Monday, April 30, 2007

we all make mistakes

Not long after starting this blog I was trawling the net one night when I came across a site called Write a Prisoner. I've had a fascination with life behind bars for a long, long time. And yes, as anyone who knows me (or has read enough of drift) will tell you, it was probably triggered by watching the Aussie drama Prisoner when I was a kid. Incidentally, I think I'm the only viewer who was annoyed when the so-called "spin-off" series Punishment was axed after just a few months on-air. (I'm not even going to bother adding a link, it was so bad, but I was still dismayed). I have this thing for the underdog and for Justice. These notions have probably always been in me, but weren't given a context until Prisoner came along. It also coincided with my second year at High School when I began to view students as voiceless entities downtrodden by their teachers (except the occasional good ones). This, in turn, was also happening around the time of Pink Floyd's hit Another Brick in the Wall. I joined the Student Rep Council and decided to fight for student rights, though, really there wasn't much to fight for at suburban Croydon High School circa 1979. When I reached my final year of High School in 1983 I was given permission to go inside Fairlea Women's Prison to meet with a young inmate and discuss her life, which I then wrote about for an English paper. My only subsequent glimpse of life on the inside since then has been as a tourist when I visited two former correctional facilities - Alcatraz in 1984 and Pentridge (Melbourne) on the day Princess Diana died (1996?). And of course I watch stuff like documentaries and dramas on telly...

From time to time I wonder what it must really be like to be locked up. I wonder how I'd cope, what I'd do to survive and what chance I'd have to remain unscathed by incarceration. I wonder about rehabilitation and how it could work better. And many other thoughts besides. So when I discovered the Write a Prisoner site and read some of the ads on there I decided to write a letter. I never mentioned it (to anyone) at the time because I wanted to see where it would lead me first. Well, I wrote to a young gay prisoner who was in jail for vehicular manslaughter. I never heard back and after a few months I pretty much forgot about it. Then last week as I was trawling the net once again I visited Denys over at Homo Homo Sapien and found he had linked to a newly discovered blog by Marc Olmsted. I started reading and was fascinated. First of all I was delighted to find a person who cares about the planet and actually gets off his arse to do something about it. Then I went to the Archives and started reading Marc's amazing account of his life as a prisoner. I spent two consecutive evenings spellbound by what I read. I laughed and I cried and I kept on reading. I've still got plenty more to go (Marc's been writing his blog since 2004), but it's a journey I'm eager to continue. Last night I wrote to Marc to tell him of my reaction to his words and the powerful effect they/he had on me. Then I got onto that Write a Prisoner website again and found a guy whose name I'd noted during my first look all those months ago, but who I never wrote to. I posted a letter to him today.

If you're feeling a bit fed up with your life, if you want a whopping great dose of humanity or just a bloody amazing read go n check out Marc's blog for yourself. Thank you Denys for leading me to something wonderful or, as I said in my email to Monsieur Olmsted, something re-marc-able


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Growing up in Northern NSW, where we had just one commercial channel, I was excited by the premiere of Punishment. Our local station, 11/8 hadn't screened Prisoner, so there was much excitement that we'd be about to see the male version of prisoner. Oh, and there was the possibility of a a bit of man on man...

May 01, 2007 1:17 AM  
Blogger nash said...

Yeah and with Mel Gibson in the cast it could've been him involved in some of that m2m stuff! Your local channel should've screened Prisoner

May 01, 2007 1:44 AM  
Anonymous marc said...

Well, I was fascinated by prison as well--wrote to an inmate for 3 years in the 80s, and loved OZ (which given its title, should certainly have run down under.) So I can definitely say, the cure for fascination with prison is GOING TO ONE.
That said, I was just talking to a guy who was in for 15 years and is out for 6 months and I swear to God, just this ONE conversation, in which I felt I was really able to alleviate some of the anxiety he is going through by sharing what I had gone through, justified the whole experience.
That and hearing words like yours. Nash, I am TINGLING.

May 01, 2007 3:28 AM  
Blogger The Other Andrew said...

I used to drink every now and then with a guy called Phil who was a cast member on Prisoner. Sweet, sweet guy. I haven't run into him for a few years now. Makes me wonder what he's up to.

Through my involvement with the Buddhist centre I've been able to spend time with Ven Robina Courtin and other nuns who work with the Liberation Prison Project. LPP helps support prisoners who want to explore Buddhism in prison. It's fascinating and important work, and in the US in particular they often work with Death Row prisoners to help them find personal liberation in a very tough environment.

May 01, 2007 11:21 AM  
Blogger Geoffrey said...

Goggle-eyed here! A friend introduced me to Write a Prisoner about seven years ago and I have had a couple of attempts at writing to some of the guys who advertise on there. Sadly, nothing has ever come of my correspondence, as in I have never received a reply. My friend has an amazing collection of letters from his pen-pal though, and it's been a fantastic experience for him.

