Years of incarceration have made me a successful failure. To the world
out there I am a neatly packaged convicted felon whose views and
observations are irrelevant but I will offer them to you anyway – just
for the hell of it!
Prisons are still society's garbage can. Places where unwanted rubbish
is dumped. Out of sight. Out of mind. They are places where Ministerial
portfolios are gauged by the amount of adverse publicity generated and
responsibility is delegated to somebody with a shotgun and a roll of razor
wire who has a mandate to ensure the streets are not sullied by any
unwanted presence of a felon before he has done his time. Rehabilitation
has become a four-letter word that is alien to a system that relies on
revenge and retribution in answer to the public's perceived notion of what
they want the incarceration process to accomplish.
It is a curious sight to witness the "law and order" debate
raging out there with such a wide cross-section of the community all eager
to offer views as to how men like me should do time. Journalists.
Politicians. Lawyers. Judges. Doctors. Academics. Psychologists. Social
workers. Prison administrators. It is ironic that the only person not
allowed to contribute to that debate is the prisoner him/herself.
Emotive argument flies back and forth; "make 'em do every
day", "bring back the death penalty", "hang 'em",
"maggots", bleeding hearts", and the debate bubbles along
with the same well-worn arguments that have no consideration for future
generations who may suffer the consequences of today's draconian proposals
that continue to dehumanise, desensitise and make angry men angrier.
Twenty years ago a rebellious and angry young man wrote an article that
described how incarceration had become Australia's most effective
educational system. I was that angry young man.
Prison, the end of the line, had become the university of crime. It was
1979. The International Year of The Child. I was serving an 18-year prison
sentence for armed robbery inside the State Penitentiary at Parramatta,
NSW, when those observations were made in Brown & Zdenkowsky's The
"Prison is the end of the road. An overcrowded garbage can that
society carefully chooses to ignore. For most of us behind these walls,
the road to prison has been a steady procession of Boy's Homes and
Reformatories. To some, we are crime statistics. To others, we are a
combination of animals, brutes, deviates, psychopaths, products of broken
homes, or just plain psychologically unbalanced individuals. Despite
whichever tag we are labelled with, the undeniable fact remains - we are
all prisoners behind these walls but the majority of us are experts too.
We know the juvenile/justice system intimately. We know it from the gut
level of experience. And prison is a direct extension of the
During the past nine years in prison there is one thing that has
occurred with monotonous regularity: the guys I knew at Mt Penang and
Albion Street and Yasmar (NSW Juvenile Reformatories during the 60s and
70s) were in those places for truancy, running away from home, stealing
and in some cases house-breaking. Today I see those same guys I knew 14
and 15 years ago walking the yard. Now they are doing time for murder,
rape, armed robbery and kidnapping. Recently I walked the yard with a guy
I knew from Yasmar in 1964. He was in there for stealing a bicycle but
today he is doing a 14 year sentence for armed robbery. Some may look at
this example in cynical vein and remark that it is a big step from
stealing bicycles to robbing banks. It isn't a big step at all. It is a
progressive extension of the juvenile/justice system ...
The juvenile/justice system is the most efficient education system
in the State. It is a timeless machine that sucks children in at one end
with the seal of judicial responsibility and spews them out again on their
18th birthdays to become endless flotsam and jetsam that continually float
through the NSW penal system during their adult life.
Having been taught to steal and commit petty crime at Kindergarten
(Mittagong) and taught the values of the con, lie and cheating at Primary
School (Daruk), and then the High School education at Mt Penang teaches
them skills to make an impression in the life of crime. Tamworth and Hay
Reformatories blunt their sensitivities with brutality. Their education
secures jobs for people who would be otherwise unemployed – magistrates,
judges, police and prison guards."
Nearly three decades later and maximum-security prisons are still the
universities of crime.
Incentives for prisoners to participate in conventional education and
rehabilitation programs during the 90s were forfeited to the punishment
and retribution concept of the "get tough" purges of politicians
and prison administrators. Criminality has again become the preferred
option on the yard and is learned at a faster rate than numeracy or
literacy inside a system that has replaced brick walls and gun towers with
razor wire, sophisticated technology and privatisation.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
1 post so far.