Anna’s Story

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Anna’s Story

I was born in Goondiwindi, Queensland, Australia in the early 70s. Until I was a teenager, I lived with my Aunt who was single. This was because my Mum and Dad couldn’t look after me properly.

I went to my local school but was kept down a few years. I ended up going to the Special Education Unit (SEU) at the school.
When I got to Grade Eight I wasn’t coping with school. My family felt there was nothing there in Goondiwindi for me. They transferred me to Brisbane. My mum, dad and brother remained in Goondiwindi because it was what they wanted and what suited them.
I moved around a lot in Brisbane and got lost a few times. When I heard about the suburb Holland Park I thought it might have been a place overseas. I lived in a group home for foster children.
When I was sixteen I became a client of Wolston Park hospital (now called The Park Centre for Mental Health). The doctors there arranged for my money to be managed by the Public Trust. This still happens today.
After school, there were times in my life when I became unwell and broke the law. I have been charged for heaps of stuff, like lighting fires, stealing, damaging police property, and smashing things. I don’t do any of this any more.
It was scary going to prison for the first time. The police told me that they were going to take me home, but they didn’t. They ended up taking me to Boggo Road. I didn’t know where I was.
They check prisoners on their first day. You have to wash your hair with special stuff in case you have head lice. I didn’t have head lice and I didn’t like the smell of the stuff so I didn’t wash my hair.
Boggo Road had lots of rats and mice and it was really old. The women prisoners had to wear yucky blue uniforms with silver buttons down the front.
Prisoners had to line up next to their bed number and say their name. They were given jobs to do. My job was to clean up the cells after girls were discharged. The officers asked me to do this, and I had to say yes.

I argued with another prisoner in Boggo Road. The girl threw hot water over me, so I poured hot water back on her. The girl wasn’t locked down, but I was. I hadn’t started the fight. I think the officers didn’t see the other girl do it.

When I was discharged from Boggo Road, I got into trouble at Reception for taking a pot plant home. The officer said, “That’s government property”. I said, “I didn’t know. These inmates of mine gave it to me.”
I spent some time in the Crisis Support Unit (CSU) in West Moreton B Correctional Centre. At one stage I spent a whole year there. The centre had men on one side, and women on the other. The girls had two male cooks and would get desserts every night. The cooks would also do the girls’ washing.
In the CSU, I was up all night for a couple of years with no sleep. That’s why I decided to drink lots of water at night. The officers would put me in the observation ward or “obs cell”, because I kept all the other prisoners awake. I didn’t mean to, but I had no medication. The officers would get back at me during the day and wake me up when I was asleep by knocking on the door of my cell.
One time I hid a foam cup in my bra. When I got strip-searched, they found the cup. I wasn’t allowed to have it. I wanted the cup to get a drink of water. There was a yellow line near the officer’s door. If prisoners went over the yellow line, they would be breached. You are locked down and get finger food. When the officer took my cup, I later crossed the yellow line to get it. I was seen on the CCTV cameras and was breached.
I was in an obs cell on my own for a whole year because I had problems and had to go to the toilet a lot. Every other prisoner in the CSU had a TV and radio. I could only watch movies with the other girls in the evening if I had been good that day. In the end, the officers put a TV in their office, and I could watch it through the window of the door of my cell. The officers would tape my shows for me and I could watch shows like Neighbours, Home and Away and the Bill during the day time.

I had a police poster on my locker at the CSU. The officers let me have it because they knew I liked police. Another prisoner was upset about this - she was unwell at the time. I had an argument with her and became unwell and hurt myself. I got locked down for a long time. The two of us later made friends, and the woman gave me three pairs of shoes.

