Raphaela Rosella (2nd place)

  • When my teenage identical twin told me she was pregnant. I was angry; I called her a ‘slut’ & told her to get an abortion. I thought she could have a ‘better life’. But what is a better life? It was a path we were all expected to take. For many of my friends, becoming a parent young was not a ‘failure of planning’, but instead a tacit response to the choices & opportunities available to us. For the past 8 years my sister has struggled with an addiction to ‘Ice’ (Crystal Meth). Here a Jim Beam bottle sits wedged in a plaster wall of my sisters home. The bottle was thrown at the wall by my sister during an ‘Ice’ fuelled argument with her boyfriend. Heavily pregnant, my sister was raided & charged with commercial supply of a prohibited substance. A charge that carries a 10 years to life sentence. Over a year later, her charges were dropped the day before court because of a technicality in paperwork (2015).

  • I remember Nunjul from my childhood, she was always reserved – she didn’t talk much, and wore a patch over her lazy eye. She didn’t live with her parents; she was placed in foster care before her mother passed away. Every second week, Nunjul and her sister would stay with a family in my neighbourhood – respite care from their main foster family. I started photographing Nunjul in 2012 when she was 18 years old and her son BJ was two. In November 2011 The Department of Community Services (DoCS) removed BJ from Nunjul’s custody because she was in a violent relationship with his father. To end the relationship, Nunjul made the decision to move away from her hometown. Rather than being supported in the decision to leave an abusive and unhealthy environment, she describes DoCS reaction to her move as an ‘inconvenience’ for the department (2012).

  • I went to school with Tammara. Her mum was strict, and my friends and I bullied her because of her frizzy hair. She left high school early, and had her first baby, followed by a second soon after. She wasn’t in a good place; depression, substance use and a turbulent relationship resulted in the removal of her first two children. She admits at that stage in her life, she had given up. I started visiting Tammara during her third pregnancy with her new partner. She was a part of our previous project ‘We met a little early, but I get to love you longer’ (2011). Although Tammara had moved interstate, her circumstances were now even more complex. Pregnant, homeless, and in a relationship with a partner waiting to be sentenced to jail, I wondered whether this baby would be the catalyst for change in her life. One year on, we celebrated Tamika’s first birthday, and one year of Tammara no longer using substances (2012).

  • The relationship I have with Rowrow is special. We met as teenagers at a hotel in Armidale and have been close friends ever since. A community arts organisation brought us together for a project – we were both participants. Trapped in cycles of bureaucratic violence imposed by service providers, Rowrow tries her best to overcome the overwhelming levels of grief, loss and trauma caused by on-going colonisation in her community. Instead of addressing trauma related symptoms with holistic culturally informed trauma integrated approaches, our current so called justice system criminalises women because of their experiences of multiple and intergenerational forms of trauma, including trauma resulting from the structural forces of racism and poverty (Kilroy 2018). I’ve now lost count the amount of times Rowrow has been incarcerated. She recently told me it’s been 11 times (2012).

  • Tricia and Troy lay with their three-day-old baby girl Ty-Leta (2015).

  • Using a static channel on a television as a source of light for her bedroom, Tricia breastfeeds her baby daughter Ty-leta. Her partner Troy was in and out of jail during her pregnancy. He’d often call her daily and send her love letters and baby name suggestions. He was again serving time when this photo was taken. We both sat and breastfed our babies while we talked about Troy and his time in jail. Troy once told me that he’s only spent 3 birthdays outside of jail since the age of 9 and was turning 30 soon (2016).

  • “He’s like a gentleman. He’s not like any of the other fulla’s around here”. Tricia describes her boyfriend Troy (2014).

  • A portrait of Tricia swimming in the Gwydir River (2019).

  • Rowrow holds her two day old son John. Rowrow was incarcerated at eight months pregnant due to breaching an Apprehended Violence Order between her and her partner. Two days later with tears and in eyes and breast full of milk Rowrow was handcuffed and transported back to prison without him. The next morning baby John and I travelled 8 hours by train to Moree so he could be with family. Seven weeks later, in a gesture of cruelty only bureaucracy could invent, Rowrow was released early on bail. The love, care and dedication shown by Rowrow’s parents, grandparents and sisters to help raise her children has been immeasurable (2017).

  • Laurinda stands in her backyard (2014).

You'll Know It When You Feel It

It’s hard to celebrate a birth when you know what’s coming. Still, Rowrow smiled as she lay in a hospital bed, 38-weeks pregnant with her fourth child. Her green prison uniform sat carefully folded next to her. Two corrective service officers hovered nearby. At 9:20pm we heard his first cries. Four days later with tears in her eyes and breasts full of milk, Rowrow was handcuffed and transported back to prison without him. The next morning my newborn godson and I travelled 8 hours by train so he could be with family. Seven weeks later, in a gesture of cruelty only bureaucracy could invent, Rowrow was released early on bail.

I never imagined my girlfriends would be incarcerated. Growing up it was usually our boyfriends. Having grown up within a heavily policed, low socio-economic community in a social setting where the majority of my friends and family became mothers much younger than what is considered ‘normal’, my initial collaborations sought to explore the experiences of young motherhood alongside my identical twin, step-sister and new and old friends. Yet, in recent years, our lives have increasingly intersected with the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) – sometimes in violent and explicit ways, prompting the project to move towards what it is today. As such, I have spent over a decade co-creating photo-based projects alongside several women in my life to highlight the intimate dimensions of our lived experiences and unveil the interlocking structural systems, institutions, biased media representations and violent histories that maintain the PIC.

Blending state issued documents, love letters from prison, photography, moving image, ephemera and a soundscape of monitored phone calls, our aim now is to co-create a large scale installation that challenges bureaucratic records (case files and criminal records etc.) that pervade our lives by presenting everyday stories of women’s connectedness, agency, belonging and kinship.

This project requires approaches to co-creation that resist re-traumatisation, directly challenges stereotypical representations expressed by co-creators and provides a more culturally safe and socially engaged approach to long-form documentary practice. Therefore, the Philip Jones Griffiths Award would provide us with the support necessary to partner with prison advocacy and trauma recovery organisations Sisters Inside and We Al-Li to deliver trauma integrated storytelling workshops alongside co-creators and their families.

Co-creators will be supported to make sense of their stories and push boundaries in storytelling on their own terms. Utilising relentless bureaucratic records and poetic visual languages, we will draw on institutional symbols of oppression and dehumanisation, and the agency of co-creators to discover innovative approaches to challenge the system, make new work and thrive beyond structural forms of oppression. The installation will be designed to encourage open engagement and deep listening, moving audiences beyond the rhetoric of victimhood, dysfunction and othering. As such, co-creators will lead a dialogue that is often about them, instead of alongside them.