Women in Prison

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and it got me to thinking about disenfranchised women.

In my early years studying psychology at the University of Queensland I had to do a community placement. I had to do something useful so I chose to teach guitar at the women’s prison in Brisbane.

Officially the jail was called ‘Brisbane Jail’ but everybody knew it as ‘Boggo Road‘. The jail was located on Annerley road in the inner Southern suburb of Dutton Park and had been around since 1883. It was Queensland’s main jail and had notoriously horrific conditions, especially the men’s prison. It has since closed.

Can you think of a better name for a prison – Boggo Road!

Bogged down in a quagmire of despair.

During my visits the lessons got a bit sidelined as the women were bursting to talk about the outside – what had I been up to in the previous week, my social life, etc., I really enjoyed their company and almost forgot where I was half the time (though the search on entry and exit would remind me quick enough).

A few things struck me on my prison visits.

  • The women I visited were so young – all in their teens or early twenties.
  • They were mainly in prison for drug-related offences, ranging from possession and dealing to armed robberies, and it seemed to me that they were often strongly influenced by the drug addicted males in their lives.
  • A lot of the women had children; I just couldn’t imagine what a nightmare the separation must have been for them. Some women, who came to prison pregnant, had their babies in prison and were allowed to look after the babies in prison.
  • The women were not allowed steel strings on their guitars (only nylon) – for obvious reasons.
  • One woman was in prison for life, for murder, and she was the queen bee (respect, fear, admiration – something was in their young eyes, and it made me feel queasy – talk about role models!).

Anyway, I am just going down memory lane. I wonder how those women are doing these days.

21 thoughts on “Boggo Road Jail

  1. that is riveting! acute and still, so heartening. because you made friends in a way that was unusual. gabrielle, you are a guitarist too? amazing.

    also provoking thought was the role model issue. as if questioning the patterns of different neural pathways. as compared/contrasted with neccessities of circumstance and the individual person. i dont know if that would be in the realm
    of possibility but respect and admiration are the right stuff for role modeling,lets say ordinarily.
    if fear was mixing in there, we would recognize the nuance right away quality of the effects of the role model, right?
    so the fear is the thing that makes their eyes look different. then on the other hand, wouldnt it also be wise if you were in a jail with someone who had once murdered, to
    behave according to that society’s protocol?
    and of course they are so young and impressionable. but also streetsmart i would guess tho probably not always. but within those walls displaying that kind of respect might be important to survival. with the right guidance once out of there, it could shift into trust. in other words, it doesnt seem wasted. because of their youth, they can turn around hopefully. but if it is just blind brainwashing mind control sort of worship thats pretty scary. somewhere in between these extremes.
    what a great story! really got me going, thanks

    1. A wonderful comment (as usual) from you tipota and it has got me thinking even more about it. I guess a lot of what I heard and saw was filtered through my own preconceived notion of prison, but I do know that lifers are put on a pedestal (they even get more priviledges from the prison staff) and you are right, if you are inside it would be better to get on-side with the queen bees or else šŸ˜‰ I’m sure quite a few of those prisoners would be dead by now (from overdoses etc.,) unfortunately but hopefully some turned the corner and got on with living on the outside.

  2. Such an interesting tale Gabrielle. That would have been an incredible experience.

    After the prison closed I did a ghost tour there, and it was suitably spooky. Some of the stories of the prisoners were disturbing and tragic.

    1. I would love to do the ghost tour Tracey – they used to hang people there didn’t they (the gallows), then there is the murders and the suicides – I’m sure there would be a few unhappy souls floating around.

  3. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to be a therapist in a prison for a (short) while. I’m sure the stories would be tragic, but sociopaths are also really excellent at pulling at the heartstrings and it’s often hard to tell the difference. I’ve been fooled while NOT working in a prison.

    1. Yeah, I tossed up whether to work in a prison too squirrel but changed my mind. Men’s prisons are full of sociopaths but the rate would be much lower in the womens prison – many are just uneducated, poor, drug addicted females, often indigenous, who have been sexually abused as children and who inevitably end up in jail.

