October 2013

Essays

Kate Rossmanith

Out on parole

By the time their sentence ends, many inmates will have rarely made a decision for themselves © Peter Brennan / Newpsix

The release plan

The 1933 tan building halfway along Broadway in Chippendale, Sydney, has the confident symmetry of art deco design, including a stepped trim at the top like a pharaoh’s headdress. Above the entrance, “BANK” is etched in mighty letters, declaring in perpetuity the building’s purpose. Observing the blistered north-facing wall, though, you imagine the wind unhurriedly transfiguring the sandstone. 

These days, there are flyers in the foyer (“Are you looking for a family member in prison?”), and on the front counter is a bowl of condoms in blue wrappers. The place is home to the Community Restorative Centre (CRC), a government-funded organisation that provides support services for NSW prisoners, parolees and their families. It’s where case-workers assist former inmates to make straight-and-narrow plans, reshaping their lives beyond jail.

In June this year, parole processes in Victoria and New South Wales attracted spirited scrutiny. Days after the public learnt that Adrian Bayley, who last year killed Jill Meagher, had a history of violent attacks on women (and that he’d remained on parole despite being convicted of assault), a man allegedly attacked a 30-year-old woman at a Hunters Hill bus stop in Sydney, forcing her to the ground and attempting to undress her before punching and stabbing her. She was saved by a witness who phoned police before trying to restrain the alleged attacker. He was on parole for murdering a woman 23 years ago. 

In response, the Victorian premier, Denis Napthine, ordered a review of the structure of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria, and the NSW attorney-general, Greg Smith, commissioned an inquiry into the release of the inmate accused of the Sydney attack. At the same time, I wondered what it was like to be on parole. Do you wake up each day battling to unlearn the habits of a lifetime? How could the rest of us ever be certain you’d changed your ways?

In the CRC foyer, I’m fetched by Hannah,* the caseworker with whom I’ll spend the day. She’s 31, willowy and unflappable in the way of netball goalies. I follow her past crowded shelves and walls covered with posters (“The Justice Maze”, “Jailbreak Radio”), and she talks as her cream-coloured thongs slap the lino. 

“We spend at least three months organising a case plan for inmates before they’re released,” Hannah explains. “We only take clients who Corrective Services has classed as being at medium to high risk of reoffending, who have complex, intersecting needs and who actually want our support. We’re funded to case-manage clients for up to 12 months after their release. Some clients are back on their feet sooner; others take another year.”

Upstairs, Hannah shares an office with three other caseworkers. On her desk are ten white folders with the names of clients, and on the shelf above it is a packet of Cup a Soup and a jar of peanuts. There are booklets: Planning Your Release: NSW exit checklist, the front cover of which has a cartoon of an ex-prisoner wearing a T-shirt with “Freedom” on it while jumping for joy. Another is Cooking Made Easy. On page 6 are photos of a frying pan, a can-opener and a wooden spoon, with labels accompanying each item, as in a child’s picture book. Near the office window, which harbours a plant with strong new leaves, are a fishing line and a whipper-snipper. 

Hannah checks the time. She grabs the whipper-snipper, leads me outside to a blue hatchback in the car park, and swings the garden tool into the back seat. 

“We’ll visit Brian first,” she says. Brian lives alone in one of four houses rented by the CRC. 

“Finding safe and affordable housing for clients is one of the hardest things. People straight out of jail mostly can’t get a job. If they can’t get a disability support pension, they’re on Newstart, which is a pittance.” 

She’s relieved Brian is not in a boarding house because he’d be living with others like him, those with drug and alcohol problems, heavy debts, no employment and long histories of abuse. 

“It’d become his social network, and he’d get involved in whatever everyone else was getting involved in,” she says. 

Dysfunction plagues most of her clients. Brian has been “service-dependent” all his life, raised in institutions since he was a toddler. Hannah has known him for three years. 

“How long’s he been out of jail?” I ask.

“This time? Since April.”

 


In August, retired High Court judge Ian Callinan released his review of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria, highlighting systemic failures. He recommended a shift away from parole as an “entitlement” towards it being a “privilege”. The system will be overhauled. There will be a tougher parole benchmark, particularly for criminals convicted of serious sex offences, violent crimes, and breaking and entering. The point to keep in mind, one readily overlooked in the tabloid media, is that parole is essential. It is in the public’s interest for offenders to be supervised in the community before their sentence expires. 

