Today marks the first day of my month long lease on prison cell #7 in Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. My cell is on the third floor and came furnished with two office desks, a filing cabinet, a chair, an electric heater and some shelving. Not quite spartan I’ll grant you that but it is a double cell and after having seen the single cells down stairs I can understand that the problem wouldn’t be writer’s block but writer’s cramp! Even the cell door is barely wide enough to walk through without turning sideways before stooping over to walk in.
One of the previous resident of cell #7 left behind The Manhattan Transfer Anthology ‘Down in Birdland’ and The Greatest Songs from the Musicals- a 3cd box set with 42 classic tracks- and a whole spindle of blank CD-Rs. I look forward to blasting out ‘I dreamed a dream ‘ from Les Miserables and ‘Thank heaven for little girls’ from Gigi. Perhaps I could start burning a few copies to sell from my cell door.
I’ve also found an Australian pocket dictionary and a novel by Rose Tremain which shall remain unread as far as I am concerned. Upon further fossicking around I’ve uncovered two bottles of wine, one white t’other red, a box of glasses, some stationary and other random things. You know, the usual things you find in a disused prison cell, like an unwrapped thermometer hanging on the wall which reads 22’C or 72’F and several grubby power boards.
It is pretty obvious that this very cell was the headquarters of The Justice Project(standing up for a fair go)some years ago from all the paper work and office stationary lying around. Their aim appears to have been something along the lines of “Human Rights in the Age of Border Protection”. The only paperwork I can find is dated 2007, I hope the wine hasn’t been here that long.
I was given a key to the heavy padlock on the door, a brief tour of the facilities, a phone number incase a mischievous member of the public decides to lock me in(happens regularly) and then I was allowed to get on with my project and acquaint myself with my new literary surroundings.
My cell is a double one. I stepped it out as being roughly three by three and a half metres and nearly three metres high. The roof is curved like an old aircraft hangar. The walls are painted off white with dark cracks between the large stone blocks. A smattering of fine black dust from the cracks in the roof clings to the edges of the blocks. Alarmingly the flagstone floor has been carpeted with the same cheap stuff that my own landlord used to carpet my home. There are two windows looking down over me which remind me of the eyes of the Buddha. They have bars on the outside, two inches thick, and perspex on the inside. The external walls look about two feet thick.
Why am I here? Mmmm, well, hopefully to write. My aim is to finish transcribing my father’s prison diaries and then start to form a book around them. A book of stories, thoughts, diary entries and remembrances. A book that might act as a deterrent to other fathers who might want to sell drugs in Asia but apparently nobody reads these books until they’ve been to prison! A book that might illustrate my father’s mind to all those people who thought they knew him, thought they knew what went on in his head and for me too so that I can understand this guy with terrible parenting skills and even worse responsibility issues, I swear that no back door ever went unused when my father was around!
I started off by listening to some of my father’s audio recordings just to set the mood, that failed when the audio quality dipped badly. Pops was not good with technology. I was getting into his stories of meeting Ginsberg and co’ in Boulder, and his tales of derring-do high in the Himalayas Then I tried a few BBC podcasts and lastly I have stuck with Brian Eno’s Music for Airports which I find quite peaceful and err, I suppose motivational. One thing that I did share with my father was his habit of being in airports with an onward ticket at hand.
There is a constant stream of noise from outside the cell along the walkway as tourists shuffle by. These old gaols weren’t designed for the obese or overly tall. At the moment there is a little plate on my door which reads ‘office’. Apparently I should have a piece of A4 paper saying ‘writer in residence…Dorje Heavey’, I might have to get on to the Screws about that. The previous occupant has left a post-it note with three tips. I wonder if she also left the music too.
I took myself on a quick sticky beak round some of the display cells and I was slightly spooked upon entering a cell displaying the hangman’s chest of tools. In the cosy cell a whispered voice crept up behind me and released a word that I can’t define, such was my amazement at being spooked. It could have been a ‘shush’ or even a ‘Dorje’ I can’t quite recall but I did do a double take and looked around for a tourist or guide to lay the blame on. I was all alone. I hope I hear more of these murmurings, I wouldn’t be averse to seeing something from the spectral plane either.