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15th October 2015

That Correctional Space

By Dr Gareth Jenkins

I carry poetry in on my tongue. In my blood. On my breath. Through the metal detectors and x-ray scanners. Into that correctional space. Inside the fence line. Into those cells. That yard. Deep in that yard I see them pacing. Some have shirts off, the sun on their dark skin (mostly), on dark tattoos arcing over chests, over backs, across stomachs, around necks and that large white scar down his middle. 

The grass worn down to dirt from the pacing, three of them in lock step, pivoting in unison like they are on a stage. All the world, here inside the perimeter. Deep in conversation, they walk back towards the cells, turning again with habitual synchronicity towards me. Again. Again. Again.

The greetings: open palm, closed fist, hand on shoulder, on wrist, the sideways glance, the nod, the smile, the absent stare, the looking away, the nodding of the head off into space, that rattled look like they’ve just walked out of a bomb blast, fingers clutching at the negative spaced chain-link, diamond-mesh, hurricane fence topped by spools of razor wire and a white plastic bag caught and shredded up there.

“How are you going?” I ask them as we walk to the room and they say, “I’m in jail.” Enough said. They talk of medication and nicotine patches, the prison’s gone smoke free – “and it’s no big deal,” they say. Next door the firing range sounds out with loud claps and they shudder, the fuzzed-out prison announcements intrude into everything. It’s time for pills. Time for lock in. Lock down. Time for muster. Twice a day. The head count. Time too for poetry. And we ask them: “Where are you from? How did you get that scar? Describe this almond in minute detail. Translate Baudelaire.” And we asked them: “What is being lost in the world today?” Thinking they’ll say: their freedom, the Great Barrier Reef, the trees, the ozone layer. And they say, “loyalty”.

An enduring image, that plastic bag: edges frayed into white feathers and I tell them, “I can’t get it out of my mind and I’m not sure why.” And he says knowingly, “Yes, the uses.” And I don’t know what he’s talking about and he says, “Suffocation,” in a tone that means, “you’re not from round here, are you?” Just like those three girls from Dapto said, all those years ago, when I was counselling them against using violence as a means of conflict resolution.

It is a small gesture, our presence inside the perimeter. I know this but every time I’m struck by its power. A space to speak and be heard in that void where the voice has been stifled. “I’ve never told anyone this…This has helped me get things straight in my mind for the first time…We don’t normally share things in here, there’s always someone waiting to use it against you.”


And the plastic bag not fluttering now but vibrating up there, stretched out on the razor wire like a detached bird’s wing underneath a deep, distant sky.


Dr Gareth Jenkins is commissioned for Unlocked.

Gareth is an independent researcher, poet, artist and community development facilitator. His theoretical work focuses on avant-garde artists and writers that have experienced schizophrenia – he has presented his research in Australia, Europe and the U.S.A.  He has lectured widely at Australian Universities on the history and practice of experimental art and literature... read more »


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