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The Penal Colony by Richard Herley

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The Penal Colony by Richard Herley

The hit movie No Escape, starring Ray Liotta, was based on Richard Herley's, The Penal Colony.

It is 1997. The British government now runs island prison colonies to take dangerous offenders from its overcrowded mainland jails. Among all these colonies, Sert, 25 miles off the north Cornish coast, has the worst reputation. There are no warders. Satellite technology is used to keep the convicts under watch. New arrivals are dumped by helicopter and must learn to survive as best they can. But not all the islanders are savages. Under the charismatic leadership of one man a community has evolved. A community with harsh and unyielding rules, peopled by resourceful men for whom the hopeless dream of escape may not be so hopeless after all ...


Routledge became conscious. A foul taste was on his tongue; he felt nauseous, drug-sick, and at first he thought he was emerging not from sleep, but from anaesthesia. It followed that he must be in hospital, in pyjamas, but his skin and limbs returned a contrary sensation. He was fully and heavily clad; and hospitals smelled of disinfectant, while this place smelled of damp wood, and stone, and salt air, and an unpleasant acridity which he could not quite recognize.

Then he remembered a recent fragment of dream. He must after all have been asleep: was he dreaming still?

Above him, dimly illuminated, as if by a single candle some distance away, he could make out the form of a low ceiling, crudely made of rough laths and bundles of rushes. The quality of his sight was unmistakably real. This was no dream.

He had been placed on a low bed or pallet, on a mattress made of dried heather or bracken. He became aware that he was completely helpless: he had been zipped into a tightly fitting sleeping-bag and his wrists felt as if they had been bound together.

At that moment he understood where he was and what must have happened to him. The preceding days in the workroom, supper last night, had given no inkling of this; there had been no unusual taste in his food. Each day had followed the same routine, the routine that had been established from the morning of his induction over six months before. During those days he had foolishly begun to feel safe, to imagine, somehow, that he was not after all to be placed in Category Z.

A noise to his left made him turn to the side. The interior extended for three or four metres, ending at a sort of hearth, without a fire. Here a large man was sitting, his back to Routledge, seemingly intent on making or repairing something in his lap. Beside him, on an upturned crate, burned the small oil lamp which was giving its glow to the room.

The fireplace and the walls had been fashioned from irregular blocks of grey stone. Above the hearth, supported on brackets driven into the interstices, ran a warped plank which, laden with a jumble of tins, bits of netting, feathers, plastic canisters, paperbacks, and some dried stalks in a wine bottle, served as the mantelshelf. Similar clutter filled a series of shelves to the right. Between them and the low doorway in the corner there were three or four pegs, each hung with a bulky mass of clothing, including a trawlerman’s black plastic raincoat, much the worse for wear.

The man appeared to be sewing.

Perhaps in his terror Routledge had made a slight sound; perhaps the rhythm of his breathing had changed; or perhaps the man had felt, at the nape of his neck, the pressure of Routledge’s gaze. Whatever the cause, he glanced over his shoulder and, seeing Routledge awake, immediately got up.

With the lamp behind him, the man was in shadow, but Routledge could see enough to tell that he was of late middle age, bearded, long-haired, balding from the forehead, wearing a tattered pepper-and-salt rollneck sweater and shapeless corduroy trousers.

He came nearer. The acrid smell grew stronger. He stopped at a safe distance and, resting a hand on one of the posts supporting the ceiling, bent forward to examine his captive more closely.

“Welcome to Paradise.” He spoke in a mild, educated voice, and Routledge began to feel less afraid. “What’s your name?”

“Routledge.” “First name?” “Anthony.”

“Good. It’s on your papers, but I have to ask you. You were at Exeter, right?”


“Do you know where you are now?” “Lundy?”

“No. Sert.”

Routledge shut his eyes. Christ. O Christ. “Do you think you can manage to walk?” “Yes. I think so.”

“You’ve got to see Mr Appleton.” “Who’s Mr Appleton?”

The question was not answered. In a more businesslike tone, the man said, “If I let you out of your sleeping-bag you won’t try anything, will you?”

Routledge did not fully understand. What was there to “try”? But he nodded, and, apparently satisfied with this response, the man unzipped the bag and helped Routledge to his feet.