Father's Day at Long Bay Jail
The first sniffling and sneezing symptoms of my flu were noticed as I left Lithgow to cross the Blue Mountains into Sydney. So I detoured to the home of Oki Yoga teacher, Sensei Masako, at Wentworth Falls, and arriving unannounced asked for healing. Masako, the first teacher of shiatsu massage in Sydney, greeted me with affection, filled me up with miso soup, made up a bed for me in the shrine room of her teacher, Oki Sensei, and did her healing magic.
Next day I was feeling well enough to go on but it was a mistake. Twenty kilometres down the mountains and the change in altitude made driving Happy Wheels a surreal and distant experience. It was as if I was in some underwater realm and watching it all through the glass of a diver's helmet. My throat sore, my body temperature soaring, I knew was in trouble. Ahead of me was two weeks of actions in Sydney, the culmination of the Freedom Ride, and here I was struggling to stay upright and on the road.
The tasks that needed my urgent attention was the coordination of the Sydney jail actions with Justice Action and the Sydney Police, the securing of a site for the Sydney 2000 HEMP Olympix of 9 September and the media promotion for all of these.
The crew of Peacebus.com and I had arranged to meet at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Victoria Park Glebe so I made my way there. Even in my glum and woozy state, I could appreciate that this was an amazing scene. Up against the Sydney University boundary of the Park, with a great view of the city sky line to the north east, about 50 pup tents and other temporary structures had been set up under the leadership of Isabelle Coe who had been the absent host of our stay at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.
Victoria Park had been occupied while the Freedom Ride was in Tamworth and the challenge to that occupation mounted by South Sydney Council had made national news which we had followed with interest. By the time we had arrived Sydney, police had mediated a compromise in which the Aboriginal Tent Embassy could remain providing it was maintained as drug and alcohol free and motor vehicles did not drive in the Park or park there.
Central to the Victoria Park Embassy was an open fire, proclaimed as sacred. No rubbish and no butts, the signage said). The fire served as a meeting place for Embassy kooris, their numerous white supporters, wild boy blacks from Redfern, curious overseas visitors and media people. The Olympic Games were already drawing international journalists looking for background, colour stories on Sydney.
I approached the fire cautiously and respectfully and sat at the periphery rugged up and sniffling, watching faces and body language, trying to read who was who and who I might approach. For a long time I was neither received nor rejected, just one more curious soul in search of the sacred at that fire.
Jab and Dave, who had been taking refuge in the Quaker's Hill house of a web fan, appeared then St John and the Freedom Ride was re-united. At sunset Tony Spanos arrived in his green Kombi. Tony had been the godfather of the Tent Embassy since its inception, bank rolling it, providing it with transport and equipment such as a generator and PA, and generally egging it on in its conflict with South Sydney Council.
Tony greeted me with a warm embrace. "My hero!" he exclaimed and thrust $100 into my hand quickly and surreptitiously, apologising all the while for not sending more money earlier to the Freedom Ride. He had to be quick and surreptitious for a number of kooris had been waiting for his arrival and descended upon him at once. "Give me $5 mate so I can get home." Etc. Tony's generosity was well known and made him a fair mark for the poor kooris of Redfern.
Tony had inherited his money and his godfatherly ways from his Greek immigrant father who had made his fortune in the meat export business from a processing factory in Botany Road, South Sydney. Spanos senior helped many people and it is said that no South Sydney family ever needed to go hungry for Spanos Meatworks would always provide food for the poor.
Tony had given the family tradition of community service a modern twist when he started helping the street kids of South Sydney, transforming the meat factory into the Graffiti Hall of Fame and operating it as a dance party venue and a base to organise regular and unauthorised dance parties called Reclaim the Streets.
The South Sydney Council, a corrupt Labor borough, had come to loathe Tony Spanos who regularly interrupted Council meetings and confronted the corrupt mayor, Vic Smith, at public events. Big bucks were being made rezoning the industrial wastelands of South Sydney into medium density residential developments which would be serviced by the new tunnels, traffic distributors and light rail being built by the Labor State government. Spanos was a spanner in those works.
