The first Drug War Freedom Ride


Cautioned in Goulburn

Goulburn was settled in the 1820s and boasts of being New South Wales' first inland city. The first road into Goulburn from Sydney Town, the Great South Road as the enterprise was called at the time, was cut through the sandstone mountains by convicts. The Great South Road is now cris-crossed by generations of upgrades and realignments to become what it is today, the busy dual carriage way, Hume highway linking Sydney to Melbourne.

The Freedom Ride came into Goulburn from the south and camped beside the old Great South Road at Towrang, 6 km to the north, near the site of the last slave labour camp in the district - the Towrang Stockade. Between 1833 and 1843, some 250 road building convicts were kept in fetters in this place. The "iron gang" worked 12-hour days in their manacles and slept in them too, on the ground, 10 to a timber slab cell 12 feet square, one blanket apiece in this cold place, the bitterness of which the Freedom Riders can vouch from direct experience of the place.

The remains of the labours of the convicts - a beautiful sandstone arch bridge, massive sandstone culverts, a powder magazine cut in the rock above the banks of the Wollondilly River, gravestones and other ruins - can be seen yet, near a highway rest area named Derrick VC after a WWII hero who had proved himself mighty handy with grenades in New Guinea.

The Towrang Stockade regime had been cruel and brutal, the food poor, the living conditions miserable and floggings regular. The historical records of it are slim, a period of nation building, it seems, that later and more respectable settlers of the Goulburn Plains were eager to ignore and forget.

But I put my feet on that old road determined to remember the cruelty and torture in our foundations and the patience, goodwill and vision of the ancestors who had struggled to abolish slavery and tyranny in the nineteenth century. What giants they were and how minuscule and marginal by comparison is our journey for justice. I prayed again for their blessings and guidance.

For we were Olympic Sydney bound and in the week previous, the Tories in Canberra had passed legislation to empower the Australian army to be used in the suppression of civil disorders and to shoot to kill fellow citizens if they want. The new laws were put up, without any sunset clause, as a precaution against the possibility of riot and disruption during the Sydney Olympic Games.

So it is that sports fascism with corporate logos flying and the corporate media machines bleating, winds back the civil liberties and freedoms our ancestors won, and causes our police to be re-armed with new powers and weapons, and trains them - and the army - in crowd suppression.

What a betrayer of our liberal ancestors is Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard. What responsibility for future generations rests on the frail and fumbling efforts on men such as us Freedom Riders, and women such as we met Walking the Land, to halt the incursions made by globalisation.

If you believe in freedom, hear me. Now is the time to be showing your commitment in action. If you cannot be present to demonstrate in the flesh, send aid and support to those who are.

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The present jail in Goulburn (Gaolburn?) stands at the north edge of town near the Sydney Road and is called the Goulburn Training Centre, the name reflecting its history of eighty years up until the 1970s as a the principle establishment in the NSW penal system for the reformation of first time and young offenders.

Research in the Goulburn Regional Library revealed it to be the fourth Goulburn jail - the Towrang stockade being excluded from this count. The first two lock ups were makeshift log or wooden slab constructions, the second of which was noted to be seriously overcrowded in 1841 while holding 50 men and one woman in two cells. During the life of these jails, stocks were in use outside the walls and public hangings took place there too. The bushrangers White and Mooney were hanged out front in Auburn (main) Street and their bodies' left to rot in an iron cage until their bones were bleached.

In 1843 a third jail, the first masonry one, was built by shonky contractors beside the present day courthouse. To quote from the work of penal historian, James Kerr, (Goulburn Correctional Centre - a plan for the conservation of the precinct and its buildings, NSW Department of Corrective Services 1994), this was a 60 cell affair "of the type made popular in the 1840 by the propaganda of the English Inspectors of Prisons in the 1840s, that is, tiers of cells flanking a longitudinal space open from floor to ceiling."

The present day Goulburn jail was built in the1880s and shares an identical radial plan with Bathurst jail which was built at the same time - four wings of cells with their focal point as the chapel because chaplains and the reforming influence of religion were intended to have a major role. At the time of building, Goulburn and Bathurst jails were the zenith of English penal architecture.

The architecture of jails encode the penal philosophies of their times. A fascinating commentary on this can be found in David Grant's book "Prisons - the Continuing Crisis in NSW" (Federation Press 1992). Grant is an unusual combination of scholar and prison administrator and he has served administrating prison reforms in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. In NSW he served under the psychopathic and punitive NSW Minister for Corrections, Michael Yabsley (1988 - 91) and his restrained contempt for Yabsley gives bite to his prose.

