Free­dom might be wasted on the young

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OPINION - CLAIRE HAR­VEY

What did you do with your 20s? Here’s my con­tri­bu­tion to hu­man­ity as a 20-some­thing: I spent an in­sane amount of my pal­try earn­ings on my hair, pre­tended to like dark beers and box­ing, prob­a­bly gave my­self pre­can­cer by us­ing sunbeds, ob­sessed about my job and tried to hold my own with com­pli­cated young men.

Jock Pal­free­man spent his 20s in a Bul­gar­ian prison — and thinks his was the wiser move.

“None of my friends are mar­ried or have bought houses,” the newly freed Aus­tralian said in Sofia this week. “I hon­estly don’t feel like I’ve missed any­thing.”

Jock, I think you’re onto some­thing. Be­ing locked in a dank cell with only tripe soup to re­lieve the lone­li­ness ac­tu­ally sounds more ap­peal­ing than some of the ex­pe­ri­ences I put my­self through.

At least Jock doesn’t have a crip­pling credit-card debt or back cat­a­logue of un­for­tu­nate pho­to­graphs to haunt his 30s. No doubt he can do a chin-up.

The com­mon wis­dom is that “young peo­ple” in the West to­day are blessed with health and pros­per­ity their an­ces­tors could never have en­vis­aged.

In fact to­day’s 20-some­things are spend­ing an en­tire decade be­ing, in ef­fect, 19. They’re liv­ing through a grossly ex­tended latead­o­les­cent pe­riod of hia­tus be­fore their lives re­ally get go­ing. Where our grand­par­ents were mar­ry­ing at 21, buy­ing houses, hav­ing chil­dren, work­ing hard and pre­par­ing to re­tire at 55, now we’re spend­ing a whole 10 years wait­ing to have suf­fi­cient earn­ings to even think about hav­ing a proper home, and (in the case of women) be­ing pa­tient un­til it oc­curs to our boyfriends that it might be pos­si­ble to have chil­dren.

Jock Pal­free­man is ready to start again once (if) he gets out of Bul­garia — where he was con­victed of mur­der and im­pris­oned af­ter in­ter­ven­ing in a fight be­tween a group of lo­cals and a Roma man.

Pal­free­man has al­ways main­tained he was in­ter­ven­ing to pre­vent neo-Nazis beat­ing the Roma man to death. He was armed with a knife, he says, be­cause he knew there had been a se­ries of at­tacks by white su­prem­a­cists on Roma in the city, and he couldn’t stand back and watch some­one be slaugh­tered.

The Bul­gar­ian jus­tice sys­tem hasn’t bought this story at any point, but Pal­free­man has been such an ex­em­plary prisoner an ap­peal court let him out early and, if it weren’t for fran­tic ef­forts by pros­e­cu­tors to send him back to jail, Pal­free­man would be free.

He seems, just from my ob­ser­va­tions at this dis­tance, to be an in­cred­i­bly stoic and op­ti­mistic per­son. He’s de­voted him­self to the cause of pris­on­ers’ rights in Bul­garia, speaks the lan­guage flu­ently and says he wants to re­main in the coun­try even once he’s granted per­mis­sion to leave, to con­tinue work­ing to help his for­mer cell­mates nav­i­gate the deeply cor­rupt and ruth­less jus­tice sys­tem.

I hope, in­stead, he comes home to beau­ti­ful, safe Aus­tralia and starts a mag­i­cal new life hav­ing, as he says, not missed a thing.

Pic­ture: AP

Jock Pal­free­man leaves a de­ten­tion cen­tre in Bul­garia this week.

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