South Sydney Council closed down the Graffiti Hall of Fame, the only youth service in the area, and Tony had since spent an estimated $2 million on legal challenges. Added to this, the Spanos family was contesting Tony's inheritance and accusing him of drug use and dealing. In my witness Tony's only addictions were surfing and manic raving. Tony was counter accusing his brothers in law of murdering his stroke afflicted father. As Tony was happy to proclaim, it was an all round Greek tragedy, that made nobody happy except the lawyers.
Now Tony was facing bankruptcy and finding it hard to lay his hands on cash. The next night his face was punched by a koori disgruntled that Tony had no bucks to give. Tony's was not the only head to be punched at that sacred fire for although the prevailing vibe of the Aboriginal Embassy camp was exemplary for its general peaceful and calm, such public place occupations attract the crazy and the criminal too.
Tony introduced me to Isobelle Coe who is a big woman with natural gravitas. Reclining regally in a tent and attended by her koori sisters, Isobelle pointed to a chair and received me respectfully. She showed no interest in the Freedom Ride however and within a minute she was called away on camp business and we never did get to finish our conversation. A major concern of the Embassy was that it would attract parasitic interest groups which would distract from the Embassy's central issues of sovereignty and reconciliation. This was understandable to us. We were there to pay our respects.
Before drifting off Isobelle indicated that while the Aboriginal Embassy must not be seen to be associated with the HEMP Embassy, if the HEMP Olympix took place in other parts of Victoria Park it would be okay with her. She invited me to speak about it at the evening meeting around the fire.
Tony Spanos, defacto street mayor of South Sydney, assured us that Victoria Park was ours if we wanted it. The HEMP Olympix would coincide with a Reclaim the Streets event, which would be assembling in the Park. By contrast Reclaim the Streets embraced all parasites; anyone, in fact, who wanted to dance and play free in the streets.
I waited till late feeling cold and exposed but no focussed meeting took place around the sacred fire that night. But at the next night's meeting I spoke and won applause for the power and passion of my call for no more Drug War prisons and no more Drug War prisoners.
Tony invited the Freedom Riders back to his boatshed at McMahons Point. Originally a service depot for Sydney Harbour ferries before the building of the Bridge, it is now the sole remaining boatshed in what is now waterfront parkland overlooked by million dollar real estate. Waves lapping at our feet, we looked out across the water to Pier One and the city sky line, all coloured lights, grandeur and power. And under the Bridge to the Opera House.
Cash poor, experience rich, we nomads have the best because we stake no claims.
Brett Collins welcomed me to Breakout Press, the headquarters of Justice Action, as if I was family and set me up with a telephone. He also offered me off street parking which in my fuzzy headed state I immediately abused by driving in and smashing the roller door with my roof rack load.
At Breakout I managed to sort out a revised schedule of actions for Sydney and communicate it to our police liaison person, Michelle Thatcher, and the Regional Superintendent of Corrective Services, Steve Harrison. On the phone Michelle was effusive. She told me how much she had enjoyed reading my web reports of the Freedom Ride and that she and Sgt Jeni Burdekin, our original police liaison officer, were proposing to come to our next Sydney action to meet the Freedom Riders in person.
Getting the revised schedule out was all I could manage. Gee-ing up the Sydney media for the coming actions was beyond me. Weak and feverish, I spent the day horizontal in Happy Wheels in Breakout's under cover car park.
Goulburn and Lithgow, the sites of our last two actions, were both without local TV news crews. Media shadow towns. As a result, instead of building media momentum as it approached Sydney, the Freedom Ride had lost it. So I lay in fever and anguish, castigating myself for the poor planning and pacing, the words of TS Eliot going around in my head: "This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper."
