV camera. So now the two spaces co-exist in the same room. If a sick patient were to lie prostrate in the hospital bed and peep over his feet, he would see a slab adorned with a hi-vis corpse. The poor woman. She didn’t deserve this. Still, here comes the next batch of scum. Frauds, insider traders, forgers, bribe artists, robbers, perjurers, pickpockets. The minimum security boys might be more money-minded than violent but if they think they’re getting an easy ride, THEY’RE WRONG.

I’ll put them in the brand new cell block I built earlier. It cost thousands of dollars! Absolutely state of the art. Some say that the misjudged foundations make it hugely wasteful on space and much more expensive than it should have been, wasting money that may have been spent on other facilities, for example, the mortuary. But I don’t listen to naysayers. It was worth every penny.

Day six – The plan

Security, security, security. That is what a prison is all about, no? I have applied for some grants (I forget what for) and now have a little money. This will be used to increase the guard detail and to hire a sniffer dog to patrol the cell blocks’ perimeter. He’ll need a kennel to sleep in too. Metal detectors at the entrances to both min and max security cell blocks are also on the agenda. I may need some more money for these, so I will look into other grants.

The reality

There were no more grants available, which I found astounding. Cutbacks and restraints from the budgeting classes are ruining the prison system of this whole country. Why can’t these people see that they are destroying lives and ruining things for normal people? It’s people like me who are affected by this savagery. Can’t they see how hard it is on me?

Anyway, I fired five people today – one doctor, one cook and three workmen. It’s unlikely I will need such a large workforce, so whatever, no big loss. I went over to the office block to see if there was any more resource deimplementation to be carried out. What I discovered was horrifying. Through the same miscommunication that led to the block being semi-constructed in the first place, the accountant, lawyer and psychologist seemed to have been trapped all this time in their filthy, desolate chambers, without light and seemingly unaware of the simple staff doors that could easily have led to an escape. Every day they pace around their scaffolded hovel, checking their files – papers that must have nothing written on them – and waiting for the janitor to come. But the office block is a dark place. The janitor never comes.

I bulldozed the walls and removed the offices. This disastrous extension should never be mentioned again. The psychologist, accountant and lawyer slowly hobbled into the open and began to wander aimlessly around the area their pen used to be, like confused cage chickens that have just been upgraded to free range (I imagine this is like when you are upgraded from economy to business class). I will look for a place to build more offices to house this trio of wretches soon enough. But right now, I have other concerns. Mike “The Mole” Master is, somehow, due for release.

Day seven – the plan

I will gain access to the contraband report, which will show me where prisoners are likely to get any weapons and other illicit materials from. Considering they sleep most of the time and I have increased the security precautions by a large measure I do not anticipate many prisoners engaging in such dishonest behaviour. Call me an eternal optimist, but I believe in the goodness of humanity, even after all the murder, destruction, abuse and filth.

The reality

Beasts! Fiends! Untrustworthy, filthy, lying brutes! The metal detectors went off in the maximum security cell block, leading one of the guards to search a shifty looking inmate by the name of Page (Manslaughter). They found a trowel and a six metre tunnel coming out of his cell. He was burrowing. Burrowing! Like a termite. The sickening thing is: he was not the worst. After the subsequent block-wide search we found Bailey (Aggravated Vehicle Theft) hiding power tools, weapons and drugs. He went straight to naughty solitary, where he’ll think about what he’s done. In the meantime, a prison wide shakedown is in order.

Luckily the men in the other wing are much better behaved. We only found a few spoons and a very small tunnel. They are veritable saints compared to the slime in ‘max sec.’ But who knows what seed of devilry may have been planted by their fellow inmates? Perhaps I am too suspicious but my faith in humanity has been deeply affected by this episode.

