Doing ‘my thing’ – and the universal nature of prisoners…

DSC00693A colleague of mine said yesterday, ‘I didn’t realise you were actually delivering a project out there?’ – it did only come about in the last few weeks of planning, when the prison management saw some example stories and perhaps thought they might be a nice outcome from my visit. The education team were super keen on me working with a couple of groups and I rather ambitiously said this would be possible. I had come to the facility to look at technology for well being, which I did, I heard a lot bout systems, I asked a lot of questions, I observed use and methods and I chatted to detainees about their needs – but I was really keen to do what I do best, and get on with  some story telling.DSC_0096

With the guys we worked in the art room and started with a group of five, it was unfortunate that they didn’t really know what it was all about so I was always on the back foot – the guys were the same as guys anywhere. Some were high, some were depressed and reticent, some were chatty and needy and some disinterested. We struggled to be honest – to maintain interest. There is a laconic attitude in the prison, that they do not have to anything if they do not want to, it seems to me far to easy to check out of any activity.DSC_0024

The women were amazing, in contrast to the men, they almost gave me too much. They talked and shared and brought me pictures and objects. I was conflicted with all the stories – I am having trouble processing and editing – a couple of the ladies talked a lot about their crime. Which I am usually quite strict to discourage but I felt so privileged to be talked to I let them speak. There’s always a couple of people in the groups who get right under my skin. I carry their stories around with me, I worry about them as I drive home and as I go to bed at night. One girl in particular, said she hadn’t told the story in that way to anyone, she was mentally ill when her crime was committed, a sad story. I felt she opened up to me. That night I awoke in a sweat having nightmares about mental hospitals and children being taken away. I had been editing her story – her voice in my head all evening.

DSC00658The wonderful man who has been looking after me in the prison enquired what I did to protect myself – psychologically – and the truth is very little. He told me his staff have clinal supervision and I should be careful. It’s true, I like the fact that people tell me things, I am an impartial outsider, but it’s no good being saddled with everyone’s baggage.

I think the creation of the story helps me, once the story and film is created it easier for me to distance myself and see it objectively.

It soon became clear in the editing and draft edits that I would have to be
DSC_0096much more careful about these stories. I am very keen that the prison is able to use them and I have a lasting legacy there – the film editing about the mentally ill detainee was totally wrong, too much detail about her crime and she hadn’t been sentenced yet. What’s more Canberra is astonishing small. Half the population of York! Only 360,000 – so people will know the people, know their victims, recognise voices and stories. In the UK it is easier for my stories to become anonymous quickly – out there – but the tiny state of ACT watches everything the prison does as its their only prison, it is under scrutiny form press and the government and civilians all the time. I have left the prison now, and am in the editing process, looking forward to giving it some care…


One thought on “Doing ‘my thing’ – and the universal nature of prisoners…

  1. Problem all over the world’s prisons + as nelson said ‘prison is designed to create an amorphous like state- once men- in particular- are in that state- very hard to get them out of it! No one gets closer than stretch! Dx


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