Jab and Dave too were ill. Each had suffered some kind of bite about ten days before, possibly a white tail spider bite, which started out as an itchy spot and swelled into a deep festering boil. Jab's bite had been on his right leg and it appeared to be healing. Dave's bite was on his neck and was still festering. Both had refused medical attention and now Dave was seriously debilitated with more boils rising on his back.
If Dave was systemically poisoned, Jab was similarly toxic with obsessive and righteous anger which he was directing towards Justice Action, Brett Collins in particular. He declared that he would take part in no further actions involving JA.
After I explained the situation to Brett Collins who was in close contact with the Victoria Park Tent Embassy, he took a peace offering of cannabis up to Jab and Dave but they spurned him. Jab had become difficult if not impossible company.
The Freedom Ride was serious in disarray. I prayed for strength. Just two more jail actions, I pleaded with my body, then rest and maintenance.
Just after 9 am Friday 1 September, we rolled into the entrance of the Silverwater jail complex in Holker Street, Silverwater. The complex is adjacent to the Homebush Olympic complex and we arrived to find ourselves amongst a major security operation. There were prison officers patrolling with dogs everywhere we looked for blocks around.
The negotiated site for our action was in the car park of the prisoner family child care centre just outside the gates. A coordinator of the centre greeted us saying "You're famous" and showed me a note from her boss to say that staff cars were to be parked outside to make space for the "Marijuana Bus". She invited us to use the kitchen of the child care centre and make ourselves a cuppa.
Silverwater is a complex of prisons within a prison. It contains the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre with over 900 maximum security prisoners (700 of whom are unsentenced and 170 are in protection) and 400 minimum security prisoners and the Mulawa Women's Prison is also part of the complex with about 280 medium security prisoners (120 of whom are unsentenced). That means a total of 1600 prisoners suffering incarceration within shouting distance of the Olympic Games.
For most prisoners entering NSW jails, Silverwater is their first stop. Both MRRC and Mulawa are experiencing serious overcrowding due to the Drug War and the way it has clogged up the criminal justice system.
On arriving St John and I set up a minimum rig of banners, and then set to work painting the cardboard jail we planned to burn outside the NSW Parliament later in the day. John, the only one of us left in rosy good health and equanimity, had worked till 2 am in the morning to construct it from my scale drawings. It was a NSW Parliament House as jail house.
While I painted prison officers swarmed about photographing and videoing everyone as they arrived for the action. Two carloads from JA arrived and so too did the Nimbin HEMP Embassy crew who had driven through the night. For them it had been a harrowing journey. Their bus, a mobile home with few seats anyway, had been packed with 6 adults and their gear plus the bamboo and what nots for assembling the new Big Joint.
Rocky, the owner and driver of the bus, began the journey by dropping an acid trip and, refusing to yield the wheel, he spent some hours driving in confusion about directions and in paranoia that the bus would be stopped and searched by police. To say the least the HEMP Embassy crew arrived stressed but relieved to be alive at Silverwater jail.
Our other visitors were the Area Police Duty Officer Inspector Jim Johnson and his offsider Constable Sean (?). In contrast to the prison officers they came to greet us with smiles having heard of our reputation from Michelle. They were fascinated by the work in progress on the cardboard jail and the company of longhaired weirdos from Nimbin and hung about chatting with us as if it was a family picnic for them too. It was.
I asked Jim about the security operation and he said it was because of other Olympic protest actions expected at Homebush that day. We never saw any sign of, or heard any more about, these protest actions so I presume it was a Olympic Games security try out and our low key jail-sculpting picnic was the provocation.
Kilty O'Gorman had arranged access to a Nimbin identity whose partner had contacted JA to urge us to visit him. Known to us as Edge, he was a heroin user and dealer who had been jailed under the recently introduced three-strikes-and-you're-out provisions. His name was Edge and he had been set up and shopped by the a heroin using and buying koori undercover agent who had hassled him to supply three times. The last amount had been trivial (less than a gram, I understand) but now Edge was in jail indefinitely.
