When I was a small child of about five – my memory is poor as to the exact year – I remember waking to hear my Dad screaming in fear. It was just after we’d moved to Australia, a once mysterious land far away from our homeland of Russia, to be safe. It was the middle of the night, and the big, new and frightening series of rooms (I could hardly call it a ‘home’) was dark. I was scared to move from my bed but I must, I remember thinking, as Dad could have fallen out of bed and hit his head. Perhaps Dad needed help, and since he and I only had each other, it was my job to help him even if I could not then imagine how.
I slowly and quietly slipped out of my bed, and carefully crept down a seemingly endless black corridor to peek around the door into Dad’s room. I could not see very well in that thick darkness, but what I saw was terribly frightening for a small child: Dad was standing on his bed, back against the wall, hands stretched out to fight whatever it was that he alone could see in close proximity to his own torso. I could not see his face clearly, as I recall, but what I did notice was that his eyes were very wide and I could make out the whites. He was screaming for the monster or bad man to get away from him.
The most horrible part of this for me was that there was nothing I could do. I could not see the intruder, nor could I have battled something that Dad couldn’t fend off. I could not help and was far too terrified to watch. I stealthily but quickly made it back to my bed and hid under the covers, knowing full well that if Dad couldn’t stop whatever was attacking him, I would be next. Eventually Dad was quiet. I was far too afraid to leave my bed in that hard and sudden silence. I lay still, listening into the darkness to discern if I could hear any footsteps, heavy breathing, or other indicators of possible threat. I heard nothing and, eventually, must have fallen asleep and slept as deeply as children of that age are wont to do. I did not stir until the next morning, when Dad came to get me up for the day. (Unlike other children of that age, I never got out of bed until told to do so.)
As long as Dad could keep the monsters away, we would be safe. He had to protect both of us, as my mother was gone and she had previously protected us from the monsters in the house. He had only screamed a for a little while when she was in the bed next to him. I remember almost nothing about her, but I know that I always felt safe when she was around - and she was always around…until she wasn’t. Then we had to look out for each other. There was no one else. Dad told me this many, many times over. We were always trying to stay safe. I don’t know if we ever really achieved that goal because Dad never seemed settled no matter where we lived, and we moved house a great deal, especially in those early days.
Chapter 1: Uniform
‘I am not given to emotion. Emotions lead to mistakes, and I do not make preventable mistakes. I am singularly intelligent with a highly developed ability to observe and remember details that I see around me. I can figure out what makes a prisoner tick and know how to use that for the greater good before they have any real idea of how much I have learned. I stand strong, know how to hold my own in a fight, and I am never intimidated. I am good at keeping accurate, detailed records and know how to follow orders and fully understand the chain of command.’
This was, in part, the gist of the cover letter I sent in for my first job application to work in Corrections. I am honest about my abilities, and do not believe in false modesty. The interview that followed simply allowed the hiring officer to see that my written application was indeed accurate and that I was the perfect candidate for any position in Corrections. I easily excelled at all written and physical entrance tests, most formidably in observation. Even if there had been many applicants for the job, which there were not, I would have been the best choice despite my lack of formal job experience.
I had not intended to go into Corrections work at first, but to find a job, as my father had recommended, that had a uniform. Such a job could allow for advancement in status and power and would let me use my superior physical skills and the strategies that he had taught me. A uniform, he said, shows all around one exactly where one stands in rank and power. It shows how quickly one can rise and take that power by its changing insignia. A uniform speaks before the person wearing it. Of course, a uniform will only get one so far. After that, it was actions that proved one’s worth. I was too old at the time for work in standard uniformed positions, but Corrections would take me in happily I surmised, as the ideal candidate.
I was sent first to a prison called Boggo Road. It was mostly petty work, paperwork, handling admissions, records of visitors, noting which prisoner had been found with what contraband, that sort of thing, along with regular patrols and supervising inmates. My superior organizational abilities did tend to see me assigned to the paperwork side of C.O. duties more than anything else. I found it interesting enough, but hardly challenging. Still, there was a pleasure in keeping clean, clear paperwork that others could easily comprehend. It wasn’t always easy to bring my vocabulary and references down to the level of those I worked for, but I always managed.
