Yesterday was my last day at the prison. Over the past 8 years for a day every fortnight, I have visited the Sydney jail which houses women in maximum security, mental health and reception wings.

Official Visitors are statutory appointees and as one, I have had free access to all these prisoners (except in one extraordinary case) to hear complaints, fix problems, take up issues – a bit like a hands on Ombudsman.

Yesterday was bittersweet. Over the eight years I have come to know some inmates well. It is sad that I will not be able to continue checking their wellbeing and progress. It is a shame that I will not be able to continue fighting, from the inside, for the rights of women behind bars.

Last week these women gave me many hugs. The only woman in jail for life gave me the gift of a hand made notebook. I felt was deserting them.

It has been a two way street. I thank many of these women who have shown me the value of patience, resilience and “getting on with it”; who suffer so many idiot indignities yet have learnt to fly under the radar so they don’t make it worse; and who know the consequences of idle gossip better than anyone I have ever met.

Wandering into every corner of the jail never once did I experience anything but respect; never once threatened. A great lesson in: “you get what you give”.

Many is the day I have come home and had to unload on someone near and dear. Witnessing the pain and the failures in the system could be too much for me to hold in. Over the years the physical jail changed from the presenting as a remnant Victorian “mental hospital” to a more modern institution. The ‘non-physical’ jail remains as frozen in time as it was.

In the 8 years there were more than 8 General Managers or acting General Managers. I, and some inmates, were some of the few with any corporate memory.

Why am I leaving? Well the Minister appoints and the Minister taketh away. In my case I was offered a change of scene – Long Bay men’s. My knowledge and expertise has been built up with the women. What a shame the system did not see fit to capitalise on that. There is no appeal and not even a letter of acknowledgement. This lack of acknowledgement was more insulting for one Visitor who had served conscientiously for 23 years and simply received a short letter saying she was not re-appointed. Another didn’t even find out she had had the chop until she turned up at her appointed jail.

Full of grace and manners this NSW Government!

Anyway… I have kept every email, every quarterly report and every reply. Hopefully I will continue to look out for some of the saddest women in our society by writing about their conditions.

“Warehousing, waste or rehabilitation?” might be one theme.


Filed under Musings

3 responses to “LIFE BEHIND BARS

  1. Jan Mundy

    Hi Robyn
    This is fantastic, so prescriptive of life for inmates and the injustices they endure from a system apparently more interested in budgets than the basic human rights of inmates to be able to promptly access appropriate health services and programs. Like you, as an Official Visitor over the past two years, I have experienced nothing but respect from the inmates (all males) and most of the staff in the Correctional Centre with whom I have worked over the past two years. Also like you, I was also not re-appointed which I initially took very personally until I learned of so many long-term experienced Official Visitors also not being re-appointed. Why?

    Keep up the enlightenment…and thank you.


  2. David Flatley

    Thank you for all you have done during the time I have known you, When I first met you I just thought you were a pain in the a**. Over the years I have come to understand that you just had the inmates at heart. I never thought I would say this, but, you will be missed. All the best and if you need any inside info please feel free to contact me.

    The unlikely ally

  3. Joan westlake

    As David said you will be sadly missed by the women. They have lost someone who always came out and stood up for their welfare.
    Your expertise and experience over the years have been of benefit to countless women.
    You have been caring and generous and failed to point out in your blog that you managed to get seedlings delivered so that they could garden. You also did not mention the effort you put into getting donations from your friends to give Christmas gifts to the women’s children. I’m sure there are other things that I am not aware of.
    I just want to wish all the very best for the future.

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