Figuring that Michael Balderstone would be more familiar with Edge than I, and that it would be a good for Michael to experience what it was like visiting prisoners in jail, I urged him to do it and he set off with Kilty through the lines of prison guards.
With the Justice Action megaphone we began our amplified address to the prison gate. Michael later reported that nothing could be heard of what we were saying within the prison. No media had shown up and, in fact, the gathered police and prison officers were our only audience and they weren't doing much listening
Public place advocacy as self reflective ritual. This day we were swaying no masses. Rather we were rehearsing and I had noticed in the course of the Freedom Ride how our public speaking had got better and better. This day it was Michael Strutt from Justice Action who shone speaking in opposition to the building of a new women's jail at Windsor.
The prisoner visit had been booked for 11.30 am and we were due to depart for Parliament House at noon. With the stiffer dog search, the electronic thumb printing and other security procedures, it took 90 minutes to clear the way for a 15 minute meeting. By the time Michael was clear of the prison the Freedom Ride was setting up outside of Parliament House 15 km away.
Given that the MRRC is the first stop jail for most of the NSW's prisoners and as such the first jail encountered by families visiting their newly incarcerated members, these security delays are a humiliating experience for visitors and a major inhibitor of further visitation. Not that the staff of Corrective Services would appear to care, obsessed as they are with their security and custodial responsibilities to the exclusion of all else.
Behind Parliament House, the Botanical Gardens Trust with whom we had enjoyed such cordial relations during the 1999 NSW Drug Summit, had kindly reserved some parking spaces for us. We parked our vehicles there and carried our banners around to Macquarie Street. Last thing brought around was the cardboard jail all loaded and fuming with kerosene.
We set our Parliament House/Jailhouse up in front of the gate to the NSW Parliament and it looked great. No More Drug War Jails, it proclaimed.
In negotiating this action, I had met with Inspector Graham Cope at The Rocks Police Station. He remembered me from the NSW Drug Summit and was most polite and helpful. But I was thick and woozy in the head and had to ask his name three times. Graham had me fill in new application for the protest and later faxed me the conditions via Justice Action. Seeing the fax Kilty was critical that I had even asked permission to protest. For her no conditions ought apply to freedom speech public places.
I didn't send back a signed acknowledgment nor did I read the conditions closely. Outside Parliament House a stern faced Sgt George Syzmura pointed out to me, that burning a cardboard jail was not one of them. I was pissed off. We had burned jails in public places elsewhere, why not Macquarie Street?
Remembering Tamworth, I turned on my heel and walked back to Happy Wheels and filled my pocket with boxes of matches and sparklers. In my mind I could see a little ceremony happening where we protestors would circle about the cardboard jail chanting "No More Drug War Jails" and on a signal all would drop lighted matches into the kerosene soaked cardboard.
Back outside Parliament House Sgt George had called his Inspector, who more than a little agitated, demanded I stick by the conditions. But I was saying these were not conditions to which I had agreed. Burning jails is what we are about. "I don't want to have to arrest you", he said. "I don't want to be arrested", I replied. We had some common ground.
I went off to parley with Brett Collins who had arrived by motor bike. We were about 20 people and with our banners were an impressive display in Macquarie Street. Talking to Brett calmed me. No media had shown and it seemed a waste to burn such a beautiful cardboard jail in Macquarie Street without media witness when we could just as well burn it at the last jail action of the Freedom Ride the next Sunday.
Returning to Sgt George and the Inspector, I said, "We won't burn the jail and in exchange we want to stay here an hour longer than we initially agreed." This would give time for the HEMP Embassy crew still at Silverwater to participate. So the deal was struck and various Justice Action personnel, Michael Balderstone and I belaboured ears in Macquarie Street for two full hours with a horrible sounding megaphone.
