Treasures of Darkness - A Prison Journey
Prison was not on the ‘Goal Chart’ of entrepreneur Trish Jenkins. A breach of the Corporations Act meant losing her multi-million dollar portfolio, including her family home.It also meant Trish served eight months in prison.Isolated from her husband and three little girls, living among Queensland’s most dangerous criminals, Trish could have succumbed to despair.But treasure is found in dark places - refusing to give in to self-pity, Trish answered a new calling to make a difference in the lives around her. In doing so, she found a different kind of freedom and healing.Real and raw, these pages are better than a memoir, made up of letters, personal journalling and hindsight.‘I assumed I would be a model prisoner because I was a Christian. So how did I get into so much trouble, so often, although I had the best of intentions?’Like when she was reported escaped…Or setting the alarm off in the officers’ quarters…Or having to explain why the woman she prayed for fell to the floor…Be Inspired – you’ll laugh, cry and shake your head at hilarious stories, tragic circumstances, discouragement, hope and ever-present faith.
It was July, 2009. I lay on my back on the empty prison tennis court gazing up at the sky. It was theonly time in S1 where there was not a cage ceiling above my head. I still remember how blue the skywas. Our 1 hour of exercise time outside was almost up.
The other five women from my unit had already gone back into the block for a cigarette or a colddrink. From a short distance the voices of some Murri (Aboriginal) girls called out to me from theirunit windows facing the court, "Hey, Sista-girl! You ok? Whaddayadoin?"
I waved a lazy hand to them and smiled. I felt the blue sky like I felt the breeze, soaking it in. It hadbeen so long. I reached up swirling my hands in figure eights. I knew I looked crazy but I didn't care.There was no wire, no bars between me and the deep blue sky.
I blinkered my eyes with my fingers to block the wire side fences from my peripheral view. That'sbetter. I imagined I was free. It felt like for once I was cheating the system that so thoroughlycontrolled each area of my life, covering me in greyness.
I was six months into an eight month sentence. Each day felt like a week, each week like a month.This particular stint in S1 was supposed to be a punishment for an incident that got me kicked out ofthe minimum security facility known as Helena Jones Community Centre at Albion in the heart ofBrisbane. Instead, S1 was a relief. The conditions were Spartan but felt more like a spiritual retreatgiving my shattered nerves rest.
The women I shared a unit with were supposed to be the worst, but I found them very easy to getalong with. How sad to be in a category where you are considered bad even by prison standards!How much rejection can a person take?
I liked these women better than the catty ones who acted superior. These ones didn't have to provehow tough they were. They didn't get caught up in politics or nasty backstabbing. They called a spadea spade; well actually, they called a spade a #$%&* spade, but I hardly noticed. I just saw preciouswomen being their kind of normal.
They thought I was a bit odd but harmless. I was a "one-eighty-straighty," (both morally and socially).I didn't swear, didn't "swing," was "nice," and one of them "real" Christians; possibly misguided butwell-intentioned. They indulged me. I liked them.Perhaps I was seeing them the way God sees them?
If someone had told me in January 2009 that less than two years later I would be on a platformspeaking to 500 people about my prison experience I would have blinked in bewilderment.
Yet that public "outing" was just the beginning.
I'd been so ashamed I didn't want anyone to know of my failure.
Imagine the worst thing you've ever done, the thing you are most ashamed of, eternally available forthe public with just one click on Google!
The loss of personal freedom and dignity affects people differently. For some, prison is an escapefrom the perils of a violent home or even homelessness. For others it is where they catch up with friends, who lead an equally lawless lifestyle. For many, it is just plain damaging.
When asked about what being in prison is like, I sometimes wonder which answer to give. I spenteight months incarcerated and had a variety of locations, people and experiences. I was "managed"by people of questionable competence. It was awful and yet there were times of sublime joy eachtime I had a victory over the evil that pervaded.
It took time and ministry to heal from the emotional and mental hits I took. However, I wasdetermined not to be beaten. There were times I despaired; an insidious voice taunted me, telling meI had ruined my future and was irreparably damaged, my children would have hang-ups, and I hadbecome preaching material for pious ministers to use.
Yet in the back of my mind I always had hope. Sure I would dip into despair, tears and anger.However, what kept me rising again was my faith in God being able to make all things work togetherfor good. My experience would not be wasted, unless I gave up.
The decision to go public was not easily made but I was convinced it was the right one. I had my firstbook to publish and couldn't do it without people finding out.
My pride became less important than my message.
The feedback from "Dangerous Wealth," (a book on financial and romantic fraud signals and bounceback), was very positive but people also wanted to know how I coped with my prison experience.
This isn't a simplistic "how to" self-help book. I actually had to do what was needed to help myself. Ifthat gives you some keys for your life, then that's even better.
One thing I know. I choose what that experience means for my life. My perspective dictates mysuccess.
You can change the past and free your future – I did!
This book is made up of three things.
1) Letters I wrote home, which my husband Justin then typed out and emailed to our friends, mostof whom were from church, but also some beautiful non-church, non-Christian friends. It turns outsome of those friends forwarded the emails to other friends who then requested to be on Justin's list.By the time I was released the email updates were going out to 100 people and beyond.
These letters helped keep me sane. As events unfolded I would consider how I would describe themfor my readers. I wasn't there just for me. I was there for them, for you. I was not going to waste thetime God had given me there. In spite of persecution from some staff and prisoners, I had a purpose.I made a difference. I couldn’t turn my back on the lowliest woman for fear of what others thought.
As it was, one of my letters got me kicked out of the Helena Jones minimum security facility and backto the Big House three months before my discharge!
2) Journal entries of private thoughts and experiences. I couldn't post these as my mail was readby prison officials. It's interesting to compare what I let people know about at the time, with whatwas going on behind the scenes.
3) Hindsight comments are italicised. It was a year before I could look at my letters again. I stillfind it hard to believe the journey. I look back and see things that happened from a differentperspective now. I alternately want to shout a warning; or reach out and hug the naive, yet bravelittle person I was in prison. Sometimes when you are in a situation, you don't realise how perilous itis.
Revisiting the memories made the nightmares return for a while. I was told I had Post TraumaticStress Disorder and that there is no cure. I refused to believe it.
This is my prison experience, raw and real. As such you may find it uncomfortable at times. You mayfind it weird that I would draw on spiritual strength with such conviction. Even some believers mayshudder that I shared my faith in such a hostile environment.
To the Christian I say, "If you are facing adversity and can afford to backslide, your adversity is notbad enough."
My situation was too serious to go through without my God.
Don't think this meant I was a perfect Christian in there.
I wasn't like biblical Joseph in ancient Egypt. I wasn't Corrie Ten Boom, ever forgiving the guards in aNazi prison. I lost my cool occasionally. I did not act very "Christian" at times. I was living among somevery nasty, small minded, unsavoury characters... and then there were the prisoners...
There is a misconception that non-violent offenders are kept away from the really bad offenders. It'snot true. Apart from those in S10, a secure block referred to as "Protection" (accommodating expolice officers, child abusers, those with enemies), everyone is lumped together until they are"classified." This can take months, although it isn't supposed to. I lived with murderers, thieves, drugaddicts, prostitutes and more. But I often felt the presence of God with me. I was not alone andbelieved (because I had to) that my journey would result in a greater purpose.
Now I use my story to impart life, purpose and hope into the lives of others.
Prison is a horrible experience regardless of whether your prison is made of bricks and razor wire ormade of your attitude and life circumstances.
True freedom is a precious thing.
I just ask that you keep an open mind as you journey with me. Perhaps you will gain strength andmaybe some faith of your own..?