I lost all dignity in jail

Date

As told to Samantha Selinger-Morris

"In the long-term, it's hard to maintain your sense of self-worth and an understanding of who you are. You sort of get lost."

"In the long-term, it's hard to maintain your sense of self-worth and an understanding of who you are. You sort of get lost." Photo: Getty (posed by model)

I had a really nice childhood in many ways, both parents (at home), my summers on the beach. I was no different to anybody else. I wanted a job, to have a really successful career, to get married and have kids. A million things I wanted to do. But I just kept throwing it away instead of following through.

I didn't go to university. I didn't prioritise myself. I made the classic mistake: I got involved with a guy and threw everything away. I went straight to work [in an office] after high school.

I've always been somebody who has tried to solve other people's problems. I was totally unable to say no if somebody needed something or wanted something. I'd come up with it [a solution].

I was trying to fix everybody's problems with someone else's money and I just couldn't solve the problem and it got worse and worse. I was borrowing one to pay the other and trying to put it back and it spiralled.

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I was absolutely relieved [when I was caught]. I knew it was coming, and I was just exhausted trying to fix things.

Everyone asks if it's frightening to be in jail, but I didn't find it so.

You do lose all dignity there, though. There's no privacy whatsoever. The first stage when you go in is a complete strip search, then you're put into clothes that everybody else is in - ill-fitting bras, bad-fitting shoes, clothes that don't fit - so all the outward trappings of your personality are just removed. The structure is to beat anything out of you that is resistant or self-reliant - I don't know, any sort of personality, almost.

In the long-term, it's hard to maintain your sense of self-worth and an understanding of who you are. You sort of get lost.

It's very isolating. It's exactly like high school. A lot of the jail runs on rumours, there's a lot of ''she said this'' and ''she said that''. People suddenly don't talk to you or they're whispering about you; it gets nasty. You sort of discover that you'd (supposedly) done something that you didn't, and it just makes life miserable. You don't know what can be done with a simple comment, and you think, ''That's not what I said.''

So you shut yourself down. You learn to be careful not to express emotions or feelings. In some ways, the ability to think for yourself becomes drummed out of you. Because you don't have any control over the smallest aspects of your life, after a while you give up.

What surprised me when I came out [12 months ago] was that I was absolutely deskilled. I mean, I'm still struggling to cook a meal. You are completely shut away from that, so logical things like shopping and prices and looking after yourself - basic things - suddenly become difficult.

Every single thing has to be renewed or relearnt because things move on, too. Everything changes so quickly. Even the transport system. It makes me feel dumb. I've got to go right back to square one with things that have been changing. Suddenly, you're learning what a child knows. So I'm still struggling to feel confident and comfortable at work [in a call centre].

I realised that [before going in] I couldn't distinguish between when I was being asked for help by someone and when I was just being told something. I learnt that from a chaplain there. She laid it on the line; she said, ''You have to stop solving other people's problems. You've got to stop finishing their sentences. Step out and let them sort their own selves out.''

If I could tell my younger self something, I definitely wouldn't say to follow your heart. I'd say, ''Have a plan. And try to figure out what's really important to you.''

Hopefully, I'm going to be able to do something good. I can't undo what I've done, and I can't make up for what I've done, but at least I can do better.

* Name has been changed.

29 comments

  • Women's jail doesn't seem that bad compared to Men's jail.

    Commenter
    Sam
    Date and time
    March 14, 2013, 9:38AM
    • Well you'd be 100% wrong on that one. Women's jails are much worse. The majority of women inmates have been convicted of non violent crimes, and yet the options for minimum security are far less.
      Women are more likely to be custodial parents of children, have statistically poorer health, more exposure to domestic violence and sexual assault- and yet get far less in terms of programs and "rehabilitation".
      In my personal experience strip searching is used as a punitive measure by some corrections staff, with traumatic consequences for those women who have sexual assault histories.
      I wish the woman featured in this story all the best luck - she's going to need it. Post release support for women in NSW is limited. Her best chance would be a non govt organisation like Women In Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN).

      Commenter
      Deb DeGood
      Location
      Granville
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 10:47AM
    • If you haven't been to a mens prison how do you know its 100% worse and womens prison is much worse. A guy I knew was bashed and raped at least every week and he said that was pretty normal for any young guys in there.

      Commenter
      Abe
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 6:38PM
    • oh please Deb,.. I'm sure women in prison don't get repeatedly raped by fellow inmates like men do in men's prisons. Whilst hardly nice places, I doubt very much you can say that women's prisons are far worse than mens.

      Commenter
      C
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 8:21PM
    • Sam you really don't know the system then. Women's high security jails and men's high security jails are pretty much the same. The only difference? There are medium security jails for men and none for women, and there is an abundance of low security jails for men and very few for women. There are also no remand centres for women. So women charged with petty crimes (even simply not paying traffic fines, or getting busted with a single joint of marijuana) can end up in maximum security prisons - and I say charged NOT convicted... as there is no remand centres, women who haven't even been convicted of a crime can end up sharing a cell block with hardened killers. And you say it's not as bad men's prisons? you tell that to the woman charged with being busted with a joint who has even been convicted yet of it who ends up with that hardened killer as a roomie.

      Commenter
      BrokenWings
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 2:44AM
  • Yes thats why on rthe outside theres so much in music and media promoting follow your heart, find true love, it will save you.And yes, they ,the system is/are designed to break your personality down totally, the whole set up, with the prisoners as tools ,but they are then supposed to rebuild you.But they dont ,they let fitting in with the others be the rehab, and then send you out unable to cope .Thats why they get so much recidivism or repeat business, whichever way you want to lok at it.

    Commenter
    Kane
    Date and time
    March 14, 2013, 10:06AM
    • More and more prisons in Australia are now privately run so repeat business it certainly is. They don't have any incentive to reduce reoffending at all.

      Commenter
      Cimbom
      Location
      Real World
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 1:00PM
    • Rubbish Cimbom. Prison operators generally operate prisons at a specific capacity, they don't really get significant benefit from "repeat business". In fact they are usually incentivised by the government to reduce reoffending and have specific KPIs to meet to rehabilitate prisoners otherwise the prison operators are penalised financially. At least that's how it is in some states, could be different across the country as prisons are state run, but given the country is not that diverse, I'd say they're all run fairly similarly.

      Commenter
      Anon
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 10:06PM
  • ''Have a plan. And try to figure out what's really important to you.''

    Sensible advice.

    Commenter
    Steve
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 14, 2013, 11:49AM
    • Isn't the solution to this dilemma obvious ? Don't commit the crime !
      Sorry, but no sympathy from me ...

      Commenter
      Sundance
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:32PM

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