Phil Ambler, a Newcastle based interlocutor, took the megaphone and delivered a sustained (30 minutes) public attack on the NSW Minister for Drug War Jails, Bob Debus. It seems Mr Debus, now Attorney General and minister for just about everything else, is being groomed to be the next Labor premier. Premier Debus he will never be if he tries to build more Drug War jails. Be warned!
Time was up and Sgt George was on my case to wind up the action. Waiting for Michael Strutt to finish speaking I was surprised when the Honourable Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, Member of the Legislative Council (Democrat), took over the mike. A member of the Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population, he had come down from his parliamentary office to observe our protest and had been moved to speak.
Since he was an elected member of the upper house of the NSW Parliament I restrained from telling him to do otherwise. But Sgt George and the Inspector by this time was more than a little tetchy, rushed right in and began hectoring Chesterfield-Evans. The JA people gathered around with Russ Hermann's video camera recording all. In the end Arthur chose not to speak, but the police action to suppress his public speech served to cement an alliance between Arthur and Justice Action for the struggle ahead to prevent the new women's jail being built.
Between March 88 and November 99 the average number of women imprisoned in NSW jails has gone from 203 to 432. Most of this increase can be attributed to the Drug War and the increase drug related convictions and remands. An estimated 70% of women prisoners are injecting drug users.
In July the Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population had released an excellent interim report recommending against the building of a new women's prison recommending instead alternatives to incarceration be tried. The Premier had dismissed the recommendation out of hand and Corrective Services is proceeding with the planning.
On the evening of 7 September, I accompanied the Justice Action crew to the Theatrette of the NSW Parliament for a seminar on the subject. The seminar was presented by a group called something like The Religious Society which appeared to be an ecumenical front for some very savvy and very determined nuns, who, as a commitment to celebrating the Christian Jubilee year and its tradition of releasing prisoners, had taken up the issue.
The chair was a Sister of Mercy who began by saying that her order had come to Australia in 1789 to give service to women prisoners. The panel included of Professor Tony Vinson, a former reforming head of Corrective Services, the Hon John Ryan MLC (Liberal) chair of the Select Committee and the Hon Anne Symons MLC (Labor).
The auditorium was near full and judging by the response to the nun jokes cracked by the compere, many nuns were present, including the chaplain of the Mulawa jail who spoke with vehemence and passion about the "abominations" she had witnessed in the jail.
Justice Action and the Australian Prisoners Union are active partners in this campaign and Brett Collins was respectfully received by the audience for his prisoner based organising.
If I was Minister and would-be-Premier Debus and I heard the passion and determination of those nuns, I would yield forthwith.
In evening after the Silverwater-Parliament House action, I took Michael Balderstone to Breakout for the Friday night bash and to show him Victoria Park. I also had to bash out the media release there for Sunday's action at Long Bay jail.
Russ Hermann of Spontaneous Productions showed the video he had cut about Justice Action and the Freedom Ride. It showed Brett lighting a special candle and receiving blessings for the Freedom Ride from the International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA) in Montreal last May. Russ also showed some of the footage shot at Silverwater that morning. How haggard my face looked at the megaphone. How manic and driven my body as I flitted in and out of frame while others were speaking, going about packing up.
Even so it was inspiring stuff. Prison picnics, I could see becoming popular past times as the campaign mounted to prevent the building of more Drug War jails.
May be it was the lack of food. Maybe it was the super strong cannabis that had come down from Nimbin. Whatever, when I shouldered my laptop preparing to depart Breakout Press, my knees buckled and I crumpled to a lower altitude, on my knees with forehead on the floor. I had fainted. This fatigue was getting serious, mum.
I was not the only casualty of that night. A little earlier Phil Ambler went suddenly quiet and ashen and had some kind of seizure. The ghastly cry he let out caused three witnesses to make three independent ambulance calls, which had to be cancelled when the jellybeans he was given kicked in and restored his blood sugar. How frail we are.
With the help of Param a radio journalist who had travelled down from Byron Bay to record the event for BAY -FM, St John and I unfurled the butterfly outside Long Bay jail on Fathers Day Sunday 3 September. Cannabis Dave was sick and Jab was on JA strike.