Each year in New South Wales, around 5500 inmates are released on parole. Approximately 4500 of those are people who receive jail sentences of three years or less, and therefore they are automatically granted parole by the courts. The remaining 1000 or so are inmates with longer prison terms, and therefore the NSW State Parole Authority decides parole. Of those 1000, around 40 are classified as “serious offenders” – people who have received a non-parole jail sentence of 12 or more years. The decision whether to release these people to parole is made by the NSW Serious Offenders Review Council in conjunction with the Parole Authority and the state attorney-general’s office. 

In arriving at their decisions, NSW parole board members consider, for example, the inmate’s post-release plan, probation reports, medical and psychological assessments, and letters from the inmate’s family and the victim and their family. In setting the conditions of a person’s release, they might include routine meetings with parole officers, assessment and treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as random substance testing. 

“Transition” is the breezy term used to describe an inmate’s re-entry to the outside world. But those who invoke it recognise the daily labour that the expression cloaks. In the Parole Authority’s 2011 Annual Report, its chair, Ian Pike, wrote: 

Inmates live a form of institutionalised life which ill equips them for life in the community. They spend the term of their sentence strictly living a regimented lifestyle, being told when to eat, when to shower, when to leave their cell and when to return to it. By the time their sentence ends, many will have rarely made a decision for themselves.

 

 


We reach a terrace house on a suburban street in the inner west.

“Brian’s 41,” Hannah tells me. “For my male clients, 40 to 50 is a really significant age. They know that, if they want to turn their lives around, it’s now or never. They feel old. They realise it’s a young man’s game.”

“You mean crime?” I ask.

“No, jail,” she says. “Prison isn’t what it used to be: blue versus green – the screws in blue, the inmates green. Now there are race wars.” 

Brian greets us, shaking my hand hard. He takes the whipper-snipper and we follow him inside, down a dark corridor, past closed bedroom doors and into a sunny, blank-walled lounge room with a large window of sky. Apart from a couple of sofas and a coffee table, there are an old TV, two dozen DVDs, a heater and six bottles of Brut spray-can deodorant. There’s also a single mattress, on which rests a black-and-white striped doona and a floral-patterned pillow. 

Brian lobs himself onto the seat opposite us. He has an impish face and chewed fingernails, and wears a shiny T-shirt and tired sneakers.

“I had one of those weekends,” he says.

“What happened?” asks Hannah.

“It’s a sad world. I’m very disappointed.”

“What happened? Who’s the guy? Was it that Jimmy guy?”

“Yeah, he’s one of ’em.”

Not wanting to push the subject for now, she sighs, handing him a form: Housing Pathways. Resting it on a cushion, Brian prints painstakingly in the small boxes.

“Do you know how much child support you pay?”

“Nah,” he says.

His former partner and their child live in Tasmania. He has other kids elsewhere in Australia but he won’t say how many.

“I’m sweatin’ with these patches on,” he says, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. He started wearing nicotine patches two days ago. “I’m waiting for it to kick in, but it hasn’t. You don’t wear them at night ’cause they give you nightmares. Anyway, so, what do you do?” he asks me.

“I’m studying how the justice system works,” I say.

“You think the system works? Nah. Blokes who get a sentence of six months to two years don’t have a chance. At the prison farm, they treat you like children. When you get out, they give you a train ticket, half a dole cheque, a ‘Thanks for coming’, and you’re back on the street. If you get six months, you don’t get visitors. You get a ‘Dear John’ from the missus. Y’know, I’ve been locked up in every state. Just then I was in for pissy larceny: five months’ jail, four months’ parole.”

He reckons he didn’t do three quarters of the stuff he’s been in jail for. The “coppers” have his criminal history and charge him with whatever they like.

“I only done one Supreme [Court]. In Darwin. Bashed an intruder in my house. I made the front page of the Territory News. Look it up. I got two years for that piece of shit.”

I ask him whether, with this latest conviction, he’d told the judge he was sorry for stealing.

“Why should I be sorry? The only time you have to be sorry is if there’s violence. Or a white-collar crime. You know, if there’s a full-on victim. The stuff I deal with is brand new from the warehouse. If I wanna do you over, I wanna do it when you’re not there.”

Hannah sits quietly. Brian glances at her, then me: “It all goes back to drugs,” he announces, satisfied with his perspicacity. “That’s been my problem: drugs. Addressing drugs in jail? Fuggetaboutit.”