As time passed, to the surprise of no one, I became extremely good at my job. I have an innate authority that spoke to the women before even the uniform. I have height as an advantage and it helps, but more than that I have force of will. As if by animal instinct, the women knew that if they challenged me, I would destroy them. If I gave an order, they marched. The other C.O.’s seemed to be a bit cowed by my presence and acted with a bit of deference when I was near them. I often sat alone to eat my food on my break, which I did not mind at all. It gave me a chance to get caught up on the newspaper or other worthwhile pursuits. Far better than trying to make small talk with those few who were in the staff room at the same time as I. Of course, I also listened and observed. I said little, all the while taking in information about each person that came into my orbit: C.O.’s, the Deputy, the Governor, the women. I knew them all very well within the first few weeks of my time at Boggo Road. I was only there for a few years before being transferred, by my choice, to Blackmoore Prison.
Upon arriving, in full uniform – how I despised wearing nylon stockings and a skirt – I was met at the door by a young officer named Jamieson. She was a singularly uninteresting individual and I knew I could write her off as a casual ally: average build but a bit plump, unremarkable intelligence from the small talk she was desperately trying to engage me in, and most likely working here until she could find something better from what she babbled. She took me through the secured entrance for employees, through an administrative area to the office of the Governor and introduced me. She left me with him in his small, clean and unremarkable office. (Surely a Governor deserved better than this?)
“Welcome, Ferguson. How does it feel to be starting your first day with us?” the plain looking man in the uniform with the little crowns on his shoulders asked. He did not wait for an answer. “We’ll start you off easily, in the slower sections of the place, before sending you to the more challenging areas.”
“I am fine with challenges now, sir.”
He must not have read my file. Surely, if he had, he would have seen my skills and known I would be fit for duty at any post. Someone in charge, as this Mr. Bryce was, should have been more aware of the abilities and inabilities of each member of his staff. My father had always emphasized how well he had known each of the men under his command. He would never have allowed for slipshod leadership like this from anyone he served with. The people who promoted this man must have been bribed or blackmailed into it.
“Just keep yourself safe. We had a CO shivved here not long ago. It can get violent at times. That’s why we need to hire people like you. You’re a tall, solid one, aren’t you, Ferguson? I bet you could really give a convict a run for his money,” Bryce was not looking at my face when he said this, but staring me up and down. ‘His’, I thought, ‘in a women’s prison?’ I added ‘potential rapist’ to the list of observed qualities I had about him so far.
What to say to that? “Yes, sir.” I would not add anything else. Never give more than necessary when assessing a superior. Always keep contained, strong, deferential if necessary, but in control.
“Good. Good. Jamieson will show you the place. And if you need anything at all, you know that you can come and see me. And call me Ken, after all, we’ll be working quiet closely together.” He seemed so sure of himself, as if the uniform and the little crowns on it made him inviolate in this place. Still, I had to look down to connect my sight line with this rather pathetic man, even as he was still leering at me.
Bryce seemed somewhat surprised to have me under his command. He informed me that I had been put to work at Blackmoore by the Board as they felt that Blackmoore needed more organization in their paperwork, and I was to stick to the desk part of the job, at least to start. That he was intimidated by my presence was obvious. The duties of a C.O. extend far beyond the deskwork, although that is a significant part of the job. I would have to convince him that I was focused on my incident reports, etc., while still carrying out the other aspects of my work. It wouldn’t be difficult: Jamison had already mentioned that Bryce spent most of his time hiding in his office from whatever it was that he was so afraid of. This was going to be a good posting for me.
Jamieson had waited for me outside of the Governor’s office.
“Well, what do you think of the big brass?” she asked.
I looked at her, waiting for more, giving her a smile that I knew worked to comfort those lesser than I but revealed nothing. Not saying a thing put her off balance, and I was glad to see that I was already asserting my dominance in this place.
“He is the Governor,” I stated.
“Yeah. Just be careful around him. Like, I know we have to work with him and all, but you know, the women around here always warn the new girls to be careful around him,” Jamison stuttered out, clearly trying to get on my good side.
“I think,” I began, “that I appreciate the information. If there are any problems with the Governor and any other employees, then we should discuss what actions we will take to handle the problem.”
“Sure, sure. It’s just that I thought you should be warned up front.” She was looking up at me, trying to appear sincerely interested in my safety, yet she wasn’t capable of hiding her true intentions from me. Getting all the C.O.’s on side was not a bad idea from her point of view.
