This article appears in The Incarceration Issue, a special edition of VICE Australia
I'm listening to 3CR Radio in Melbourne on a Tuesday night and a tired voice is speaking.
He talks of his past, it's not always good,
A shadow of a man, where once a strong man stood
This poem, titled "The Man Within," is broadcast by a show called Beyond the Bars from the Marngoneet Correctional Centre in country Victoria. The poet is an inmate called Macca, a broadcasting newbie. At first he's too woozy from painkillers to finish. Then he gets another go, then some encouragement, then some more air time to send "cheerios" to his Nunga mob over in South Australia. It's compelling, voyeuristic listening.
Since 2002, the show's given Indigenous prisoners their only opportunity to participate in NAIDOC Week. It's about "reconnecting them to their families and their communities right across the country," says long-time producer Kutcha Edwards. "When you're told to shut up and sit in the corner as a kid, you feel that's part of life. For many Indigenous Australians as adults, that keeps happening. So it's about providing that opportunity."
Kutcha and his team spend weeks in prisons across the state workshopping the program before it goes to air. The inmates give advice, talk about issues and cultural identity, tell stories, sing songs, and often just have a laugh.
It can be easy to see rapidly rising rates of Indigenous incarceration and disadvantage like it's a helicopter shot of a prison riot—out-of-control yet somehow contained from the rest of the community. Every year there's over 10 hours of collaborative radio that prove this isn't true. It's worth listening in, if only to hear some Indigenous voices really cut through the bullshit.