By ERWIN CHLANDA
A taxi ride to the prison costs around $60 one way.
It is about 30 kilometres from the town centre.
There is no public transport.
There are nearly 600 people locked up, almost all of them black and from families living in poverty.
Although contact with relatives is regarded as a crucial part of a prisoner’s rehabilitation, for many it would not be possible without the Prison Fellowship, a Catholic organisation.
This is something that has obviously slipped the prison planners’ mind.
And without Enid Harland there would be no Prison Fellowship in Alice Springs.
Last weekend she celebrated 20 years on the job, with a team of fellow volunteers operating a bus service at $10 for a return trip, and filling in registration slips in the small visitors building outside the main gates.
Mrs Harland quite often takes all three weekend shifts, especially when volunteers are not available: All day on Saturdays and a half-day on Sundays.
There is plenty to do during the week as well: Organising the drivers’ roster, ensuring the bus is serviced and cleaned, and buying drinks and sweets which she sells to visitors at very low prices.
Mrs Harland knows most of the visitors. She calls some “darling” and “dear”. Many are now visiting the third generation of family members who have fallen foul of the law.
The visitors are mostly Aboriginal women, their moods ranging from sullenness and despair, to resigned acceptance and even joking with other visitors.
The bus can be a noisy place with excited kids, and women keeping up a high volume chatter on their mobile phones.
Some have their own children with them, some aged just a week or two. Older women bring their grandchildren, almost all of them spruced up for the visit in bright, clean clothes and combed hair.
The service takes them from the “hospital lawns” opposite the Memo Club to the prison. On the way back many ask to be dropped off at the Women’s Shelter.
Last weekend Mrs Harland received flowers from prison guards (she always addresses them by their surname, and using the prefix “Mr”.)
The sniffer dog handlers gave her a small dot painting in a frame with a congratulatory message, and some prisoners had baked her little cakes.
A small girl, seeing the bouquet in a vase on the desk where the forms are filled in, gave Mrs Harland a yellow flower – her favourite colour, as she told the little girl.
When she saw Mrs Harland’s delight the girl went outside, picked another yellow flower, and presented it, followed by a big smile and another dash for a third yellow daisy.
(The writer is a volunteer bus driver for the service.)