How Arthur Taylor tried to tunnel out of Mount Crawford Prison

Arthur Taylor relaxing at home in Dunedin.

In 1977 Arthur Taylor was a young man completing one of his first stints in prison. He went on to become New Zealand’s most colourful career criminal. In this from his memoir, Prison Break, Taylor recounts an operation to tunnel out of a Wellington prison.

A year into my sentence, in August 1977, the screws at Mount Crawford were blithely unaware that over a period of months several sharpened spikes, dust pans, hacksaw blades, ropes, a couple of coal shovels, overalls and hacksaws had been secreted into East Wing’s cell 18. Nor did they notice that after lights-out a thin, seemingly innocuous strip of light would appear at the bottom of my door, which belied the massive operation going on inside.

I was tunnelling to freedom.

I’d come to the realisation that being in prison could be a good alibi. I could be out building up a bankroll, and the cops wouldn’t think of me because I was in jail. Escaping – especially in those days when security was in its infancy – was quite common. One inmate told me a story of breaking out of Christchurch so many times that the screws made him wear pyjamas after a certain hour as a deterrent. He told me that the last time he broke out from Paparua Prison, he posted his pyjamas back to the superintendent with a note saying ‘I won’t be needing these anymore.’