Indigenous prisoners speak out

July 4, 2009

This year is the seventh year Melbourne's Community Radio 3CR will broadcast its Beyond the Bars program.

Every July, during National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week, Beyond the Bars broadcasts from inside Victorian prisons, bringing the voices of Indigenous prisoners to the community.

This year, Beyond the Bars will be broadcasting from Port Phillip prison, Fulham prison, Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and Barwon prison, where spoken word and music workshops will be held with the Indigenous prisoners.

3CR is the only community radio station in Australia that goes into prisons.

You can hear the live broadcast on 3CR at 855AM. It will be simulcast on 3KND and the local community radio stations where the prisons are located.

One of the workshop leaders, comedian Shiralee Hood, described the impact of the broadcasts to Green Left Weekly.

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The response has been really empowering. It's the only time through the year that Indigenous prisoners can get their voices out to the community. When families hear the sound of voices, it makes you feel closer. Being a part of creating communication between prisoners inside and their families outside has been a pleasure.

There are a few prisoners a long way from home who don't get as many visitors as others. They also spoke about the need to improve the opportunities for families to be able to come and visit. This would keep the Indigenous spirit alive between family throughout the years or months that people are inside.

It's good when we can hear different stories and music and poetry from the inmates. It's important that the inmates have a chance to express themselves.

To hear the different stories reminds you that the prisoners are people. They are locked away from society, sometimes for a long time, but they are people. It's important — especially in NAIDOC week, which is an important week for Indigenous people to get together and commemorate past and present lives — to also have that spirit carried into the prisons. It helps build spirit and communication with the outside.

Such a high percentage of Indigenous people are incarcerated and it stems back to the Stolen Generations, because Indigenous people are growing up without family. If you grow up and don't know where you come from, then you can lose who you are and get mixed up with drugs and alcohol and make wrong decisions. That's what gets you into inside time.

3CR has done a great job to keep this program over the years.

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