Law Text Culture

Article Title

'Doing Time'


The origins of the phrase ‘doing time’ are not exactly known, but for me it described quite well the nature of being in prison. In this one phrase the active, busy, continuous present tense word ‘doing’ butted straight into the vast, eternal and ominous word ‘time’. The kids I met in Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre were certainly doing time, they were caught up in a range of doing typical of teenage boys – playing video games, or sports like footy, and going to school – yet unlike most teenagers, these activities were measured against an ever conscious register of time: every boy I met could reel off how long was left for him; ‘eight months’; ‘three years’; ‘one and a half years’. These boys had been ‘doing time’ for a long time; all were on long sentences. Most had been inside before. Some also had parents in jail. For these boys, the rhythm of prison was familiar. Frustrated and intensely bored, they would call ‘time out’ whenever the class or conversation would drag. Yet against this ferocious impatience, they talked with an unbearable lethargy about how their days were spent; as one boy explained he was ‘letting the time pass’.