Families Behind Bars Interview

Families Behind Bars Interview

Families Behind Bars Interview

Families Behind Bars are the real life stories of several families, from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States, who bear horrendous burdens having loved ones detained in foreign prisons. Kay Danes writes from her own experience of being imprisoned in Laos under false charges and includes her own story in the collection.

These stories are real life accounts that can and do happen to ordinary people in our community. Each one is uniquely inspirational, shockingly heartbreaking and will make you appreciate how fragile our lives really are. We are not immune to human rights violations and we cannot afford to take our rights for granted. We may, without any warning, be plunged into a rollercoaster of despair.

Kay Danes is probably best known for her arrest with her husband in Laos under the false charge of jewellery smuggling. Kay and her husband, Kerry were in a Laos prison for a crime they did not commit and spent months behind bars enduring torture in a hellhole prison. She now spends her time supporting people imprisoned in foreign countries and campaigning for the end of the death penalty. She is dedicated to educating people on human rights.

Families Behind Bars
New Holland Publishing
Author: Kay Danes
Price: $29.95

Interview with Kay Danes

Question: What research went into Families Behind Bars?

Kay Danes: Families Behind Bars is based on over a decade of my own personal case work as an advocate for the Foreign Prisoner Support Service. Each story brings forth a snapshot of some of the most tragic cases I've been involved with, both in Australia and throughout the world. During this time, I've built strong relationships with numerous human rights groups and those that provide a vital service to prisoners and their families. I've also worked extensively with foreign security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies in some of the most hostile environments on the planet. So the research that went into this book is extensive and covers a broad range of issues that affect families in specific circumstances, generally crisis situations.

Question: Why did you decide to write Families Behind Bars?

Kay Danes: Following my return home to Australia, having endured almost a year of unlawful detainment in a foreign prison, I began receiving pleas for help from families who had loved ones in prison overseas. All were desperate for answers on how to cope with foreign legal systems and governments that seemingly had no commitment to upholding human rights. I wrote this book for all those families who needed to have their voices heard; and to provide an important point of reference for anyone facing a similar crisis.

This book covers a broad range of topics that impact on whole communities. Most importantly I wanted to remind people that no matter who we are, the principle of rights and justice are worth defending. We are sometimes very quick to judge others. We condemn them before we know the facts or truth about a matter. With arm chair critics a plenty, there will always be varying opinions on a person's guilt or innocence, but what is worth remembering, is that for a society to remain humane and righteous, for the sake of protecting the integrity of society, it becomes vital that a person is dealt with justly, in a fair and transparent way. That the legal, human and civil rights of a human being are stringently defended. After all, the very concept of justice is not about what he said or she said but rather, the moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, and equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.

Question: How did you go about revisiting many of the people serving time in international prisons?

Kay Danes: I travel extensively so it's not that difficult to access prisons. I also have direct communication with many prisoners families who continue to keep me abreast of their situation. I receive letters from prisoners all over the world. At times it is difficult keeping up with it all but I have a great network of support myself, so generally those who support families of prisoners tend to help each other carry the load.

Question: Can you talk about your own experience of being imprisoned in a Laos jail?

Kay Danes: On 23 December 2000, my husband Kerry was abducted by Lao secret police who took him to an undisclosed location, in defiance of International law. There they tried to physically force him to sign a false statement against his client, Gem Mining Lao, a US$2 billion dollar sapphire mining concession. Kerry refused and was beaten. The secret police then detained me, hoping that my arrest may force Kerry's hand. It didn't. The matter escalated into an international incident after it became public that what the Lao secret police were attempting to do was illegal. Our Government and the Lao Government became embroiled in a diplomatic face-saving standoff with each side trying to gain the upper hand. We spent almost a year in a filthy prison wondering if they would succeed in their negotiations.

Our two children, Sahra (11) and Nathan (7), were secreted out of the country following Kerry's disappearance and my subsequent unlawful arrest. The Embassy sent them home to Australia where their older sister Jess (14) was completing senior studies since the International School in Laos only went to year nine. Jess lived with my parents and visited us on school holidays. I had no idea if we'd ever see our children after our abduction. This terrified me more than anything else.

Over the next ten months, Kerry and I endured torture, ill-treatment and mock executions. There were many times when I thought I wouldn't survive but for Kerry who said we just had to. We were forced to witness the endless suffering of many political prisoners who were detained indefinitely without charge. In the cramped confines of the 3 x 3 metre cell I shared with five other inmates inside this place they called a death camp, I lost my freedom and almost my hope.

We knew we were innocent and the Australian Government knew we were innocent. That's why our foreign minister Alexander Downer sent a taskforce to negotiate our release, the first time an entire government had been activated in such a high level way to get its citizens home. Yet for all that, there was no concealing how dismal the situation was for us. If there truly was no hope left, we would have done everything in our power to escape and be reunited with our children. Thankfully, the Australian Government secured our release and we returned home to our three children on 9 November 2001.

Question: How does Families Behind Bars provide hope?

Kay Danes: Hope can mean many different things to many different people. Some hope for good health and prosperity, others simply hope their children will do well in school exams. Most of us hope that bad things won't happen to us or to those we love and, if they do, we hope that despite the difficulties, we will endure. When we experience fear we hope for courage and when we come up against the seemingly impossible, we hope that we can overcome it. Our hopes are often born amidst our darkest moments when we, consciously or unconsciously, take that very first step away from our problems. Hope whispers to us that the struggle we are facing is not hopeless, we just need to trust ourselves to find a way through, whatever it is that is threatening to overwhelm us. Families Behind Bars provides hope - in that each story shows a family's courage and that nothing is impossible if we just believe in our capacity to endure and overcome.

Interview by Brooke Hunter