The trip to Deer Park was a quiet one to this point. The other women slept the whole way. Emily was a little envious at how relaxed this woman was, given the uncomfortable seat and the destination that awaited them.
With no conversation to pass the time Emily tried to image life in jail. She’d seen all the women’s prison shows like Wentworth and Orange is the New Black. What they portrayed about life in jail scared her.
It would be bad enough being sentenced to a maximum security prison when you had committed a crime, but Emily hadn’t even been convicted of anything. She hadn’t had her day in court. Yet here she was, on her way to a maximum security jail to live with convicted druggies and murderers and other undesirable women she did her best to distance herself from.
The closer they came, the more her anxiety levels rose. Her nervous foot bounced up and down. She rubbed her hands across her thighs as she glanced out the porthole. The fear she felt over the unknown was rising to palpable.
‘First time, huh?’ The other woman said. She never opened her eyes. She never changed from her reclined position. She just knew.
Emily startled when the woman spoke. ‘Is it that obvious?’
‘Yep. You’re like a fart in a bottle. Ya can’t keep still…’
‘I’m Sorry. But this seat is killing my bum.’
‘And you’re shittin’ yourself at what to expect, aren’t cha?’
‘I am actually.’
‘You sentenced or remanded?’
‘Don’t sweat it. You’ll be fine. You’ll be in one of them cottages. That’s where they keep remandees.’
’What’s a cottage? I thought we were heading to a maximum security prison. Aren’t they filled with jail cells…?’
‘They are. There’s Maximum security, medium security and minimum security. You’ll be minimum…’
‘Are you minimum too?’
‘Ha.’ The woman scoffed. ‘I wish…Nah, I’m maximum all the way. Have been for two years now.’
Emily’s eyebrows arched. ‘You’ve been in jail for two years…?’ Emily said as a question. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose two years of your life; two years you’d never get back. She wasn’t sure if she should feel pity for this woman, or respect; not for her crimes, but for making it this far.
‘Yep, and those bastards just denied my third and final appeal. So now I’ve got four more to serve.’
Emily’s mouth fell open. Six years. She slowly shook an astonished head. Six years of not seeing your partner, not holding your partner. Six years of being told when to sleep, when to eat, living in a small confined cell. Everything in your old life would’ve changed after six years.
She was too frightened to ask what the woman did to receive six years. Instead all she said was, ‘How horrible…’
The woman shrugged. ‘It is what it is. Can’t change it now.’
Emily rubbed her nervous hands over her thighs. Just thinking about jail time caused her anxiety levels to rise; anxiety, and frustration at being locked up for something she never did.
The other woman glanced passed Emily, out the porthole window. She lifted her chin at the view, ‘We’re almost there,’ she said, then sat back.
Emily checked out the window. Nothing but paddocks as far as she could see.
A few minutes later the van slowed and turned left. Emily peered out the porthole window. She could see a large blue sign with the name of their destination printed across it. The van stopped and sat idling while a huge roller door opened, then it rolled through into the prison grounds.
The van’s brakes squealed as it jolted to a stop. ‘Well, here we are…’ Emily’s travel companion said. ‘Home fucken’ sweet home…’
Emily glanced out the window. They were parked in a small court yard. She could see two prison officers waiting. One held a clipboard. She started to feel sick in the stomach. Her butterflies were having a party in there.
‘They’ll do a roll call first, then we’ll be moved to our cells,’ the other woman said.
One-by-one the van’s doors were opened and its occupants were unloaded, starting on the other side of the van. After a short wait Emily’s pod door opened. Bright light flooded in. Emily squinted while her eyes adjusted.
‘Step down,’ a male guard instructed.
Emily unclipped her seat belt. As she did so, her travel companion exited first. Emily followed. She didn’t have time to look around the high-walled court yard. The prison guard directed her towards the line of four woman standing side-by-side. Emily scurried over to the end of the line.
The Guard stood out front. ‘Feet behind the yellow line…’
Emily didn’t realise there was a thick yellow line on the ground. She adjusted her feet then checked the others.
