Dirty Laundry in HMP

Following an eventful few days in the run up to beginning my degree, I feel more motivated than ever. Firstly I am humbled by the outstanding achievements I have witnessed and heard off at the Prisoner Learning Alliance conference. I have said before and I’ll say it again, I truly believe that the key to any kind of reform and rehabilitation is in the hand and power of former prisoners and I had the pleasure of hearing first hand stories of some great men and women leading the way, with the help and support of some fantastic organisations and individuals.
Reflecting and considering all that I have seen and heard over the past few days has got me thinking about slow progress, but progression nonetheless. I understand that for anybody to progress, it’s never quick and it’s never easy. This is the same for the middle class, privileged and educated people. That’s not what I am here to talk about, as I am none of the above. I am the child of addicts, the girl who left school at 16 to work to Woolworths, the teenage mum and a former prisoner, with bigger dreams than the life I was born into 27 years ago.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting up with my Longford Trust mentor on Wednesday evening and during conversation she asked me “How do you think you are able to keep doing what you do?” The simple answer is, I have no choice, but I didn’t want to say that and after some deep thought, I understand that I do have a choice, but for me to choose to not do what I do, I wouldn’t be living my truth.
As far as my childhood goes, this part of my life was not a choice. Survival was day to day. I described my transition to the best of my ability, from life as a citizen to a prisoner overnight. I’ve never really previously considered how my childhood shaped me, my mind or my abilities but could it be that from my experiences from a child that I had no choice but to experience, meant that my ability to adapt to prison life was easy….and if that is true. That is tremendously sad. When I say transition to prison life being easy, I don’t mean separation, life as a prisoner or living in prison, I mean in terms of being able to quickly change my way of thinking, to survival mode. Being able to accept that reality was now in prison, my life was in prison and that was that for the next two years. I knew that after my two years, I would never be back, I knew that for me, prison life was far from normal and that prison life was not for me, but I was here….and wasn’t going anywhere.

Within a few weeks of arriving to HMP I remember drawing/writing a mind map!! I binned it after it served a purpose to my way of thinking but I remember clearly what it was for…..on this mind map I considered my options, 1) f*ck the system, f*ck my sentence plan, I’ll sleep for two years and doss, then get released. 2) Yes girl, I could become a yes sir no sir three bags full girl, smile and say all the right things to tick these boxes and get me out easier, being an ass kisser. (Hell NO) 3) I could be compliant with rules, do what was required of me and question and query the reasons and expected outcomes of these things. Being a yes girl was a laughable but viable option but I’m far too proud and stubborn to ever be a yes girl. That left me with option 1, f*ck the system or option 2, be compliant but questionable. I would say that option one was also viable and bloody hell I need two years of sleep right now, but for my families sake despite my own feelings and beliefs of the system that held me, they wanted me home so I was forced into choosing option 3 (haha).
Being compliant but inquisitive about the prison system and regime was a hard job let me tell you. I think many a times the officers would have preferred a yes girl or a f*ck the system type. Lets face it, that would make their job a lot easier. Here I was, asking and agreeing to do things and then following the agreement with, how is this beneficial? What is this for? How does this work? My questions where more often than not, considered a hindrance to the regime rather than an opportunity to inform me of why I was doing what I was doing and conversing about it.
Let me here give an example of a yes girl, take for instance a prison inspection from the IMB. I recall in my two years having two inspections, it may have been more but I can’t remember. So, daily regime on my wing was unlock at 8am, off the girls go to their jobs for the morning, we should, according to timetables, be issued with our keys and return back to our cells at 11.45am. On a normal day, the cleaning girls went to sign into work and hand in their room keys. No-one ever handed in their keys. If so, very very rarely. Most went to do their jobs and went back to their rooms as soon as they had rapidly finished. Obviously, some just signed in and went straight back to bed! This from day to day was normal. Prison officers knew and it was ‘allowed’. I remember early on, working in healthcare off the wing. I had a good job, away from the wings with the healthcare team, printing and distributing the appointment slips as well as sitting with a few of the nurses and having a bit of a laugh and joke with them. I never gave them my key, I went and did what I had to do then went back to my cell, for months. Now, inspection day. I did my usual routine, went back to my room and after 20 mins I heard my name being called over the tannoy by a member of the health care team, asking me to report to their office. Off I went, to have my key taken and to sit in a room until 11.45am. I was later informed that the cleaning girls had all gone to the cleaning office to sign in that morning and had all had their keys taken. Yes, I agree that it should be daily practice, after all they say that these are the rules. FYI you made the rules so why do you not stick to them every day, only when there is an inspection so you give the impression that on a daily basis this is the working life of a prisoner. This false impression was hilarious, a few women were placed by staff in certain places around the prison, the officers showing around the inspectors, followed a certain route to insure, they crossed paths with the ‘yes girls’ they had distributed across the estate, for a brief conversation about our daily working life. I am pretty sure I was kept in that room over in health care so I wouldn’t be able to converse with the inspectors about how we never pass over our keys at work in the morning and for many, the working regime is to sign into work and go back to bed AND the officers know this and turn a blind eye.

