Tag Archives: injustice

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row

Frankly my dear, I do give a damn!!

When it comes to fighting for justice, I will personally stand up and be counted, even when the case is rather controversial. After all. it’s easy to have compassion for someone you love. It’s much more challenging when someone has a few prickles…or a past. Yet, sometimes our journey takes us down that road and we are forced to argue the points backwards and forwards inside our heads until we can make sense of it all and hopefully judgement turns to love.

I don’t know if the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia has made International news. However, as citizens of the world, this case affects each and every one of us who believe in the sanctity and importance of justice and the capacity for humanity to change and redeem itself.

We are all called to stand up and fight.

The case I am referring to is the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia: Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were part of the notorious Bali Nine. Since their conviction, these men have completely turned their lives around and deserve a second chance. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be punished. Just that they don’t deserve to die.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

 

My justification for clemency lies in the science of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. If you know anything at all about brain plasticity, you will know and understand that these men have changed the very physical structures of their brains through rehabilitation and are no longer who they were. That they are, indeed, very different men. After all, if you have a different brain, how can you possibly be the same?

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry , summed  this up well when he addressed the Melbourne vigil held on 18th February, 2014. Lasry had been involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005. Lasry said that he has visited Chan and Sukumaran in jail in Bali several times and was in no doubt the pair had redeemed themselves.

“The reality is that if Indonesia go ahead and execute these two men, they’ll be killing an artist and a church pastor,” he said.

“The drug traffickers have gone. The drug traffickers left in 2005. “4.

About Brain Plasticity

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. “He writes that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!”

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

My argument is that through rehabilitation, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have demonstrated that through such brain plasticity, they are no longer the men they were.

Therefore, as an exceptional case and while not dismissing the severity of their crime, these new men deserve a compassionate response…jail not execution!

This quote from US President John F. Kennedy sums it up well:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

Background to the Bali Nine

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were the ring leaders of a group of Australian drug traffickers known as “The Bali Nine”. On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested for planning to smuggle 8.3 kg (18 lb) of heroin valued at about A$4 million from Indonesia to Australia. These men were no angels and heroin, as we know, is a hard core drug which destroys lives. Authorities must do whatever it takes to get heroin off the streets. While people do dispute the death penalty, they are not advocating a more relaxed after to stopping the trade of heroin.

Going back to the time of their arrest, I didn’t have any sympathy for the Bali 9. Due to the very publicised case of alleged drug trafficker, Australian Shapelle Corby, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws had been front page news for some time. I might not agree with the death penalty but Indonesia’s tough anti-drug laws most definitely weren’t a secret.

Australian Shapelle Corby had been arrested in Indonesia on 8 October 2004 when she was found to have 4.2 kg (9.3 lb) of cannabis in a double plastic vacuum-sealed bag in her unlocked bodyboard bag. Corby was convicted on 27 May 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Denpasar District Court and imprisoned in Kerobokan Prison. To this day, Shapelle maintains her innocence and there have been numerous theories about how the cannabis got into her body board bag. Her case became a “cause celeb” and during that media frenzy, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws was made very, very clear.

From where I was sitting in front of the TV, you’d have to be a complete idiot or have a serious death wish to even consider smuggling drugs in or out of Indonesia. I know people talked about making their luggage more secure after Shapelle’s arrest. Indeed, I’d even be checking the paperwork on my prescriptions before heading to Indonesia…especially given the amount of pills I take in a week. They could easily be perceived as trafficking quantities!

Those were the sorts of precautions your average Australian traveler was taking when the Bali 9 were arrested. Nobody wanted to be another Shapelle Corby and we were leaving absolutely nothing to chance. The consequences were just too great.

Given the historical context, the Bali 9 did come across as a bunch of idiots who had earned themselves what’s known as the Darwin Award: http://www.darwinawards.com/ After all, they didn’t need to be Einstein or have some kind of mystical crystal ball to know what they were getting themselves into. They just needed to turn on their TV. Shapelle Corby’s face was everywhere. Remember: Shapelle Corby was arrested on the 8th October 2004 and on the 27 May 2005 she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Bali Nine was arrested On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested right in the middle of Shapelle’s trial. You do have to wonder what they were thinking and if they were even thinking at all and certainly you would never expect these men to amount to anything much at all!!

That was then. This is now.

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Fast-forwarding nine years, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are changed men and are inspiring other prisoners and leading exemplary lives. These are not the same men who were convicted back in 2006. Their names might be the same and they are older versions of themselves but in terms of their soul, spirit, character and no doubt even the neurofibres in their brains, they are not who they were. Therefore, executing these men would be a great travesty of justice.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry has long campaigned against the death penalty and was involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005.

