The steel prison doors clanged open at Broome gaol to let us in. For some reason, prison doors always clang. We were used to the sound. Broom Gaol was the 16th prison that we had played music in, so we had some level of experience.
Every prison is different, so you still have to be on your guard. Broome prison was a low-security gaol, although the high steel perimeter fence and razor wire strategically placed in key areas indicated otherwise.
We were a family band. I (Warwick) played the guitar and sang, my wife played keyboards and sang, and our eldest son, Nathaniel, then 20 years of age, played drums. Our next son, Jonathan, who was going on 19 years at the time, played bass. Levi (then 17) played saxophone, didgeridoo and sang, Israel (then 14) played guitar while Melodie (then eight years old) sang. Our music was an eclectic mix of rock, blues, country, gospel and reggae with a faith-based message of hope and love.
Our mostly original songs seemed to go over well in prisons, considering that the two extremes in music — heavy metal and country — usually predominated. Most prisoners appeared to love our band because we were a family. That is something they didn’t have in their upbringing. Sadly, inmates feel the pain of removal from their families even more so.
According to the social sciences, 70% of prisoners are fatherless in one way or another. That is the reason prisons are known as homes for fatherless men. Watch this inspirational message from a prison warden.
We set up our equipment early, because the prison authorities had invited us to sit down with the prisoners for a meal before the night concert. I noticed a big white guy, covered in tattoos. He had a white singlet on, which revealed his huge guns (muscles). He was 6ft 4” and built like a champion weightlifter.
This man was the prison ‘heavy’. You could just tell. There is always one man who rules the prison, and you never want to get on his wrong side. I made a mental note while tuning my guitar up to keep my distance, and not to sit and eat with him.
So, I got my meal and sat down at a spare table — and guess who sat down next to me? You guessed it, the gaol heavy, 6ft 4” and full of muscle. Already, I was a bit nervous. His first question to me between mouthfuls took my breath away.
“Why does a nice family like you want to come and hang out with scum like us?”
He may not have meant it as such, but it was a trick question, like, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Whichever way I answered it, I would be wrong. If I told him that we loved scum, I would be reinforcing the negative narrative. If I said, no, you are not scum, that would have rung hollow with this extremely honest criminal.
I gulped my food down, swallowed hard and asked him about his own family.
He grew up abused as a child in a broken family without a father. His dad was not there when he needed him. His story of childhood heartbreak made me want to cry.
I told him that he was greatly loved by his Father in Heaven, and that is why we chose to eat with him. I also told him that the Father sent Jesus into the world to prove His love for us. I said to him that scum is a relative word — we are all scum, one way or another. No matter how good we are, we are all imperfect, and we all need encouragement.
My answer seemed to satisfy his inquiring mind. Our presence as a family in the gaol and the message in our music proved the point that he was loved and listened to. He helped us pack up our gear and organised others to help us at the end of the night. His generous smile and the firm way he shook my hand on our departure told me he was more than encouraged.
Celia Lashlie, a former prison manager, had been working with at-risk young children when she was shocked to see recognisable preschool versions of familiar prison characters. She is now famous in New Zealand for a speech in which she stated,
“There is a blond angelic-faced five-year-old sitting in a classroom in New Zealand, and he is coming to prison… on his way, he will probably kill someone.”
Shock headlines hit the TV, radio and newspapers, and Lashlie became a household name for a few weeks, but she has survived it all to write a bestselling book on the topic titled He’ll Be OK — Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men. Here is an extract from Sydney’s Child from the Good Men Project:
‘One of the main project activities has been informal conversations with boys. The information gathered has provided a feast of food for thought. For instance, says Lashlie, it soon became clear that “of all the adult males in an adolescent boy’s life, his father is the least likely to be his chosen role model”. Yet, digging deeper, the same evidence found,
“No matter what he is saying or how he is behaving on the surface, your son is hanging on [his father’s] every word, he is looking to see how a man should act… it doesn’t matter what you actually do together, there is just one thing he wants – dedicated moments of your time…”
The usual reaction you get from your teenage children, and even at times your younger children, is that you as a father are not needed any more; yet, the reverse is the case. Celia Lashlie’s words are indeed a powerful description of the true feelings of your teenage children.
You are important to your children’s future.
To quote Lashlie,
“No matter what he is saying or how he is behaving on the surface, your son is hanging on [his father’s] every word; he is looking to see how a man should act.”
Just make sure that you are there for them,
PS: International Men’s Day is coming up on the 19 November 2023. Only 14 sleeps to go! Paul Withall, from ‘Zerosuicide Community Awareness Program’, will be holding 2500 Empty Shoes Male Suicide Visual Presentation on the lawns of Parliament House, Canberra. It’s all happening on Thursday, 16 November because the Parliamentarians are sitting that day. More info here.