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To be so helpless is what tortures your mind
The Daily Telegraph - Edition 1 - State SAT 04 JUN 2005 - By CINDY WOCKNER

Caption: Healing experience: Kay Danes, who was
jailed in Laos, now champions the rights
of other prisoners

Verdict: shocked Schapelle Corby

Ordeal: Kerry and Kay Danes arrive at court wearing prison clothes in 2001
Kay Danes knows first-hand what Schapelle Corby is going through, writes CINDY WOCKNER in Bali

One week ago, as Kay Danes sat in the Denpasar District Court and watched the extraordinary drama as Schapelle Corby was declared guilty, it all came flooding back to her.

She was one of the few people in the crowded room who really knew how Corby was feeling at that terrible moment.

Four years earlier, the 37-year-old Brisbane woman and her husband Kerry sat in a court in Laos and listened as the couple were convicted, after a four-hour trial during which they could not even present a defence case, of embezzlement, tax evasion and gem smuggling and sentenced to seven years' jail.

"Everything just flashed back,'' she says. "Mine was a similar scene, three judges sitting in front, that feeling when all you can do is look and shake your head.'' "You can't do anything, you can't change anything,'' Danes says of observing at close quarters the conviction of another woman by a foreign court system.

She was not tearful as she watched Corby react to the guilty verdict and 20-year sentence, but experienced a weird feeling of detached understanding.

"It is like you have been there before, it is like looking from somewhere else, you are not actually part of the whole thing,'' she says.

But more anxiety-ridden than being in the court last week was Danes' first visit to Bali's Kerobokan jail. Her palms were sweaty but she found it a healing experience.

Coming to Bali for the Corby verdict was the first time Danes has been back to South-East Asia since the couple's negotiated release in 2001, through a series of diplomatic channels involving negotiation between the Australian and Laotian governments, and the first time since her incarceration that she has set foot in an Asian prison. The couple have always maintained their innocence.

"My palms were sweaty the whole time I was there. It was like a journey. Even though I went there to see other people, it was still healing for me. I got a lot out of that visit. I felt like a big weight had been lifted off me.

"I felt happy, like I had passed some milestone. I don't have to wonder any more what it (being in an Asian jail) will feel like,'' Danes told The Saturday Daily Telegraph.

She says she had visited a Perth prison but this did not evoke the same feelings of fear and anxiety as entering the wooden doors of Kerobokan. This is partly because an Australian prison is clean when compared with Asian prisons and the one she inhabited for 10 months, which is even more primitive than Bali's.

Danes was in Bali as part of her work as a human rights advocate with the Foreign Prisoner Support Services, an internet-based service which aims to assist foreigners held in prisons outside their home country. She and another Brisbane man help to administer the service voluntarily and with no support from the Government.

Her quest to help others in jail, be they innocent or guilty, stemmed from a vow she made before leaving Laos in November 2001.

"I made a promise to those left behind, like the political prisoners, that I would try and lobby for their cases and for political prisoners detained all over the world. That's when I came across the website,'' Danes says.

Since then the website has been flooded with e-mails from all over the world, including from the parents and families of other Australians detained in foreign jails.

People like the Lithgow relatives of 41-year-old Stephen John Sutton, who has been detained in Argentina since 2003 but has never been to court and is accused of involvement in a cocaine ring. Recently a friend of Sutton wrote to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer asking why the same Government assistance afforded to Corby had not been extended to other Australians, like Sutton, for whom there had been no media publicity.

The letter suggested that when public pressure is intense, the Government reacts but sits on its hands when the pressure comes from only a small group.

It is people like Sutton and another Australian detained in Kazakhstan without charge who also need help, Danes says.

These people have mothers and fathers and people who care about them as well.

On this visit to Bali, Danes did not have an opportunity to meet with any of the Bali Nine but says watching the mother of Renae Lawrence during a television interview moved her to tears.

"I sat down in my lounge room crying watching it. The families deserve some consideration, they are not the ones who strapped the heroin to their body ...'' When Danes visited Kerobokan prison this week she did not meet with Corby but met with other foreigners there -- Britons, Americans and a man from Sierra Leone who had received a life sentence for drugs and who, on appeal, has had his sentence increased to death by firing squad.

"I gave him a bar of soap. He was so emotional and so grateful,'' she says.

"People like this man tend to feel forgotten by the world and have no one to visit or bring them the necessities of life,'' says Danes.

"They already know that they have done a wrong thing and that they are a bad person, so they have been turned away by society. This is the perception ... that they are worthless. When a person feels like that, how can they ever get up from that? They go to their grave believing that no one cares.'' She says prisoners jailed in foreign countries suffer terribly by not speaking the language and endure the awful emotional torture of not knowing what the future holds.

She says these are the feelings which Corby, the Bali Nine and all the other foreign prisoners worldwide live with every day.

In her case, Danes knew prisoners around her were being tortured and every day she lived with the terror of thinking she would be next.

"People around you are being tortured and you don't know, is it going to be me tomorrow? I imagine it would be the same if you are on death row. You just don't know when you are going to be shot.

"When you hear the sound of that heavy metal door opening, your heart just jumps from your chest -- is it now, is it going to happen now? You imagine living like that until you walk out the door and go home. You live like that every single day. "To be helpless, to be completely helpless, that's what tortures your mind. That feeling that you can't change what is happening to you, you can't do anything about it.'' Danes says what tortured her emotionally was that her lawyer told her 19 times that she was going home. In the February he looked her in the eye and told her she would be going home the next day.

She didn't and on that weekend she says she almost committed suicide. Now she has turned her experience into a positive to help others.

And as Australians erupt in fury over the Corby verdict, she urges them to remember their many other countrymen detained in jails all over the world.

Illus: Photo - BIOG: Kay Danes, Kerry Danes - reprint for non profit educational and news reporting use only.

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