Of Goulburn and Bathurst jails Grant writes that they epitomise "all the central themes of penological thinking up to that time and for a period well into the twentieth century."

"At its heart was a religiously-inspired, simple but savage intention to forcefully reform criminals. It was thus characterised by hostility towards the prisoner, this justifying long periods of solidary confinement in small, poorly ventilated cells, broken by a few hours under close supervision in silence in workshops and in chapel."

"With the prisoners thus regarded as primarily sinful and idle, it was classification, security and industry which was paramount: prisoners must be graded in terms of their potential for harmful influence and they must at all costs be kept from the outside community and under the hammer of bible and work bench, while being continuously under surveillance."

Goulburn prison was therefore designed "into a series of containment areas, which also simplified the tasks of surveillance, with lines of sight down long corridors from one or two central locations and with open areas fully in sight of perimeter towers and ground posts."

"The institution was designed around the needs of the prison officer, who was remote from the prisoner, and the regime was organised on a large scale with little interest in the needs of the individual prisoner, save determination to their reformation."

About 360 maximum security and 100 minimum-security prisoners are presently incarcerated in Goulburn jail, and they would unanimously report that nothing much has changed and Grant's description of the continuing crisis still applies.

Grant would have argued the case for closing both Goulburn and Bathurst jails as being architecturally unmanageable in terms of modern penal practice. But new jails cost about $250,000 per cell to build and they are political hot potatoes. The prison overcrowding caused by the Drug War has led to band-aid renovations and at Goulburn, a new 70-bed maximum-security wing was under construction.

Of all the jails in NSW, Goulburn has the reputation as being the most dangerous and violent. Police I have met tell me this is the jail in which offenders most fear being placed and that assaults and murders (prisoner by prisoner) are rife. At least ten murders in the past three years.

NSW jails are averaging 27 deaths in custody per year, a rate that ought to be sufficient call for some sort of public inquiry. But at this time the media is quiet and the Goulburn Post in particular remains steadfastly ignorant. I rang the editor and asked permission to look at his files on the jail and was curtly refused. Later, perusing back editions in the Goulburn Library, I understood why. The Goulburn Post carried no recent reports on the jail or the murders that had taken place within it.

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We Freedom Riders were road weary, The back-to-back actions in Bathurst, Canberra and Junee had left us deeply fatigued and less than eager to be visible. We made camp and lit our fire on the hill where a great grim granite watchtower stands overlooking the town, a memorial to First World War servicemen. From on top a searchlight sweeps the night and it looks like some lost and land locked lighthouse. It made me think of the searching, evil eye of Tolkien's Mordor

Governmental surveillance seemed to be a theme of Goulburn, which not only hosts a major maximum-security jail but also the NSW Police Academy and the state's former biggest bin for the chronically insane, the Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital. From our later experience we can confirm with certainty that Goulburn is a community seriously over policed.

Goulburn was a town in which we made few civic connections. Dave Cannabis, whose website record of the Freedom Ride (check out www.nimbinaustralia.com/hempbar) has made him a minor cyber celebrity, could not find a friendly phone. "First inland city, last on-line city", he grumbled. An off-line Dave Cannabis camping on a cold mountain in winter is not joyful company.

In truth joylessness was now our general condition for the strain of the Freedom Ride company was showing. Dave sat about for hours catatonically stoned and the wit that used to have us all falling about laughing was now replaced with grumbles about the cold. Jab who used to lead us singing pop standards he had learned as a Hobart metro bus driver, was grumbling too about the risks and wrongs of being associated with Justice Action, obsessive about Brett Collins in the same way he was obsessive about his cuckolder back in Hobart. Jab and Dave travelling together in Peacebus, mutually reinforced and amplified the discontents.

As if to illustrate the mood of internal dissent, Jab and Dave had become dirty boys and the interior of Peacebus, their living quarters, had become a mess of take way food containers, food scraps and smelly clothes. Both St John and I had seen the failure of our attempts to keep Peacebus clean and to set a better example for personal hygiene in previous weeks. Now we could not bear to enter our icon, Peacebus.

Men without women, I had observed, tend to become rough and degraded. We talked about this and St John offered the services of his, as yet, un repossessed credit card to shout us all a night in a brothel. Jab and Dave brightened at this suggestion and next day while having my hair cut in a unisex salon, the women about me, dollying and being dolled up for weekend socialising, were very helpful with advice.