 

Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs  outlined how much the men had changed when she addressed Federal Parliament on 12th February, 2014:

“Both men are deeply, sincerely remorseful for their actions. Both men have made extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate.

Andrew and Myuran are the model of what penal systems the world over long to achieve.

Successive Governors of Kerobokan Prison in Bali – whose prison has given Andrew and Myuran the opportunity to reflect and change – have testified to their remarkable transformation.

A decade on from their crimes, Andrew and Myuran are changed men. They are deeply committed to a new path.

Both men are paying their debt to society. With dedication and unwavering commitment, they are improving and enriching the lives of their fellow prisoners.

Andrew has completed a theology degree in prison. As a pastor, he now provides religious counselling and guidance to fellow inmates. On the day he received the President’s rejection of his clemency application, Andrew’s Australian lawyer Julian McMahon said he was nowhere to be found, for even at this moment of undeniable personal anguish, Andrew had taken time out to comfort a fellow inmate who was seriously ill.

Myuran – referred to by many as the ‘gentle giant’ – has nearly completed a fine arts degree in jail. He has had the opportunity to become an accomplished artist; his raw talent recognised and fostered by his friend and mentor, renowned artist Ben Quilty.

In prison, Andrew and Myuran sought permission from prison authorities and began an array of courses to benefit fellow inmates, and to prepare them for their return to society.

They have led extensive and varied arts, cultural and vocational courses. Some of their courses are aimed directly at drug addicts, equipping them with the skills to beat their addiction, saving their lives and giving them real prospects in the future.

Andrew and Myuran have raised money for fellow inmates’ medical procedures; for victims of Typhoon Haiyan; for Indonesia National Day festivities.

Indeed, such is the profound effect of Andrew and Myuran’s inspiring humility and service, their fellow prisoners have come forward to lend support, even offering to take their place in execution to President Widodo…

Their remarkable rehabilitation, and the circumstances of their arrest, has prompted five successive Australian Prime Ministers to make representations in their name. [2]

What Brain Plasticity Means For Chan & Sukumaran. Why Spare These Men?

If somebody completely turns their life around and becomes an entirely new and different person on the inside, should they still be judged and sentenced to death because of crimes they committed in the past? Although they have the same name and DNA, they are a different person and things become very problematic.

Would justice truly be served and can we as a global community just stand back in good conscience and do nothing to spare these men? Or, do we both as a society and as individuals need to do whatever it takes to prevent such a tragic and unjust loss of life?

The answer is a resounding “yes”!! After all, two wrongs have never made a right!!

Although I have never met these men and I certainly don’t support the use or sale of such drugs, there is such resounding evidence that these men have significantly and are now dramatically improving the lives of those around them as well, rehabilitating and educating other prisoners much more effectively than other methods.

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, whose husband was charged and convicted of a similar crime to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, spoke out in Parliament saying: “criminals can be redeemed – my husband is proof.”

She adds that the laws which underpin the executing these men is the basic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law that has influenced the Old Testament and earlier legal codes in countries around the world. But that’s 3,700 years ago. We’ve moved on a great deal from an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-12/plibersek-these-men-deserve-restorative-justice-not-execution/6088334.

I also thought it was interesting that at last night’s vigil, emotional statements were read from the pair, which acknowledged their original stupidity,  saying that  the “compassion and kindness from people forgiving our stupidity” has made them feel “truly blessed” 4″

Their Last Words

Andrew Chan: “Thoughts from the Edge

“Thank you Jesus that you give me the strength and courage that I need to stand strong and to trust in you when the waters arise.”

“I thank you Jesus that you never give up on me and that your faithfulness is what helps me striving forward. I thank you for all the family and friends you surround me with in life and how your love pours out from them.”

“The Lord is revealing to me through this scripture is about how he’ll fight the battles for us and that we won’t be defeated if he goes ahead of us… The truth is God is remind us that when all seems helpless and you feel as though the enemies army surrounds you, God is telling us to stand still, take up our battle stance but do not move.[3]

Myuran Sukumaran – Thoughts from the edge

“When you are young you think money is the only way to get happiness … after being here for eight years you realize it is not.”

“After being in prison for eight years I only realized when it comes when it comes to drugs nobody gets rich – there are a few people – most get caught and end up in places like this and that’s the lesson.”

“I want to become a better person and I want to help everybody else become a better person as well. It is like a vehicle for everybody to travel in to better themselves.”

