Article written by Luke Holt from 96five’s Luke & Susie
The home of the Melbourne Victory is too small, The Gabba is at capacity, and we are fast approaching a full-house at Etihad stadium. With 40,577* people in Australian prisons we have a dark secret that we don’t want to talk about.
When you consider two in every five released prisoners end up back in prison within 10 years * (and if you are a teenager or indigenous that will increase to thee in every five) our ability to rehabilitate appears to be failing.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the daily average of prisoners has increased by 7% (2,581 people) in just a single year.* If that rate of growth continued it will only take two years to fill the SCG, five years to have Etihad Stadium at capacity and just twelve years before the MCG is the only stadium able to hold all of the prisoners in our country.
Just over three months ago my mother called to tell me my brother had been unexpectedly released from prison straight from a sentencing court appearance, where they deemed he had served his time.
The problem was that he had no money, no bank account, no phone, and because he had been imprisoned for two years he had no memory of anybody’s phone number.
After a weekend of being homeless he managed to see his parole officer and get the phone numbers of his family and call reverse charges to Mum, who called the family grape vine. A friend in Brisbane then travelled an hour out of his way to collect him and deliver him to my home.
He was in the clothes he wore when he was released and he hadn’t bathed for days.
Many of us have a loved one who either is in prison or who has been at some point and it is taboo and awkward to talk about. Like when you bump into a primary school teacher you have not seen for decades and she excitedly asks with eager anticipation of wonderful news, “Oh, how is Roddy?”
I hesitated for a moment before I told the truth, “Well, he’s in jail.” Cue the crickets.
Since being out Roderick has been refused countless applications for a room to rent. It makes sense, he is rough, indigenous, unemployed and honest about having police and parole performing random visits to his home for drug and alcohol testing for a full year.
When he was getting knocked back for a place to live over and over again, I saw him increase in anxiety and start pacing and getting agitated. When he talked about the random police visits to our home to see him, he started to get upset and claimed it would have been just “easier to stay in prison.”
It was however an art class he took in prison which could be his key to establish a new and vibrant life that could enable a different answer to the “How is Roddy?” question.
He learned about his indigenous art culture and was given a fresh canvas he could paint on, anything he wanted, no limitations or knock backs. His painting became his safe place and escape, it has become his best chance at rehabilitation and a fresh canvas of life.
I wish it was as easy as him getting a job and a lease on an apartment and not breaking the law, but he is a statistic, approximately half of his life has been behind bars and most of his life has been fighting substance addictions and alcoholism. All of his life has been fighting labels based on his skin colour and mistakes of the past.
Painting gives him a safe place, selling his paintings can give him a new place.
For more information, go to:
If you would like to find out about Prison Chaplaincy or becoming a Prison Chaplain, contact:
Jesse Caulfield, Coordinator, Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy
07 3550 3789