But it came to nothing for I too was feeling the strain and had become resentful of the big Daddy role Jab and Dave had cast upon me. The way they saw it, they identified problems and it was up to me to find and organise solutions. "Hey, Batman", Jab would call as he tossed me another curly one. When I did delivered a solution that sent the problem for a six, he would acknowledge the success by urging me to wear, like Batman the cartoon character, my underpants on the outside.

In the beginning I had been happy to pick up the slack and be the liaison front, action planner, media man, event producer and cook and bottle washer too. But now it was all becoming too much. Travelling separately and hanging out in libraries, reading penology and word processing on my laptop, I was consciously and unconsciously minimising my time in their company.

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The Goulburn Area Police Duty officer, Inspector Ken Medway, received me affably, for he had been expecting the call and knew of the peaceful patterns of our progress through the jail towns of NSW. Of the Drug War he said that his station had been surprised by a recent report in the media that put Goulburn as a statistical leader for drug overdoses. The harm minimisation approach taken by ambulance officers and hospital emergency staff meant that ODs were being treated but out of respect for privacy, no names of the users were being given to police.

A common theme I had been hearing in the jail towns was how jails change a town's culture and serve to spread the heroin plague. The wives and lovers of imprisoned injecting drug users are often users themselves and some move to the jail towns to be closer for visiting. Because the wives and families are on pensions and low incomes, the lower rents of regional centres add good economic sense to such a move. When their man is released, the kids are in local schools and so they tend to settle.

All blessings on them, I say. May they live in peace too. I don't want to put a moral judgement on injecting drug users - it is the Drug War rather than drug use that has created 90% of the dysfunctions associated with the heroin plague.

But so it is that heroin use, heroin distribution networks and the property crimes associated with addiction are established and normalised in association with jails. The idea that incarceration is some virtuous local job generating local industry needs to be challenged. Prisons bring social costs to the community's that host them

"We are all victims", affirmed Inspector Hahn who came and joined the conversation. "I have seen many a good copper come unstuck informing a family of the death through drug overdose of their son or daughter."

Inspector Hahn also spoke of compassion burn out. "I am less tolerant than I used to be", he said. "We police are dealing all the time with the victims of the crimes of drug addicts."

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At the Goulburn jail I was received by the avuncular Acting Governor Max Sharman and Deputy Governor Jim Bowie. As with the police these prison officers had had intelligence reports and were comfortable about the action proposed for the following Saturday. But unlike the Police they were uncomfortable about talking about what was happening inside their jail and were very measured in their words. I asked about the recent murders and they referred me to public relations HQ.

I asked about access to drug war prisoners and they explained that the rules required advanced bookings. Max obligingly rang the bookings officer and confirmed that all the 20 minute slots had been booked out. No fuss, I had knocked on the door once more.

As Deputy Governor, Jim was responsible for jail security and this day his eyes had the bulge of a man in stress. Some trouble was going down inside and our conversation was interrupted by phone calls and Jim's thoughts were elsewhere.

Before he took me outside to walk the turf to be agreed upon for our action, Jim asked me to wait outside the Governor's office while he had words with Max. While waiting in the anteroom, I spied on top of a tall wooded cabinet three boxes of files. They were shoebox sized and marked "Deaths in Custody" with a list of about ten names. I presumed these to have been prepared for the coroner - lives reduced to excuses in shoeboxes.

Jim came out of the office and seeing my gaze, muttered about the mountains of paper work. He took me outside, and introduced me to two officers who would be on duty on Saturday. They wore navy woollen jumpers with epalettes, blue fatigue trousers tucked above boots, military style. "Why the military mode for prison officers?" I had asked Max. But Max had no answer for the question.

Military discipline has always been central to Australian prison administration. The colonial gaolers originally were soldiers and to this day, prison officers are taught drill and, on ceremonial occasions, march about with "regimental" colours, a paramilitary force.

An early Governor of the Goulburn Jail instituted clockwork discipline for his warders. Poetic this, for the clock was the nineteenth century metaphor of a universe perceived as being ordered and "doing time", the prevailing metaphor of incarceration. To minimise staffing and monitor patrols the Governor had a clock work device installed. Night shift warders were required to carry a special clock, which they inserted in holes in the stone walls of seven different checkpoints along the patrol route. At each checkpoint the clocking-in caused a letter to drop into a tray in the hole. The letters spelled P R I S O N.

There was a ten-second window of opportunity for this mechanised letter drop and the interval between checkpoints was so timed that the warder had to move at a steady trot as he circumnavigated all the wings for the entire 2-hour shift. Any missed letters meant reprimand or dismissal.

