“They hit us with bull pistles!”

The whistle-blower escapees
Author : Julien Hillion / May 2024

On 13th November 1909, on the farm at Bruté three young detainees attacked a fourth named Gauthier on the pretext that an attempted mutiny had ended in failure due to his actions the previous summer. He was knifed several times. Very quickly, the attackers took flight. Having stolen a bran loaf and some clothes with which to disguise themselves – the white uniform worn by the wards would be easily recognized by locals – the three boys sought refuge in the cellar of a farm. For just short of a week they ate beetroots which they dug up at night from the neighbouring fields. One by one, they were eventually caught. One of the boys had frozen feet. Two months later, at Lorient’s magistrate’s court, the detainees spoke up about their mistreatment. “They hit us with bull pistles!” Above all, they accused their victim, Gauthier, “a real colossus” who was a “brutal” young man known as “The Fighter”, of constantly threatening his fellow detainees, of hitting them, of acting like a guard and of being a sexual aggressor. The episode illustrated both the complexity of the relationships between young detainees and the omnipresence of violence during their day to day. The defendants received 18, 15 and 1 month prison sentences respectively, and 4 years of imprisonment on appeal. For using a blade to make their escape, they were also sentenced to a period of military service in the penal colonies of North Africa.

The escape attempts made by the wards of Belle-Île should also be considered as whistle-blowing attempts. Escaping gave inmates a platform from which to denounce their mistreatment. Prison records show that between 1880 and 1911, 401 detainees from Belle-Île-en-Mer tried to escape. Among them, only 84 managed to make it past the guards, and of them very few made it back to the mainland

Les évadés des établissements d’éducation correctionnelle pour l’année 1894, d’après le Tableau XI de la Statistique pénitentiaire.

When you compare these data to those recorded in other penitentiaries, one understands the full impact of the very particular location of the Morbihan establishment: it’s the only prison which is pretty much impossible to escape from.


Author : Julien Hillion, « “They hit us with bull pistles!” », Bécédia [en ligne], ISSN 2968-2576, mis en ligne le 3/05/2024.

Permalien: http://bcd.bzh/becedia/en/they-hit-us-with-bull-pistles

Contributed by : Bretagne Culture Diversité