The woman who made my coffee this morning, when I told her I was spending Christmas morning in the prison, said, ‘That’s very good of you’. I instinctively responded ‘It’s very good for me’.
I don’t mean that in a sanctimonious, martyrish way. I’m not that selfless.
Last night I went into the Marlborough Unit at Port Phillip Prison with Ross, the chaplain. We spent a couple of hours with some of the men, deciding what we’d do over the next few weeks. We’re going to work through some advent readings, doing meditation stuff, and bringing in images for the readings, gradually building up the table with a picture of our waiting. This is a group of men who like silence, and they like talking, so we’ll use their words from the next few weeks to craft christmas day.
At least that’s the plan. It won’t work like that.
Yesterday’s weather felt like it came straight from Darwin. There’d been a pretty ferocious storm in the afternoon followed by bright sunshine, so by the time we arrived the air was still and hot; the humidity was frightful. The unit felt like a sauna. We arrived as the men were finishing dinner [or throwing it out]. It looked disgusting. We sat at the dining table for an hour or so, listening to the rambling conversations of lonely men, who can barely remember the sentence they’ve just spoken. These are the most pathetic people in our community – people who struggle to comprehend basic cause and effect, who think they are forgotten by the world and therefore that nothing they do will have any consequence. We think making them live in subhuman conditions will reform them. The truth is more likely to be that it will confirm this is all they were born for.
One man, no names, brought up last weekend’s state election. He checked who I’d voted for first, and then mentioned that Ted Baillieu was visiting the prison next April. He’d heard that Baillieu wanted to make things harder for people in prison. You could tell that just the idea of it being harder was beyond his capacity to imagine.
I said, more wishful than knowing, ‘there are a lot of people outside who would oppose that on your behalf’. I hope i’m right.
There was silence, and then the thing next on his mind came up.
‘The thing is, getting over Christmas’.
To which there is no possible response.