Out front Jim showed me the area he had proposed for our action. It was about 20 meters from the boom gate and across the old rail line. Through the wire I could see the maximum security wings. Jim's telephone rang once more and he went striding away on crisis call.

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On Saturday 19 August Jab and Dave got the butterfly under way outside Goulburn jail while I chased cardboard for jail making and John chased firewood for our brazier. The prison officers were most courteous and one, unlike the other surveillance we had experienced, asked our permission to photograph our set up. On the far side of the boom gate six officers with sniffer dogs stood waiting for exercise.

The previous Friday the Sydney Morning Herald carried a page 2 story and photo "Sniffer dogs sooled onto drugs in jail" boasting of searching 285 "targeted" vehicles of visitors and finding pot 184 times. The boosting of sniffer dog services was Drug War aid to prisons recommended by the NSW Drug Summit of last year.

As is usual in the PR of Drug War operations, many harmless cannabis users got done but the success of the operation was celebrated in the claims of capture of a few other drugs - in this case the discovery of a car found to contain "all the ingredients of an amphetamine factory" and 2,520 pseudoephedrine tablets, the Minister for Corrective Services had told the NSW Parliament. The article promised the dogs would soon be trained to detect other drugs. Oh yeah.

That edition also ran a page 5 story and photo about "desperate" overcrowding at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre. "Non-associated" prisoners (those on remand who choose not to be with other inmates) now spend 21 hours a day in tiny cells. The story came from a report by an official jail visit by members of a NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the growing prisoner population now in progress.

The Ministerial media mills were grinding, and the "continuing crisis" of prisons was on the agenda again. While setting up our little protest about the Drug War and its contribution to the blowout prisoner population, I wondered what influence the witness of our Freedom Ride had been.

The Justice Action contingent, arrived with horns tooting - five adults (all ex-prisoners and members of the Australian Prisoners Union), Louisiana, the 15 year old of Cessnock fame, and Brett's two children and his dog, Che, the joyfully bounding Doberman.

Brett had prearranged a visit to a lifer we will call Jim. This time the visit had been confirmed in advance with the Governor and Brett invited Louisiana and I to accompany him. Deputy Governor, Jim Bowie, a much more relaxed person this day, or a least this part of it, saw no problem with this and so, for the first time, the Freedom Ride went within the walls and made direct contact with a prisoner to talk about the impact of the Drug War. Resistance had been finally worn away.

It was my first prison visit and the requisite security check was easily done - I guess prison intelligence had had plenty of time to do that for me. We three lined up for the sniff test on the jail side of the boom gate. The dog was a young border collie, which seemed more interested in our heels than our pockets, and the doggy smells left by the bounding Che. Given my Freedom Ride life style I expected cannabis fairy dust to be ingrained in my skin and the dog to get a little excited at least. But no, a cursory sniff and it passed on by.

The visitor centre at Goulburn jail is relatively new but without comfort or welcome. Visitors are required to leave all personal possessions (money, jewellery, and so on) in a locker, be registered on an electronic thumb print ID machine which throws up a matching ID photo on a computer screen, pass through a metal detecting door, stand on a pedestal and be swept by a prison officer with a hand held scanner and then ushered through two sets of security doors to the visitor area.

The visitor rooms are hard surfaced; all bricks, steel bars and steel mesh and low steel tables each with four chairs bolted to the floor. The visiting area was separated into three rooms. The prison officer at the gate had said it had been an average day for visiting but inside, contrary to the booking advice given to Max, the Acting Governor, it was evident that this day was a very slow one. Of the 20 or so tables, only three others were occupied.

At one I saw a young mother tenderly and tentatively pass her six-week-old baby into its father's arms. At another a prisoner sat forward, leaning towards his woman, talking with a body language that spoke of mountainous yearning.

Jim was waiting for us in the prison visiting uniform - a white boiler suit zippered at the back and locked at the neck. A big man, he was clear eyed, centred, fit and pleased to see Brett. Brett introduced us and guided the conversation. The etiquette of prisons is not to ask about the causal crime.

I learned that Jim was a lifer who had done over 11 years in maximum security and was actively working for a reclassification and parole. His case management file, he had discovered, contained reports by prison officers of offences he had never committed, never charged with and never been made aware of. When he got his lawyers to investigate, the file had gone missing. Now he was finding that an empty file was as much as an obstruction to his freedom as full one with unsubstantiated charges. Kafka-ville.

