Seeking poetic justice: A reading of Dylan Voller’s prison graffiti

Adelle Sefton-Rowston

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    When Four Corners aired the program ‘Australia’s Shame’ we entered into the prison cells of Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and witnessed through CCTV footage the torture of mostly Aboriginal inmates, enduring a colonial system of controlling and ‘settling’ them down. Images of Dylan Voller under a spit-hood and strapped to a restraint chair are horridly similar to the prison machine in Franz Kafka’s 1914 story: In the Penal Colony. In his story, Kafka’s prison machine is a ‘bed’ where the ‘condemned man is laid face-down naked’ and a marker carves script into the prisoner’s back that is “not easy to decipher with one’s eyes”, but the prisoner can “decipher the words “with his wounds” . One purpose of literary studies is to decipher the cultural markers responsible for humanity’s ‘wounds’ through the study of words or scripts known as texts. Kafka encourages us to read only the texts that wound us; books that allow us to reflect deeply, and with feeling, in order to inspire positive changes to the material world (Winston, 2016). Balla’s poem brings attention again to the treatment of Aboriginal children in Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Her poem suggests there may be a poetic response to such atrocities if one reflects deeply. Recent texts that further expose Australia’s racist penal system and invite critical and creative reflection include, Kim Scott’s Taboo, Paul Collis’ Dancing Home and selected stories from Tony Birch’s Common People. These texts are published not long after the Four Corners exposé, and too inform writing about the treatment of Aboriginal people by white police and prison guards.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)103-116
    Number of pages14
    JournalJunctures: the journal for thematic dialogue
    Issue number20
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


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