Later on in my sentence while I was out of the prison at work every day, the washing machine on our wing had broken and wasn’t being fixed for a period of time. The wing was full of girls who were working outside of prison and going on home leaves. We had no facilities to wash our clothes as this certain wing was independent and the laundry was done on our wing by ourselves. A house meeting was called, which I was absent from but I was later informed that a deputy governor had given the girls on outwork permission to use a washing machine on a different wing to ensure we had clean work clothes. I had been out at work from 6am until 10pm for three days, on my day off I needed to insure I had three clean shirts for the next three days at work because when I arrive back at 10pm it’s too late to be doing washing, and we had no machine. On my day off I went over to a different wing to find the machine in use, I noted that it was due to finish in twenty mins so I went back and after the girl had emptied it , I put my clothes in and left it washing my work uniform, knickers, socks etc.

Well, all hell broke loose when I returned to get my clothes! I was greeted my an officer with a very stern face and attitude, questioning why I was on the wing using the washing machine. My response, reasonable I think… I have work tomorrow, today is my only day off, the washing machine on my wing is broken and we have been told we can use this one to ensure we have CLEAN KNICKERS! The officer proceeds to tell me, she doesn’t know anything about us being able to use this washing machine despite me informing her of the house meeting and naming the deputy governor who gave us permission. Ok, I see the next stage being, either tell me off again or say you will check up on my information. Its not my job to be informing the prison staff of the governors permission, I am simply doing as I have been told and ensuring I have clean clothes for work. Fast forward to 6pm and I hear my name being called over the tannoy to the block, by said officer. The woman gave me a IEP warning for using the washing machine. I asked her had she managed to gain any clarification from the governor, she said no she hadn’t and it would be for me to appeal the warning and resolve it myself. WHAT!!!!????

This was a good year and a half into my sentence and the warning would have had no effect on me what so ever BUT that is not the point. I then wasted a whole night writing a bloody appeal for an IEP warning for washing my clothes. Needless to say, the governor removed this warning because it was absolutely ridiculous. A uniformed, power mad, dehumanising prison officer, with the unwillingness to clarify if I was bullshitting her or not! I wasn’t. I could have been a ‘yes girl’ and took the warning and many did, because to challenge the wrongs and incompetence of some staff is a huge, time costly effort. I could have spent the night writing a letter to my daughter or mother, instead I was having to appeal an IEP warning for washing my clothes.

When we talk about positive relationships, successes, progression, reform and the impact of an officer smiling and encouraging prisoners, we need to talk about, address and deal with the officers who can’t be bothered to engage, who can’t be bothered to source information and the ones who smile in your face while giving you an IEP warning for their laziness. It’s all well and good sharing positive stories of officers and prisoners alike but let’s not forget the daily struggles serving prisoners are facing on a daily basis, in the care of HMP, for the most petty reasons.

