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Prisoners, a Poem by Stephen House

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

my boss is from my country of origin

has been in australia for many years

he owns two restaurants

employs newly arrived

i’m just in this country and working for him

i labour six days every week

ten straight hours from morning to night

he pays me four hundred dollars a week

gives me one small meal

and a short rest each shift

he takes two hundred bucks a week from my wage

for a bed in a room with three other staff

the house has four rooms

where he keeps his workers

we’re almost incarcerated

with no way out

all of us here have difficult lives

some with no work permits

or waiting for visas

he tells us we’ll be sent back to our countries

if we report or complain

so we stay quiet

in fear

my boss tries to touch me when i’m alone

i’m distressed and vulnerable all of the time

two other girls say he does it to them

we stay close as a group

when he lurks to attack

this is not what i thought of life in australia

i heard this country was fair for all

but there are many people the same as me

trapped by disadvantage

prisoners of circumstance

a kind man i know said we should stop work for a day

to show our boss without us he can’t make his money

he told me we have more rights than we think

we talk about his advice

every night in our room

last night we decided on a day we won’t work

all of us agreed to see it through

i’m happier knowing we will now take action

but frightened and nervous

of what might happen next

not working for him for one full day

may not seem like much to fortunate people

but for our worried group it is risky and brave

yet it makes us more hopeful

not so bleak in our now

a bond is forming between us all at work

i sense our boss feels and sees it grow

he looks uncomfortable as friendships emerge

anxious when we smile

working under his stare

once we have stopped work for the day

we will research legalities for each of our plights

and in regards to his cruel treatment of us

we deserve more than what is happening each day

we are human beings and have feelings and rights

stopping work for one day may be the start of change

i feel less alone now as i slave away

we will support each other towards this day

we are one all together

and we will do what we must


Stephen House is an award-winning playwright, poet, and actor. He’s won two Awgie Awards (Australian Writer’s Guild), Adelaide Fringe Award, Rhonda Jancovich Poetry Award for Social Justice, Goolwa Poetry Cup, Feast Short Story Prize, and more. He’s been shortlisted for Lane Cove Literary Award, Overland’s Fair Australia Fiction Prize, Patrick White Playwright, and Queensland Premier Drama Awards, Greenroom best actor Award, and more. He’s received Australia Council literature residencies to Ireland and Canada and an India Asialink. His chapbook “real and unreal” was published by ICOE Press. He is published often and performs his work widely. Find out more on his website.


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