I live in Canada. I’m 56 years old. I have four children and I’m a grandmother of four. I raised my children by myself. Before I went to jail I was working as a teacher.
I went to prison for attempting to smuggle 1kg of cocaine into Australia. I’d never done anything like this before but my daughter was going to college and she needed money for her career. So I did it, and I got caught at the airport in Sydney. That was on 4 September 2011. I was in prison for three years.
While I was in prison my daughter Emilie died in a car accident in Canada on 22 May 2012 while I was on remand at Dillwynia correctional centre in Sydney. She was 16.
The day my daughter died four officers came into the visiting room and told me to get up. They didn’t tell me why. I said: “What’s going on? I didn’t do anything.” They just grabbed me and brought me to an office.
There was another officer there, and she told me that my daughter had died. But the way she told me was really cruel. I just fell to the ground. I can’t remember falling but I remember her telling me to get up and stop being a little princess. I couldn’t get up. I threw myself under the desk. I just wanted to get away. They pulled me and finally got me out.
They let me talk to my oldest daughter for not even two minutes on the phone. Then they put me into the safe cell and held me there for three days. I didn’t eat – how could I eat when I’ve just lost a child?
I was transferred to the mental health unit in Sydney and spent several weeks there. It’s horrific how they treat their mental health patients. Every time there was a change of shift I would go into the office and say: “There’s a mistake. I shouldn’t be here.” Finally one lady listened to me.
By the time they sent me back to Dillwynia they said there was no more room, so they had to send me to maximum security where I was locked up 24 hours. I still couldn’t work at that stage because I was too upset about my daughter’s death. After two weeks I was transferred to medium needs and finally low needs, where I had been before I left.
When I got there I was told all my things had been thrown away. They had emptied my cell and thrown everything out. All my letters, the pictures of my children, everything was gone. The letters from Emilie – I’ll never get them back. They also threw away all my clothes.
Why did they do it? I didn’t do anything to them. It’s true that I didn’t eat, but that was because I’d just lost my daughter. They didn’t know what to do with me. The system doesn’t know how to deal with someone in the situation I was in. I even contacted the ombudsman when I got back home. I said: “I don’t want anything from you. What I want is for the system to change, so that if anything like that happens again, nobody gets treated the way I was treated.”
They sent me to see a psychiatrist while I was in prison, but she did nothing for me, just let me sit there and cry.
I did get some help from the Salvation Army chaplain. She came to see me and she also thought it was awfully cruel how I was treated. When I heard that my daughter had died, she was there, and she held me in her arms as I was crying and crying … I don’t remember it, but she told me. We are still in touch to this day. She contacts me every once in a while, especially on the day my daughter died and on my daughter’s birthday. She talks to me and tries to give me strength because since I came back to Canada I have tried to commit suicide. It’s still hard to cope. It’s been eight years now since Emilie died.
It’s really hard when you get out of jail and live in another country because you don’t go through any rehabilitation. They just throw you out back into society. I was terrified. It took me weeks to be able to walk down the street.
When I came back to Canada I stayed with one of my daughters initially because I had nothing left. My children were great; they helped me a lot. I see them every day.
It was difficult finding a job. I had no record but I had been out of work for so long, so people looked at my CV and asked questions. Now I’ve gone back to school. I’m taking a restaurant and hotel course. My plan is to get a job in a good restaurant once the course is finished.
My time in prison still haunts me. I live it every day. Sometimes I break down because the memory is too much. I have a psychiatrist here and I’ve learned that when I do break down, I have to let it out.
I just wish inmates had a way to sit down in prison and talk and express their feelings and were not just locked away. I wish they were heard. I think the problem is that officers aren’t properly trained for situations like mine – losing a child on the other side of the world. So they just buried me. That’s what they did, they just buried me. I was a quiet inmate, I wasn’t a trouble-maker. I just did my time.
• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14 and support is also available at Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 and 1800Respect (1800 737 732). In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org
Corrective Services NSW was contacted about the criticisms made in this article but declined to comment.