Jade Killin hits the road early each Saturday with her infant sons strapped in behind her, knowing it will be past the boys' bedtime before they return to their Unanderra home.
It's a seven-hour return trip to Bathurst jail, where Miss Killin’s partner and the boys’ father, Maurice Yendall, has been an inmate since March.
“I spend the whole Saturday in the car to see him for maybe an hour and a half,” Miss Killin said.
“It takes my whole petrol [budget] for the rest of the week, so effectively I’m not able to go anywhere else.
“A lot of families I know only visit once a month, or every couple of months, just because they can’t afford it.
“You can feel that distance.”
Faced with the grueling travel, Miss Killin this week added her voice to the public debate that surrounds fledgling plans to build a prison at West Dapto. She is calling on opponents to the development to consider what it could mean for families of homegrown inmates.
After seeing opponents to the proposal sharing a petition at Dapto on Sunday, she has formed an online supporters page for families and friends of inmates. She argues the development would have economic and employment benefits and points to the personal gains it would bring for prison families experiencing the tyranny of distance.
Miss Killin spoke to her partner on the phone on Monday and believes there are at least 40 inmates from the Illawarra in his same prison wing.
Her page accrued almost 700 members by Monday night.
“As … I saw a group getting petitions signed [in opposition] … I just wanted to turn the car around and yell at them,” she said. “I was in tears, it had made so angry that they were working against something that can help so many.
“Have they ever been to a jail? Have they ever had to visit a loved one in there?
“I honestly think they’ve thought about what it might do to their property values but they haven’t considered families [of inmates] because it puts a face on it. Because people don’t like to see the things that might make them uncomfortable.”
Just-released figures show that the NSW prison population grew to 13,494 in the past 12 months – an increase of 539 inmates or 4.2 per cent. Most of the growth (338) came from inmates who, like Mr Yendall, have been remanded in custody while their cases progress through the legal system.
Police allege the 32-year-old armed himself with a set of bicycle handlebars before holding up a Unanderra service station the night of February 25.
But Miss Killin describes her partner as “a loving and caring man”.
She builds her midweek days around phone calls from him, and worries when there are none. The day after he was imprisoned, she learned through a Facebook support group that a newly arrived inmate had been bashed, and wondered if it was him.
“The prison went into lockdown. You try and call the jail and ask, but all they will say is, ‘we can confirm that no inmate had to be transferred to hospital’,” she said.
“On a good day I get three phone calls, maybe four. You can only speak for six minutes.
“If there’s a fight in jail and they put it into lockdown you get nothing. You just sit there and wonder.
“You don’t feel like you can start your day until you’ve got that first phone call. If that call ends with ‘I’ll call you back’, then you don’t get the call, you wonder, what’s happened? Why didn’t they call?
“I constantly worry for him in there.”