One of the Drug Grannies’ strongest supporters — at the time of their imprisonment and 45 years later — is former deputy jail superintendent, Shirley Goodfellow. Now in her 80s, Mrs Goodfellow and her husband Keith live in northern New South Wales where they moved after she retired from the NSW Corrective Services Commission at the turn of the century.
Mrs Goodfellow was a senior officer at Mulawa Correctional Centre for women when Vera ‘Toddie’ Hays and Florice ‘Beezie’ Bessire were first arrested in late January/early February, 1978. She checked them into the remand section of the jail when they were transferred to the prison by Federal Bureau of Narcotics agents
“There’s all sorts in jail,” Mrs Goodfellow told me recently “and it would have been frightening for them, I think.
“They would have seen things that they never ever dreamt about, because prisoners are prisoners. Those girls there, they do everything … you know sexually, everything and the others are all laying there.
“There’s no privacy whatsoever in jail,” she added.
The former jail officer, who rose to become a deputy superintendent during the Drug Grannies’ incarceration from 1978-1983, says Toddie and Beezie adapted quickly to life behind bars, as difficult a change for them as it was.
“They did the garden,” Mrs Goodfellow said, “and I think one of them worked in the kitchen for a while.
“They moved around. They didn’t like to be in one place for very long and by doing that, they learned more about the girls and other people.
“They weren’t rude, whereas there’s a lot of prisoners who are very rude to each other and it causes a lot of trouble but the Drug Grannies weren’t; they just listened, and if somebody started abusing them or something, they got up and walked away.
“They were good for the prison…because they were good prisoners.
“They fitted in really well,” Mrs Goodfellow said.
I first met Shirley Goodfellow in July 1980 when Toddie and Beezie were transferred from Tomago, a minimum security prison about 160km north of Sydney, to what would then be their third prison, the Norma Parker Centre in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta. While both women would miss the wide open spaces that came with the rural setting of Tomago, Toddie would be closer to specialist medical care in a big city such as Sydney, something of which she was needing more and more as her cataract worsened, and her sciatic nerve pain increased.
Mrs Goodfellow always had a smile for the prisoners, and their visitors, and treated all of her charges with respect. She was popular with the inmates, as well as with the staff, and the Norma Parker Centre superintendent, Wal Thompson, knew he had a supportive and loyal number two always backing him up.
When I caught up with Shirley and Keith late last year, they welcomed me into their home, turning on a classic morning tea with the finest china, fresh scones with jam and cream, and even a pot from which to draw the tea! Mrs Goodfellow had not changed one bit since I’d last seen her in 1983, although we had corresponded a few times in the intervening years. She was still strongly empathetic about the challenges women face in jail and the way society views and treats prisoners.
“People think because you’re in jail, you’ve got no feelings for people,” Mrs Goodfellow told me “but prisoners do have feelings.
“We’re looking after human beings; we’re not looking after animals,” she said.
She said she could never work out how the Drug Grannies got involved in the massive drug importation.
“They were simple, but clever,” she said of Toddie and Beezie. “There’s nothing there that tells me that they wouldn’t have been ordinary people living an ordinary life. They were very, very well mannered,” she said.
And finally, what did she think about their 14 year prison sentence?
“It was far harder for them, and especially the sentence they got; that was ridiculous,” Mrs Goodfellow said. “Ridiculous; nobody got hurt through it all, did they.”
Shirley Goodfellow plays a special role in my book and you’ll find out what that is when ‘Betrayed’ is released on 1 June.