Gary Gray

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Gary Gray

It was with much sadness that we learned of the premature death in Aberdeen, Scotland, of Gary Gray (40), exiled from his loved ones here in Australia. In 1997, Gary was deported from Australia, where he was a friend and comrade to many and a father of three children.

I met Gary in 2 Division, Boggo Road Jail, Brisbane, in early 1988. He was a courageous activist in the most difficult of environments: a maximum security prison, where any resistance is likely to end in a bashing.

In early 1988, following the screws' shooting of a prisoner, the 2 Division administration office was trashed in retaliation. The atmosphere was tense and it seemed that an unavoidable spiral of violence was looming.

However, this was interrupted by an exceptional act of courage as Gary and four other prisoners climbed onto the roof overlooking the armed catwalk. They were carrying banners demanding human rights, justice and an inquiry into prison conditions.

Over the following two weeks, a constant solidarity vigil was held outside the prison wall by Women's House and the Catholic Worker community. The vigil was joined by former prisoners, solidarity activists, civil libertarians, 4ZZZ-heads and punk bands.

I was in Division 2 at the time and the memory of an oppressed community reborn in resistance is one that I will always carry with me. On the roof, the men resisted the threats of violence from armed screws and the emotional blackmail of the prison chaplaincy. They weathered torrential rain and blasting sun with little food and water. In Easter week, more than 100 of us gathered outside the wall as the protesters finally came down; they had forced the Kennedy Inquiry to be held, which eventually closed Boggo Road.

Gary had a contagious spirit that discarded the housebroken prison maxim of "keeping your head down and doing your own time" for the humanity of struggle.

Gary did not forget that the first duty of any prisoner is to escape, and I remember during another stay in 2 Division keeping a supportive prayer vigil into the early hours as he hack-sawed through the bars on the floor below. Unfortunately, he and others were discovered and I heard the bashings by the screws. Gary later escaped from Woodford Prison, but was eventually caught in Darwin and driven in a cage, shirtless and freezing, to Alice Springs.

It shows the cynicism and fascist nature of Australia's immigration department that they would shanghai Gary a half a world away from his children in 1997, after several attempts since his release from jail in 1991.

Gary was born in Scotland and moved to Australia with his family at age 14. He is survived by two daughters, aged 18 and 21, in Adelaide, and his son, aged 6, in Brisbane.

Speaking from Adelaide, Gary's distraught mother Edith said the authorities had signed a death warrant for her son by sending him back to Scotland: "He has been in a dreadful state in Scotland because he had left his family, his children, his friends behind. His whole life is here [in Australia]. The judge here would have been better sentencing him to death because he sentenced him to a life of misery away from his family and the people he loved."

Anyone who passed through the gates of Boggo Road Jail knew that that institution was a crime. Gary was one of the heroic, marginalised people who helped the community solve that crime.

As Dan Berrigan reminds us, we conspire together or expire alone, and many of us are left with feelings of failing to respond with the depth of solidarity Gary offered us. We pause to remember him, the good folks he has left behind and reflect on the questions his life and death pose.

CIARON O'REILLY