Last Words or a New Beginning…

Time is running out and I don’t know what any of us can do at this late hour. I understand that over 30,000 Australians have written to the Indonesian Attorney General pleading for mercy and many many people have spoken publically. Last night, a vigil was being held in Sydney to pray for the men and their families and this was just one of many. I can sense a collective heartache if these efforts fail and these two young men are put to death.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are in my heartfelt prayers.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.

*Please reblog this post and spread the word. It now looks like the lives of these men rest on divine intervention and people power.

As the saying goes: “Never give up”!!!

Love & Blessings,

Rowena

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.

[2] Parliamentary motion: Chan and Sukumaran, Address to House of Representatives Speech, E&OE, Parliament House, Canberra,12 February 2015.

[3] http://www.news.com.au/national/six-living-former-prime-ministers-make-united-final-plea-for-doomed-bali-nine-duo/story-fncynjr2-1227222259664

4) www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-18/vigils-held-for-bali-nine-pair-facing-execution/6143978

Paintings: http://www.news.com.au/world/asia/bali-nine-member-myuran-sukumaran-paintings-in-melbourne/story-fnh81fz8-1227049488225

I apologise  for any breaches of copyright regarding the images used in this post. I am merely trying to support their cause.

Australia’s “200th Birthday” Revisited.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten”.

– Rudyard Kipling

Last week, Australians celebrated, lamented or slept through Australia Day which marks the arrival of the British First Fleet at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) On the 26th  January,  1788. Governor Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack claiming British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia, which was then known as New Holland.  There was no treaty with the Aboriginal people, as there had been with the Maori in New Zealand and you will still hear Australians talk about how Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1770, even though Australia was never actually “lost”.

The Australian Women's Weekly, January, 1988.

The Australian Women’s Weekly, January, 1988.

 

 

If you have read my last post, you’ll know that I recently came across a vintage copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly from January, 1988. This was their “Bicentennial Souvenir: Special Collector’s Edition”, to celebrate Australia’s “200th Birthday”. It included a couple of pages of birthday wishes from around the world:

“Australia is the closest thing to Texas you can get…the women are beautiful, the men are tough and it has got great beer! Happy 200th, Australia.”

-Larry Hagman, who played J.R. Ewing in the hit series: Dallas[1].

“Although by birth I am English, I feel Australian and think of myself as Australian. Australia took me in, nurtured me and sent me out into the world with a sense of belonging   and a great outlook on life. Happy birthday, Australia.”

– Olivia Newton-John[2].

However, while I was reading the magazine, it struck me that there was no mention of Aboriginal people at all. That bothered me enough to put my detective’s hat on and to start digging.

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
George Orwell

The First Fleet Reenactment, 1988.

The First Fleet Reenactment, 1988.

Rewinding back to January 26, 1988…I was a young, 18 year old who had just finished school and was still reveling from celebrating “Schoolies Week” at Surfers Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast. This involved lying by the pool or on the beach by day and hitting the nightclubs by night and to be perfectly honest, I was probably more concerned about the state of my tan and of course, friends, relationships, fun.

Enjoying the party atmosphere on Australia Day, 26th January, 1988 , my boyfriend and I were jammed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge along with hundreds and thousands of other sardines on a characteristically hot summer’s day, spellbound as the Tall Ships in the First Fleet Reenactment sailed majestically through Sydney Harbour. I still remember battling to try to photograph the Tall Ships through the crowd with my humble Kodak camera, which was so old that you had to shove a film cartridge in the back. There was a woman standing right in front of me wearing the largest, brightest sunflower-yellow hat I’d ever seen. Indeed, the brim was so wide, that you could land a helicopter on it no worries. I passed the camera to my boyfriend, who being 6ft 4″ almost towered up into the clouds. With that camera, none of our photos were “good” but at least when he took he photos, you could pick the Tall Ships out over the hat.

That was my Australia Day.

Badge Protesting against celebrating Australia's Bicentenary.

Badge Protesting against celebrating Australia’s Bicentenary.

Meanwhile, there was a protest movement of upwards of 40,000 Indigenous Australians and sympathisers marching through Sydney. For them, Australia Day was Invasion Day and 1988 would be a year of mourning. This was the largest march in Sydney since the Vietnam moratorium. The march ended at Hyde Park where several prominent Aboriginal leaders and activists spoke, among them activist Gary Foley; ‘Let’s hope Bob Hawke and his Government gets this message loud and clear from all these people here today. It’s so magnificent to see black and white Australians together in harmony! This is what Australia could and should be like.’

