This is the account of a family whose family member is in Goulbourn SuperMax Prison.
After a gruelling 2 hour drive from Sydney we take the first left turn into Goulburn. After a few minutes we see the old stonework monument on the left of the road telling us that we are entering the town’s precincts. On the right, a little way in the distance overlooking an eerie old cemetery, the high steel walls trimmed with razor wire of the oldest, ugliest, harshest prison in Australia.
Enter the car park. Police vehicles parked randomly around on the grass areas near the front entrance to the prison and some officers lining up some visitors on the car park bitumen to be inspected by the sniffer dogs. One woman who obviously has a severe fear of dogs almost leaps out of her skin and squeals, trying not to scream. The unsympathetic officer in charge of the procedure shows his annoyance at her, rolling his eyes and leaning back, turning his face to the sky, postures himself to release his wrath by yelling out for one of the other officers to ask her to stand still and co-operate. She looks like she’s going to burst into tears, trembling in fright, desperately trying to contain herself just so she can have a visit with her son. No one in the line-up dared to speak out against this bad treatment coz they all knew it would mean being banned from visiting their loved one “inside”. Alhamdulillah they don’t want to search my car today; that would have held things up by at least ten minutes.
After the “line-up” I stand in the queue to be processed. Forms, photo ID’s, finger print scanning, or eye scanning. I got here thirty minutes early but progression in the queue is slow. The staff are having trouble with the computers..again. Eventually someone presses the right button and yep your prints match your photo ID on the computer. Ok that’s done. I know the things that slow down the process so I have left my watch and jewellery in the car.Our visit time is supposed to start in about five minutes. We only get one hour each week. I still haven’t passed through the first metal detector. Another ten minutes drags by. Someone ahead of us has brought in a bagful of new underwear and socks for their relative “inside”. Every item is slowly removed from its package, inspected then recorded on a form. Already the anxiety level is enough to make your heart race. One, new to the process, didn’t know she couldn’t wear jewellery inside. Wearing quite a bit of facial piercings, she has trouble removing the facial jewellery. It takes her five minutes to remove it all, then has to come back out and hastily place it all into a locker.
Finally my son’s lastname is called. I know the drill and prepare myself as best as possible to make the process easy and smooth just to get into the visit asap; the door is unlocked and I enter, take off my shoes quickly and toss them over to the other side to be “wanded” and put the locker key in the box before walking through the metal detector. Right; next, stand still, with arms outstretched to have the officer wave a metal detecting wand around you, front first then turn around and do the back. You are asked if you have any contraband to declare; drugs, phones, knives, guns etc. You have to answer. It’s procedure. “All good”, great .. grab my shoes and shove my feet into them as I’m walking, grabbing the key and green form as I walk towards the door to enter the prison’s front grounds. Ok,that’s the first metal detection done.
Now it’s a one hundred metre walk to the main entrance. Shoes off again, put them and the key into the tray and push it onto the conveyor belt to go through the x-ray machine. Press the blue light and wait for the glass chamber doors to open, step in and stand still, and hold my breath that you don’t here that recorded voice say “a metal object has been detected, please step out “. Sometimes it goes off, you step out and go back in again and its fine…glitches! Then stand still, arms outstretched, wand the front, turn around, wand the back. You are asked again if you have any contraband to declare; drugs, phones, knives, guns etc. Answer; “No”.Right,good, go grab shoes and key. Shove feet into shoes as you approach the desk to lodge the visit form. Run quick to the bathroom because there’s no toilet break allowed once the visit starts or the visit is “terminated”; even for children.
It’s already late. No sign of the guards who have to come up from HRMCC to escort you there. After a while you inquire, the answer…shrugged shoulders. Ok…wait..wait.. wait. No clocks here to check the time. Finally the guards come from HRMCC to escort me to SuperMax. A crowd of visitors from the main prison are leaving. Every one of them has to be finger scanned before leaving this area and I can’t go in until they are all processed out.
