When someone is wrongfully imprisoned, there are many hidden victims. It’s not only the convicted person who does the time, whose life gets put on hold and turned upside down, it’s every member of their family too.
So even if some people don’t care about the person in prison, they need to know, and remember that the collateral damage is very real and is just as, if not more, devastating. And, it’s totally unacceptable.
Photo: Alexis Keogh and father, Yatala Prison 2010
My name is Alexis. I am the youngest daughter of Henry Keogh, who has been in prison in South Australia for 15 years – convicted & imprisoned not just for a murder he didn’t commit, but for a murder that never even happened. It has been known for a very long time now there were grave mistakes; but what has the system done?
Ignored us, then fobbed us off in a multitude of shabby & dishonest ways, misled or even lied to the courts, the media, the parliament & public & it continues to ignore us year after year.
Are you aware that Australia does not have any legal review procedure once a person has been convicted and has had an unsuccessful appeal? Even where there is compelling evidence of innocence, the court of appeal cannot reopen the appeal and the High Court will not receive the evidence.
My dad has been in jail for 15 years for a crime he did not commit and year after year we have been ignored by those in power to correct their mistake. Ann Bressington MLC has just (November 2010) introduced a private Member’s Bill into the South Australian Parliament for the introduction of a review committee. Please read the about section on my cause page: http://www.causes.com/causes/539113
In Britain, they established a CCRC in 1997 which has led to the overturning of convictions in some 300 cases out of 464 reviewed. Of those, around 50 were murder cases and 4 involved people who had been hanged. The review of cases is completely independent of Parliament, the Government, the Crown and the Defence.
A CCRC subjects cases to a robust and thoroughly impartial review to consider whether there is new evidence or argument that may cast doubt on the safety of an original decision. But, as it stands here in Australia, the people in power who can, and are supposed to, put these things right:
- Don’t want to know, or won’t talk to you;
- Simply won’t accept that a mistake has been made; and
- Seem to lack the courage, any compassion and perhaps the integrity to correct a wrong no matter how obvious it may be.
My dad is not an isolated case, proving the point if it can happen once, it can happen again and again.
What I want to know, and what everyone should want to know, is exactly what our political leaders, who have a statutory and moral duty to protect ALL citizens, are going to do to right this wrong & more importantly prevent this from happening again.
Too many politicians hide behind the cliché’: the system isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got.” Well there are many eminent legal, forensic & medical experts who are telling us that our application & execution of the justice system isn’t the best. In fact, it’s far from it. I am so sick of the same old hollow rhetoric that just buys time or fills a snappy little sound bite. Surely as a democratic community we deserve some honest & meaningful answers, followed up with real and immediate action?
I refuse to be fobbed off anymore by the usual cliché’ cop outs, such as “the system gets it right more often that it gets it wrong” Seriously, is that really supposed to be good enough? After 15 years fighting for my dad I say NO. I wish our leaders would remember and use this cliché: “Evil prevails when good men do nothing.”
Another predictable gem that gets trotted out with nauseating regularity is “Well the accused was judged by their peers and found to be guilty”. Surely that or any other judgement by one’s peers can only be fair, just, and reliable when the evidence presented to them is honest and factual. And in my dad’s matter, that just wasn’t the case. It wasn’t even close.
Once you’re caught up in the criminal justice system the price paid to prove your innocence is almost beyond belief:
- Long before my dad was even convicted, he was vilified by the media because of the distortions, half-truths and outright lies that were fed to them.
- I and my family have been alienated, snubbed and often cruelly ostracized simply because of association.
- My dad was separated from my sisters and I so effectively and he’s now missed out on 15 years of growing up he never got to share or enjoy. My older sister walked herself down the aisle on her wedding day.
- It’s a battle for my dad every day, against frustration, anger, despair, mindless bureaucracy, violence and brutalisation trying to grind him down physically and emotionally.
From day one, dad was treated as less than a person. He’s been stripped of his dignity, his privacy and any meaningful control or say over his life. While many guards and managers are decent and humane, I know there are more than enough petty and spiteful ones who make it far worse that they need to.
Incarceration is much, much more that just losing your freedom or being confined to an institution:
- It’s being handcuffed, herded around like cattle and abused
- Its countless indignities to yourself and worse, your family.
- Family contact is mostly limited to a hug and a kiss at the start of a 45 minute visit and another when someone yells ‘Time’s up!”
- Every phone call is monitored and recorded
- Every personal letter is opened and inspected.
- It’s being locked in a cell 2.5m x 3.5m for up to seventeen and a half (or more) hours a day
- It’s emptying your bowels 3 feet from your cellmate or in front of a camera.
- It’s strip searches at any time, several times a day.
- Its cell searches at any time, with ad-hoc confiscations a way of life.
- It’s non-smokers being celled up with smokers and being told “too bad, just deal with it”
- It’s inconsistent and hypocritical enforcement of ‘the rules’.
- It’s having even the most minor infractions being punished arbitrarily & without proper process.
- Its wanting to scream at the many injustices that no one else seems to care about.
- It’s wanting to weep for everything you’ve lost and everything you have to endure.
- It’s learning contempt, distrust and how to hate, which try to eat away at your humanity
- And it’s wanting to curl into a ball and give up.
That’s how the system operates. It crushes and consumes you by outlasting you. Once the system swallows you up, time is on their side. You have no voice, no power, and no value. You’re invisible.
My dad’s fortunate to have a loyal and loving family and other committed supports who haven’t let him give up hope or fighting, no matter how difficult the bureaucrats try to make it for us. I try to keep in mind the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you. And then they fight you. But then, you win!”
We need to constantly remind ourselves that this or any other system is not some amorphous, faceless entity that can’t be taken to task…unless we allow it. It’s made up of actual people who have real & specific responsibilities and obligations to ALL of us and when they don’t live up to their sworn duties they do serious damage to individuals, families and the community as a whole.
Please show your support by joining and inviting your friends to the Facebook cause for the establishment of a CCRC. (http://www.causes.com/causes/539113 ).
Please talk about it at your workplace, with your families, write about it in your blogs, call up talkback radio or email members of the Legislative Council – anything to support the Bill.
On Saturday 30 October 2010, ABC Radio National’s “Saturday Extra” ran a segment interviewing Bob Moles about the need for a Criminal Cases Review Commission in Australia. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/saturdayextra/
Photo: Alexis and her dad, Henry, at Yatala Prison at Easter 2010.