The Guard glared to his left, to the opposite end to Emily. ‘Starting with you, call out your name and your CRN…Go.’
‘What’s a CRN…?’ Emily whispered out the side of her mouth, to her travel companion.
‘It’s ya corrections reference number,’ the woman whispered. ‘Don’t sweat. You won’t have one. You’re on remand.’
Emily nodded her vague understanding.
One-by-one, each woman blurted out their name, followed by a number. The Guard checked them off on his clipboard.
When he glared at Emily, her pulse quickened. She gulped. She hadn’t experienced this sort of intimidating discipline since school. ‘Um, Emily Davis…’
The Guard checked her off. He slipped his clipboard under an arm. ‘OK, move in,’ he said gesturing to a door to his left. The single file of women deemed unfit for society, moved off towards a door.
Inside the building, they strolled passed an unquestioning female Guard seated at a front counter. They continued down a long stark corridor to a foyer area. The female guard walking with them pointed to a row of chairs. ‘Davis. You wait over there,’ the female Guard said. She then addressed the other four women. ‘You lot follow me.’
Emily moved to sit. She watched the women disappear through a door. She was now on her own. She glanced around at her isolation. Stark, tired décor. Pale paint colours. A sign above a counter window read “Reception”.
Sitting all alone on a row of chairs, Emily felt like the class trouble maker banished to sit outside the Principal’s office.
I wonder what the time is. Her attention was drawn to shouting coming from the room with the other women. It sounded like a real fracas was taking place.
Emily startled when two male guards suddenly burst through a door at the end of the corridor and ran to the room. They entered without knocking. A short time later they emerged, dragging one of the women from the room. She resisted, digging in her heels as she abused and swore at the Guards. Emily watched them wrestle their way down the corridor and disappear through a door. How am I ever going to get used to this?
Less than five minutes later, the door to the same room flung open. One-by-one the remaining three women emerged wearing a white t-shirt with DPFC stamped on their chest, prison-issue blue track suit pants and white runners. Each one carried the civilian clothes they earlier arrived in.
The single file approached the reception counter and waited. A male Guard appeared on the other side of the Reception counter. Each woman took turns approaching the counter to place the clothes they carried into a large plastic box with a blue lid, similar in size to a large esky.
When they were done, another male Guard escorted them out the door at the end of the corridor.
‘Davis. Your turn. Come forward,’ The Guard behind the counter said.
Ever the obedient in this submissive environment, Emily sprung from her seat and quickly walked to the counter and rested on her hands. The Guard pointed to the yellow line on the ground. ‘Stay behind that line.’
‘Oh, sorry.’ Emily said as she stepped back behind the line.
‘You don’t have to apologise. You get told this time, so you know next time.’
How do I address him? Do I call him Sir…? It was too overwhelming. All she ended up going with was, ‘OK.’
The Guard checked a page on his clipboard. ‘OK. Emily Davis,’ he mumbled to himself as he scanned the page. ‘Alright. So you are with us on remand until a date to be fixed…’ he said.
Emily nervously nodded her response, even though the Guard didn’t lift his eyes to her.
He gestured with a pen towards the door through which the other women exited. ‘You will have no doubt seen those other inmates had changed and were wearing the prison uniform when they left here.’
‘OK. Each of them are sentenced inmates serving time here at DPFC. Your position in here as a Remandee is a very different to them. Remandees are considered unsentenced. In the eyes of the law, you are afforded your natural presumption of innocence until proven guilty. So your confinement here is not a punishment. OK?’
Emily was taken aback by those last comments. She frowned. ’I’m sorry. This is completely new to me. May I ask a question?’
The Guard leaned on his hands. ‘You may.’
‘Are you saying that even though I am being held in jail, I’m not being punished…?’
‘Forgive me if I appear insolent…I don’t mean to…but, isn’t that a distinction without a difference?’
‘I have to agree with you on that…But that’s the way the system works.’
‘So, may I ask another question please?’ Emily’s said with a slight tremor in her voice.
