Dana Prison escapee Walter Groom on his time inside the prison walls
He's the only living man ever to have escaped from Shrewsbury's Dana Prison, but Walter Groom insists: “I never wanted to be a bad boy.”
Mr Groom is now 81 and says he has plenty of time to ponder how he has turned his life around since scaling the perimeter wall.
“I am proud,” he said. “I wanted to be good. Generally I am a generous person. I would sooner give people money than take it off them.”
Mr Groom had been in and out of custody since the age of 16 when he was first detained for shop breaking.
His first stretch inside the Dana saw him serve four years for a host of petty crimes. It was during a second spell at the famous prison during a three-year sentence that saw him make his daring escape.
But he only lasted six days on the run. After escaping on 21 October 1961 at the age of 25, he was recaptured in Moss Side, Manchester, on October 27.
“I have never killed anybody or been violent. I had done a four stretch here which is why when I was back on a three stretch I was able to find my way out of the prison,” he recalled.
“It was only when I met my wife I became a good lad.
“I had been here for one week when I was approached by another prisoner who was desperate to get out.
“Some of the cons had told him if anybody knew how to get out, it was me. I thought it would be a challenge.
“I helped him if only for the challenge of it. Then I thought I may as well go myself.
“From the day he approached me it took 16 days to get out and over that wall.
“I had high profile friends in London and in Moss Side, Manchester. I was going to go to London but instead I changed my plans. I ended up being grassed up in Moss Side after six days.”
After his capture, Walter spent three months on the block in Strangeways, including 28 days of bread and water.
“Then when I finished that I was taken to a smaller block in Durham for high security prisoners,” he recalled.
Walter was then moved back to the Dana to see out the rest of his sentence. Understandably, he was not the most popular of inmates.
He later served one more, much shorter, sentence at the Shrewsbury prison, before meeting his wife shortly after his release.
Prisons in the 60s were tough, Walter said.
“In those days it was no holiday camp,” he said. “The discipline was very severe, not like it is today.
“When I first came in, a daily routine was get up early in the morning, about 7.30am. You had to slop out and then you went back to your cell.
“Then an officer would come round with your blade so you could have a cold shave and then we had breakfast – you took that back to your cell too.
“When I was first here, there was no association, it was 23 hours a day banged up.”
Walter puts his turnaround to meeting his wife, Barbara, whom he met shortly after being released from the Dana for the last time.
“I met her through my sister,” he said.
“My sister said I had to go and live with her. I had a job and I wanted to try and go straight.
“I met my wife at her sister’s house. I had got a guitar and I was just playing and singing, not long after I was released.
“When I had got somebody that meant something to me, I thought I was missing out somewhere! It was hard to go straight but I did it. I went on to work 14 hours a day for 50 years.”
After returning to the prison for the first time as a surprise for his 81st birthday with his family, Walter’s story has now been put in a book, which will be available at the History Day at the prison, an event put on by Jailhouse Tours.
And Walter admits he is looking forward to taking guided tours around the prison on the day.
“That is what it is all about – bringing real life stories to the prison,” he said.
“I am looking forward to it. Ultimately, I have made history here and I will be showing people how I got out.”
Walter will take groups of about 20 people around the wings and other areas of the jail on History Day at the prison.
Sophie Ritchings, events co-ordinator at Jailhouse Tours, said: “I think this will show the history of the prison really well and people will be able to hear it first hand.
“They will hear how it was in here before it was a modern day prison. Walter’s story also shows you really can change your life.”
His book, titled Over the Wall, will also be on sale at the special price of £12.99 instead of its usual £16.99.
The History Day takes place on May 1. The Prison gates will open at 10am and close at 5pm, with the events finishing at 4pm. Tickets are £15 for adults and £9.50 for children aged five to 15, £13 for students and concessions and £43.50 for a family of two adults and two children.
Tickets for the tour with Walter must be booked in addition to the admission tickets due to limited spaces.
The exclusive tours will cost £5 per person with a minimum age of 12.
Tickets will be on sale from April 2 and can be purchased online at http://www.imevents.global/history-days, by calling 01743 343100 and at the gate on the day.