This leads Hannah to return to the subject of Jimmy. She’s worried.

“What happened with Jimmy? What do you want us to do?”

“A couple of my things went walkabout. Clothes. Odds ’n’ ends. Someone’s getting in here. I don’t know how. They must have a key.”

“Are they good at locks?” she asks.

“Dunno. Maybe. But why bother coming here? What I’ve got is shit. It’s dribble. It’s CRC stuff,” he says, pointing to the bulky TV. 

“Oh,” Hannah says, feigning offence.

“I rang them up yesterday and said, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ They denied it. I know it’s them because of the description I got from the neighbours. They must be watching me.”

“Are they using?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you using?” Hannah probably wants to ask, but doesn’t.

“Why don’t you lock your clothes in the bedroom?” she suggests.

“Those rooms are mouldy! That’s why I sleep here,” he says, looking over to the mattress. He begins to fidget. “I need a smoke. Let’s go outside.”

We walk through a dining room, empty except for Brian’s clothes on a rack in the corner, then through an unused kitchen. Outside, there’s a pergola from which hangs a cobweb-covered punching bag. Beyond the concrete paving is metre-high herbage that takes up half the backyard. 

Brian smokes a rollie.

“It’s the act of smoking I like. It’s like using. Sometimes you want that cold steel.” He shakes his head. “Heroin. I’m dirty on it. Heroin is a personal drug. Alcohol is a social drug. The problem with alcohol is you can get violent. I can get violent. Staying off heroin is hard. When you’re by yourself, it’s the mind games. If you have a missus and kids, you got people to talk to.” 

“What’s the hardest part about being out of jail?” I ask.

“You don’t want to go back.”

“How do you spend your days?”

“TAFE. Electrician course. Three days a week. It keeps me outta trouble. We’re on term break this week.”

“Will you become friends with other TAFE students?”

“They’re all so straight. Naive,” he says. “The other day, they were talking about how blue lights have been installed in the bathroom so people can’t find their veins to shoot up. I laughed.”

“Why?”

“You don’t need to see your veins to shoot up!”

“What about finding friends at the pub?” asks Hannah.

“The pub. That was a joke.” Then to me: “I was lonely. I thought I’d change drugs and get pissed instead. But I got barred from the pub! For talking to people. I was told: ‘People come to the pub to get pissed. Not to talk to people.’”

No one says anything for a while. 

“What will you do for the rest of the week?” Hannah finally asks him.

“Dunno. Check my Keno ticket.”

“You bought a ticket? Why did you do that?”

“I was bored. It’s up to 2.1 million. It’d be a life-changer. You never know your luck in a big city.” He pauses, considering the days ahead. “I gotta go to Centrelink on Wednesday.”

“Come into the CRC for a coffee,” Hannah tells him. “Something to do. An outing.”

No answer. Then, as if for the first time, he registers the small forest of vegetation leisurely nudging itself towards the house.

“I’ll whipper-snip tomorrow,” he says.

 


In the car, Hannah tells me she likes working with men. I ask her if it’s because case-managing women entails dealing with the Department of Family and Community Services. I’d heard about the challenges, and the heartbreak, involved in parolees’ “restoration with children”. But, no, Hannah puts it down to having two older brothers. “I think I just feel more comfortable around men. Growing up, I wanted to be one of the boys.” She says she knows how to speak with her clients, “knowing whether I should use a motherly tone or a sisterly tone or a friendship tone – even though I’m always very clear that we’re not friends”.

With people like Brian, who have no family or friends, Hannah says the big thing is “use of time”: “I bet Jimmy didn’t break in. Brian’s letting people in. I hope he’s not using. It’s hard when my clients are using, when I can’t help them.”

She doesn’t want him isolated at home. Brian’s problem, she says, is small talk – “his entire life is socially impolite to talk about” – as well as his struggle to “develop healthy boundaries”. Recently, the neighbours complained that he was being too friendly, but were placated when Hannah told them that he wasn’t violent and their kids weren’t in danger. Having never had normal relationships, Brian imagines intimacy where there’s none. 

“I tell him he can’t call me ‘Baby’ or say he loves me. When I told my supervisor I was teaching Brian about boundaries, she asked me if he really understood what a boundary was. She suggested I place a rope around me, outlining my personal space so that he could see. For so long, when they were little, most of our clients were at risk, and then, from 18, they became considered a risk. People have compassion for them as they’re growing up in horrible environments. But once they turn 18, there’s no more empathy. Suddenly you’re an adult, you should be making good decisions, even though you’ve never had a role model.”

