Former Napier Prison guards have reminisced about what it was like to try to keep the peace in a complex that was in such a "shocking" state.

"To be honest an inmate could have probably escaped by just kicking in the wall, that's the kind of shape it was in at the end," former prison guard John Dagg said.

"One of the sayings I had when people asked me about the prison I would say, if every inmate farted at the same time it probably would have been enough to shake the entire thing down.

"That's the condition it was in, it was pretty shocking."


About a dozen former prison workers came together on Saturday to walk through the prison and reflect on some of the history they played a part in the prison's 131-year run.

Napier Prison opened in 1862 and closed on December 6, 1993. It's now a popular tourist attraction.

Judith Larsen has been studying the history of the prison and organised the gathering of some of the former staff.

"The earliest who's here who work there was in 1965 and another who worked there in 1966 and is 89 years old, so it was probably the last time we would be able to get most of these guys together here at the prison," Larsen said.

She arranged a lunch at Napier RSA and then a walk around tour of the prison or as she puts it, "their old stomping ground".

Larsen had previously worked at the prison doing tours of the grounds and buildings and after leaving early last year looked into the people who worked at the prison.

Judith Larsen and Rota 'Roger' Hohipuha look over one of the cells he used to guard during his 18 years as a Napier Prison guard. Photo / Duncan Brown
Judith Larsen and Rota 'Roger' Hohipuha look over one of the cells he used to guard during his 18 years as a Napier Prison guard. Photo / Duncan Brown

"I called one person, who worked at the prison, then they put me on to another person who did also and then they put me on to someone else and so on and so on," Larsen said.

The prison was constantly busy when it was operational and for Dagg, who worked at the facility from 1982-1990, the prison was a revolving door, with many prisoners moving in and out daily.


"It was like a railway station," Dagg said.

"The prison was always full and police would come in one morning with 10 inmates so we had to get rid of 10 that night and send them to another prison.

"Many of the inmates only spent a short time in Napier before we moved them on, but there were a few let's say were our favourites who we kept on.

"They would work on the gardens, do the cooking and also did some building, while the others were in one day and out the other."

Rota "Roger{ Hohipuha spent 43 years working in the prison system, only finishing last year, and spent nearly 18 years at Napier Prison.

"I enjoyed every moment of working there, of course it was hard at times but that was the job," Hohipuha said.


"The guys who worked there were great as well, no one could say my name right and always botched it then one day this guy called me Roger so it sort of stuck."

He said that the prison systems have changed so much since he first began.

"Prisons now we have women guards and even have women running some prisons over the country.

"When I was working I thought it couldn't work, but some of those women can be pretty bloody tough," Hohipuha said.

"But the main thing is they have gotten a lot safer for not only the guards but the inmates as well."