 

 

A Prisoner Identity A2081CJ

After writing about the mentality of a prisoner, describing the barriers and boundaries that I now have from my experience as a serving prisoner, this allowed me to reflect and question how and why I now feel the way I do. Detailing a forced and necessary mentality to survive a prison sentence that remains with me, has now enabled me to consider identity. How my identity was prior to prison, how and why it changed in prison and now my identity four years post release.
Many characteristics form an individual identity, from social circles, class, religion, demographics, family, education, beliefs, morals, sex, image and so on. In today’s world, I embrace being a black sheep rather than keeping up with the Kardashians. I don’t believe in normal and I prefer to hear stories of struggle and triumph over silver spooned success.
Self-identity, while so many people struggle with it, is so important. To learn through life what you believe in, what you don’t, how your feel about yourself and how you portray and present yourself to the world. While I don’t mean to emphasis self-identity as appearance, this too also plays a vital role in today’s world. Especially as a woman. While there are so many stereo types and so many boxes to tick which enable you to be grouped into a social identity, a strong ability to identify with one’s self is a vital and hard to reach ability, especially when it comes to being a prisoner and in more recent times, a former prisoner. The characteristics of a self-identity are what sets individuals apart from the other billions of people in the world.
While we all need to somehow socially identify with a group, a strong self-identity I feel is key to success. This is where prison, the staff, the regime, the structure….are able to take away every identity you ever associated with, minus your self-identity, and they will still try and take that if you aren’t strong willed enough to maintain control over your own thinking processes (which many prisoners aren’t). Being a prisoner means you are stripped of your liberty, your freedom and your life how you knew it before. Prison takes away your name, it takes away clothes, your style, what ever once made you unique, prison takes it, it gives you a prison number with a mug shot and for your time in prison, you now Identify as a prison number. A208 1CJ. Yes, I understand that being in prison means that you now have a set of rules and regulations that you  need to follow, but why are prisoners issued tracksuits, in sizes that don’t fit, with a HMP stamp on? Why can prison decide for you, that you don’t smoke, that you can’t wear a hoody or have ripped jeans, and for the two years you are hear you can only have 2 pairs of shoes. Prison should be preparing inmates for the real world and I can assure you, nobody out here is telling me what I can and can’t wear and how many cigarettes ill smoke today.
The prison regime, is punishment focused and by no means rehabilitative. In my experience, in a women’s prison, we were controlled by a system enforcing a general identity of prisoner upon us. All of us were daughters, the majority were mothers, sisters, aunts. Many had talents, dreams, ambition but we were just a number. The skills, knowledge, attributes and compassion that prisoners had for one another and shared with each other were completely overlooked by a system adamant on enforcing power over personal identity.
What saddens me is the realness of prisoners who becomes weakened by this system. Prisoners who may struggle with self-identity so just to fit in somewhere, they take what prison if forcing upon them and embrace their life as a prisoner. Not that they enjoy this or want this, they just aren’t strong enough to or able to build any kind of self-identity foundation outside of the prison walls, geographically or mentally. Having very little choice in prison in terms of training, education, socialising and maintaining family contact, you are integrated into a failing system. A system that wants and needs prisoners. Many fall victim to identifying with this role, so much so, they end up caught in a cycle of re-offending because they have become systematically dependant and are rarely shown, offered or taught the qualities, characteristics, and attributes they need to identify with, to live a life outside of prison.
I understand that social and self-identity and what consists within these, may of course be part of the reason many people end up in prison, however, stripping a person of their social identity for a period of time and not enabling or allowing the process of learning new identities will not help anyone. It fails the person, the public and the justice system as a whole.
The rules and regulations of the prison I was in were shocking at times, I recall an older prisoner being freezing in winter and we had no heating, when asking for an extra blanket she was told no, one each is the rule. Ok, but here we have an old lady who is freezing cold, there are blankets within this estate that aren’t being used and could be spared, so why on earth could this old woman not have it!? Because, she wasn’t a freezing old lady, she was a prisoner, we were in prison and they were the rules that we had no other choice but to follow.
Another incident I recall, after being out of the prison from 6am and returning with two other woman at 10pm after working all day, we were being processed back into the prison and I heard an officer call my number, not my name, into a small holding room in reception. Two female officers were in the room, they closed the door and pulled down the blind, I knew exactly what was coming, seeing as I was being processed back into to prison with a well known drug user. Yes, a drug user who had been released for the day. Here I was, 23 years old being strip searched for drugs! I laughed and made a light hearted conversation with these officers, who clearly felt that this was wrong, I said do you really think that you are going to find drugs on me, they both said no but they had orders to follow. I was naked, handing over my knickers for an officer to feel and look through for drugs, not because they suspected I was supplying HMP with drugs but because they had let out a drug user and because I was being processed back in at the same time, I had to go through the same process. That feeling, is the ultimate of having your self-identity as a woman, stolen. No history of drug use, no drug offences, no positive piss tests yet I had an officer watch me strip naked then go through my knickers because they suspected someone else, who I was returning with, may have been bringing stuff back. Great! But hey ho, I was a prisoner and these are their rules.

