Freedom might be wasted on the young
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.
Jock Palfreeman leaves a detention centre in Bulgaria this week.