Other women’s ap­palling lives ex­posed

Busi­ness­women hear the rea­sons why some women spend years in jail

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By DEB­BIE JAMIESON

A grand­mother in her 30s stand­ing 170cm with broad shoul­ders and tat­toos down both arms, gave Queen­stown busi­ness­women an open­ing into the world of ‘‘other’’ New Zealand women last week.

For­mer prison man­ager Celia Lash­lie de­scribed the for­mer pris­oner at the an­nual Cham­ber of Com­merce busi­ness­women’s con­fer­ence.

She was a pow­er­ful fig­ure, a mem­ber of a Can­ter­bury drug dy­nasty who al­ways wore a sleeve­less shirt – her arms like a badge Lash­lie said.

By the time they met in the late 90s, the woman had al­ready served sev­eral jail terms. Now she was in for drug deal­ing and her daugh­ter for man­u­fac­tur­ing, along with sev­eral other fam­ily mem­bers.

‘‘I can feel her in the prison . . . start­ing to sort stuff out. We have a dis­cus­sion about who’s in charge but she is.’’ Lash­lie says.

At a case man­age­ment meet­ing the woman is ‘‘bel­liger­ent as hell’’ and says she plans to do ‘‘nothin’’’ while in prison.

But she is re­minded of the 18-month-old grand­son who has his mother, grand­mother, and many mem­bers of ex­tended fam­ily in jail.

‘‘Do you want him to come to prison too? You can sit here and do noth­ing and he will,’’ Lash­lie says.

Even­tu­ally the woman be­comes in­volved in the in­no­va­tive Christchurch Arts Fes­ti­val drama put to­gether by Jim Moriarty which saw pris­on­ers spend three months un­pack­ing their com­plex lives.

‘‘Pro­grammes are tools,’’ Lash­lie says. ‘‘ The real is­sues come through story telling. We’ve got so

So­cial jus­tice ad­vo­cate Celia Lash­lie gave Queen­stown busi­ness women a con­fronting talk on the lives be­ing led by some women in New Zealand and the prison sys­tem last week. clever with our­selves we’ve for­got­ten the sim­ple act of sto­ry­telling is what takes it away.’’

It was re­vealed the women’s first mem­ory was at age 2 when she watched her fa­ther and grand­fa­ther drug deal­ing.

The next was re­mem­bered in the script of the pro­duc­tion: ‘‘I re­mem­ber the sweat drib­bling off his chin on to my face . . . I am 4.’’

It was the first of five sus­tained pe­ri­ods of abuse by dif­fer­ent people by the time she was 11.

‘‘What does that do to your soul? No­body can save you from that,’’ Lash­lie says.

When she re­alised men were not as at­tracted to women with tat­toos she be­gan self-tat­too­ing her arms.

Years later, af­ter be­ing re­leased from prison, a lit­tle old man walked in front of her car as she pre­pared to drive out of a su­per­mar­ket car park. She recog­nised her first abuser.

Lash­lie asked her: ‘‘What did you do? I’d put my foot on the ac­cel­er­a­tor.’’

The woman said: ‘‘I wanted to. The prob­lem was I couldn’t move. In fact I stopped breath­ing for sev­eral sec­onds. I had to tell my­self to breathe.’’

Speak­ing of the lives of women in New Zealand pris­ons Lash­lie told the busi­ness­women she felt obliged to raise the faces of the ‘‘other women’’ in New Zealand.

‘‘You don’t have to apol­o­gise for who you are, the world or life you have ... in this room I’m ab­so­lutely clear that many of you have worked in­cred­i­bly hard to be where you are and have what you’ve got.

‘‘My ex­pe­ri­ence in a room of 250 women would be that . . . there will be a num­ber of women suf­fered sex­ual, psy­cho­log­i­cal or phys­i­cal abuse. Just be­cause there’s an air of ci­vil­ity, ed­u­ca­tion and suc­cess in the room ... a num­ber of you will have a sex­ual abuse his­tory.’’

For most of these other women the hard­est thing about get­ting out of prison was go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket, she said.

‘‘You walk down the aisles with your kids and in a sin­gle glance you look at me and you look away and that sin­gle glance says you’ll never fit,’’ Lash­lie quoted.

‘‘If noth­ing else,’’ she told the con­fer­ence, ‘‘be aware of what you do with your face.’’

Bru­tal truths:

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