Posts Tagged ‘prison’

It’s About Time

August 3, 2008

From Dec 30 to Aug 3rd. It’s a long time between posts.

Since the last post we’ve sold our home, packed all our stuff into storage, moved city, camped out in a rental house with a change of clothes and a microwave oven, found and bought a new home, waited out the conveyancing, moved in and tried to get back to normal.

Oh yeah, there had to be a reason for all this. I’ve left prison and am on parole.

After nine years of custodial prison chaplaincy I am starting up a pilot project working with people as they make the transition out of prison and into the community. It’s the first corrective services community chaplaincy in Australia and all a bit experimental.

The startup pressure of the new job is starting to slow down, so here I am. Back to blogging.


November 15, 2007

Sometimes it takes longer to get into prison. It’s where I work and I do it every day, so I should know by now. I’ve been doing it for nine years now. Getting into prison, I mean. I just knock on the gate and I’m in. It’s not like that for everybody.

Maybe I should post a pic of the gate, it’s very impressive. Built in 1896, the gate is of yellow striated sandstone and very ornate. It’s got a lion’s head up there. The lion is holding a big brass key in his mouth. It’s a symbol of Royalty, that lion. The story is that if any inmate can get the key from the lion’s mouth he gets a pardon from the Queen. Pity the lion is on the outside of the gate.

This morning I am waiting to get in. There is some delay inside and other staff members arrive. One of the clinic nurses says to me, “I’m enjoying reading your book.”
“Really?” I say. “Which one?”
“The Insiders one. Short stories. With the red cover.”
“Oh, yeah. Glad you like it. Where did you get it from?” A few places around town stock it and I like the idea that they are moving them out.
“Down at the methadone centre. I work there some days.”
“What was it doing down there?” I’m a bit sideways at this point.
“Somebody must have left it there,” she says. “It was in the staff room.”

A thought runs quickly through my mind. I take an inner look to check it. “That means no royalties.” The thought is quick to appear. “Must work on that one day,” I say to myself. I get back to the conversation.

“And where are you up to?” I ask.
“I’m sitting in the café with Alice,” she says. A big smile crosses her face.

Another thought, just as quick. “Fantastic. She’s identified with the character. Wants to be there.”

“That was a fun story to write,” I say. “I hope you like where it takes you when all the stuff about coffee turns to what happens with the absinthe.”

The gate opens and an escort truck drives out. It’s full of inmates, insiders themselves, going elsewhere. None of them can see the lion above the gate. Or the key. Perhaps some of them think about it. Probably not.

Royalty. Royalties. Some people don’t get it.


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.