Read the introduction to Angela Williams’s powerful new memoir Snakes and Ladders, revealing the dark truth of Australia’s justice system through the eyes of a woman sent to prison twice for the same crime.
I used to be a heroin addict, criminal and all-round not-nice girl.
I want to tell you the story of how I went from a drug-addled junkie, selling my body to whoever wanted it, to a university lecturer who helps shape and frame young minds. No, that’s a lie. I want to tell you the story of a bit that happened in 2010, when a former drug-addled sex worker, with a history of extreme child abuse and poverty, ended up back in jail for a really old crime, doing time that was supposed to be already done. I want to tell you what it’s like to have been clean off heroin for thirteen years, to have gone to university and learned how to think, to have weaned myself off selling my snatch and started thinking about ways to start selling my brain, only to end up getting arrested and being put back behind bars. Maybe that’s a lie too, because to tell you this story – as is the case with stories – I have to tell you a bunch of different stories, all the threads of narrative that leads to the cops putting a ‘most respectable’ version of me in handcuffs, cells and then jail.
In telling this story – or reading this story, ’cos you’re on that end, not this end – you’ll meet lots of different versions of me. You’ll meet the me in prison. She’s a bit of a mess, reacting more than responding – well, for the first bits anyway. To tell you how she made it through this horrible thing, you’ll meet many old me’s, who show the really stupid behind the capital-S Smart. These me’s were responding to a nasty childhood, acting out complex trauma and self-medicating away memories that they weren’t ready to face. They don’t think much; they act, jump in with both feet. They are the ones that loan me empathy when I’m confronted with students at uni who disclose sexual assault, self-harm, sex work, drug addiction. These me’s together made the ‘now me’, the one who talks to you, my brave readers. The me who’s going to hold your hand through the bad bits. She looks forward, and sometimes back; she’s the smart one who’s learning every day to be less accidentally stupid. She’s the me I want you to know by the end of all these stories.
Let’s do it. Let’s take something from the old me and jump in with both feet. Let’s hold our breath when we need to, laugh when we need to, cry when we need to, eat doughnuts when we need to. I’m here, in the future, holding your hand. I promise it all turns out okay.
Between 2010 and 2015, I performed open heart surgery on my psyche with what the psych ward doctor in 2018 described as ‘dirty fingernails’. I drove myself mad to tell you this story, so you damn well better read it.
Sit down. Shut up. Read.