Good on you for writing about it.

May 01, 2007 5:58 PM  
Blogger DENYS said...

Marc has left an impression on both of us but for different reasons.

The universe works in mysterious way Nash. I'm glad to have been that conduit.

I am moved by your passion and it is nice to see you express this in your post.

I read a comment you left on Marc's blog that you had considered taking time out from blogging. I like others would miss reading posts like this one.

May 01, 2007 11:12 PM  
Anonymous Indigo said...

I continually find it amazing how one comment leads to another and each of us in turn find one anothers blogs. I'm hailing from Marc's journal and yes, he is a wonderful spirit and one I have come to consider a friend. If we all could show the same empathy and compassion for life perhaps then we would actually see the changes take effect in our lifetimes. Me? Simple kindness and a hand held out to those in need goes a long way. I can only try right. I can see why Marc has mentioned you in his own journal. From my spirit to yours stay safe and loved. (Hugs) Indigo

May 02, 2007 1:59 AM  
Blogger Campbell said...

Nash, are you really considering taking time out from blogging??? As with Denys, I would miss them - miss you!
More loss & grief!

May 02, 2007 6:23 AM  
Blogger nash said...

I'm amazed and delighted by the response to this post...

Firstly, I never expected the first comment to come just minutes after I posted - and I never thought anyone would give a hoot about 'Punishment'

The series 'Oz' did screen here, Marc, and of course it was on my regular viewing list. It was also my introduction to actor Chris Meloni (woof!). How bizarre that you had a fascination with prison before you ended up there. From now on I think I'll concentrate more on my fascination with Dollywood (ahem)

TOA, if I'm thinking of the same Phil he played a snivelling screw called Rodney towards the end of 'Prisoner'. Wonder what he's up to these daze? And I'll check out the LPP - not sure if I've heard of them before

I was Goggle-eyed too, Geoffrey, when I read your comment. All these kooky links - I love it. I wonder if it's difficult for the prisoners to buy stamps for overseas postage and maybe that's why we haven't heard anything (yet)

Denys, you're right about the Universe working in mysterious ways. See what you've started! I wonder how we'd connect without the internet

Hi Indigo - welcome to 'drift'. I checked out your blog, but had trouble leaving a comment. What a lot of love around you. Thanks for sharing (and thanks for looking after all those animals)

Campbell, I guess it's more a matter of not blogging unless I have something to say. I don't plan on stopping completely - just lil breaks here n there (btw, I'm waiting for you and Denys to write your next posts!)

Thanks everyone. Expect the unexpected

May 03, 2007 8:14 AM  
Blogger Miss Litzi said...

Hi Nash,
This is a wonderful, informative post and the comments you’ve received have been most interesting as well.

Years ago a Sociology class I took in college had a field trip to Soledad Prison, which is in the Central Coast region of California. The women were told to avoid wearing any sort of “revealing” clothing; why the men in the class weren’t told the same thing I’ve no idea. I wondered as we were driving to the prison if the inmates would feel like animals in cages on display in the zoo and was shocked when it turned out to be quite the opposite. As we toured the cell blocks, I felt we were the ones being critically observed and judged. We visited a work area and were allowed to converse with several of the “less dangerous” men; for the most part, it was difficult to believe they were prisoners who’d done some “heinous” crime against society. At the time of the tour, possession of marijuana was enough to become incarcerated into the State Prison system.

The 4-hour visit was most interesting, heart wrenching and eerie. As the metal doors and gates closed behind us, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for the thousands of men who would be spending years there....

May 03, 2007 9:07 AM  
Blogger nash said...

Thank you Miss Litzi,
I'd been awaiting your comment...

The young woman I met in prison in 1983 was in for a minor drug related offence (pretty sure it was marijuana). Bloody ridiculous - it perpetuated what was already a 'troubled' life.

Your comment about the men in your group not being told to avoid wearing revealing clothing is very apt

It's a shame more people don't have an insight into how fucked the prison system is

May 03, 2007 10:17 AM  
Blogger Miss Litzi said...

Hi Nash,
I read your post right after it went out and was mulling over what to say (if anything). The comments you’ve had so far have all been most insightful and I hesitated because I wondered if I really had anything particularly meaningful to contribute. But I decided to jump in…

I do not understand why people are incarcerated for minor drug offenses. California has a major problem with overcrowding in its jails and yet they keep arresting people who could be fined or penalized in some other way. Like the young woman you spoke of who had a “troubled” life, so many people are inducted into the Correctional Facilities and come out hardened criminals and are unfit to mix back into “normal” society.