The Guard grinned as he lowered on to his elbows. He was actually enjoying this. ‘You may, given you asked so politely.’
‘What happens if, down the track, I am acquitted of all charges?’
‘What happens in relation to the time you’d spent here, you mean?’
He pushed himself away from the desk to stand. ‘That is one of the great anomalies of our justice system. Nothing happens in relation to that time.’
Emily frowned. ‘Nothing happens? Do you mean…it just becomes time I will never get back? I would’ve essentially stayed here in these conditions, for no reason?’
‘That’s it. Do I think it’s right?’ He shook his head. ‘No I don’t. But I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them.’
Emily slowly shook a disbelieving head. How can that be right? How can they take you away, charge you for something you haven’t done, bring you to a place like this and then in the end, virtually say, sorry, wrong person. You are free to go. How can they do that?
’While you get your head around that,’ the Guard began, ‘let me continue,’ he said. ‘Because you are unsentenced, as a remandee you are given maximum flexibility and have fewer restrictions to those placed on convicted inmates. For example…’ The Guard bent back a finger, ‘You are held separately from convicted prisoners.’ He bent back a second finger. ‘You’ll have increased access to visitors and telephone calls.’ He bent back a third finger. ‘You are offered the opportunity to work, but you are not obligated to, unlike convicted prisoners who have to work. And the last one,’ he said, flicking a finger at Emily’s clothing. ‘You are permitted to wear your own clothing, instead of the prison uniform, if you wish.’
Emily regarded her clothing. ‘I can wear this instead of what they were wearing,’ she said jabbing a thumb to the door the women exited through.
‘Wouldn’t I stand out from the others?’
The Guard smiled. ‘No. You won’t actually. Do you remember I said that Remandees are kept separate from the convicted prisoners…?’
‘Well, you’ll be kept in the remand precinct with other remandees. These are cottage style cells, some call them apartments…they are a bit like a University share-house dorm.’
‘OK.’ That didn’t sound like jail, not the jail she had envisioned.
‘Each unit houses five remandees like yourself, and has individual kitchen and dining facilities. You will be required to cook and prepare your own meals and do your own washing, ironing and housework. Any questions?’
‘No. You have explained everything quite clearly. Thank you.’ Emily was surprised at how friendly this Guard was.
The Guard beckoned towards the female guard standing off to the side. ‘Now. I’ll get you to go with this officer to complete your admissions. OK.’ He addressed the other Guard. ‘Remandee staying in civvies,’ he said.
The Female Guard nodded. ‘Come with me.’
Emily followed the female Guard into the same room the other women entered earlier. The room resembled a basic medical room. There was a single, sheet covered gurney/bed, a sink, a desk and two chairs.
The Guard pointed to the chair in the corner of the room. ‘Strip. Place your clothes there.’
‘Everything off…?’ Emily asked. Disrobing in front of another woman was difficult for her.
‘Everything,’ the Guard said.
It was bad enough striping naked, but to do so while the Guard carefully watched her every move was unsettling. As Emily removed an item of clothing the Guard lifted it from the chair and examined it.
Once she was completely naked, Emily stood with her arms across her body, doing her feeble best to try and hide her bits.
Emily’s eyes flared when the Guard snapped blue disposable gloves on her hands. Surely they don’t do internal examinations. The Guard fronted Emily and checked behind her ears.
‘Open your mouth.’
Emily did as instructed.
‘Poke out ya tongue…lift it…OK. Arms out to the side.’
Emily did as instructed. Her nudity was now on full display. She was way outside her comfort zone.
The Guard checked her armpits. ‘Arms down.’
The Guard pointed to Emily’s left breast. ‘Lift that up…’ Emily lifted her left breast. ‘Down. Now that one.’
This was so embarrassing. It wasn’t even a medical.
‘Turn around. Bend forward.’
Emily slowly rested her hands on her knees. Her eyes welled up. First they took her freedom, now they’ve taken her dignity.