Thankfully, a system that doesn’t encourage self-development, self-improvement, self-belief or self-identity didn’t quite manage to take away my own mind. I may have smiled and went along with some shit for the sake of release but I knew all along that they don’t want people to change because they need prisoners. Prisoners are making millions for some people and if the system worked and people were released with a better self and social identity, then they wouldn’t be bringing in the money. Prison really will strip you of everything you have, everything you have ever known and everything you wish to be, if you aren’t strong enough to stop it.

 

The prisoner mentality….

A lasting state….

As my previous blogs have detailed various experiences of prison, probation and post release discrimination, I have decided to leap into a current and lasting state of affairs…. Or, a lasting state. This being, a feeling that was learnt in prison, that has never left me. Since finding my 2013 prison diary, a quote in there that I wrote, that stays with me ‘’My tears dry on their own’’. This has a lot more meaning than I sometimes like to admit. Sometimes I think its ironic that I have been so productive in campaigning against ex offender discrimination, when prison enabled me to build so many protective barriers in regard to work, family and a social life. All of which I didn’t have prior to prison.

Prison is lonely. An environment that only the mentally strong can survive. No-body goes into prison, mentally strong. Not as strong as you need to be. I went to prison a popular young girl, with many a nights partying still ahead of me. I came out of prison, with the number of friends I had, countable on one hand, with no desire at all to go partying or celebrating a release. The days, weeks and months I spent training my brain to survive alone, to let my tears dry on their own, to find the answers to my own questions, and to decide what I wanted from family, friendship and love. While I sat in prison, considering a heap of questions of which I wanted to ask certain people, in my own solitude, without speaking a word, I found the answers. I found a peace in silence, I wouldn’t describe myself as reserved now but in prison, I didn’t fit in to any crowd, I didn’t seek friends or associates and countless times, I walked alone, ate alone and learnt alone. These lessons to me are priceless. As much as I protect myself, my lessons of resilience, of longevity and being ok with standing alone, mean everything to me. My playlist of Destiny’s child got on everyone’s nerves, but to me, these words rang true and I knew that for me to survive what was happening to me, I had to be independent and a survivor.

My family supported me throughout prison but they had each other. I had no-one. Knowing that I have survived what I have been through, not just prison, but prior to that also, alone. I came out of prison a completely different person in mind, body and spirit. The things that usually annoyed me as a teenager, didn’t phase me. The need to fit it, to go out, to make friends. I didn’t want to do it. It really didn’t bother me at all, now upon reflection of my life prior to prison and my life now, I am starting to see so many barriers I have built myself, that are not easy to let go of. The things that I taught myself, in order to protect my sanity, my mental health and my heart from anything the prison experience could do to me, are all still here with me 4 years later. I am still unable to pinpoint whether I feel this is a good or bad thing, but hopefully through addressing them I will be able to gain some clarity.

