Insidious punishment

dictates the rhythm of life

the struggle to survive

constant poverty.


He studies     starts projects

that might turn into income

but needs money     to

bring them to fruition.


Persistence brings

full-time work     elation

until     staff-cuts send him     

~ and the new suit he could ill-afford ~



The subsistence merry-go-round

swings high and wide…

years pass

short-term jobs come and go

they build their family


life will never be easy


into low-paid work with poor conditions

and long overnight shifts.


The cloud of recompense

still hovers     decades on

begging the questions…


Who pays?     and

For how long?


c. Kathryn Coughran ~ 24th January 2019



Society’s lash

cuts deep

for those who bear the scars

of doing time

at Her Majesty’s pleasure.


No chance     these days

to change the spelling or pronunciation

of a surname     as was the want

of many ancestor convicts

to separate themselves

from the rigors     of their past

when freedom finally came

after years of servitude

in this distant land…


Our young man has responsibilities

must find work…

he shops at Vinnies

covers tattoos with long sleeves

regardless of temperature

prepares a resumé

highlighting his skills

and fronts up to interviews.


‘Why have you been out of work

for so long?’ he is asked.


He tells the truth     and hears

‘We don’t employ criminals’

or     the softer version

‘I can’t risk having you on staff’.


In desperation

he skirts around probing     about

his absence from society  

and even fudges his answers…

but fools nobody

least of all himself.


Long periods of unemployment

lead to gaping holes in his work history

which bring more aggressive questions.


He is willing to work

~ wants to work ~

yet nobody will employ him     and

he continues to carry

the burden     of his misdeeds.


Is this freedom   

or merely release     to a world

riddled with judgement

and inherent restrictions?


  • c. Kathryn Coughran
  • 24th January 2019


Discarded computers

take his interest

at twenty dollars apiece.

He fiddles     fixes

teaches himself

to program      and

operate them.


Long     tedious hours

of frustration

sprinkled with joy.


He formalised his learning


set his sights

on a brighter future.


Four years      after

the error of judgement

which led him to the bench

he invites his family home

for another attempt

at building the dream.


 c.  Kathryn Coughran

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)



He dreads going out

facing the world

all he has longed for

now too much to bear.


She is confused

by his reaction

longs to forget     and resents

the boy’s rejection     of her 

in favour of

his father’s attention.




Her benefit cut

his not yet restored

electricity disconnected

and scarce food

they visit relatives

arrange to pay lump-sum

to landlord     when

new benefits arrive.


Landlord dishonours agreement

overseen by police    

he illegally

removes their belongings

down to soap from shower.


They win legal battle

despite humiliation

at his record     raised

in court


the pressing need

to find new lodgings.




They plan a future

studded with achievement

make promises

they cannot keep.


Unemployment hinders


with unerring power.

The foundations of their dreams


anger     and the demon drink

edge in.


They move house

again     and again


then separately.


c.  Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)



She cries with joy     and loneliness

and for the disappointment and guilt

he will feel when he learns

he missed the birth.


An emotional phone call over

a photo session ensures him an image

of her     their son     and the infant

he cannot hold

to keep him company

until the completion

of his sentence.




Unexplained cancellation

of promised day leave

anticipation     and anxiety

cause final days to drag.




Amid accolades and gifts

they greet each other

with awkward nervousness

when he enters their home

for the first time

and takes his daughter

in his arms:

belated bonding begins.


 c.  Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Delightful Interlude

It was a privilege to be with her


see her courage and perseverance

hold her hand and help her scream

to be pushed     pulled     punched

and yelled at

to cry     laugh     and sigh

with her

to breathe through contractions

and pause     in silence.


It was a privilege

to talk her through the appearance

of her baby’s head

like a squashed      wet      tennis ball

then the tiny face     hands     shoulders

and body.


It was a privilege

to witness the first bonding stroke

on sticky red skin

to cut the cord

that had been the child’s lifeline

for months

and to hear     the first splutter

and cry.


It was a privilege to be with her

to share the arrival

of her daughter


to welcome     her own

new granddaughter.


c.  Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Doing Time

She endures

long hours alone

with childish babble

nightmares     and tears



but for his mother’s visits

and phone calls


Her bulging body

a constant reminder

of ever-increasing responsibilities


and of him


in closed cell by night

thinking of her

and dreaming music

he cannot play


doing without newspapers

in preference to being beaten

for the punting guide


and silently labouring by day

goaded by officers

with the power

to punish on a whim.


 c.  Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Sunday Visits


They rise early     gather ID     prepare

for the tedious     much awaited

and never missed

weekly visit.


On arrival they face abuse     long delays

the humiliation of being searched

and may even be turned away

on some minor pretext

that is not negotiable.


The ever-present guards

with guns and sniffer dogs

ensure no gifts     no privacy

no intimacy.

Chatter     clatter   

and cigarette smoke

fill the crowded room.


With pain in their hearts

and sometimes misty eyes

they talk     mostly superficially

they joke     mostly to cover feelings

they eat     mostly to kill time

they play     to keep kids occupied.


Exhausted     they face

the return journey

and the sad week ahead.

Their loved one     is searched

to ensure no contraband

has been passed.


Each mentally marks off

one more week.




The toddler     is excited

to see Daddy

cuddles and kisses him.


He didn’t like the first place

where they were caged

with other families

sat at tables and chairs

bolted to the floor

were not allowed     food

or drink.


Now     he plays on swings

until driven back     to the warmth

by cutting winds     drizzle

and stinging nose.


He avoids the rough kids

wanders     around the room

entertains prisoners

and their visitors

explores picnic baskets

and wonders why his dad

and the men in green

live there     and not at home

with their families.

c.  Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)


Chain Reaction

His incarceration

leads to eviction

for her      and their toddler.

Family move her closer

to where he is held.


Without warning

he is transported

to a distant prison.


She cannot visit

until others are free

to take her:

pressure on them


never time alone

with her man.


Limited funds

and benefit mix-ups

leave her with little food

and nothing to finance

his necessities at ‘buy-ups’.


She visits friend after friend

he phones where she has been

finds she has moved on:

one of his two precious calls

per week      wasted.


He is tense      confused

fears the loss of his family.

She is angry      unavailable

and her landlord

becomes demanding.


She      their son      and

unborn child

face homelessness

for the second time

in as many months


and there are four months pending…


c. Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)


Through a veil of tears

and to the drone

of the solicitor’s voice

they watch him leave.


Silhouetted beside the custodian

linked at the wrist

with cold silver

bodies stiffly apart

at the shoulders


he walks the long corridor

to begin the six months

that feels

like a life sentence.


c. Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)