The good news is that there have been no Garlic Bread Riots for a while now. My main worry is not the prisoners but the trio of filthy suits, the office block wanderers. They pitter-patter around the grounds behind the kitchen, possibly foraging for remains. I have no money, honestly, and nowhere to put them. It’s the psychologist who unsettles me the most – his dead eyes. Or perhaps he is just… looking for peace? The accountant, meanwhile, has wandered into the prisoner’s yard and is dragging her heels against the newly installed lawn. Is it possible the trio prefer life as nomads?

The most important news, of course, is fiscal. Thanks to the frugal releasing of another cook and a new batch of ‘min sec’ inmates, we are making a profit of $536 a day. A majestic sum!
Day eight – the plan

The prisoners sleep, the guards patrol and the trio of executives grope ponderously at the sky like zombies. Everything is ticking over smoothly. It would not be presumptuous of me to consider my work almost done and my prison a model of self-sustaining beauty. A dynamo! The only thing I must remember is that a prisoner called Mooch “Looloo” (Drunk and Disorderly) is to be released soon. Apart from that I do not believe it would invite much calamity if I left the prison running for a few days without interference. In fact, the most likely outcome is that we accrue an enormous quantity of cash. But – haha – I am not so naive as to leave without some added precautions. So I am electronically locking all the doors just in case.

The reality

Out of Office Reply: Brendan is away right now. It is possible he is currently cooking dinner, watching Adventure Time, or drunk. Please direct all queries to: the Warden NPC.

Day 20 – the result

Oh NO. Who would have thought! My little simulated prison of miscreants and ill-equipped guardsmen has become a cesspit of riotous feral creatures. The whole place is filled with blood and excrement. Oh NO. I have arrived back to see that only a handful of prisoners are not due for release. At the time of my return the man who has been caught longest in this anti-judicial nightmare was 42-year-old Mark Nowell (Vandalism), who was due to go home approximately 256 hours ago.

Now, what appears to be a little ‘protest group’ of prisoner families are crowding the front gates, where poor Mooch Looloo had been just two steps away from freedom before the lockdown slammed the gate in his face. Now he stretches out to families on the other side, probably passing on all his tales of horror.

One thing all the inmates have in common, as they prowl the cells and corridors or crush up against security doors, is that they are all shouting very loudly. But not for food or for their freedom, or even about the filth that they’ve been living in for the past 12 days. Every one of them is crying out for sleep. This discovery could revolutionise the way we think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

But I suppose it’s time to end this. The families protesting at the door do not look at all impressed. It’s a pity, considering this new static model of prisoner-door relations is somehow earning the prison a hefty $1428 a day. Never mind. The good news is that as soon as the locks disengage all the angriest and most violent prisoners instantly leg it out the gates in a state of sleepless terror, since they were all due to be released anyway. The bad news is that our income immediately plummets to $108 a day. A sad final act now begins whereby the prisoners who arrived moments before the lockdown (and who spent the whole 12 days handcuffed in a holding cell with an overflowing toilet) are now being ‘processed’ in some kind of Kafkaesque hiccup of bureaucracy. So Henderson (Bribery, 278 hours overdue for release) is spending another eight hours in solitary. As is prisoner Hill (Vandalism, 272 hours overdue for release).

You might have noticed that I’m not very good at prison-keeping. Okay, I have been going a little out of my way to be an awful warden here – but trust me, even if I was being more earnest I would not fare that much better. The thing I like about Prison Architect is that it doesn’t matter. Even if you’re dreadful and clumsy and make so many oversights that you begin to question your own mental age the game still creates brilliant (hilarious, idiotic) scenarios. Screwing up and watching everything fall apart is the whole point. It may not (yet) have the complexity and story-making powers of its obvious influence, Dwarf Fortress. But it is immediately more inviting and better presented (and, obviously, it is one thousand times simpler to learn).

Meanwhile, far away in the dark corner of my prison, the trio wander the grounds dumbly. At least these NPCs cannot possibly, in their catatonic homelessness, conceive of the horror that has happened here.

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Who am I?

Brendan Caldwell

Features Editor

Brendan likes all types of games. To him there is wisdom in Crusader Kings 2, valour in Dark Souls, and tragicomedy in Nidhogg.

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