Imagine getting out of prison after years inside. You collect your things, take off your prison-issued clothes one last time, and then a door opens and you're out. There must be joy in that moment, although joy tinged by fear and weighted in expectations. What happens next? You're free. Who do you first visit and where do you go? To find out what those first few hours out of prison are really like, VICE spoke with three men who've lived it. All are from the Australian state of Victoria, and all are involved in ReConnect, a program run by the Jesuit Social Services.
Image via Flickr user Alexander C. Kafka
Shaun, 34. Spent five years in jail
On the day I was released from jail I went straight home to my dad's place. He had something planned for me, kind of like a little party, but I said, "Nah that's not happening." I didn't feel comfortable. I know you're surrounded by a lot of people in jail, but being surrounded by people outside, that's a whole different atmosphere. Outside of jail I found it hard to talk to people. Like, what did we have to talk about?
It'd been years since I'd heard birds in the morning, or seen the night sky. This was because I did the last three-and-a-half in a maximum security prison, where it was lock in at 4 PM every day. But back at Dad's, at 5 AM, I heard a rooster. I thought I was imagining things but Dad was like, "Yeah the neighbour's got a rooster."
Do you know what I was really hanging for after jail? Vegemite toast. You can't have Vegemite in jail because of the yeast. Prisoners have extracted the yeast in the past to make alcohol.
After I woke up, got over the rooster, and had some Vegemite toast, I had to visit the doctor. I was on the train for probably 10 minutes—first thing in the morning, peak hour, the whole train packed—I started having a panic attack and had to get off. I couldn't handle all those people in my face, I felt like the walls were caving in. It was tripping me out. I ended up waiting until 11 AM and getting a train when it was less packed.
I'll admit, at first it scared me a bit, being away for five years. I felt like I couldn't handle it out here. I cried to Dad and told him, "I can't do this, I'll have to go back to jail." The first few days were all like this but slowly it got easier.
Image via Flickr user 826 PARANORMAL
Ziggy, 39. Has served several sentences, his most recent was for two years
In the weeks before being released I probably experienced anxiety more than anything else. But once I got released it was more excitement than anxiety. I think it took a while, a few days for it all to completely sink in. Just that moment when I signed the papers, knowing that I was leaving prison behind me… it was such a unique feeling.
The day I got released was cold. I remember that because I didn't have a jumper. My parole address was with my parents, initially, as they'd agreed to have me there while I got to my feet. After I dropped my stuff off at my parents' place I went to visit my kids and their mum. They knew I was coming home and it was a great feeling. That week they kept telling me over the phone how excited they were, how much they were looking forward to seeing Dad. Unfortunately, my kids aren't strangers to me being away for long periods. It wasn't my first time in prison. For the majority of their lives I've been in prison. It's not something that I'm proud of, but at least I'm fortunate enough that we still have a strong connection with each other.
I have to say, getting out this time has felt different. When I've got out before I've felt like there were too many people around me, too much noise. But when I came back out this time, it felt natural. This time I've been much more prepared with my support network, and I'm using my parole officer as part of my support network. Parole used to be the enemy for me but I realised I had to change something. Also this time I've got a good parole officer—so that's half the battle won.
I'm feeling really positive about life at the moment. My future looks brighter than it's ever been in my entire life. I just put it down to my support networks—the people who I can rely on… my family and my friends. I'm on track at the moment but I'm not complacent. I've been in this position before and it's gone downhill rather quickly. But I've been in jail enough, and it's just a waste of life.
Image via Flickr user mike demers
Vu, 36. Spent three years in prison on a drug charge
I was released from jail in the afternoon. My social worker came to pick me up. He took me home to my mum's place. Everyone made me feel welcome. We made food, had something to eat—mostly Vietnamese cuisine, the kind my mum makes that I missed the most. We had plenty to talk about because a few years had gone by. At the start you don't know how people feel to have you back in their life. But when you sit down, you talk to them, and they're fine and happy for you to stay there.
After jail I was totally unaware of what was going to happen next. I had no control over anything. But at the same time I wanted work and to get on my own two feet. I didn't want to be a burden on someone else, you know?
My other priority was to see my son. It was difficult because he's under the care of his grandparents. Ever since the drugs charge they've treated me weirdly. So my first opportunity to see him wasn't a full day, just a few hours at the shopping centre, fully guarded by the grandparents. It was annoying but, after surviving jail, most issues feel very small. I didn't take it personally.
You've just got to be focusing on where you want to be, what you want to do. That's it. Trying to be as normal as possible. Before jail, everything was moving fast. I was making good money, heaps of money, but I was stressing out. Now I really enjoy my life even though I'm not going to have a nice house or car, or have heaps of money in my pocket. But hey, you know, I'm happy. That's what's important to me at the moment.
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