My friends prior to prison were all pretty decent. I wasn’t with any of them on the night of my offence. Whilst incarcerated, in the early days while not only being devastated with being parted from my family and child, I couldn’t help wondering what I was missing, my sisters were still living life and so were my friends, while I can’t hold this against them at all, being in prison it’s a bitter pill to swallow. I had two years to sit there and keep contact with them, listen to their stories and keep up-to-date with the trials and tribulations of all my teenage mates….. or for my own reasons I could cut all contact with them and get on with me, my life in prison. That is what I did. In the early days I still received letters and the odd visit but no too long into my sentence, I realised that none of these people could at all comprehend the reality of the life I was living now. It was all well and good laughing on visits and replying to letters slagging off their current boyfriend, but this was tedious, stupid and too much effort for me. I could have communicated better the way I felt, how I was now living and my life as a prisoner but for me, that was letting people too much into my life behind prison walls. If I was going to break down, I was going to do that quietly, motionlessly and alone. Nothing was going to change and in reality, my friends at the time probably couldn’t of cared less.
I left prison with three friends, women who I had met in prison and to this day, those are my real friends. The people who like you on your darkest day, with nothing to offer them but a joke, a shoulder to cry on or a bloody stamp!

Being a prisoner destroyed a happy-go-lucky, sociable and polite soul. I am still polite and sociable, but I don’t engage in conversation unless I have to, I don’t go out unless I have to and at work I switch into a completely different person. I guess, prison taught me an adaptability that will never leave me. Its frustrating to realise just how quickly I can switch persona to fit an environment, and I always wonder, did prison take the real me and now I am just getting through life switching from work mode to having to make friends mode and then when I am in the house I feel like my persona goes back to a prisoner where I feel like I have to keep my guard up and the prison walls around me to regain my own protection. True resilience is losing everything you have, from possessions, to relationships and getting it all back but starting from scratch. Knowing this happened to me and I got it all back on my own, scares me sometimes. It makes me realise a power I struggle to notice sometimes, a power that I have inside of me.
Living so much of my life, fending for myself, witnessing addiction and mental health problems on a daily basis, living in prison for two years, it really has changed me. To say I feel like I don’t need anyone would be a lie, but I have a vision for my life, a path that I want and need to follow that was born from solitude, It keeps me from engaging in anything that I feel may have a detrimental effect on my own journey.
I guess life is a funny thing, no one call tell you how to live your life. We all have experiences and it is in our moments of decision that shape our destiny. I felt trapped in prison so I trained my brain to not let it get to me and I decided to cut everyone I possibly could, out of my life…. I came out and by anyone’s standards I am doing well but the inability to share my emotions and feelings that I forced upon myself during my time of incarceration for the sake of myself and my family, I am struggling to let go of. Maybe its fear of appearing weak, when I had to toughen up or maybe I reflect on prison and think, well if that didn’t break me then nothing can so I won’t address my feelings. Who knows, I am still on this journey called life!

 

 

Michaela Booth #relationshipstatus

Following the conference in Wales on Monday 21st August I have felt compelled to write a realistic version of how the night panned out, after reading some very shoddy journalism with complete misquotes and misinterpretation of my speech.
The article in question opened with “Michaela Booth, a single mother”. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but me being a single mother has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of debate. I was not attending the conference on super prisons for media to publicise my current relationship status! Maybe they should have added “and ready to mingle” at the end of it….
The article goes on to say that I spent two years on bail, in actual fact I spent two years and ten months on bail. Another misquote is “We need to not build any prisons until prisons work”. This one is minor but I feel I should amend this and state my words, as I said them. The correct quote would and should have been… “I am not here to oppose a super prison being built in Wales, I am here to oppose any new prison being built, until prisons work”.
The next statement from the article reads “ Prison doesn’t work for most prisoners, who are likely to be drug addicts and people suffering from mental health issues”. Now, this is partly true however not what I said. What I was really trying to get across in my speech was that prison, as prison is today, is dehumanising, exploiting and making money from the most vulnerable people in society. Many of whom have addiction and mental health problems, and building a new super prison that can not and will not provide adequate care for these individuals is completely wrong and will allow more and more people to fall victim of being caught in a system that is set up to fail the most vulnerable people that live with in our communities. As for “prison doesn’t work for most prisoners” I would argue that prison doesn’t work for any prisoner, in the current state of the prison system today. Prison doesn’t work for the prisoner, it doesn’t work for the staff, it doesn’t work for the families of prisoners and it doesn’t work for the greater good of society, aside from the fact of offering public protection for a time of incarceration for high risk offenders.
The article goes on to quote me as saying “A lot of things I had to go through to prove I was ready to leave prison were unnecessary. They put me through tests which asked if I was likely to act indecently around children” Well, yes the writer of this article got the gist of what I said, but not quite…. What I actually explained and in great details was not the ‘test’ but rather the ‘treatment programme’ I was forced to participate in by probation before they would agree to my homeleaves. Despite the fact that I had already requested to take part in this and was told that I didn’t need to do it as I didn’t meant the criteria for the ‘treatment’. This treatment for asked me various questions but two I remember distinctively…..1) have you ever considered having sex with a child                  2)have you ever considered or engaged in a sexual act with an animal. This treatment programme has scarred me for life, lets have it right, if you are going to write about my contribution, write it how it is. The prison system and probation services deemed it appropriate for a young women, serving her first custodial sentence, for a fight in a club on a Friday night to attend a treatment programme that supposedly focused on Thinking Skills, before they would consider me for temporary release, to enable me to spend time with my child. Now, I wouldn’t say these were unnecessary tests. I would say, this was a waste of money, a waste of time, an exercise to tick an irrelevant box and damn right ridiculous to have even seated me on a chair in that room where the course took place, in the first place.