Of the Drug War Jim confirmed what we already knew. Illicit drugs were everywhere in the prison and the source of major conflict. Ethnic wars were ranging. Once it was Kooris against the rest, Jim said. But now Kooris had been segregated and it was Lebanese against Islanders against Skips against whomever. Every season brings a new group of testosterone charged young men wanting to challenge and kick the traces.

Jim's personal issue was the upcoming visit of his 16-year-old daughter who was journeying from a Murray River border town the next weekend. Jim, who had last seen his daughter when she was six years old, had maintained correspondence after her mother had broken off visits. Now the daughter, acting independently, was coming to renew her father connection.

Jim had sought visiting access for the next Saturday and the Sunday. His frustration was that this had been denied. One visit only per weekend would be permitted. These were the rules and the reason given - the heavy demand for visiting slots. Jim gestured to the empty tables and shook his head.

This was not a happy jail, explained Jim who had seen so many seasons in jail and experienced other maximum-security regimes. If only the administration would permit family days where the prisoners of one wing all kick in $40 or so and to create a picnic on the prison oval for all their families and children. Rides and things for the kids, he enthused. He had seen this happen at another prison and the prisoners were smiling in the yard for weeks afterward.

But not Goulburn. Here men sat around in yards caged like animals in an atmosphere fraught with racial tensions and incipient violence.

Of training at the Goulburn Training Centre, Jim sneered. He had wanted to do a brick layers course and discovered it would cost him $89. At $12 a week prison allowance, the cost of the course represented over seven weeks income. A computer course (Justice Action is actively campaigning to get computers to prisoners) costs about $180.

Then there was the issue of getting to the training within the prison. For Jim it would have meant passing through five gates and security checks, at any one of which a prison officer, having a bad day or carrying some grudge, might obstruct and prevent access.

We talked for over an hour getting colder and colder in the unheated rooms. On parting I wished Jim peace, and he shook my hand and gave me a warm smile. He who acts with respect receives respect, I thought.

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Outside I got back into preparing the cardboard replica of the Goulburn jail gate and Brett went off for supplies. It was a fine afternoon and the Picnic for Families of the Drug War was in full session, beers and joints being passed about the fire and many conversations in progress. A media crew for the Spanish language press came and took photos. But no local media showed up.

Painting away I reflected on David Grant's recommended solution to the continuing crisis - understanding prisoner status. Making prisons more prisoner centred, is how I understood it.

The prisoner profile has always remained a constant - whatever the season, our prisoners are men from the underclass, the uneducated and unemployed, the lumpen proletariat. Prison populations do not reflect actual crime rates - rather they grow and diminish according to the prevailing economic and political conditions. In times of economic stress and uneasiness for the rich and propertied classes, prison populations expand as more of the poor are imprisoned.

The Drug War can be seen as (deliberately, I believe) fuelling the fear of crime within our communities. This was particularly so during the 1980s when police services in all Australian states were corrupted by the black money of the illicit drug market and in denial of that corruption. When police and magistrates cannot be trusted, everyone has just cause for fear.

Jailing drug offenders gives the rich and propertied classes the comfort of thinking something is being done. The fact that the drug laws were fostering crime, corruption and escalating drug, abuse was of no bother - out of sight and out of mind until the next crisis. Prisoners thus serve as scapegoats for needs much bigger than punishment of their individual crimes and misdemeanours.

For the NSW Labor government prison reform is a mire that contributed to the downfall of the Wran government and best kept off the agenda. For the punitive Tories, prisons offer endless and fertile opportunities for law and order beat ups.

The psychopathic Yabsley, the National Party Minister for Prisons, in 1993 removed remissions by introducing "Truth in Sentencing" legislation, after a beat up media campaign on escapes from minimum security prisons.

The Drug War has provided the fuel and the fodder for the growing prisoner population in NSW but it was this legislation more, than any other factor that has been responsible for the current overcrowding of NSW prisons. That oppressive legislation remains un-repealed by the Carr government. In practice Premier Carr is not much different from Yabsley when it comes to the Drug War, law and order beat ups and tough sentencing.

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So the painting and reverie were proceeding when Jim Bowie interrupted to remind me that our agreement was for a 10 am to 4 pm picnic and it was now 3.55 pm. Jim wanted to knock off the afternoon shift.

I hadn't been watching the time, the prison visit had taken longer than expected, we hadn't done any spruiking and we had yet to burn the jail. I hurried to get the crew organised to start bringing in the rig. Jim made it very clear we had overstayed our welcome. He was also upset about the beer, a no alcohol rule applies on prison property.

