Ha! This is a funny story.
Adam and I moved to this town seven years ago. I was lonely and aimless and had a hard time finding my place in the community, and as a post-graduate university student. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so instead of sitting down and figuring it out like a big girl, I decided to flee the country.
My friend Katelyn and I planned a four month trip down under. We spent two months traveling down the East Coast of Australia, surfing, swimming, backpacking and making our way through each and every seedy little hostel on the coast.
Then we ran out of money. We were in Melbourne at this point, staying in an area called St. Kildas. It was two weeks before Christmas and no one would hire us (especially since my only marketable skills were data entry and babysitting), and so we made the decision to fly to Perth, on Australia’s West Coast. Hoping that work would be easier to find there.
We ended up in a small town called Cottesloe Beach and landed a job bartending, despite both of us lacking the most basic of bartending/serving/hospitality experience. Our uniform was a tiny button up black tee shirt, black shorts and black shoes. They issued the shirt, we had to provide the shorts and the shoes.
I bought the cheapest pair I could find, some sort of payless $10 nonsense, because we still had no money. I think they were originally checkered or something, because I remember colouring them all black with a sharpie.
Internets, I cried before every single shift I worked in that bar. It had three levels and you started at the bottom (the trashy bar frequented by backpackers and old men) and if you were good enough you got to work at the middle bar, and eventually you went to top bar, which was super classy (we never made it to top bar, obviously).
Anyway, the lower bar had all these old hillbilly men who delighted in tormenting fresh meat. Between their thick aussie accents, the strange nicknames they had for drinks and beer, and the fact that I knew how to make exactly one drink (vodka, water, lime juice), I was fuuuucked.
I tried to compensate for my incompetence by working longer and harder than anyone else, sometimes 10-12 hour shifts. In my shitty payless shoes. They were either too big or too small, because every step I took jammed my toes into the front of the shoe. On my breaks I would go to the bathroom, cry, and massage my feet.
Then my nails started turning black. Oh shit. Then I worked a 10 hour shift on Christmas eve and could barely hobble next door to the hostel afterwards. Double oh shit.
Then it was December 27, my birthday! Katelyn and I had already planned to go on a midnight tour of nearby Freemantle Prison. If this seems like a strange way to spend your 24th birthday, let me explain that I’ve long been fascinated by prisons and jails and criminals.
It’s why I ended up with a degree in Sociology, and a concentration in Deviance and Social Control. I think its endlessly fascinating why we choose to lock up who we do, and the institutions we build to house those we deem criminal. There’s also the voyeuristic aspect of looking into a cell that someone has lived in 23 hours a day for most of their adult life.
So we are getting ready to go get the bus that will take us to the train that will take us to Freemantle, and I can’t walk. Like, I’m in so much pain that I’m crying. But I desperately wanted to go on this tour, I’d been looking forward to it for weeks and it was the only bright spot in my broke, dirty backpacker existence.
I needed to go.
I hobbled part of the way, I think Katelyn piggybacked me the rest. And when we got to the prison there was a row of wheelchairs lined up against the back wall. Katelyn declared me disabled, took one and away we went.
We saw the prison build by the prisoners themselves, brick by brick. We saw the cell covered in railroad ties in an attempt to foil the numerous escape attempts by one particularly perseverant convict.
We stared in heartbroken awe at the cell covered floor to ceiling with paintings of wide open spaces – fields, oceans- a life’s work. We stood (sat) silently in the room where the gallows stood. The room where 42 men breathed their last breath.
I bought a tiny flashlight as a memento of this torchlight tour. A month later my toenails turned white, and two weeks after I came home, they came off completely.
So, long story short, that’s why I was pushed around an Australian prison in a wheelchair.
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