I toured Soledad prison in 1971 and was rather naïve about a lot of issues. At the time, the avoidance of wearing revealing clothes for women made sense, but in retrospect it was exceedingly short-sighted of the professor who had planned the trip and of the guards for not saying the same thing to the men in the group. I also wonder whether traipsing people through a jail is a good idea; these men and women already have a stigma on them and I can’t see how groups of gawkers parading by their cells is anything but detrimental to an already horrendous situation.

That step into “another world” haunted me for weeks afterwards, and even after 36 years has the ability to raise a lot of questions in my mind. Right now the Correctional Facilities are fostering a sub-culture that no one wants to think about, let alone help. If given a chance, a lot (not all, by any means) of convicts could lead productive and useful lives if given half a chance in society. But they’re left to rot away and/or become bitter, angry men and women who when released will not be accepted and will eventually return through the revolving doors of the penal institution.

I am now stepping down from the Soapbox…

May 03, 2007 2:33 PM  
Blogger nash said...

Miss Litzi,
I always value your contributions. The soapbox is yours whenever you want it...

The other week I watched a TV current affairs program* about rehabilitation and the appalling lack of support given to men being released from Australian prisons. It was both insightful and disheartening. There is so little help available (for the families as well), no wonder the recidivism rate is so high.

And when it comes to tackling the problem of drug related crimes there seems to be a severe lack of understanding in this country too

*Four Corners - Road to Return

May 03, 2007 6:49 PM  
Blogger Miss Litzi said...

Hi Nash,
Gracias, senor! I’m getting ready for Cinco de Mayo on Saturday.

Between prisons being severely overcrowded and little to no support when the men and women are released back into society, it’s any wonder that ex-inmates are angry, bewildered, unskilled and at a loss. I’ve never understood why people who have a drug and alcohol abuse problem are sent to jail; what possible good can sitting behind bars do them? They need help in overcoming their addictions; not punishment.

Are the Correctional Facilities in Australia overcrowded and a breeding place for gangs?

May 04, 2007 8:17 AM  
Blogger Indigo said...

I just wanted to add a comment about something miss litzi said, in the way of prisoners being helped with alcoholism and addictions. I know a local prison here in NY has AA and NA meetings that they provide for the prisoners who wish to have help with their addictions. Once in awhile they will allow outsiders to sit in these meetings. I myself was asked to help chair, before I went deaf. I do realize that some prisons don't believe in rehabilitating the prisoners. But often wonder if a church or such offered the services; it seems they should be allowed to decide for themselves to get support with said addictions, even within the prison walls.

May 04, 2007 1:39 PM  
Blogger The Other Andrew said...

Nash, sorry I missed your query about Phil. I never watched the show, so I'm not sure what his character was called, but yes he joined towards the end. That would be him. Appaeently his first scene on his first day was supposed to end up with him nude, but he drew the line and ended up in boxer shorts!

May 04, 2007 4:00 PM  
Blogger nash said...

Hi Miss Litzi,
I don't know enough about statistics for our prisons, so I can't really comment on overcrowding and gangs. I do know that in Victoria (as opposed to other states) they have a far better rehabilitation/support system, which is reflected in the lower number of recidivists. I agree with you about help before punishment.

Have a great weekend - I look forward to hearing all about Cinco de Mayo (are you taking your camera?)

Hi Indigo,
That's great to know both AA and NA meetings are available to those prisoners who wish to participate. I don't understand why the meetings aren't held in ALL prisons

May 04, 2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger nash said...

Yep, that sounds like the character I remember!

May 04, 2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger Miss Litzi said...

Hi indigo,
Hmmm. I didn’t realize there were AA and NA meetings and/or counseling available to prisoners in some States. That’s wonderful to learn and I certainly hope that those who truly need help would seek it out from any available source. What does concern me is if some of the inmates give “lip service” to overcoming their addictions in hopes of an early release, only to return to their old habits once they’re on parole. Of course, the same can be said about any individual going through detox; do the 30 or 60 days required by the program, and then resume the indulgence again the minute they walk out the door.

May 05, 2007 6:03 AM  
Blogger Miss Litzi said...

Hi Nash,
I just read some alarming statistics a couple of days ago about the horrendous overcrowding in all the Correctional Facilities in California. It was something close to 300% above what the prisons were originally designed to hold. Apparently, Governor Schwarzenegger has been asking other States if they could possibly take some of the prisoners into their facilities and was given a resounding NO. So now building new prisons is being bandied around, but the residents are already overtaxed to the max and have been rejecting bonds to raise money for construction. Meanwhile, the prisoners continue to exist in overcrowded conditions with no end in sight.

Gracias, senor! I’ve doing a real Cinco de Mayo post later on today…so you can get an idea what it’s all about.

May 05, 2007 6:14 AM  

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