The Freedom Ride approached Grafton Jail all bedecked with flags and banners through an avenue of old jacaranda trees. For three days I had been meditating on jacarandas, looking up through the foliage to the sky, seeing light shimmer on the fine leaves.
My companion in rap, Robin Harrington, and I sat on the roof of Peacebus.com in our folding camp chairs like Eastern potentates on a royal elephant. As we approached the gate we cranked up our horn and announced the arrival of the Freedom Ride.
The sound was clear and far reaching. "Freedom is coming", I announced and then screamed "STOPPPPP!" as the banners nagged on a jerry-rigged Optus cable. The arrival of freedom was somewhat delayed there after as we battled with jacaranda branches, weaving down the street like a convoy avoiding torpedoes, pushing cables and branches away with a bamboo pole.
We had announced our intention to do a Jericho and a local new s camera had shown up for the call. The Grafton Jail Governor, Doug Stanton, contrary to his stated intention, was standing outside the gate with other warders, all in spick and span in their uniforms like a guard of honour for the show. He gave me a big grin when I waved to him.
Seven times around the jail we had promised. But the first lap was a battle. The jacaranda branches grabbed at our rig like demon claws. Eventually a huge old jacaranda out back of the jail and near the hospital defeated us and we had to take down our big banners, re-rig and carry them on foot.
Difficulty in the beginning, an obstacle in our relentless roll towards freedom. Were these claws the last grasp of that old rigid Grafton conservative style that backs the Drug War because its what proper people ought to do. "Drugs is what the trashy classes do." Another delusion. More fear, ignorance and alienating judgement. Meanwhile youth suicide and dug deaths soar. We were determined not to be entangled in that.
What does one do on a fine afternoon day while sitting outside a jail on the roof of a bus waiting for a ground crew to re-jig? One could be dismayed about our mishaps, worry about the assessment any measure of our madness might reveal. Or we could light up and laugh. Which we did. Here was true freedom! What grace!
The Freedom Ride got rolling and Robin and I found voice.
"Prisoners of the Drug War, you are not criminals. Nor are you not forgotten. You are pharmo-political prisoners of the Drug War. Our aim is to end the drug war, release the prisoners, wipe the records clean of drug convictions and compensate those whose lives have suffered because of these bad laws."
Robin's drum was relentless. The PA bounced of the blue stone walls and roof tops. At times his rhythm found counter point in echo. We took turns Drug War rapping on the mike, posed for photos, waved at our friends and supporters and cruised round and round the walls, feet up on the Big Joint, laid back and laughing.
My magic moment was the vision of Robinıs so expressive actor's face, looking into my eyes and dropping his jaw, grocking how extraordinary this moment was.
Jab was keeping count of circuits with chalk marks on the dash board. Just as well, I soon lost count.
With each time we went around, more calls and shouts were heard from within the jail. Tension was palpable and building. "Stand by your brother, stand by your sister. The War on Drugs is over if we want. Hands on those walls, letıs bring them down together. Freedom is coming."
When we finished our circuiting at the gate, a great roar was coming from behind the walls. Governor Stanton was grinning broadly. The walls had not come down.
Not yet, that is. All magicians know that magic happens in its own time. We had invoked Jesus, Buddha, Ghandi, Mandela, Lenin and Trotsky and all the ancestors who had spoken out for freedom and worked for justice. In particular we had invoked the men and woman in this land who had fought tyranny and worked to transform a convict colony to a nation proud in the 'fair go'.
Powerful rituals had been performed, powerful names invoked. Now we must wait, patient yet fiery, humble and active. Ready to serve.
I was pleased to shake Doug Stantonıs hand and thank him for his cooperation.
Our last message to the prisoners was that we were going to light lanterns down the street in Jacaranda Park (the park in Grafton with the least jacaranda trees) to light lanterns and bear witness for all the prisoners and casualties of the Drug War.
Light lanterns we did and circle our wagons too. A camp fire was lit in the washing machine innards that served us a brazier outside NSW Parliament in the Domain Gardens during the NSW Drug Summit. How sweet sharing food and passing the joint with the camaraderie of success.
With our bellies happy with hot pudding and custard, the boys, Rubin and Felix, asked for stories. I told them the story of the Shambala warrior prophecy and then the story of the Eureka Stockade. I had promised to tell the Eureka story as we travelled, and standing under the Southern Cross together, my crew were demanding it. That day I had sported a Eureka T-shirt.
Unlike the diggers at the Ballarat Goldfields, our camp had excellent relations with the police. As promised by Inspector Arthur Graham in response to our "maximum exposure, minimum confrontation" policy, we saw nary a police officer that day. Big changes are afoot when local police make it clear that they no longer want to be party to the War on Drugs.
Something had shifted, some oppression broken by our Grafton Jail action. It manifested for me in 'Saint' John, the gentle, former prison counsellor, who I asked to accompany me when I went to meet Governor Stanton earlier in the day about getting visiting rights. (We didn't get any.)
John began to tremble and cry as we approached the jail gate. Terrible memories from working inside jails had come back to haunt him. Self doubt and fear immobilised him. He settled into the awareness of it and came and stood calmly beside me in the negotiations with the Governor.
Later by the camp fire he talked of the healing our Grafton Jail visit had brought him. May Peacebus.com heal many other jail damaged souls.
9 July 2000