A Range Rover cuts in front of us. Hannah calmly applies the brake.

“By the way,” she says, “it’s bullshit that those bedrooms are mouldy. Brian sleeps in the lounge room because it makes him feel safe.”

He has the sleeping habits of children “in care”, who learn young to remain in a state of watchful alertness. Kids who keep their eyes on the front door.

 


Alongside denouncing criminal conduct and protecting the community, another of the seven official purposes of sentencing in New South Wales is “To promote the rehabilitation of the offender”. It’s what the community hopes for: that people come out of jail reformed. But if change is the crux of the matter, then how is it measured, and who or what does the measuring? How many tiny moments of not-doing-what-you-might’ve-once-done must accrue to form an identifiable index of transformation? 

Every correctional centre in New South Wales offers custody-based therapeutic programs: for example, CUBIT (intensive treatment program for sex offenders), CORE (for inmates who have committed “low-intensity” sex offences), Getting SMART (moderate-intensity substance abuse program), and VOTP (violent offenders therapeutic program). Follow-up meetings of these programs are also offered in the community, and sometimes it is a condition of a parolee’s release that they attend “maintenance sessions”.

According to a spokesperson from Corrective Services NSW, such programs are effective in reducing recidivism rates, but, at the same time, “we will never have enough resources to provide the treatment that’s required”. He explains to me: “We manage around 10,000 prisoners, all of whom have individual, highly complex needs, and resources are often flooded into the 2000 or so inmates on remand. We’re also dealing with shortages of expertise. Graduates come out of uni with no skills in conducting group therapy. This means we have to fund the up-skilling of staff to be able to run these prison programs.”

In many cases, the waiting time for the programs is years. Priority is given to those inmates who have been assessed as violent or at high risk of committing further offences. Inmates with shorter sentences are unlikely to have access to the programs. 

“Ironically, a person who’s done time for murder is usually an easier client to deal with than someone like Brian,” Hannah tells me. “In New South Wales, people who’ve been in jail for several years have had some kind of intervention. People like Brian, however, who’ve done numerous short stints in prison, have never been given adequate treatment.”

 


Hannah parks the car outside a blond-brick apartment block in south-west Sydney. We’re visiting 48-year-old Matty, who received an eight-year sentence “for break and enters”, and who has been out of prison for two years and has one year left on his parole. It was his fourth trip to jail, not counting the boys’ home when he was young, where he did time for stealing and armed robbery.

“He’s lucky. He’s got permanent housing,” Hannah says. 

We knock on the door of Apartment #1. A chiselled man with a buzz cut opens it.

“Hi, darlin’,” he says, and disappears into the kitchen to make us a cup of tea, but not before I’ve caught what he’s wearing: a well-ironed cotton top, gym shorts and bright white, very plump-soled trainers. They give him two inches of added height. 

“Matty has a shoe infatuation,” Hannah whispers to me. “They’re all obsessed with trainers.”

“Why?”

“In jail, shoes are the only things they have control over. They have to wear prison greens, but they can pretty much wear what they want on their feet.”

Matty returns, carefully sidestepping the hand weights on the floor, and places two mugs on coasters on a polished wooden coffee table. He sneaks a glance around the lounge room, perhaps wondering what I think of the place. It’s neat and light, despite a half-drawn blind, and a flat-screen TV takes up most of one wall. A Natalie Portman film plays. 

“I was telling Kate about your shoes,” Hannah says to him.

He flashes me a knockout smile.

“Check them out,” he tells me. “They’re in my room. End of the hallway.”

I head past a spotless kitchen and bathroom and peek into his bedroom. Tucked under a clothes rack are 12 pairs of pristine Nikes and ASICS. Above them hang tracksuits in various muted colours, as if Matty has arranged a uniform for every day of the week. 

Back in the lounge room, he rolls a cigarette. His hands shake very slightly, which makes the eight tattoos on his fingers blur. He switches TV channels to Dragnet, and Jack Webb’s Sergeant Joe Friday is using rapid speech to slap down a suspect. 

“I saw Johnno the other day,” Matty tells Hannah.

“You’re behaving yourself, aren’t you?” she says.

“I bumped into him.”

“What do you mean you bumped into him?”

“In Newtown. I bumped into him. You’re so suspicious.”