While I was at West Moreton, I needed to go to the Princess Alexandra (PA) hospital for an operation. I was handcuffed to the trolley going to the operation. They knew I would jump off and escape. I have been like that for years whenever I have gone to a hospital.
When I got back to West Moreton, the girls had made me a get well card. My friends and all the officers had signed it.
West Moreton was eventually closed down because it wasn’t in very good condition and the building was old. The women had to move to S4 in Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre.
When I went to S4, the prison staff wouldn’t let me go into the mainstream, because I was doing so well there. S4 is where you go if you are suicidal or you self harm. There are two sides to S4. One side is for good people who behave. They stay there until they get back on their feet and go back to the mainstream. On this side you are allowed to do things during the daytime, such as go to the library, or go to the gym.
The other side of S4 is closed off and is for people who misbehave. It is the punishment side. They have a seclusion room and you wear a gown all day and night.
Many times in S4 I snuck my day clothes on without having a shower. I would wait until everyone came out before I came out. In the end they made me shower. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t give me my day clothes and I didn’t come out onto the floor.
The CCTV cameras are on twenty four hours a day. They are on you when you go to the toilet and take a shower. The lights are also on all the time in both sides of S4. I once asked if they could turn the lights down a bit, and I was told “that’s as far as they go.”

In S4 it is hard because you are strip-searched when you go in and out of the unit. You need to totally undress, squat and cough. Two female prison guards supervise you, but if there aren’t enough females, they have a male officer outside the door, while the female is inside checking. Sometimes I would say “I don’t want to get strip-searched.” They would then grab me and put me in the punishment side.

One time, when there weren’t enough female officers to do a strip-search, I told the male officer, “Well I will do it meself. Pat meself down.” The other girls patted themselves down too. The officer was okay with this.
One girl in the cell next door used to bang on the window or wall at me, because she was picking on me. I got locked down because she complained that I was making the noise. The girl later apologised to me.
Every prisoner is given shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and a brush. Girls aren’t allowed to have razors to shave their legs. This is because some of them are suicidal. You have to share an electric razor with the other girls and have an officer watch you do it, or some girls wax their legs.
There are two different “buy ups” in Women’s prison. There is outside buy up, where you can buy goods from outside prison, such as clothes and books. If you are on suicidal “obs” you are allowed to have one book and one bible. I used to order S Club magazines and TV week, but the staples were taken out. There is also inside buy up, where you can buy different drinks and chocolate.
You fill out a form when you order items from buy up. You also need to fill out a form if you want to see the dentist or doctor. The officers used to help me fill in the forms.
Any wages you earn in prison go into an account, and when you leave you can collect this money. If there is anything in the mail they don’t want you to have, they either keep it for you until you come out, or send it to your family and friends.
Prisoners are allowed to have cans of soft drink, but I had to be watched. The officers would pour the soft drink into my cup and then I would have to give the can back. They do this sort of thing because some girls are suicidal.
When I went to Women’s I was given Largactil medication. It calmed me down. I would feel drowsy and have the dribbles come out.

I did numeracy and literacy courses and aerobics in Women’s. There are also hairdressers who do your hair, but you have to pay for the service.

I often got a good birthday when I was in prison. Officers would also give me tokens to go buy myself a drink or chocolate on my birthday.
I had a good relationship with a young male officer. He listened to me and did colouring in with me. Every time I told him to have a haircut, he got a haircut. When I went to the gym and got on an exercise bike, he got on an exercise bike with me.
I prefer prison life to being at the Park. They understand me in prison. They have doctors, psychiatrists, nurses and social workers seeing how you are going.
Some of the other inmates wanted me to go into the mainstream, because they wanted to look after me there. The officers wouldn’t let me go because they thought some of the other girls might take advantage of me.
Every year I send my friends inside Christmas cards. I miss them. Sometimes they send me a card back.
I didn’t get along with some girls in prison. Some girls would yell out for their tablet and ring the buzzer when I was trying to sleep. One time a girl reckoned that I gave her a packet of chips, but the girl gave me the chips because I had given her some soap. I took my soap back. I told an officer, who told me not to give the girl anything again. I would give this girl a couple of cigarettes so she would be quiet and not hassle me. She would be quiet for a few days, but then start on me again until I gave her more cigarettes. Eventually we made up for our disagreements.
I remember a time when I was sitting in the corner, minding my own business, when another girl hit me for no reason. I told an officer and some detectives came to visit her. They asked me “What do you want to do about it?” I suggested they lock her down. The girl was supposed to be discharged from prison that day, but ended up staying longer.

