Other women’s appalling lives exposed
Businesswomen hear the reasons why some women spend years in jail
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.’’