Leafing through the latest issue of The Fence, the glossy organ of the prisoners of Parklea Gaol, I stumbled across an impassioned outpouring from our Adrian Powles, former managing partner of Allen Allen & Hemsley. His article was called, “Relativity”, which I share with you:
“I HAVE no understanding of Einstein’s complex theory, but I recently had cause to ponder a simple illustration of one very elementary aspect of it, that is, a hypothetical contrast – one minute of exquisite lovemaking compared with one minute of being forced to sit on a red hot stove plate. In an absolute sense, you are contemplating the same thing – 60 seconds of elapsed time.
Sections of our lives are similarly contrasted. Any given period – a day, a month, a year, 10 years – is evaluated against some other period of corresponding duration. This is peculiarly apposite in the case of someone serving a prison sentence.
In prison, an inmate’s quality of life is severely diminished, and this is measured not by assessing the elements of basic living that are made available (food, shelter, clothing etc) but rather by reference to what is not able to be enjoyed.
Prisoners are necessarily deprived of the freedom to go where they might want to go, the love and companionship of family and friends, experiences such as travel, live music and entertainment, watching children grow up, enjoyment of the natural environment, making their own decisions, having proper opportunities for personal and career development.
For most people this is, in qualitative terms, at least 70 per cent of a full life.
Put another way, the prisoner’s lie is reduced to less than 30 per cent of what is normal, and in a sentence of any duration, of course, this deprivation will continue for some years afterwards, unless the individual has quite an exceptional aptitude and a capacity to resume a complete life.
This is the point missed by John Laws, Stan Zemanek, Jon Harker and other radio talkback hosts and their callers who rail and rant about the “luxuries” they believe are enjoyed by prisoners.
The matters they focus on – the comparative standard of food, accommodation and facilities – have no relevance to what is really the punishment.
Punishment is not what happens to prisoners in gaol. It is what they are deprived of by being put there and, contrary to what seems to be considered appropriate by sections of the media, it is not made any more effective by dehumanising or brutalising their existence while they serve their time.
Like the majority of prisoners, I suppose I deserve the punishment the court determined in my case, and I will “cop” it.
What I find harder to “cop” is being regularly told by the vindictive penology experts of the airwaves that is no punishment at all, just because I am allowed to watch Hey! Hey! It’s Saturday! in colour and sometimes have ice-cream for dessert.
Unit Four, Parklea Prison”