Aboriginal protests on Sydney Harbour, Australia Day, 1988

Aboriginal protests on Sydney Harbour, Australia Day, 1988

While I can be a bit oblivious, I find it hard to believe that I missed a march of that magnitude and it’s only now, some 24 years later, that I’ve been enlightened.

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton

That said, I’m still fairly ignorant. It’s simply impossible to pick up all the nuances on this flying visit and understand what happened. There are others who have done the research and also lived through the times, who can give a much better account than I. As I said, this is just a fleeting visit sparked by a magazine I’d bought at the op shop and my relationships with my extended Aboriginal family.

Bicentennial celebrations exposed differing views both about our history, our future and our identity as a nation. While it was only 24 years ago, I’d like to think we were in a different place back then when where racist jokes were the norm and most Australians really couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. Why couldn’t the Aboriginal people just join the rest of us under The Bridge and enjoy a piece of birthday cake and enjoy the “celebration of a nation”?   What was their problem and why didn’t somebody lock all those radicals up? Indeed, a disproportionate number of Indigenous people were already in gaol and there was mounting anger about black deaths in custody.

I am not an Aboriginal activist, historian or anybody who really has an understanding of the rights and wrongs involved but I am a person who has a disability and has experienced discrimination enough to know that even the well-intentioned who at least try to get into my wobbilly feet, don’t necessarily know what it’s like to walk in my shoes. Therefore, I don’t pretend to know what it is to be an Indigenous person in Australia…then or now.

However, I do care.

As much as I believe in equality for all and respecting all peoples, it is particularly harsh when someone comes into your country and treats you like shit. Takes away your land, your children and gives immigrants preferential treatment and won’t even give you the vote. Moreover, once some of these things were finally acknowledged, it wasn’t until February 2008 that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd finally managed to say “Sorry”…some 20 years after the Bicentenary!

I am also in an interesting position because my uncle is Aboriginal and because of him, my children identified themselves as being Aboriginal. No matter how much I seemed to explain to them about genetics and pointed out that we were related to my aunt, they still believed they were Aboriginal until quite recently. The penny finally dropped when, after a long discussion with our daughter, she finally asked rather sadly: “Not even a drop?” “No,” I replied. “Not even a drop”. They wish they were Aboriginal and are very proud of Australia’s Indigenous people, culture and history. We don’t see a lot of my aunt and uncle so I believe this connection has been strengthened by their school. Our school says: “Welcome to Country” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welcome_to_Country_and_Acknowledgement_of_Country) at assemblies and events and the children learn Aboriginal arts and culture in way that goes way beyond anything we ever did at school. They have local elders come into the school and talk to the kids as well. About 10% of kids at our school “identify” as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and we have an Aboriginal Liaison Officer on staff. We are very proud of our school’s passion and commitment.

It has been interesting seeing how buying a vintage magazine at the op shop has opened my eyes to so many things and made me see the Australian Bicentenary in a completely different light. That said, I have been conscious for some time that celebrating Australia Day on 26th January is not showing sensitivity or compassion towards our Indigenous people who were displaced and so often subjected to horrific crimes of abuse throughout history. This is our national shame and we shouldn’t just bury that under the carpet and pretend that nothing ever happened. We can’t. To be honest, it continues today.

I don’t know what, if anything, I can do about it personally other than write about it, which does seem a bit lame but we each have our role in the body, in our community and as I have said before, I always hope the pen is mightier than the sword. That through writing we can highlight prejudice and injustice and also love and embrace all peoples.

In this, I join with Dr Martin Luther King (Jnr) and say “I have a dream”. I haven’t quite worked out all the details yet but have joined at least 1000 other people who will be writing about compassion on 20th February, 2015…the UN International Day of Social Justice: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. I encourage you to also participate. You can check out the details here:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/bloggers-unite-for-a-better-world-1000-voices-speak-for-compassion/

We need to keep working on the foundations laid by trail blazers like Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and see love, compassion and equality triumph!

xx Rowena

PS I have compiled a series of quotes relating to the Bicentenary, which is coming up next.

[1] The Australian Women’s Weekly, January 1988, pg 7.

[2] The Australian Women’s Weekly, January 1988, pg 7.

[3] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Saturday 7 March 1987 p 9

[4] Woroni (Canberra, ACT : 1950 – 2007) Monday 7 March 1988 p 19 Article

[5] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Wednesday 1 June 1988 p 30

[6] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Saturday 25 January 1986 p 3

[7] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm