Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

The Berlin Wall, My Part of it’s Downfall

November 12, 2009

I have a piece of the Berlin Wall, a piece that is now twenty years old.

Want to see it?

My piece of the Berlin Wall

It’s not a big piece, about the same size you see here, a few inches across. It is painted in grey, several layers of varying shades.

It is made from cheap concrete with no aggregate, just sand, cement, and a few tiny stones. Such concrete has no strength of its own. And that was the wall. The only strength it had was in the oppression of the people who lived behind it.

It is quite a strong symbol for me. It says something of the way we lock parts of ourselves away somewhere. And many years later those parts cry so loud to be free that there is no choice but for some weak pretence of protection to crumble within us.

People sometimes ask where I got the piece. Simple answer. My Uncle Barry got it when the wall went down twenty years ago. Uncle Barry was a diplomat and back then he was Australian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Romania. When the wall came down, my uncle was there.

People have taken pieces of that wall to the ends of the earth. One of them ended up with me.


November 3, 2007

“Man down alarm on Kim Miller, showing G-Block south end.”

Sometimes my ‘scaredy button’ goes off. And when it does I am suddenly surrounded by officers. Sometimes five or six of them. They come running. They see I am OK and they call a false alarm back to the control tower and I reset the beeper.

Having a duress alarm on my belt is just part of working in a prison. It’s a little black box with a red button. Just behind my right hip. If I press the button it goes off. I’ve never had to do that. Chaplains don’t get attacked much in prisons. We’re kind of safe from attack. But if there is an incident that calls for intervention, I press the button. And they come running.

If I lean back in a chair for a few too many seconds it goes off. It’s got a tilt feature. Leaning back in a chair is easy. Especially after lunch.

On my first day working here it went off. At lunch time. I leaned back just a little too long. I might even have dozed off. Perhaps five seconds, perhaps ten, it was long enough for the button to think I had been attacked and was lying in a pool of blood. I wondered what the beeping sound was. They came running, those officers. They gave me a school grading – Beep 101, could do better. Nothing’s changed since I was at school, then. My first day on the job. Nobody much knew my name but the lunch room filled with officers anyway. Hey, it’s a good way to get to know people.

So began my lessons in standing up straight. No room for leaning here. No tilt from me, no sir. Soon I was like the rest. The microwave beeps to tell me that my cold coffee is cold no more. I sit up straight. I lean down to a lower shelf at the supermarket and somebody’s watch beeps the hour. I stand up straight. My name is now Rover or Bowser or Patch, or whatever it was that Pavlov named his dog. No more tilting from me. It’s all over red rover. I am the straightest of the straight-backs.

One day the unthinkable happened. They disabled the tilt feature. The gate officer told me when I got to work. He handed me my alarm and said, “We’ve taken off the tilt. Press the button and it works as normal. But there is no more tilt. It’s gone for good.” Suddenly I could snooze for ten seconds after lunch and nobody would come running.
“Why’d they take it off?” says me.
“Too many false alarms,” he said. “There’re all false alarms anyway. Control’s got sick of it.”
“OK” I said. And that was it. I kissed his proffered hand and went to work. I couldn’t wait for lunch time.

Then I thought of something. One day I had needed that tilt. It was in the lunch room. Walk in the door and turn left around the potted palm, you’re there. On this particular day somebody had watered the plant. An obsessive compulsive somebody. They watered that potted palm until it overflowed the pot. And the overflow flowed over the industrial style shiny painted concrete floor. I walked in the door and turned left in a pool of industrial grade slippery invisible water and ended up flat on my back, cracking my head on the concrete floor. That was it for me, tilt or no tilt, I was out for the count.

“Man down alarm on Kim Miller, showing G-Block south end.” I didn’t hear it, of course. But soon I felt somebody opening my eyelid and the voices of the ‘come running’ officers started to rouse me. They helped me to sit up. They called a nurse from the clinic. Then they took me to the clinic. They checked my blood pressure and my iris dilation. They found nothing. They checked my wallet. They still found nothing. “That is the sign of a chaplain,” I told them, “a dazed look and an empty wallet.” They thought I sounded pretty normal and they left me sitting there wondering how long it would be before somebody brought me a cup of tea. I take it black, one sugar. It took about fifteen minutes, just in case you are also wondering.

But that day was in the past. Today, there was no tilt. It was gone. I was free to snooze after lunch as long as I wanted, even for more than ten seconds. I was free to knock myself unconscious and stay there without interruption. Ah, the blessed taste of freedom in a high security environment. I wanted to share it, I wanted to wallow in it, I wanted to take it home and dip it in chocolate.

I didn’t, though. I didn’t do any of that. I just worked as normal. Bit of a let-down, actually. Work as normal. There you have it. Tilt or no tilt. Work as normal. The tilt’s been gone a month of more now. But work continues as normal. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I sat down to talk with a visiting colleague just outside the main gate. Ten seconds later he said, “What’s that beeping?”
“Must be the microwave,” I said.
“Out here?” he said. “What microwave?”
I looked around. We were outside. We were almost in the car park. He was right, there was no microwave. I looked at my beeper. It was tilted against the chair back. And it was beeping. “Just a moment” I said and I walked back into the gate.
“Kim Miller’s here” said the gate officer as I walked in. They called the false alarm even before the officers came running.
“I thought they took the tilt off these,” I said.
“They did.” said the officer, “but they put it back on again.”
“Why?” (That was from me, the why)
“The staff didn’t like it, thought it compromised safety.”
“When did they put it back on?”
“Weeks ago.”
“Weeks ago. It was only weeks ago they took it off. How long was it off anyway.”
“Cuppla days”
“Oh, that all.”

I’ll tell you something for free. Living with a false sense of freedom is a bit of a let-down when you find out the truth.