For the conservative Emily, this was difficult. She had been reduced to bending forward so a female Guard could look up her arse, to ensure she hadn’t smuggled something into the prison.
‘Squat down on your haunches…’
Emily rolled her eyes. She did as instructed. Tears rolled down her cheeks as the Guard visually checked her under-carriage and other more intimate locations.
‘OK. Stand up.’ The Guard gestured to some scales. ‘Jump on them.’
Emily covered herself up as she stood on the scales, watching the digital display dance to 62. The Guard recorded the weight. She lifted a plastic jar with a yellow lid. ‘Head in there,’ she said gesturing to a door, ‘and provide a urine sample…’
Tears continued to trickle as Emily accepted the jar and entered the toilet. When she returned the urine sample was labelled and bagged.
‘OK. Now, you’ve elected to stay in your civvies,’ the Guard said as a question.
‘Civvies…civilian clothes…your street clothes there.’ The Guard gestured to Emily’s clothes on the chair.
’OK. Put ‘em back on.’
It was probably the quickest Emily had ever dressed. She threw everything back on; inside out, back to front, twisted, it didn’t matter.
When Emily was dressed, the Guard opened the door. ‘Follow me and we’ll head over to the Remand Precinct.’
At the end of the long corridor they exited the admissions building. For the first time in several hours Emily breathed in fresh air. A gentle breeze brushed against her face. She looked skyward. Fast moving clouds dominated her restricted vista.
They stepped into a small alcove fully enclosed with towering, tightly woven, wire mesh fencing, topped with razor wire. Three wire gate options confronted them, each one led to a different accommodation block.
The Guard unlocked the gate on the left and stepped through. She held it for Emily to follow. A similar wire fence lined the left side of the path. A green space of lawns and garden beds was on the right. Ahead was a stand-alone building with an orange tiled roof— their intended destination.
What Emily noticed first and foremost was the front door was not locked. The Guard just reefed it open and walked in. Emily followed.
Inside they approached a male Guard seated at a Guard’s station located a short distance inside the door. Beyond that was a common room. Three women lounged in the various seating provided, watching television. None of them noticed Emily’s arrival.
Emily’s escort placed some paperwork on the desk. ‘New arrival for you…’ the Guard said to her colleague. ‘Davis. Emily.’
The other Guard lifted the paperwork and read it. ’Welcome Emily. The male Guard said as he continued to read. Emily was taken aback by the welcome. While somewhat banal, it was still unexpected. This was prison.
‘Are you required to undergo any rehab while you’re here…?’ The Guard said to himself as he read the report. His eyes lifted to Emily. ‘No history of drug use…?’ He said as a question.
Emily firmly shook her head. Everything about drugs abhorred her; the users, the dealers, the damage they caused to families and individuals, the effects on community through crime—everything. ‘No,’ she said. Her reply was convincingly firm.
‘OK. Good,’ he said. He flipped over a page. ‘What brings you here to us then…?’ He asked himself while he read on.
At that moment Emily wanted a hole to open up so she could climb in and hide. She couldn’t look at the Guard, not while he read her charges. She knew she would be unfairly judged for something she didn’t do.
The Guard’s eyebrows lifted. ‘Oh…’ he said then regarded Emily. He returned all pages back over.
The escorting Guard tapped the desk twice. ‘You won’t have any problems with this one…’ she said then left the block.
Emily watched her escort leave. She couldn’t help herself. She had to present her own defence, if for no other reason than for her own peace of mind. ‘Just so you know…’ Emily began. She flicked a finger at the report on the desk. ‘There has been a huge mistake. I never did any of those things.’
‘That’s not for me to judge,’ the Guard said. ‘There are people paid a hell of lot more than me to make those findings.’ He removed two folded blankets and a folded sheet from under the counter and placed them on top. ‘This is your bedding. It is your responsibility to keep it clean.’ The Guard walked around to Emily’s side. ‘Pick them up and I’ll give you the grand tour.’