Such sycophantic behaviour could be useful to me at a later date, so I noted it, smiled and appeared very sincere when I thanked her and said nothing more. I knew that she would have nothing of further use to say to me at a personal level for now. After all, she couldn’t assess my loyalties and intentions in the way that I could hers.
Jamieson gave me a quick tour of the prison that I was assigned to, and then left me to the job as there was nothing more she could do for me. I hardly needed her help to start work. I was relieved when she left. I had smiled noncommittally at her before she turned and walked away.
The first day was noneventful. I walked the hallways, feeling good that the women and the C.O.’s knew I was their superior in many ways. I made a point to learn about each one, listening to their conversations in the staff room, their gossip about each other, how each responded to the other at staff meeting, etcetera. This was a job I could not be seen to be at all unsure of in any way, and the first way to prevent that was to know the other C.O.’s and how to handle them.
I went home to the small apartment I had bought after receiving my transfer. I had had to move to be closer to work. Previously, I had shared one house after another with my father until his hospitalization and death. That last house had become too quiet, too dirty, too full of the stench of his illness and I had sold it as soon as I could. He had not died there, but I had had to clean up after him more than once. The smell of bleach is very penetrating and reassuring, but can also be suffocating when used constantly to blot out the smells the unwell human body emits: vomit, fecal matter, bloody sputum, the putrid smells of the body infested with the type of cancer my Dad had. The pale, shrunken, sickly thing that my father became was not the man I had grown up under. I had thrown out the books of his that I had not wished to keep, his razor, combs, clothes and other personal items. There were a few things that I had taken with me to my new home: The Aboriginal art and the emu egg that he had bought when we had come to Australia, to prove to anyone who might ask, that we truly were devoted to our new country, our new continent. I kept his violin, not being able to dispose of it in anyway despite the bitter memories it held. I had also kept his fencing mask and foil, and the photo from when I had won the cup for my category: women’s juniors. Everything else in the new place was mine and mine alone. I had had to get rid of so much, just so I could clean and move. How could one person, who didn’t believe in having many possessions, who wanted to be mobile at a moment’s notice, have so many things? My father had been a man of contradictions.
One such was his expectations of me when I was small. As a young child I was expected to learn to react to situations quickly, to move when needed, to think fast and wisely and act in ways that were unexpected by those less intelligent. My father insisted, too, that I had to be still. He had been a soldier, a man of war and fighting, but his time teaching me was most focused on observation. I had to learn to see everything around me, from the minute to the extremely distant from as young as I can remember. I had to learn to be quiet, to concentrate to do this. As a child I found this difficult, but at his insistence, I learned the useful task of observing and extrapolating from what I observed that has served me well to this day.
Such observation and categorization of what I learned meant that I soon had information on nearly everyone and everything in the prison. I have a sharp memory that allows me to recall where someone was last seen, with whom, and how they moved, noticed what was around them and so on. Some of these prisoners were beyond stupid. Finding contraband was not difficult. If one kept oneself sharp, much could be caught quickly. That idiot, Jamieson, was taking money to smuggle drugs in through the prison in various ways. When one method was caught out, she and the women would find another. There are many ways to smuggle drugs into a prison but they are not infinite. Simply by observing I could find who was involved. Catching out Jamieson meant that I waited until I had so much information about her that she had no possible defence. I could have turned her in much earlier, but I prefer the long game. I gave no quarter with that woman.
I must have seemed somewhat supernatural to the others at Blackmoore. I would suggest a ramp, and – lo and behold – the illegal substances would turn up. The prisoners had become too lax in their ways, too sure of how they brought drugs in. I was the reason that the number of overdoses, inebriated inmates and drug associated behaviours dropped. Jamieson was fired and quietly told to leave corrections. Wouldn’t want a black mark on the prison’s files. Within six months of my being hired, the use of drugs had dropped dramatically. Again, I was extremely efficient. My paperwork was unquestionable. A report written by me was simply seen as the exact truth. Perhaps details needed to be altered to fit the necessary actions at times, but nonetheless my work always impressed those around me. The other C.O.’s did not like me, which was inconsequential. I was obviously able to accomplish much for the greater good.