It was one of those moments…

It was one of those moments, when you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing, and look again to make sure.


Your mind stands still and doesn’t really want to comprehend what it has just encountered. And the vision stays with you, even weeks later.


I’m not talking about a child being beaten or any of the many horrors that we might have to witness from time to time. I’m talking about seeing a human being in chains. Not the chains used in the practice of escapology, but chains used to restrain.


I had turned up at a public hospital for my appointment with the eye specialist, a check-up following a temporary loss of vision in part of one eye (very scary!). Nearly an hour had passed and I was becoming frustrated at the length of time I’d had to wait after arriving on schedule at 9.30am. There were probably fifty people filling the seats, all arriving when they’d been told and all just waiting: some watched the television, its images mouthing words that couldn’t be heard, some chatted to the person next to them, some just sat, staring blankly towards the doctor’s room in anticipation, and every so often some would chase down a nurse to complain. All par for the course at a public hospital.


While reading the newspaper I was alerted to a different form of chatter, and a different sound. I looked up. From the corridor came two policemen, in uniform, each holding the arm of a tall, skinny man, dressed entirely in green: dark green shirt, shorts, and socks. I didn’t get as far down as the shoes as all I could see was a chain tied around both ankles. He shuffled along past me in my seat and my mind stood still. What? How can this be?


I have never seen anyone in chains before. On the big screen, yes, but never in real life. I was numbingly shocked. My name was called out and I went into the nurse’s room for various tests before seeing the specialist. Next door I could hear the chained man telling the doctor his problems. I couldn’t make out the exact conversation but it sounded as if he’d been hit in the eye, and his sight had been affected.


After finishing with the nurse I went back to the waiting room and all I could think of was seeing a man in chains. A few minutes passed and the chained man was taken back from whence he came. Then, two more police arrived, this time wheeling another all-green-clad bloke into one of the doctors’ rooms. He was in a wheel chair and one of his eyes was badly swollen and black. He wore no chains.


I was intrigued as to why they weren’t sitting in the general public waiting room along with us mere mortals, so I walked out into the corridor and was confronted with a very sad and sorry sight. There were eight police (who I was subsequently told were prison officers) each carrying guns and batons, standing together chatting and laughing while their three prisoners all sat completely separated and alone – with their heads bowed down low, looking very depressed. I didn’t like to stare, but noticed when the third prisoner was marched into the doctor’s room a little while later that he was a much older man who, maybe, had been incarcerated all his life.


This whole experience left me shocked and saddened. Here they were, three people who had committed a crime of some sort, being allowed out for the morning into a world perhaps long forgotten and one they might never see again, and a world that, generally, doesn’t give a damn.


It never entered my mind as to what they had done to deserve such a terrible fate, to be behind prison walls, but I certainly did wonder how long it had been since they’d tasted freedom, and what emotions they were feeling seeing all of us in the waiting room – free to come and go as we pleased. And I also wondered about their families and how, with their loved ones in prison, it had affected their lives.


I left the hospital a while later, being reassured that my eye was now fine, and I was extremely grateful.


Most of all though, I was grateful that I was able to walk out of that hospital, both legs striding as they pleased, and free. Free to do anything I wanted, at any time, in any place. And free of the restrictions imposed on the chain-around-the-ankle man in green.


About Jan Courtin

A Bloods tragic since first game at Lake Oval in 1948. Moved interstate to Sydney to be closer to beloved Swans in 1998. My book "My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans" was launched by the Swans at their headquarters at the SCG in August 2016.


  1. Our liberation we take as a given
    Our opportunities each day of livin’
    Are seen by us as a right from birth
    But no, they’re a luxury on this earth.
    And our circumstances and education
    Give us more choices than many in this nation.

  2. Very profound, Jude! Cheer cheer

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