I AM heading into a New Zealand prison to interview some male inmates and I don’t know what to wear. It’s not just the cold weather that’s thrown me, but I don’t know the reason these inmates are in the slammer. What if they shanked their mother because she wore red? Or they have a pathological hatred of blondes with Australian accents? What if they’ve read my previous blogs and realise I’m so desperate to find a fella that the only thing standing between me and my future husband is the Kiwi Parole Board? There’s a multitude of things that can wrong on this trip. And my imagination runs wild.
Like many Australian children in the late 70s/early 80s, my parents thought it was perfectly acceptable for four little girls to sit down in front of the television every night to an Aussie drama called Prisoner. For those who weren’t subjected to a similarly colourful childhood, it was a prime-time show revolving around Wentworth Maximum Security Prison in which hard-core female inmates expressed their frustrations at life.
Oh yes, there was a bunch of angry, scary gay women named Queen Bee, Doreen and Lizzie who used to lurk in the laundry room, swear themselves stupid and burn each other on the ironing press. There was also that really horrible prison guard they called The Freak and all up, it was violent and rather bizarre. I’m not even sure what the moral of the whole series was, apart from the theme song, which I used to walk around the house as a seven year old singing: “He used to give me roses, I wish he would again, but that was on the outside, and things were different then.”
Since that time, however, I’ve had a fascination with prisons. As a curious journalist I’ve always been intrigued by things to which I don’t have access. Like that secret part of an aircraft where the crew sleeps (where the hell do they go and how the hell do they come out looking so good?) The back of house of a restaurant. A boyfriend. All sorts of unattainable things.
Let’s face it, it’s not every day you get to go into a prison and so, on Tuesday morning, I found myself on New Zealand’s north island, dressed in an outfit I deemed most likely not to spark a riot and headed in. The permission form said I might be searched. Again, my imagination went into overdrive, picturing being strip-searched and being told to squat over a mirror. I had to relinquish my handbag and mobile phone. I was allowed to keep my notebook, two pens, a camera and a tape recorder.
But the adventure actually began before all that, when I arrived in Wellington on Monday to the fact the New Zealand capital had been going through a series of 6.5 scale earthquakes in the past 24 hours. Now, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this information. Was it a bit like sharks in Australia? You know they’re out there, but you still go in the ocean and don’t really give them a second thought if you’re an Aussie, but if you’re an overseas tourists, you think Australians are insane for dipping their toes in the water when Jaws is lurking? How seriously should I take this earthquake business exactly?
When I checked into my hotel, right in the centre of the CBD where apparently all the action was happening, I asked the receptionist. “Oh, no worries,” she said, “if you feel something you just drop, cover and hold.” Drop, cover and hold what, exactly, I thought? Drop my underwear, cover my privates and hold on to them for dear life? So, I simply said: “Lady, I’m from Brisbane, I have no idea what the hell I’m meant to drop, cover and hold.” It emerged I was meant to drop to the floor, cover my head, and hold my position.
Oh, goodie, I thought. If the prisoners don’t kill me, the earthquake will. For those who read my last blog on New Zealand, as you know, weird stuff always happens to me when I skip across the ditch, so I was taking 50/50 odds on how, exactly, I would meet my maker on this trip. On my first night in Wellington, I was indeed grateful the hotel receptionist had warned me of the aftershocks of the earthquake, as that’s exactly what I experienced several times and at one point I was awoken from a deep sleep as if someone was violently shaking my bed. But I had my own plan. I decided to keep a wine glass near the bed and if the wine glass fell to the floor, so would I, me and wine having had a long relationship when it comes to life’s big issues. The glass didn’t fall, and I awoke refreshed and ready to head to prison which is a phrase you don’t use every Tuesday.
At this stage, due to confidentiality agreements I signed and an upcoming story in the mainstream media, I can’t say too much which I realise makes me sound like a bit of a wanker. I can reveal I spent 4 very interesting hours “inside the wire” (oh yeah, I learned all the lingo) with 6 prisoners who were serving life sentences. I was not permitted to ask about their crimes, but suffice to say, if you are talking life you are speaking to a bunch of men convicted of crimes such as rape and murder. What surprised me most was they were intelligent and interesting men, with a positive outlook on life, which frankly says a lot about the blokes I’ve been dating in Brisbane.
Wellington is full of surprises and this is just one I discovered during my three-day trip. I uncovered cool cafes, innovative chefs, amazing art spaces and friendly people. Sure, you get the Welly wind and at 42 degrees below (where do you think that Vodka was conceived?) it can get wild and woolly. But particularly in an earthquake, Wellington, you really rock.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Positively Wellington Tourism. To book your own Wellington escape, go to http://www.WellingtonNZ.com