Snakes and Ladders: A Memoir won the 2014 Varuna Publishers’ Introduction Program and is currently in development.
Angela Williams just couldn’t catch a break. She lost her father to alcohol as a child and was then taken hostage by her mother’s madness. Programmed with scripts of heroin addiction, homelessness and unhealthy sex work, Angela found herself with the almost inevitable criminal record in 1996 and then decided to get back on track.
Fast forward to 2010. Angela has found her path. She’s got her son back in her care, is graduating from Uni with all the honours and looks set for marvellous success. Then she steps off the wrong gutter, gets taken out by a postie bike and ends up back in the slammer. She’d forgotten to chase up some paper work after the first ride on the merry-go-round of the NSW Justice System. Society had to see justice being served.
A writer, thinker and yeller, Angela Williams is mildly notorious for seeing problems and pointing them out. She’s tussled with Fred Nile in the Sydney Morning Herald, taken academia to task in the Guardian’s Anonymous Academic, gone to Crikey about the treatment of mentally ill women in prison, and most recently blown the whistle on dangerous risks in her (former) charity workplace. Angela does one thing really well – find problems and yell about them. This book is her first-hand story of the NSW Justice System.
This is what you’ll be reading when it’s published:
I used to be a heroin addict, criminal and all round notnicegirl.
In 1996 I got out of prison for a drug-fuelled crime and promised myself I’d never go back, in 2010 I broke that promise after going to the police as a victim and finding out I hadn’t followed up paperwork from the first time. After getting off drugs, I left the worlds of crime and addiction behind and went to University. Seven years, two degrees and a lifetime later, I forgot to look right as I crossed a road and was hit by a Postie on her motorbike. When the police came to take my statement they arrested me for an outstanding warrant for time I hadn’t served back in the ’90s. I’d just graduated with first class honours, my life was going great – then I was wearing prison greens, being strip searched and locked in observation cells ‘for my own protection’.
I went mad and then got better, and while doing so wrote this book.
Snakes and Ladders is the story of the six weeks I spent in prison, the following ten months on home detention and the first shaky steps of recovering from this. In telling this story, I weave vignettes and memories from my early life that expose the stereotypical but still oh-so-common lifestyle ‘complications’ that led to the original crime. But I also explore the people and situations that allowed me to break free from a life that was going nowhere.
Snakes and Ladders looks at prison in NSW from both inside and outside, showing what it’s like to get caught up in the system again after thirteen years of fighting to escape the sticky traps of disadvantage. It breaks out of the walls of the prisons and explores the paths that led to my original crime – an abusive childhood, struggles with addiction and unhealthy forms of sex work.
This compelling story of accountability, tragedy and redemption shows the reality of contemporary women’s prisons. It takes you inside four different prisons: the maximum security Mulawa Women’s Correctional Centre in Sydney, the two medium security prisons at Berrima and Emu Plains, and the DIY lock up which is Home Detention.
‘It’s all a game, you know, a stupid power game which only works cause we play along,’ I write in Chapter 2. This book is about how I worked out the rules of the game and found a way to follow them in body and break them in mind.