What it’s like to visit Kathy in jail
It was great to finally see Kathy again at Silverwater Detention Centre on Saturday.
It’s been a long time between visits – I’d only managed to drive up from Sydney to Cessnock to see her once during her time there.
She’s anxiously preparing for the judicial inquiry into her case, after almost three years of waiting to hear if she’d be given the chance.
It hasn’t been easy riding that emotional rollercoaster of hope and fear for so long. No one thinks of the person trapped in the process.
Kathy has been in jail for more than 15 years now. She still has more than 10 years of her sentence to serve.
I arrived on Saturday for a 12.40pm visit, but no one ever gets inside until it’s waaaaaay after 1pm. It takes forever to process everyone’s visitor forms, check their fingerprints and irises and usher them through the metal detectors.
The guards wrap the visits up just before 3pm.
You feel sad for the kids who only get to see their mums for such a short period of time.
There were lots of kids there on Saturday, sweet-faced ones with ponytails, little terrors darting around the waiting room, tired bubbas sobbing in their prams.
Visiting jail is totally bizarre, yet completely normal experience.
I’ve seen a little girl in a pink dress playing hopscotch beside a barbed wire fence, pausing to wave and shout “Bye Daddy” as she glimpsed her father being taken back to his cell.
I’ve watched a visitor coo when a prison guard showed her snapshots of his new baby.
And I’ve overheard some fascinating conversations. One of the most colourful was when a woman wearing fuzzy bed socks and chain-smoking started ranting loudly about being called up for jury duty for the second time in just a few months. She told the authorities: “Look, my daughter’s in jail for f@#kin’ murder. I don’t feel like being on a f@#kin’ jury right now. And they got straight back to me that I didn’t have to f@#kin’ do it.”
When we finally get inside the visitors’ room, we sit on pastel-painted metal stools, bolted to the floor and arranged around a little bolted-down metal table, like some Tim Burton-style nightmare version of fairy toadstools.
Kathy wears a white canvas jumpsuit, secured with an electrical cable tie at the neck. We sip cans of Diet Coke and snack on bags of Mars Bar Pods and Kettle Chips from the junk food machines in the hallway.
We talk about her latest upheavals in protective custody and her hopes of getting a job to ease the boredom and pay for the ever-increasing number of items that are on “buy-up”. When I first started visiting you could sent pyjamas, underwear, books and other items, but they’ve all been banned now.
We discuss her return to Silverwater and how she vomited repeatedly from the stress of being locked in a prison van to be transported from Cessnock jail back to Sydney.
She never fails to amaze me with her strength and resilience in the face of the challenges her daily life presents.
When visiting hours end, all too soon, everyone hugs and cries as they separate.
I watch a couple embrace and the woman call over her shoulder as she returns to her cell: “See you in court on Thursday! I love you!”
So mundane, yet so otherwordly at the same time.
I walk out of the security doors and into the sunlight I feel so grateful to be free.
I don’t have many jail pictures to share with you, because they are verboten for security reasons.
There was a total furor when one of Kathy’s cellmates once sold photographs (and lies) from inside the prison to a weekly magazine.
But here are a few snaps to give you a brief glimpse of what it’s like …