"I was inside"

A reflection on life outside the prison gate

William Loader*

"I walk down the streets of Fremantle and I know they are looking at me. They all know I've been inside. I don't want to meet their eyes. See that person sipping coffee - he's thinking, 'Why did they let him out. He's a crim. He should be locked up and stay locked up.' How can I start again?

Everywhere I turn its the same. I can't be forgiven, because I need to be forgiven seriously and people aren't serious about forgiveness. 'Say you're sorry' - works for kids. Why should they trust me? How should they know? They don't know what I've been through. They don't know what I feel? What's the point! I don't belong out here. No wonder they are so many coming back. They're coming back home! Home! More home than out here!

I don't want charity. I don't want no do gooder smiling droopy eyed at me. I just want a bit of space, people who won't keep looking at me, people who don't hold grudges. It sends a shivver up my spine, those marches where they all cry out for blood and they want to bring back the birch and capital punishment and all that. I'm scared they'd lynch me - it wouldn't take much. People who hate, they kill, they go crazy. I know I've seen it from both sides.

Sometimes I dream about those marches. Suddenly the crowd turns into my street. I run; they come faster and faster. Then the shouting and the screaming is unbearable; I feel their hands clawing at my back, I fall to the ground... And then I wake up covered in sweat.

I know you'll think I making it sound worse than it is, but you just imagine what it's like. You've been inside; you come out; who wants you? How can you start again? You feel awkward, out of place, and it really does feel like everybody knows. Telling myself they don't doesn't seem to help.

I just want someone to understand, someone to treat my like I'm real again. Give us a fair go! Have a bit of patience. I'll get there. It may be a bit slow, but what you can expect. I don't want anyone to pretend. I've done my time. I reckon I've sorted myself out. Please don't keep punishing me. Give us a break!

I'm not asking you to do the impossible. Of course, you're going to be cautious. I would be. But, please, don't just ignore me. I'm still a person. I still have my experience, my skills. Give us a chance at a job like everyone else! Let me prove myself. Don't write me off!

The trouble is no one wants to forgive. Oh yes, they talk about it. Churches talk about it. But most of the time its forgiveness for a harsh word or a selfish thought. What about bigger things? Too much to forgive! Too hard! Except for a few. Yet wasn't it supposed to be all about forgiveness? Didn't he forgive the thief on the cross? Or do you only get forgiveness when your nailed up and about to die? I can't believe that's what he meant.

Sometimes I see eyes that understand. I see tears, my own tears, my joy, my grief, my loneliness, my hope. But I can see! I can see again! And light fills me inside. It feels like I can go on, that it is worthwhile, that there is a chance of a home out here, that I can dream of my dad running down the road to meet me, lifting me in his arms..."

Is it like that?

* I wrote this piece having been moved by the stories of men and women who had faced such experiences.