Just then Brett returned with the BBQ supplies, pleaded for an extension, got the cooking under way and brought out the megaphone.

Our voices carried over the wire and the response from the prisoners and prison officers to freedom talk in that tense and agitated jail was instant. A mirror flashed from one of the cell windows and we could hear shouts. Goodwill gone, groups of prison officers began to close in about us.

As I was setting up the cardboard jail for its burning, Brian, one of the JA activists got on the megaphone and, using prisoner language with a "fucking" in every sentence, spoke in defence of convicted serial killer, Ivan Milat, a Goulburn maximum security prisoner and monster in popular imagination. According to Brian, there were things fishy about Milat's trial and the government was covering up something, harassing Milat's few supporters and giving Milat an unnecessarily tough time in jail where he had been kept in solitary confinement and denied basic services and rights.

Maybe it was the alcohol and the wide gap between Milat and the central concerns of the Freedom Ride, but the speech grated for me as it did the prison officers. On reflection I realised that if there was no one to bring witness for the citizens rights for the most lowly and despised of prisoners, the citizen rights of all prisoners would be diminished.

It was just then that Inspector Ken Medway arrived on the scene. "Graeme, you have just blown it", he said. "I was writing a report about how peaceful the protest had been but now your actions here will make it difficult for you elsewhere. You have cost Corrective Services overtime and the ramifications will be endless."

The tension between us was eased somewhat by Brett calling for calm and no action that might bring on trouble within the jail and without for the Freedom Ride.

Ken made no move to stop us burning the jail, which we did after taking group photos. The flames leapt up and consumed it. The tension in the air dissolved as the image turned to ashes. With great patience and deliberation I swept up all the ashes while police and prison officers stood about watching and waiting.

The JA crew packed up, said their farewells and headed off to Sydney. Once they had gone the prison officers knocked off too and we Freedom Riders we soon alone tying down the rig in the setting sun.

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Too tired to drive, we camped one more night at the Goulburn Memorial. At about 9 pm John went to fetch water in his car, a new addition to our patchy Freedom Ride fleet, a 1980 Totoya Corona donated by a Bathurst supporter and now dubbed "The New Wife".

I became aware that something was amiss when I was awakened by a police officer flashing his torch in my van. St John was beside him. "I am being arrested", said St John cheerfully. "We are taking him to the station for some processing,", corrected the police officer of the shining torch. John's confident tone and the non-aggression of the officer convinced me sleep was the preferred option. I knew I would hear all about it soon enough.

Next morning John showed me the cannabis cautioning ticket he had been given and told me the story.

He had been parked down the road apiece making a call on his mobile to a friend. A police wagon had pulled up ahead of him and the officers began searching in the roadside grass with their torches. John unperturbed continued his conversation with the cabin light on, while they watched him for some minutes.

It maybe that the Police officers didn't notice the phone and thought John was talking to himself. Maybe it is an offence to talk too much in a Goulburn public place. Most likely it was that in this over-policed community, they were bored and had nothing better to do than make a drug search. The odds of a find are always pretty good - one in five Australians are regular users of cannabis.

Whatever, their curiosity brought them over to John and they asked him to step out of the car and proceeded to conduct a thorough search of the vehicle, flashing their long handle torches inside and underneath looking for defects .. or anything. A cannabis stash in a film canister was found.

In this regard John was without shame or guilt. Drug law reform, cannabis law reform in particular, is our mission. Contrary to legal advice that says admit nothing/say nothing, John welcomed their attention as an opportunity to proselytise. This is something we campaigners have learned from Robin Harrison - every opportunity for advocacy must be used. Maybe a new Drug War rap will come of it.

"Do what you must", John happily urged the officers and spoke at length, voluble, about the Freedom Ride, the Drug War and his understanding of what was happening in prisons.

The captured cannabis weighted in at 14.9 grams just 0.1 grams short of the limit for adult cannabis cautioning in NSW. The ticket was written and the officers courteously drove John from the station back to his car, pleased one suspects to be rid of him.

I had been thinking the Freedom Ride as a whole had been an excellent demonstration of police discretion. Now we had had direct experience of the application of discretion under the new cautioning provisions that had come as a result of cannabis law reform advocacy at the NSW Drug Summit in May 1999.

We can affirm that cautioning leads to good community-police liaison but unmediated discretion is preferred to cautioning because, with the latter, police confiscate your stash.

Graeme Dunstan
22 August 2000

 

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