“Johnno doesn’t bump into people,” Hannah says. Later she’ll tell me that Johnno is another of her clients. He’s manipulative, he’s using heroin, and she doesn’t want Matty seeing him.

Matty exhales a billow of smoke before grabbing his iPhone and showing us a photo of his son, a bronzed fellow who’s inherited his father’s looks.

“My kid’s turning 21. I bought him a watch. It cost $1500. I had to borrow the money.”

“You spent $1500!?” says Hannah.

“It’s his 21st!” Matty replies, staring at the photo in a proud and searching sort of way. “I might move to the Gold Coast. He says he can get me a job on the roads.”

Hannah reminds him he’s just started a job in Sydney washing dishes at a cafe – employment she helped him to find. This reminds him to remind her about his licence.

“I need a car,” he tells her. “I need my licence.”

Matty has never held a licence but has driven without one and was disqualified from driving about two years ago. The disqualification period should have expired by now, and he wants Hannah to look into it.

“Who will buy you a car?” she asks.

“My cousin.”

“She doesn’t have the money.”

“Have you seen her new fence? Cost her $6000!”

Suddenly he jumps up, goes to the window and ducks his head to look out below the blind. 

“You been watching Underbelly?” he asks Hannah.

The latest series stars Jonathan LaPaglia playing drug kingpin Anthony “Rooster” Perish.

“Yeah,” she says. “Do you know him? Perish?”

“Yeah. In jail.”

“Is he as mean as he seems?”

“I dunno. We don’t get to see that side of him.”

It’s not Perish he’s worried about. It’s his parole officer. Matty hates her. The officer wants him to check in fortnightly instead of monthly, and the other day she made a surprise visit.

“I’ve been straight except for that hiccup a year ago,” he protests.

Twelve months ago he got back on heroin and offloaded his possessions to pay for drugs. It gave him a fright. He didn’t want to sell his stuff.

“Your urines have been clear?” asks Hannah.

“All clear. I’m not using.”

By way of changing the subject, he complains about his electricity bill. He says he doesn’t use the clothes dryer, and he’s stopped keeping the telly on when he goes out. 

“I do have long showers,” he admits.

“How long?” she asks.

“Fifteen or 20 minutes.”

He tells us a mate has suggested he drill a hole in the electricity meter at night and insert a wire that stops the numbers turning over. Hannah shoots him a look.

“Just at night. No one checks at night,” he says.

 


As Matty speaks about Johnno, his son’s pricey watch and his electricity bill, confessions bounce off his tongue. It’s a habit. The last two years he spent in prison were at the Compulsory Drug Treatment Correctional Centre at Parklea. He undertook an intense rehabilitation program during which “honesty and consequences were drilled into you”, he tells me. “The program felt stupid at the time”, but in hindsight he reckons it changed his life. He’d used drugs for 30 years. Now he’s clean. 

The treatment involved three stages. At first, the guys had to wear prison greens and weren’t eligible for family visits. As they progressed, the rules were loosened. 

He had to write an autobiography “from my earliest childhood memory, through school, through all my criminal behaviour, explaining how I got where I am”. The psychologists were searching for his “core belief”: why he thought it’d all gone wrong.

“There were 12 guys in our group, and ten of them said that they committed crimes because they weren’t loved as children. I tried to tell everyone that I went the way I did because, when I was young, I saw that my friends had everything because they were stealing, and I had nothing. I saw how easy they were getting it, and I just wanted it. There was no reason behind it. The psychologists tried to tell me that it was because I didn’t have a father figure and that I was unloved – so I said to them, ‘OK, I was unloved.’ But I get on good with my family. My offending had nothing to do with love. It’s just that we were poor. We had to scramble for food and stuff. We had nothing.” 

Matty was taught how to create “step charts” to reach “alternative outcomes” for past events in his life, thereby encouraging him to reflect on how he might have behaved differently. For another exercise, he wrote a letter to the victim, and then role-played being that victim. And there were constant urine tests. 

“If you’d used, and you hadn’t told them, you’d be sent back to stage one of the program. I now think about the repercussions of my behaviour. I never used to. I’ve been a thief my entire life, but now I can walk past an open window without even looking twice at it.”

 


To release an inmate to parole is to make a bright guess about the future. It’s to predict, and hope for, change. The killing of Jill Meagher was one of a number of murders in Victoria that were perpetrated recently by people on parole. In his review, Justice Callinan found that the parole process had failed to protect the populace because it had not adequately assessed the likelihood of inmates’ reoffending. From now on, the Victorian parole board must show that there is a “negligible” risk of serious offenders committing other crimes before granting them parole.

