Chapter 11.    Assessment

The real punishment of incarceration is not just confinement in a building or a cell. It is the total lack of control over anything that you do. And those who inflict the punishment seem to glory in keeping their captives uninformed about what to expect. Prisoners are rarely tortured in Western prisons; and most of their basic needs are met. So if the general public is to be kept in awe of the penal code, they must be kept there through fear of the unknown.

Diane was not consulted about her wishes or plans with regard to the totally unexpected announcement by the magistrate. The fact that she was already free on bail meant nothing when it crossed the magistrate's mind that she could be under the influence of a dangerous cult. She was given no opportunity to bid farewell to her husband, child, or friends. She was not allowed to pack anything to take with her. She was not even told where she would be taken. It took several phone calls for Juan to work out where he could visit her, and to learn how he could go about doing that. Visiting hours were limited to one person for one hour per day. Because she was on remand, she actually had fewer privileges than long term prisoners.

Diane may have been allowed legal advice with regard to what she should or should not say in court, but no such rights existed (or at least she was never informed of them) with regard to what she should or should not say to the court-appointed psychologist. Her fate hung on his assessment of her, and yet there was little in the law to say how he should or should not carry out his duties in making that assessment.

Diane prayed almost constantly during her first day in custody. She felt totally bewildered as she was moved from place to place, and then left for hours in various empty rooms while paperwork and other mysterious formalities were being carried out just beyond her line of vision. She missed Juan's support, and worried about Sean missing hers. There were so many questions that needed to be answered, but no one was available to even hear them. A couple of times she tried to approach one of her captors, but each time she was met with a rebuff: "You'll be told when we know ourselves." "Just sit tight and wait."

Because her case had not been dealt with until late in the afternoon, it was nearly 7pm before she was actually in a cell at Mulawa Women's Prison in Sydney's western suburbs. By then it was too late for the evening meal. She was forced to wait until the next morning to eat. She had done nothing wrong, but prison tradition ruled that even when the system itself caused delays, the prisoners were the ones who would be punished for it. The official rules may have stated otherwise, but who was present to argue her defence where she was now?

It was Friday afternoon before Diane was taken for her first meeting with the prison psychiatrist. She still had not heard from Juan, and she still did not know when she would be able to see him. Unknown to her, Juan had been scheduled to visit her at the same time that she had been led away to see the psychiatrist. Consequently, their first opportunity for contact had been cancelled by the prison bureaucracy, and it would be Saturday before she would be able to see her husband.

The psychiatrist was a welcome relief, because he was the first person Diane had found who was willing to listen to her. More than that, it did not take him long to establish that she was perfectly sane. He expressed amazement that the court had seriously believed that she needed to be assessed. But Diane wondered whether it could be a trick, for he continued to question her about her connection with the bin raiders.

"We're just normal people," she explained; but she could see by the look on his face that he was not convinced.

"Okay, so we do a few strange things. But we don't hurt anyone, and we do try to be helpful." "Tell me about your relationship with the leader. This David what's-his-name," said the psychiatrist, who had asked Diane to call him Sinclair.

"David Hartley," said Diane.

"How loyal are you to him?"

"That's a strange question," she replied. "Is there a scale for loyalty? And how would you rate your own loyalty, say, to your wife?"

"Why do you say that? Are you married to Hartley?" Sinclair asked.

"To Dave?"


"Of course not. My husband's name is Juan. I just mean that I don't know whether you see loyalty as a good thing or a bad thing. It's not fair if you think it's okay for some people to be loyal to their leaders, but you think it's evil if I express loyalty to Dave."

"I don't like to think of it as either good or evil," he replied. "I'm just interested."

"Yeah, sure. And I don't like to think of myself as being in jail or out of it. But the fact is that I am in here now, and I may be in here a lot longer if you don't like my answers."

The room they were in did little to help prisoners forget where they were. It consisted of a desk and two chairs. The absence of photos, books, or wall hangings made it clear that Sinclair himself was only there long enough to do an interview and then get out to where more respectable people live and work.

"Do you have something to hide?" he asked.

"Not really. But I'm not stupid either. I know that anyone can make almost anything sound evil if they want to badly enough. Are you supposed to decide whether I'm crazy, or are you supposed to decide whether you agree with my religious beliefs?"

"I'm supposed to decide whether you are a danger to yourself or to anyone else."

"And what does my loyalty to Dave Hartley have to do with that?"

"If he told you to steal something, would you do it?"

"Look, I'm here because I stole something. I admitted that. I did it because I wanted to do it. You don't need to bring Dave into it."

"Did he tell you to take the stuff from the bins?"

"We all discussed it, and everyone felt that I was the best person for climbing into the bins. I'm small and I'm fit, and most of all, I like doing it."

"Did anyone else steal from the bins, or were you the only one who did it?"

"No, I wasn't the only … Hold on! If you want to charge someone else, you'll have to get your own evidence. I'm not dobbing anyone in."

"So your loyalty to Hartley includes covering for him if he breaks the law. Is that it?"

"Read the report, Sinclair! It must be in there somewhere that I don't think I did anything wrong. And I'd do the same thing again. Not because I'm bananas, and not because I'm someone's puppet, but just because I think it makes good sense to share perfectly good food with hungry people, rather than plough it into the ground at the tip. If you think that makes me or anyone else dangerous, then that's your problem."

Diane was shouting by this time.

Sinclair referred to his notes and then quietly changed the subject. "The report says something about your group being a suicide cult. Where do you suppose that came from?"

"I don't know. Probably from a sick mind. You ought to understand that sort of thing better than me. Do you think I look or sound like someone who is likely to commit suicide?"

"No, Ms Ventura, you don't look like someone who is likely to commit suicide," Sinclair admitted, as he decided to move away from that line of argument.

"Please call me Diane. Do I look or sound like someone who would let herself become anyone else's unthinking robot?"

Sinclair smiled broadly. "No, Diane. You don't look anything like that either." He seemed to be softening. "But you must understand that you've created a dilemma for the court. How can they show mercy toward you if you're almost bragging about plans to re-offend? Can't you just say you're sorry, and hang your head in shame until you get out of the court? I know it's humbling, but that's all it would take for you to get off. It's not like they're asking you to deny your faith."

"Aren't they?" asked Diane as she raised one eyebrow. "If I can say that I'm sorry for helping the poor, in order to save my own skin, how long will it be before I say I'm sorry for believing in God just to save my skin. It's not me that needs to apologise. It's Buy-Rite, and that screwed up security guard… and the magistrate… and you, if you give in to expediency instead of doing what you know is right. You can lock me up for as long as you like, but it'll be you that goes to bed with a guilty conscience afterwards, not me."

Sinclair was feeling uncomfortable. He looked at his watch and found the excuse he needed. "Our time is nearly up," he said. "It's been an interesting hour. I'll probably be back in touch with you in a few days. In the meantime, I'll think about what you've said."

"Thank you," said Diane, with a feeling of relief.

He said he was going to think about what she had said. He was going to be back in touch with her. Was she getting through to him? The whole ordeal would be worth it, if she could just get Sinclair to think deeply about God and truth and love, and where society is heading. Dynamite was an incurable optimist.

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