Women in Prison

Today is International Women’s Day in the land of Oz and it got me 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.

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Note: a repost (I am at a swimming carnival 😉 for the 9yo girl – she only started swimming properly 2 months ago when we got our own pool, but apparently she is now an age champion #wtf so I better investigate the source evidence for meself)

15 thoughts on “Happy International Women’s Day 2013

  1. It is an unpleasant idea that a role model could be the one who has committed the most serious crime. Hopelessness.
    That must have been a very interesting set of experiences, if somewhat harrowing.

    1. It wasn’t that harrowing – well getting the train and carrying my heavy guitar was harrowing 😉 – it’s a strange world colonialist but more interesting for that fact I think! Thanks as ever for your wonderful comments – I will give you 4/5 for this comment 🙂 – well, I don’t want to spoil you with the full marks – hahahaha – that would be ruddiculusss!

  2. How hard a struggle they would have on leaving jail to reunite with their children, get a job & provide a home for them. My great grand step mother ( Ruby Rich Schalit, a long time feminist from the 1920’s) was deeply involved with setting up half way homes for these women when they left jail. Like you, she also how easily these ladies could fall through the cracks, & struggle to gain the life they might hope to lead.

    1. I knew you were good quality Jane 😉 Ruby Rick Schalit – sounds like a wonderful lady and a wonderful name – Ruby is one of my all time favourite names I think 🙂 and gems too!. Looks like longevity is in the family – always a good thing (something we get in my family – parts of it – so there is some hope – hahaha – well, Nanna lived to 98). Half way houses (and quarter way houses etc., ) are sometimes the only pathway that works – simple but strong strategies are usually the best. As you point out, the cracks are where the dangers often lie – and where the professionals are often not looking – woops, there goes another one (does anyone care – usually one or two – hopefully).

    1. bluebee 😉 will you stop fidgeting in the back seat there and concentrate on your calculus – did you hear that CALCULUS – yes! and that is not the stuff on your teeth missy! I have been dealt the hand of nature, my dear, and this means fire, flood and tornado (yes, tornado) and a bit of potential cylcone just for fun – hahaha – and those were the easy bits – do you know how much food my family eats – yes, volumes of the stuff, and it just disappears – noone knows where it goes, but it just disappears 😉 and than there is the insufferable disrespect that I parry on a regular basis – who would believe it – i am the head of this family and yet nary a thankyou do I get for cooking, cleaning, a good beating, a thrashing around the head, a voluminous discourse on the molecular structure of water (H2O I say – gas, liquid, solid – who knew – no one apparently) and what about the precarious nature of the political seesaw and men with big ears – wtf 😉 and then there are the various discourses on criminal shows such as the Mentalist – the tedious, pedantic explanations of various forensic tell-tale signs – I mean, really – I could go on ;)-

  3. Interesting that you identify drug offences as the most common pathway to incarceration. One of these days we will realise drug addiction is a medical problem and remove the criminality. Some attitudes are still stuck in the dark ages and the cost of further punishing victims is immense. We might have been first to install universal suffrage (in Australia) but we are still a long way behind in how we manage mental health. Are you now a swimming carnival mum? 🙂

    1. Stafford, Stafford, Stafford – you’re the man! I have been involved in the diversion of drug offenders into rehabilitation programs in Qld (had to organise the Health side of it in this State, before I became of child 🙂 ) – long story – must discuss soon – it is a hairy, octopus of an issue but I agree with you in sentiment – drug addicts need to be diverted from the criminal system – no doubt about it! and dunked in a big bath of ice – to reboot their systems (will explain further – unless you are a Finn, than you will already know what I mean). The saddest thing about drug addiction, is that many of those women will be dead now because of addiction – either directly or indirectly).

    1. Fairness is a fairy tale dear Kate 🙂 there is no doubt about it – I could debate in the affirmative for 10 hours minimum! The not so funny thing about disadvantage is that it piles up on top of itself and multiplies exponentially – eg., poor person can only live in poorly sited suburb near the river, suburb gets regularly inundated with water, poor person loses all of measly possessions, poor person moves to another poorly site in suburb near the river, suburb gets flooded, … ; Rich person buys house in affluent suburb, prices in affluent suburb increase, rich person sells house and makes bonza profit, buys 2 houses in affluent suburbs, makes bonza profit on two houses etc., Rich person thinks they are really clever but rich person is just in the right place at the right time – please insert rich person into poor persons life and see if outcome changes (computer says yes!). 🙂

    1. this is true tone 😦 many will have died from overdosing or violence – the men probably moved on to something younger (or they too will have overdosed) and the revolving door of prison life can start to go round and round.

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