I met three of my cousins in prison. That's a sentence I'd never imagined myself writing but that's exactly what happened one evening in March when I attended a fundraising event for anti-domestic violence charity, Shine, at the newly completed Mt Eden Corrections Facility.
I'd leapt at the chance to see inside an institution thankfully inaccessible to the majority of us. As it happened, the Bridgemans were out in force that night and three cousins I seldom see had taken the same opportunity.
Upon arrival we had our photographs taken while holding a number. At first I'd naively thought how delightfully apt such a gimmick was and half expected to see these photographs on sale later as a memento of our night in jail. It slowly dawned on me that it wasn't a quirky idea in keeping with the theme of the occasion but a genuine tool for recording exactly who had been admitted that night.
Naturally we were given the standard airport-type security treatment with metal detectors and bag scanners. Once through security we were transported in a prison van to the main building.
We were a somewhat subdued bunch as we realised we were being given the bona fide prison treatment. Maybe we were even being used as guinea pigs to test their security procedures.
Having watched too much reality television, I idly wondered if we were all unwitting participants in a brand new reality show. I could imagine the solemn voiceover: "These well-dressed people think they're going to a charity dinner in a prison but, as they'll soon discover, they're being locked in for a month-long test of wits and endurance in which only the strongest will survive ..."
We mingled over drinks in a central area and were free to wander in and out of the cells which contained little more than bunks and ablution facilities. Suddenly a door slammed with an ominous thud. A guest had tried to lock someone in a cell but that prank had clearly been anticipated; the doors' locking mechanisms were inactive for the evening.
During dinner Kerre Woodham was the hilarious MC and warned us not to be tempted to use a toilet in a cell unless we were in absolute peak physical condition. She explained that video footage from the cells is transmitted directly to the guard-house and that portable toilets had been arranged for our convenience.
We wondered why almost every surface was a depressing shade of grey. What was wrong with a more cheerful colour? We wished they'd dim the lights to give a more flattering ambiance, then we guessed that dimmers probably don't feature in the lighting plans of prison dining halls.
A sense of gentle claustrophobia gripped me throughout the evening. We'd not been permitted to bring in mobile telephones so I couldn't check my emails or send a 'help-I'm-in-prison' text in a dull moment. We were being constantly observed by uniformed men and I don't think we were permitted to leave until the function was over.
Until then I'd been a law-abiding citizen simply because it seemed the most ethical and moral way to live. But from that night on my law-abidingness took on a whole new sense of urgency.
Never mind ethics and morals. I now obey the law to its letter just to make sure I don't end up doing a stint in the slammer. I'd hate it.By Shelley Bridgeman