Exhaustion: A Monologue

By Meera Atkinson and research participants

The following work was commissioned by researchers at the University of New South Wales as part of a creative dissemination strategy for sharing findings from the NHMRC Qualitative Study: Identifying factors that improve the health of prisoners who inject drugs. It draws on excerpted transcripts from multiple interviews with prisoners with a history of drug use about their experiences following release.

The interviews were conducted by the investigator team who participated in a stringent ethical consultation process at all stages.

All participants gave consent for their interviews to be drawn on as part of a wider research dissemination strategy, and all transcripts have been de-identified. This work was reviewed and approved by members of a community advisory group, who guided the dissemination process.

I didn’t have big plans for when I got out. I couldn’t see the future. Just wanted to take it slow and stay off the ice, and

being in that domestic violence relationship

my priority was to get him out of my house as quick as I could.

I don’t want to go back to jail.

The day of my release, I had to go to Centrelink. I waited three hours and at the end of the day I realised I hadn’t eaten. I went to the community health centre, but once I got there, I didn’t know what to say. There was so much swirling around my head, I didn’t know what to do.

Your heart’s racing. It’s natural adrenaline. You’re on high alert. You’re tense. You go from being looked after and three meals a day everything done for you and then one day you’re out and on your own and it’s


You have to make so many decisions and you don’t know how to make them. You think there could’ve been someone to say, “Look, before you go, here’s some numbers to help you sort the basics.”

Coming out of prison, you have one appointment after another, and it gets to you, you know? For people to change, to not go the same way they used to, they need

accommodation and support and money while they get on their feet.

When he wouldn’t leave, I slept rough. There are fights at the housing refuge. It’s loud and people snore and kick you and walk over you while you try to sleep. And I avoid rooming houses because of the drama and drugs

I can always say no, but when you’re worn out …

I can always say no, but when it’s in front you …

it’s hard.

Sometimes I feel like a failure. Sometimes I wanted to go back to be honest, yeah. I did.

I use ice for reasons, you know, reasons. And when I got out, them reasons were all still there.

You feel like shit because your past is just drugs, crime, jail, that cycle. No positives, nothing that makes your self-esteem go up, you know? And sometimes services don’t understand how much there is to manage, how much of a challenge it is to stay clean and turn your life around.

I have this CCO worker and

every appointment I don’t want to go, but

I suck it up


I don’t want to go back to jail.

I have palpitations and feel sick cause I know I’m going to get a rundown of how crap my life is, and I

already know that. It’s draining to be honest, being judged. Like people set out to be drug addicts. Like I’m a loser for not having it all together. One slip and you’re stamped for life.

I started seeing a drug and alcohol counsellor early on, but that didn’t work out because my partner wouldn’t let leave the house (cries). Sorry.

I need to find someone to unload on. Doesn’t matter who it is. Anyone really. They don’t even have to understand, just someone to listen. That’s all. It’s just knowing someone is there.

Anyway, I got away and now I’m living day by day and I’m
staying away from the friends I used to hang out with. Trying to be more confident. I want to set goals, get a good routine going, look for work, keep busy, and stay off the drugs so I can get my kid back.

I know I need help, but I don’t know where to turn. I mean, they try to help, but there’s a different service for everything, a different person to explain myself to, and you have to jump through hoops for every single one. I wish there was one place, one person that could help with it all.

It’s hard to stop beating myself up, but I’m doing my best and trying not to worry about the past.

I’m trying to look forward, but it’s not easy when you feel like you could sleep for a week.

I’m trying to have hope,

but it’s tough to turn things around because I’m tired,