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.