As they strolled the Guard pointed out the various rooms within the complex. ‘You’ve got your kitchen over there and dining there... You will be responsible for making all your own meals and keeping that space clean. You will also be responsible for doing your own washing, ironing and housework. That over there is a shared space,’ he said gesturing to the open lounge area. ‘We have five rooms here and they are now all full.’
Emily noticed he referred to their cells as rooms.
‘Those three sitting there, plus the one currently at her compulsory rehab session are your cottage mates,’ he said gesturing to the lounging woman watching TV. ‘During the day you are free to roam around inside and out in the gardens. You have minimal restrictions, unless you abuse the privilege. Understood?’
Five doors led from the common area. Each door was open. The Guard stopped at the third door along. ‘This is you.’ He extended his arm into the room, for Emily to enter.
Painted in warm tones, the cell was not large, about the size of a university dorm room, with an ensuite attached. A large window with horizontal bars allowed in ample daylight to brighten the room.
The Guard pointed to the bed. ‘So, in here you’ve got ya bed there. That needs to be made every morning, and rooms need to be cleaned before you come out for breakfast. Over there you have a desk and a TV. It’s not a very modern tele, but it gets good free-to-air reception.’
Emily nodded. ‘May I ask a question?’
‘I notice that you keep referring to this as a room, not a cell. Is that intentional?’
‘It is. You are on remand, so even though you are incarcerated, you are not being punished, so we try and make it as comfortable as possible, while keeping within the guidelines for confinement. You are not convicted, so in the eyes of the law, you are not a criminal, so we believe you don’t deserve to be treated as such.’
Emily was astounded by such a lenient attitude for a corrections facility.
The Guard continued. He moved to the ensuite opening. ’In here you’ve got your shower, toilet, basin etc.
‘Now... Toiletries. We provide you with your basics to get you started… there’s a small soap, small bottle of shampoo etc., but you’ll have to purchase everything you need from the prison canteen… toiletries cannot be brought in by family or friends. Have you elected to work while you’re in here?’
‘OK. That’s fine. So what you’ll need to do is open an account. Your husband, slash partner, can deposit up to $140 per month into this account for you to purchase these supplies. Truth-be-known, because you’re on remand, that amount could be increased a little, if you ran out.’
The guard gestured to a folder he placed on the desk. ‘Everything is explained in there. There is also a page in there where you need to provide the names, addresses and dates of birth of people you want to telephone and those who you want as visitors. If their name is not on that list, they will not be allowed to visit and you cannot call them. A list of visit times is also included in that folder.’
‘I understand. Do I just fill that in and bring it out to you?’
‘Correct. You can have up to ten names. Now,’ the Guard continued. ‘Meal times.’ He pushed back a finger. ‘Breakfast is 8.30am.’ He pushed back a second finger. ‘Lunch is 12.30pm and dinner is 6pm,’ he said. ’As I said, you’ll be making your own meals. We supply the basic food staples. If you want anything more fancy, you can purchase it at the canteen. Do not, under any circumstances, take anyone else’s food.
‘Doors to your rooms are locked at 7.30pm and re-opened at 7.30am. The lock down at night is about the only part that makes this experience feel like a prison.’
It wasn’t a hotel. It wasn’t overly comfortable, but it wasn’t a cold prison cell either. Emily was surprised and relieved. Like a hotel room, they even provided a compendium of information.
‘Not at the moment.’
‘OK then. Get that list to me so your family can bring you up a change of clothes.’ The Guard said, then left Emily in her cell.
Emily watched the Guard leave. She glanced around her new home. A sense of isolation washed over her. She moved over to the window to check her view; a leafy garden and plenty of sky.
She sat on the side of the bed. Tears welled as her disapproving eyes glanced around her stark room, devoid of personality. No pictures, no photographs, no flowers, nothing but four walls.
These conditions were better than she expected, but it was still jail. She couldn’t see her husband and hear about his day. She couldn’t call him whenever she wanted to hear his voice. She couldn’t share a hot ‘real’ coffee with Naomi. She couldn’t do anything she used to enjoy. The life she once knew was gone.