But even the most sophisticated risk assessment is no crystal ball. At the time that Justice Callinan presented his review, retired Supreme Court judge James Wood completed his report into the release of the man who had allegedly attacked the woman at the Sydney bus stop. The report will not be publicly released; however, NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith announced Wood’s findings: that the State Parole Authority had decided it was in the public interest to release the man, having learnt details of his rehabilitation and that the offender had a good support network, would be living with his parents, had a job, would be attending counselling and planned to continue his education. Wood found that the offender’s level of parole supervision was appropriate, and that he’d complied with his parole conditions until the alleged attack. 

The sharp truth is that the attack could not have been predicted. We can speculate all we like, but we can’t foretell what any of us will or won’t do. A person’s transformation is a sort of riddle that only makes itself apparent after the fact. 

“When have your clients transitioned? When can you use the past tense?” I ask Hannah in the car.

“I don’t think you ever can,” she says. “The desistance statistics are heartening: we’d expect the parolee group from which we take our clients would have a recidivism rate in their first year out of jail of around 80%. However, the recidivism rate of those parolees supported by us is around 8–11%. But I guess I see transition as an ongoing process for these people. Recovery is very personal. Changing a life of using, for example, takes a long, long time.”

She reflects for a moment.

“Often I notice a person’s changed because of really little things. For instance, one of my clients has finally developed some self-esteem. He can now talk on the phone to people.”

 


Back at the office, Hannah is on the phone to Corrective Services. Tomorrow she will travel to Emu Plains Correctional Centre to collect a paroled inmate who spent 16 years in jail for murder. The woman will be Hannah’s first female client. 

Next door in the kitchen I chat with Mary, a 36-year-old Seventh-day Adventist Fijian-Australian who has spent most of her adult life in prison. She’s soft and bosomy and keeps apologising to the Lord. Her face and figure are swollen – “when you’re on drugs, your body gets you,” she says – and she instantly makes plain to me that she’s “never been a worker, never been on my back”, as if I might, incorrectly, envisage her in stuffy rooms with slippery men. She speaks shyly about her son, who is 17 and lives with her brother in Fiji (“because I need time to work myself out in order to be a good mother. I don’t want to be snatched off him again”), and about her stepdad, who was “such a dead-set arsehole” that people tell her she should “go for compo”. 

Her 16 trips to jail have mostly been for credit-card fraud. (“I was a credit-card fraudster. I’m so ashamed. Sorry, Lord.”) She’d go to gym lockers “searching, prowling, looking for a rip”, and she’d nick credit cards from people’s purses. Then she’d hire a suite at the Novotel and go shopping. “I wanted the best: Country Road, Jag.” 

She was a superior forger. Her mates would phone her: “Mary! I’ve got a card! I’m in Bondi Junction! Get down here!” She’d jump in a cab and meet them in the shop. She’d discreetly sign the cardholder’s signature in the air a couple of times before approaching the service counter and doing it for real. 

With each arrest she was caught red-handed. In court she’d always say sorry. Altogether she stole $365,000: “grand fraud”. In jail, she did the drug and alcohol therapeutic program Enough is Enough, as well as Out of the Dark for offenders, and victims, of domestic violence.

“My mentality was: I’m taking their cards, but I’m not hurting anybody. You pay insurance. You get your money back. I’m not putting a needle to nobody’s neck. I’m not smashing or snatching anyone. I now realise that I was hurting people.”

When she got out a few months ago, she walked into the CRC “with my little bag” and asked for help.

“This is my last chance at a good life. I’m not doing crime any more. It’s the end of the yellow brick road for me. I pray every night and ask God to forgive me.”

A thought comes to her: “Let me show you something.” She fumbles around in her purse and pulls out a strip of plastic.

“I’ve got my own card!” she says.

It’s an ID card, the ones issued to kids when they turn 18. Spine straight, shoulders square, Mary ceremoniously reads aloud her full name, as if the act of enunciation confirms her fresh membership as a citizen of the law-abiding world. 

*Names have been changed.

Kate Rossmanith
Kate Rossmanith is a non-fiction writer and lecturer in cultural studies at Macquarie University. She has been published in Best Australian Essays 2007.

October 2013

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