Finally,I am standing at the large metal door ready, waiting for them to press the unlock button from inside their secured office space. In. Next finger scan check..yep you are still the same person – photo on the screen still matching the print…Next metal door is unlocked. You walk six steps and wait at another door. The guard comes but he can’t open the door coz someone has left and internal office door open somewhere. Wait…ok, sorted. I enter and the door is closed behind behind me and locked. I stand alonein a small concrete and steel room with another steel door on the other side. It’s always freezing cold in there, even in summer; no natural light ever makes it in there. Wait…the guards have to walk 30 or so metres around to get to the other side to unlock the door.
Next phase…walk along the ramp 15 metres, then down the indoor driveway for another 20 metres. Wait at another locked steel door. Guard waiting for all doors inside office area to close so he can unlock this one. Wait…Ok, door opens. Walk down some steps in to a concrete area surrounded by towering steel walls and more razor wire. Walk 20 metres to humongous metal gates. Wait..they have to be unlocked first. We are getting close now. Walk 5 metres to HRMCC building and along a corridor to another metal detection zone. Wave the wand, front, back and “Do you have any contraband to declare?”“No”
Wait for another door to be unlocked. Then you are in the visitors waiting area for HRMCC. The guard lodges your form and you do another finger print scan to match your face with the photo on the screen, yes I’m still me..and…wait.
Now my heart is in my throat coz I am going to see my son…but not in the visiting room where I can give him a hug and sit together near him…
I am going to be escorted into the “box”. A small steel room, about 1 ½ metres wide by 2 metres deep, walls and ceiling lined with sheet metal. A steel door about 20cms thick closes behind me. There he is;he tries to smile… I try to smile. We are separated by a steel wall with a Perspex window and a wide steel bench. There is a one way mirrored window on one side where a guard is sitting monitoring the audio and video equipment and watching and listening to our time together. When we are seated we can only see each other’s heads, not the shoulders or torso. My son picks up the telephone receiver and presses a button. I press a button on my side and wait to hear his voice. “Assalaamu alaykum mama” – “Oh! I mean, peace be upon you mama” he looks quickly to the one way mirror and we both pause, holding our breath, hoping they will let us get away with that slip.
ONLY ENGLISH ALLOWED OR VISIT WILL BE TERMINATED!
I take a breath and draw on every bit of will power I have to hold myself together. “Peace be upon you son”
The “box” is so stuffy and close, it feels like being in a cupboard. The air is stale. There’s a huge dead cockroach on the floor, half squashed and spider webs and spider egg sack in the corner! Dusty, smelly, stuffy. We chat about superficial trivial things coz it’s too uncomfortable to discuss personal feelings or family issues when there’s someone sitting a metre away from you, watching and listening. We can barely hear each other through the stupid intercom. Millions of dollars spent building this HRMCC unit, you’d think they could at least get a decent intercom installed. The visits we used to have in the “contact visit” room were also recorded but it’s just awful having someone right there with you. We used to always start our visit with my son reciting a few ayat of Qur’an, hadith or dua, in Arabic of course. But now we have to stick to English only; it’s just not the same. Fortunately for us we are both fluent in English. What about the men and their loved ones who don’t speak English well or even at all? Impossible.
And our short one hour visit that was already cut short by delays is almost over. We get the usual thump on the door to signal that there’s only five minutes left. My son smiles encouragingly and says “Sorry mama, this will be the last visit for a long time. The other men and I have decided to refuse visits under these conditions and we are on a hunger strike coz of all the new restrictions unfairly put on us”
My heart sinks. They have already been through so much in the last nine and a half years. Why are they doing this now? He and the other men have been on the top level for good behaviour on the Behavioural Management Program for the last four years or so. They haven’t caused any trouble or done anything to deserve this. Why? Why? Why are they doing this to us?
We give salaams in the usual way; it doesn’t matter now coz the visit is over anyway. I am taken out first…before I go… I press my hand on the window …and he puts his hand against the other side. It’s cold. We smile brave smiles… goodbye son.
I turn and leave, knowing what he has to face next… another full body strip search. Hands cuffed, feet shackled…a chain shackling his hands to his feet and slow half stride steps all the way back to his cell, where he will stay for another six years, unless the government gets their way and prevents him from getting parole…then it will be another ten years.
Alhamdulillah, Allah knows best, and on Him do we rely.
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