The first time I stepped foot in prison was when I was 12.
My mum took my older sister and I to the Pentridge Prison* open day. The jail had been closed for 10 months and all of the inmates had been transferred to other jails. Getting to see where the inmates had slept, ate and showered fascinated me. I walked away from Prison that day being a tad obsessed. I began to read every jail related book I could get my mitts on.
Note: I do realise this is quite a bizarre obsession for a pubescent girl.
15 years later while on a work trip in America, I noticed an advertisement in the local paper encouraging people to write to inmates. I quickly jumped on to the website and saw a long list of prisoners requesting pen pals. I decided I’d write to a female close to my own age.
Alice was in her early 30’s and serving 12 years, nine months in a female maximum security prison. The sentence was for cocaine possession with intent to distribute. Because she had been caught several times she was serving a pretty hefty sentence.
I wrote to Alice and shared parts of my life with her. I told her I did a radio show in Australia and asked if she was okay with me sharing her letters with my listeners. With her consent I read out her very detailed and fascinating hand written letters on air. Below is one of those letters…
Sitting here in this world inside itself waiting for the officer to call Supper. The menu for today consists of beef liver, Yuk?
I do not like liver and can’t ever acquire the taste, childhood tragedy.
My mum was very anaemic when she was pregnant with me and the doctor ordered her to eat beef liver. She couldn’t stand it, but she ate it covered in Heinz 57 sauce.
So growing up she cooked it often because it’s so good for you. Well I just couldn’t eat it and in my household if you didn’t clean your plate you didn’t get a snack so needless to say I went to bed hungry.
We have some ground poultry that inmates call mystery meat because it really is a mystery. Who knows what’s in it, toenails and all. This meat is used to make everything, spaghetti, chicken and gravy, beef patties, meat loaf. I can’t eat the meat either. Reason being we had some cases come in that smelt so bad and even worse when cooking. That turned me totally against it. Not only that, the label reads not for human consumption. Scary, killing us off slowly.
This place is not like the movies, there is no big Bertha bullying you around. There’s no one being shanked or raped. The only thing that may kill you is the food.
There is just a lot of bickering among the woman. The rules are real petty. There are even white lines on the sidewalk for you to walk. This is a control movement compound. No talking in the cafeteria line, no touching allowed or its considered sexual misconduct. You are not allowed to share anything, give or pass anything to another, this is considered trafficking or trading. So if I need to borrow something simple like a bar of soap, I have to do it on the down low. The other inmates are worse than the officers. There are so many that will tell on you. It’s a shame how women are so jealous, I pretty much keep to myself.
Since your letter, have you picked up Breaking Dawn? I like books that take you away from this world. Like being a part of the scene in the story watching everything happen.
As far as connecting with someone in here it’s hard. Sure there are traits and likes to be shared but letting someone in, being able to trust so to speak, there is only a few.
You have no idea how spoilt some of the women are in here. If you have money you can have a TV, Walkman, nice shoes.
Let me explain that to me the hardest thing about doing time is doing it by yourself, being isolated, living with guilt, should’ve, could’ve and would’ves that haunt my mind.
As far as drugs go in here its not like people say it is. Every now and then pills may come through like Zanex etc. I don’t have anything to do with that anymore, its time for a change in my life. There are people who go crazy over others psych meds.
It’s been a shitty mess here, literally. We were locked down for 3.5 days because someone pooped in the shower. Eww Disgusting, gross, eww. I was going stir crazy in my small room/cell.
I’ll close this for now, write back soon.
Alice and I wrote to each other for a couple of years. Over time, like with most pen pals we got a little slack. Eventually the letters stopped all together. I often think of her, on the other side of the world living an extremely different life to me. Even though we didn’t know each other and were never going to meet, we shared a lot of intimate things with each other in the written world. We were born into very different circumstances and made different decisions along the way. After every letter I received from Alice I realised how lucky I really am.
Alice still has six years of her sentence to go.
* Pentridge Prison was in Coburg Melbourne. It officially closed in May 1997. Ned Kelly was imprisoned at Pentridge.