The site that had been negotiated for the action was on the nature reserve between the dual carriage ways of Anzac Parade across the road from the Long Bay jail visitor's car park.
When Param and I arrived, there to greet us was Inspector Gary Rigby and Sgt Leigh McCarthy. Once again we were welcomed by the police with warmth, curiosity and knowing smiles as if we were celebrities arriving for some popular comedy show.
In my earlier promotions I had promised that this event would be a "huge" picnic for families of drug war prisoners. Man proposes, God disposes. "Twenty participants max", I now humbly predicted in reply to Inspector Rigby's question. Then I saw a bus with about 10 police officers arrive. "Overtime for sitting around doing nothing", I also predicted. "Maybe you boys need it." Sgt Leigh looked a bit sheepish.
Also there to greet us was the Metropolitan Emergency Unit of NSW Department of Corrective Services, the paid thugs and executioners of the prison system. Their job is to put down riots, suppress any threats to the good order and safety within prisons and avenge any injury to prison officers. The MEU had evolved out of the infamous Special Operations Division, which was a kind of praetorian guard and the vehicle by which Assistant Commissioner Ron Woodham, now dominator of custodial functions, had risen to power.
The MEU heavy weights lurked around the car park in motley uniform, some in blue fatigues with Glocks at their hips, some in joggers and sloppy joes. They randomly searched visitor's cars and videoed and photographed arrivals at our picnic across the road. To them we were no comedy. They were reacting as if our picnic was a major threat to the security of the NSW prison system as they knew it. Maybe it was. Their presence and attitude demonstrated that someone, somewhere in Corrections was very, very afraid of our peaceful witness.
A fine Spring day and a sea breeze blowing, the JA crew assembled Ð Brett, his children, Rikki and Zeke, and dog Che, Kilty and partner Pete, Michael, Peta, Dougie, Louie, Brian and Rob. For the past 6 weekends we had shared this ritual of picnicking outside jails and now there was a deep bond of friendship between us.
Other guests were industrial hemp pioneer, Dr Andrew Katelaris and his partner Maria, and Democrat MLC Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans and his family. Robin Harrison arrived drum in hand, having come down by train overnight from Byron Bay.
On our side of the road it was convivial as we sat around eating, smoking and drinking and Russ Hermann and Param recorded interviews. A few prison visitors came by and wished us well.
One distraught couple came asking for help. It seems their boy was being bailed on a minor assault charge but when the parents showed with the bail forms they were informed that the boy had tried to hurt himself (by gouging his own eyes??) and had been scheduled to a psych ward. The prison officers didn't see fit to tell the parents which psyche ward and the MEU goons wouldn't let Michel Strutt, who had tried to assist, get close enough to find out. Further inquiries revealed that he had been transferred to Randwick Hospital and the very distressed parents headed off there to try to get him released.
When it came to spruiking time I had the djembe of Robin Harrison behind me I found myself swaying and speaking to its rhythms. "Prisoners of Long Bay jail" I began, though conscious that my listening audience was our picnic, the police, the MEU and other prison officers across the road. I reminded them that it was Fathers Day and to remember the suffering of the fathers in prison. Incarceration is a form of torture and isolating men from their families and friends is a cruel and heartless act, that brought suffering to the imprisoned and to their fatherless families as well.
I reminded them that just down the road in Botany Bay was where Europeans first came ashore as either the jailed or the jailers and that the struggle to end the tyranny of the old world and the convict era had made the Australian colonies world leaders in democratic reforms. Everything we prize about Australia as a proud and free nation derives from our rejection of that penal tyranny.
And now because of the US driven global Drug War, we were steadily becoming a penal colony again.
