It’s both the film maker’s gift and curse to spend so many hours editing footage of people. Eventually their stories, actions and behaviour become so familiar that they seem never to stray from one’s thoughts. And their love stories follow.
We’ve made films before about refugees, homeless people, children under threat and a range of other social issues. But there’s something about prison and crime that touches us in a different way. The thoughts of our subjects revolve around the multiplicity of horrors afflicting prisoners. They are often the most disadvantaged in society. In large part prisoners carry with them legacies of poverty, childhood abuse, mental health issues and addiction problems. Others simply had a bad moment and are paying for it.
Whatever the context, the convict is ejected from society, their job, and often from their own friends and family. They are dumped into what the French philosopher Michael Foucault referred to as ‘one of the hidden regions of our social system, one of the dark zones of our life’.
Prisoners’ loved ones
If prisons are one of the hidden regions, then prisoners are phantasms walking through them. Perhaps even more hidden away are the prisoners’ loved ones. Prisoners have sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Many have wives, husbands and children, yet their fate gets almost no consideration.
Marcus and Karoline are two such loved ones who have spent years waiting on the outside for the release of “Michael”, Karoline’s husband, Marcus’s mate. They bravely came forward to talk for Injustice. Listening to Karoline in the editing suite, it feels like she’s cutting my soul as much as I’m cutting the interview footage. To hear of the letter she wrote to her then boyfriend on entering prison to tell him she will not leave him is crushing. When Karoline visited Michael in prison for the first time, he told her: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”. Karoline replied “Don’t worry, I told you I will stay with you, I love you so much”.
To witness such love, such dedication, such selflessness is as heart-warming as it is traumatic. Michael protested his innocence, but as is too often the case, once he was found guilty others sought to capitalise on his conviction. This intensified the already unbearable burden of prison, and piled pressure on Karoline as he was shifted around the country.
Abuse beyond crime
Beyond the usual pain and suffering inflicted on the prisoner’s loved ones, as if they were culpable themselves, associates of Michael’s alleged victim rewarded Karoline’s love with threats to her safety. She had to flee her home and go into hiding. The film explains the further traumas she suffered.
The point here is that she deserves no suffering, poverty, homelessness or fear. Her commitment, her unbreakable love for Michael, is something that I can’t imagine many people on this planet would be able to go through. But there are no awards, there’s no recognition. Along with the thousands of other families supporting their loved ones, she remains a forgotten soul fighting her own struggle and suffering her own torment.
I wonder how she would have coped without Michael’s friend, Marcus, a lovely, decent man, himself. He has that intensity one only really sees in someone suffering injustice, yet remains patient, loving and supportive.
The price of love
The experience made me reflect on my own experience and the suffering of my own family and especially my partner. My mother, brother, and the mother of my children heard the words “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” so many times. Yet I’m not sure I spoke them to my partner, who stuck by me for every minute of my trial, conviction and the life destruction that followed in its wake.
I reflected on Michael in prison: thoughts of Karoline not being there when he gets out must consume his every waking moment. I thought about Karoline’s worries for Michael and how prison will impact on him.
Left considering the differences between custodial and non-custodial sentences, I was almost jealous of Michael. Although imagining Karoline’s suffering must torture him, he doesn’t have to witness the impact his imprisonment had on her.
My own partner stood by me quietly, seeking no support from friends or family. The strength she gave me staved off suicide, just. I was there to watch the catastrophic destruction wrought upon her: I had to see the sad suffering in her eyes, and the pain of her knowing my case inside out. She watched a court case in which reality seemed to have taken on the disease that has so afflicted Donald Trump. I witnessed the heartbreak when she stood next to me to observe the remnants of my life systematically destroyed by people who knew next to nothing of me or my case but saw a scapegoat to use. In return, she witnessed me broken inside and out, every second of it.
Why do loved ones stay?
This led me to wonder whether not seeing the effects of conviction helps or not. I can’t measure the love my partner has for me to have gone through so much without blinking. I used to say “I have no choice, you do, you can walk away but you choose to stay”. Why do other halves choose to stay? Perhaps it has something to do with them knowing the real person rather than the convict or the media caricature. It seems in every sense to be the purest love. The one that mystical, romantic force rather than material gain, personal advantage or even the simplicity of a comfortable life, drives.
How will people understand other halves in the film? As people duped and manipulated for their love? Or as the ones who best know the real person and therefore a better judge than a judge. Time will tell. What we did agree after the interview is that if nobody is to care for the families and loved ones, we must strived to create support networks ourselves. We’re talking to people about how to do this now.