I got into trouble for dobbing other prisoners in. One inmate suggested they take me to my cell because I was drinking lots of water, and coffee, and I wasn’t allowed to. Other inmates would turn the taps off really tight so I had trouble using them.

When I got unwell, I would argue with a few officers, and they would get angry with me. But in the end, these officers were all right.
I had tried a few times to commit suicide in prison. I used to put a blanket over my head and tie it around my neck. I would rip up my clothes and try to tie them around my neck. I did a lot of things when I was getting unwell.
I had my blanket taken away from me in the CSU because the officers were worried I was going to hurt myself under the blanket. I couldn’t keep myself warm at night without the blanket.
I once helped calm down a girl who wouldn’t eat. The officers and nurses had tried to calm her down, but they couldn’t. They said that I had the healing touch. The girl was cold and didn’t have a jumper, so I got next to her and warmed her up. The girl ended up eating something.
I also went through a stage of not eating or drinking for three and a half weeks. Other inmates asked the officers “Can we stay with Anna and see if she’ll eat?” The nurse said to me, “If you don’t eat, we’ll have to take you to hospital and you’ll be on a drip. No one will want you then.” I eventually ate, but I don’t know what helped me to get better.
The psychiatrists at the hospital recommended that I leave Women’s and go to The Park. I cried about this decision. I didn’t want to leave prison and go to the hospital. I wanted to be taken to a halfway house like the other girls.
In the days leading up to my transfer, an officer got me to make up a calendar. On the calendar I would cross out each day and count down until I left Brisbane Women’s. I found this helpful.

When I left prison for the last time and was transferred to the hospital, I felt scared. At Women’s I was having my breakfast and the supervisor said, “Come on. We gotta go to court.” I didn’t even have time to have a cup of coffee! I had to take my toast with me. When I got to the courts I was told I couldn’t have my toast with me.

The first thing I realised after court was that I had nothing with me. I had no handbag! No money! No spare clothes! No jewellery! No nothing. I was thinking every day, “Oh my clothes. What am I gonna do about my stuff?” It took a couple of weeks to get my stuff back. When my wallet finally did arrive, they put it away for me – my pension card and everything. They took everything off me any way.
I had been to the hospital before, but a lot of things had changed. I got lost and scared and that’s when I took off. I said to myself, “This is all strange. This is all new to me. This can’t be right.” The staff went and got me and brought me back.
I think prison is better than the Park, because they give you medication. The hospital doesn’t take me on outings, even though I was told to go on outings. I have trouble sleeping, but they won’t give me medication to help me sleep.
I now live in a housing commission home in Mt Gravatt Brisbane. During the week I like to do knitting, scrapbooking, colouring in and sewing. My family still live out at Goondiwindi and I don’t see them that often. Sometimes my Aunt will come and visit, but my Mum and Dad don’t like travelling.
I still use Largactil, as well as Citalopram in a blister pack. I have a case manager at Macgregor Mental Health.
The Public Trust still looks after my pension and I am also under the Adult Guardian. I get support from Richmond Fellowship, a service for people with mental health problems. I get frustrated because the roster for workers is changing all the time. It’s also hard when workers come late as they sometimes get held up with other clients.
I don’t smash things or light fires any more. I told the police that. But it is hard sometimes because I don’t know when I am becoming unwell.

The last time I was in prison was in 2000. It’s hard to get out of the prison cycle. It’s a bit scary and risky leaving prison. Boys and girls need to occupy themselves during the day time. If they get a job and do things, they don’t get bored. It is also important to avoid hanging out with the wrong people.
I know about people living on the streets after being in prison. This happened to me a few times. I feel sorry for the ones who have no homes. They should use the old buildings at the hospital for the homeless and for people waiting to have operations. That way they wouldn’t be short of beds.

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