The integration of prisoners returning from foreign detainment can vary depending on the prisoner's experiences and location. Adjustments are difficult in any case, especially when you are detained for long periods of time. FPSS advocates have worked on numerous cases where prisoners have become conditioned to their foreign environment. Many have been forced to adapt quickly to a different language and culture, and on top of that the 'prison system' which typically has its own unique rules beyond those that are written in guidelines and policies. Most prisoners don't even realise how conditioned they have become to routines where simple changes can throw their emotions into turmoil. (new prisoners coming into their space can change the dynamics of a room for example). Those who get to 'go home' after years of detainment in foreign jails sometimes miss the things they never much thought about.... some British prisoners have told FPSS advocates that they found it difficult to adjust to bland food and longed for spicy Thai curry. They found it odd that they would miss anything about the place they'd been detained in for 20 years. It's hard to imagine coming out of a prison not knowing how to use an ATM machine... technology changes so fast and you feel like the world has left you behind. It can be quite daunting. The social stigma is there for those who have rehabilitated and regret their actions. Some also feel sad to leave fellow prisoners behind because those are the faces they've seen every day.... familiarity is a hard emotion to break. Then there's all the practicalities... and if you don't have a support network to fall back on it can be difficult. Some prisoners have outlived their loved ones and others have hurt them to the point where that loved one wants nothing to do with them. It's all a mixed bag.
Life back home changes in more ways then one. Loved ones try to make things easier but most prisoners come home with 'baggage'. They carry the mental images of a world that is so very different to the one they now face. Then they face the uncertainty of 'will anyone employ me' or 'will I be able to rent an apartment again'? For some, it will be the first time they will hold down a real job in decades, one outside peeling vegetables in the prison kitchen. Usually prisoners who undergo domestic detainment go through the normal rehab, parole process. They can re-adjust to society more easily then a prisoner who has newly arrived from a foreign prison, those who are typically not subject to any parole conditions. (See facts on leaving an Australian prison) The support network for a prisoner who has returned from an overseas stint in jail is vital.
Over the years FPSS advocates have been involved in hundreds of cases, some of them high profile. FPSS advocates tend not to compare cases because there is no one single case that is exactly the same but what each case does have in common is that they need to be strategically managed. Some do this better than others and each case brings its own unique challenges. At the end of the day, the families of prisoners do the best they can with the knowledge they have at the time. It's a learning process and some families have to make extremely difficult choices under a great deal of pressure. It is easy for people to judge but having a loved one in a foreign jail, regardless of whether they deserve to be there, creates enormous anxiety in a family. They do what they think is best to protect their loved one. Their approach may seem irrational to outsiders but then you have to consider the issue in context. Maybe they are being advised to do this and that. Maybe the honestly don't know what they are doing and are just reacting to the roller-coaster they find themselves on. Maybe their advisers are naive or have some agenda that motivates them. Some just need time to get over all the shocks that keep coming their way, including the shock of being released after years behind bars.
A Year of Freedom
by Martin Garnett
The 23rd of September 2016 marks one year since I was released from prison. I served 21 years, 362 days in Thailand, American and Australian prisons. In fact, I did not even get released and I earned more prison time. Appalling though my actions have been, I have paid for them. What’s interesting is how few people now hold it against me.
What happens when you return to society after so long in prison? What are the major challenges? Can you actually “come back” at all after so long?
What an interesting year it has been. I came out with a head full of dreams, I came out to a dream! The woman who had worked so hard to prepare for my release did not stand a chance. My beloved Mother who had counted the hours was equally disappointed. I was initially staggered. FREEDOM was underwhelming! I walked into Coles supermarket, with a list, but did not know where to start! I walked into a job I had aspired to and did not perform as expected! I was struggling in several areas. I had a heart attack. People close to me were genuinely worried. I wanted to go back to prison! As you would expect, this was a temporary condition. Nobody knew. I kept it all a bit dark, I sought professional advice. It did help! 99% of the dramas I have encountered during this year have been due to my inability to get along with the women in my life. This disturbed me greatly. I had forgotten a key lesson from prison: Control is a myth! You can’t make someone love you. You can’t keep anything tidy that is inherently untidy. You can’t force a situation to work that is wrong, for whatever reason. You have to let go and know when to walk away. So I did some walking away. And a funny thing happened as I let go, stopped juggling and relaxed……I have punched above my weight before but the universe has recently blessed me with the most amazing, talented, stunningly beautiful lady I have ever known. It’s early, but I am feeling like the luckiest man alive. I went to a cello recital at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music last week. A cello recital! If anyone has not listened to a live classical music performance lately, may I wholeheartedly recommend it. The tonal quality in the room at “the Con” was absolutely stunning. I was deeply moved.
I think it is fair to say that Freedom is no longer underwhelming. So here we are, things could not be more different. I have a job that I love. A relationship that makes my heart sing. I am as tidy as any man a year out has a right to be and some really exciting things are happening.
The major lessons from this year are:
• Don’t panic, have faith and everything will be okay
• Don’t even attempt to “control” anything. What we call control is usually just oppression anyway
• Every day is a victory
• Never underestimate that attractiveness of a calm, kind person
• My history neither defines whom I am today nor how I live
• Walk away from people who are toxic and stay the f**k away from them, forever
Do you ever have those morning where you wake up and just say thank you God for allowing me to still be here and to be living the life I am now living? That is how I feel today. It was not so a year ago. I woke up on September 23rd, excited but scared. I wanted great things to happen but had no real way to make them happen. The first day, the dreams of “what I will do when I get out” did not go to plan at all. Few things have gone to plan since and you know what, that is okay. Every step matters. Sometimes the best you can do is have good intention and proceed as best you can. The daily grind is taxing, but hold firm to core beliefs, they are the glue that holds you together while the world sometimes falls apart around you. Occasionally, even when everything turns to shit, you can find what matters. When all the garbage stops and you stop trying to fix the broken people, you can find that beautiful place in the eye of the storm. Let it all swirl around you. Let them all fall where they may. All you have to do is remain calm. They have no stamina. You will outlast them.
In the middle of this turmoil turmoil, a friend has appeared. She smiled and said hello and the world made sense again. I remember what it means to feel things. That hollowness, that frightened me so badly in the first few months after my release has evaporated. Connection, passion, happiness……A wise friend told me it would take a year until I felt human again. At the time I thought he did not understand my situation. This is a classic self-delusion. We all think our situation is unique, whether it be our suffering or our version of joy. I used to watch the new guys sit in the prison yard, thinking, and astonish them by telling them what they were thinking. The point is that often what we think of as our “unique situation” is anything but. There is a commonality to most people’s reaction to what happens. My friend was totally correct, it took a year.
What happens now? God knows. This is as it should be. It is okay. Enjoy your day. Kiss the people you love and for all our sakes, find you own happiness. You have a duty to live as well as you can. Not extravagantly, but strive to achieve some quality, some peace, whatever it is YOU need. Until you are happy, you will not bring happiness to the people you love. To those I have hurt I apologise. To those I have helped, it was my duty. To those I have made smile, thank you for the gift of being near you, even if only for a short time. My first year of freedom is complete. I am quietly pleased. Humbled by the beauty. In awe of the opportunity I have been given.
Thank you all so very much.
FPSS Admin: thank you Martin for your incredible insights and your continued support and commitment to human rights and social justice. The work you are doing to educate the Youth of Australia (and worldwide) is commendable!