"How are we to reverse this?" I asked rhetorically. Leadership will not come from the politicians of Labor or Liberal who are locked into the Drug War and building more Drug War jails. Help will not come from prison officers, police or anyone in the employ of our corrupted and sold out governments. No, change will come only through building a grass roots movement founded upon, and fuelled by, the suffering of the Drug War prisoners themselves.
How to build such a movement? Move towards kindness, I said. Reach out and offer kindness. See that fellow Drug War prisoner as an ally. Turn your face towards kindness. Build trust with kindness. This is where the Drug War rap had taken me.
There were many other fine speeches that day. For the record here is what Peta, who had thoughtfully emailed me her text afterwards, had to say.
"Hello Brothers Inside!
We've just come from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Victoria Park, where there's heaps of people from all corners of the country and all over the world, all different colours and cultures, all coming together before the Sacred Fire of Peace and Justice.
This is Aboriginal Land. Always has been, always will be. When is that going to be respected?
And what this abomination of a building is doing on it, and what these appalling, absurd laws are doing on it, I don't know.
So why are we here on the street? The NSW government has ignored the upper house committee's unanimous report against the new women's prison. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has been decapitated and submerged in another department. The federal government is removing our right to take human rights abuses to the UN.
In jail there are more and more people in isolation cells. The conditions are obnoxious, abuses are rife, and the dead just keep piling up. There's a lack of rehab and education places and no remissions.
Prisoners work like slaves. Prisoners' health is wrecked by such things as tuberculosis, hepatitis C, malnourishment and psychological torture. Prisoners are punished for making a complaint.
Visits are refused and visitors are harassed. (And we've seen that here today)
And why are we imprisoned? If you are Aboriginal you'll get a harsher sentence, and you're more likely
to go to jail than anyone else who's been convicted of exactly the same crime. Asylum seekers are being transferred to jail for acts of despair and desperation. There's still Mandatory Sentencing. Having psychiatric or intellectual disabilities has in effect become a jailable offence, while welfare reform suggests even more involuntary chemical straitjackets in the community.
(And a special "hello" to everyone in Long Bay Hospital Psych Ward ~ I love you!)
Addiction is still a crime not a health issue. Jail is seen as "alternative accommodation" for the homeless. And if you are innocent you can spend more time in jail remanded in custody Waiting to prove innocence than you would have spent time in jail if you'd falsely plead guilty.
And in the face of all that, Governments ignore our letters and submissions. They ignore the pleas of community groups. They ignore Amnesty International. They ignore Human Rights.
We have no recourse but to protest this injustice on the street.
OK, so all of you ~ Good Luck and Take Care of yourselves! Thanks."
Jail burning time and we gathered around the NSW Parliament House/Jail House for group photographs. Being the last jail burn of the Freedom Ride, I made a farewell speech, recalling the underlying significance of Guy Fawkes night, the traditional bonfire celebration now erased from Australian community life, the fireworks being transferred to a celebration of the Queen's birthday.
The bonfires of Guy Fawkes night ("Remember, remember, the fifth of November/ Gunpowder, treason and plot") were an annual reminder to politicians that they govern only by the grace of the people. To forget this and to act tyrannously is to risk the anger and fire of the people. When the anger of the people ignites, jails burn and jailers hang.
I thanked St John Peninton for staying beside me to the end and I thanked Justice Action collectively and Brett Collins in particular for the support given to the Freedom Ride. May the prison reform movement grow from strength to strength. "This wabbit is going to west," I concluded and set the sculpture alight.
The flame and smoke came out through the prison bar windows and turned the menace to ashes. No more Drug War prisons! No more Drug War prisoners!
We derigged our banners, tied down the load on Peacebus.com and, after our JA friends had departed, John, Robin, Param and I sat for a while together contemplating the closure of our jail burning tour of NSW. The prison car park across the road was empty now, all the MEU and police gone bye-byes. Our hearts were quiet and fatigue sat up me like a lead blanket. Big effort, what consequence?