  4. I wonder sometimes about how we might better change the lives of these individuals…society still seem more bent on warehousing than providing a means for a new life. Thanks for this thought provoking post.

    1. Thanks slpmartin – many of the issues I think need to be approached from the society level rather than the individual (therapy) approach – issues like domestic violence, housing, sexual abuse, drug addiction – all complex issues; but these women also need much assistance when they leave prison, to assist them to reintegrate in society (without falling back into the old patterns) – housing, education, jobs etc. are critical.

  5. Young girls are so impressionable and easily led. The onus falls on educators and parents to provide a grounded viewpoint for them in their formative years – before they are abused by the men in their lives.

  6. This reminds of the young men I taught writing and literature to in prison. Once I walked the gauntlet of the guards, it was easy to treat them just as I taught the young men at the community college where I also taught. If anything, these young men were more appreciative because I, like you, brought the outside world in to them.

  7. Boggo Road was a real harrowing place… I walked through there a couple of times after it closed and read alot of the grafitti on the wall… such desperation.

    1. It should have been closed long before it was – harrowing is a good description – the women’s prison was modern in comparison to the men’s section – but it doesn’t matter what the conditions, you always have that undercurrent of simmering violence and desparation/despair – people who think prisoners get it too easy wouldn’t have a clue – they forget that life is put on hold in a prison and the separation from family and friends can break a person.

  8. Once again Gabe you’ve written about a much ignored part of society. I understand some of this as I worked in a jail in Toronto as a co-op for college. The Metro East Detention Centre was a maximum security facility for male inmates while awaiting trial and sentencing to a federal institution. You are completely correct about the reasons for incarceration as they relate to gender. Drugs,abuse and desperation can drive women to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. I agree with some remarks you made about regarding changes being made at a societal level rather than individual therapy alone. A great deal of the women being housed in prisons for those walking the street are the result of mental illnesses or disturbances caused by abuse. So many people are undiagnosed because it is an epidemic and our social/medical structures are not prepared for it in any way. There is such a deluge of suffering people but limited funding and manpower to manage it. This is where you get the out of sight out of mind warehousing of human souls. So tragic.
    I love that you took music to these women and you had more impact than you know. Someone saw you, watched you and learned from you. You may never meet her again or ever learn of her plight and subsequent reversal n fortune but you can trust that it is so and that you were there for a purpose.

    1. Thanks Val šŸ™‚ On the issue of individual therapy – I agree with you that many have underlying conditions that need treating – but what I meant to say was that there is not much point treating these conditions if some of the exacerbating factors (such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction) are not dealt with in a broader context – a wholistic approach which also includes individual support or therapy or ‘social work’ is needed, as with most issues. I think some doctors etc. are quick to label individuals as medically depressed etc., when that could be a natural response to extreme stress or abuse (why wouldn’t a person be depressed in those situations and medication can just be a way to ‘contain’ the individual in prison or foster care etc.,

  9. LOL at the OG. Hahaha.

    It must be soul-destroying to be imprisoned for drug-related things because as you say many of the young women who are charged are under the sway of boyfriends etc. and often they are a victim of circumstance. Often they have had incredibly sad lives full of despair. I’m not sure that putting them in prison solves anything. I mean, I know they have committed crimes like robbery and I don’t condone that but I’m not sure prison helps them find the sense of self they need to break the cycle.

    It’s such a complicated issue. There are no easy answers. However, I am sure a visit from you was an absolute highlight for them. Good on you for doing it!

    1. Thanks Selma – it is complicated but there are heaps of things that can be done – when I worked in the drug and alcohl field we set up the drug diversionary system which diverts drug offenders into treatment; and that is just one example of what can be done.

    1. I was just making observations bluebee without the conclusions, I suppose – they all have their individual stories – though some generalities can be made, I think, especially regarding the association between drug addiction and crime (and there is much research to support that association). Prevention is always the best way to go.

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