The Sydney media had ignored our action this day has it had at Silverwater and Macquarie Street the previous Friday. Yet we were content. Witness is powerful magic, we agreed, and the story of our Freedom Ride would influence and inspire many people, many yet unborn. At minimum we had revitalised the prison reform movement in NSW with the simple ritual of burning cardboard jails.
Missing from the witness of the Long Bay jail burn was the HEMP Embassy crew who had gone instead to Victoria Park to witness the Walking the Land pilgrims arrive at the Aboriginal Embassy and decided to stay, so turning their backs on the Freedom Ride and its last jail gig.
As it began so it had ended. Even though Peacebus bore the words "Nimbin HEMP Embassy" across its prow as we toured NSW jail towns and everyone assumed the Freedom Ride was a HEMP Embassy project, in fact the NHE had rejected the Freedom Ride from my first advocacy of it and refused it any financial support.
From when I launched the project with a media event in Nimbin in February 2000, I was undermined. At the next NHE meeting a resolution (to my knowledge, the first and only formal motion ever proposed at a NHE meeting) was passed with a two thirds majority to eject me from the studio under the Embassy.
Seems my vision, drive and visibility had seriously frightened some small town cannabis scammers. Maybe it was tall poppy stuff. Either way during April as I was preparing for the Freedom Ride , I was so viciously badmouthed that walking down Cullen street became fraught for me. During this time I was declared persona non grata at the Oasis Cafe, an assistant in the NHE shop assaulted me as I sat blowing a joint behind the counter with my mate Rob the manager; and my Mac Powerbook, an essential tool of my work. was stolen from out of Happy Wheels.
This had not been the first time I have been bad mouthed in Nimbin for, like an old sailor, I have seen many seasons and weathered many an emotional storm in that magical village going back to when I was herding hippies to produce the 1973 Aquarius Festival.
My observation is that cannabis culture yields far more talk than action, more ravers than revolutionaries, more emotion than movement. It also furthers the talkback radio delusion that having opinions is democracy at work.
So it is with some practice in irony and detachment that I listen to the latest beat up of Nimbin gossip and note the righteousness in the judgements of the relative newcomer to the village as s/he proclaims that what I say and do is inappropriate to, or puts at risk, community life in Nimbin.
The pattern seems to be that the newer they are to village, the more they need to assert belongingness by excluding and scapegoating and the more fervent they are in their beliefs about appropriate behaviour and political action. Belief and Belongingness are, as Tom Robbins observed, the killer Bs of creativity and innovation in any community.
But ostracism wounds. We mammals are hard wired with pain circuits, which screech at rejection. Very easy it is to be paralysed and disheartened with hurt and resentment. An occupational hazard of social change artists in fact, for rejection is an inevitable experience of leaders and pathfinders. Being able to bear that cross, and remain centred, compassionate and goal focussed is the real work of social change.
At the time I took refuge in the understanding that Jesus and Gandhi had copped it worse and that being reviled in Nimbin, whose street scene serves as R&R for the outpatients of Richmond Clinic, the local psychiatric ward, was some sort of test by fire of my courage, strength of purpose and equanimity, a training for the herd rejection I could expect taking up advocacy for drug law and prison reform, which are a combination of the two of most unpopular contemporary political issues.
So lessons here for those who read this Freedom Ride journal as a map for social action. Be aware that it will not be enemies who will try to hold one back. Rather it will be one's loved ones, friends and close associates who will obstruct and undermine. Don't listen to them. They seem to protect but they imprison. Follow your heart and expect it to be often broken ÉÉ. open.
Calm wisdom insight is one thing, burnout is another. In my fatigue the disrespect my friend Michael had shown by not coming to Long Bay for the concluding jail action had triggered those old resentments and my mind seethed. When he rang to inquire when I would be returning to Victoria Park, I was curt in telling him to expect no help from me for his Sydney actions. No media releases, no police liaison, nothing. This wabbit had gone to west.
Let the stretcher come and take me to where mercy knows I should be!
drafted between 8 & 25 September 2000