Another misquote….”Had it not been for prison, I would have been left homeless and unemployed after it”. Actually, Had I have left my housing and employment needs to the prison service, of course I would have been released homeless and unemployed. I found my job and I found my accommodation with absolutely no guidance or support from prison staff. Had it have been down to the prison service…. I would have been released from prison homeless and unemployed. The point that I felt I made well but reading this article I am having second thoughts….. LOL…..
Having been employed and in suitable accommodation on the day the judge sent me to prison, the prison service then have a duty of care and a duty, as they say, of rehabilitation. Now, for anyone who doesn’t know, rehabilitation means, the prison system release me back into the community in a better state or at least no worse, than the state I arrived. I arrived from a working background and leaving behind a stable home. This means, to rehabilitate me I should leave with at least the same as what I had when I arrived. The prison system, in the simplest possible terms, failed in any attempt to offer me rehabilitation, it also fails every single other prison within its ‘care’.
Now, the final quote from me is hilarious…. “If prison had its way, I’d be in the system forever.”
NO WAY on earth would I ever have said that. Never in my life has that thought even crossed my mind. My offence, was a mistake and a complete one off. What I said was, prison does not and can not support its many inmates who have addiction needs, mental health needs or housing needs, these are the people who are vulnerable, with far more needs than prison can accommodate for who are completely stuck in the system, what I said was “if you were released homeless, with £46, a drug addiction and no home, how long would it take you to commit a crime to survive…?” Because these are the people who are stuck in the system forever.
I understand the media and how they like to portray prison, that is why I do not entertain it. What I can not tolerate is an airbrushed account of the trauma, suffering and the longevity of systematic failing that are affecting prisoners today.
I went to Wales to oppose the building of any new prison. I described how if a car had been manufactured and then the maker of said car found failings within it that could cause potential harm, these cars would be recalled and would be advised not to be driven. We have a prison system, that doesn’t work, that causes more harm than good and with the crisis as it is today, the idea of any new build should be postponed until we see a safe, rehabilitative, supportive and effective prison system.

Oh, before I go….. Michaela Booth….. Single Mother! (bar maid, prison leaver mentor, blogger, criminology student) #girlofmanytalents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before I am a prisoner, I am a mother.

With the report on the importance of maintaining family ties being the topic of debate recently, I have decided to write something I have been considering for a while, but putting off due to being overwhelmed with emotion when I recall my experiences of life in prison as a mother and rebuilding the relationship with my daughter upon my release.

 
Before I am anything else, I am a mother. My daughter is my pride and joy. She is beautiful inside and out, a huge animal lover, a comedian, only child who is spoilt rotten but would give her favourite toy or teddy to anyone who is less fortunate than she is. Throughout her school years she has always gained excellent reports in all aspects of her education and she has a great social life and is always the life of any party or family gathering.

 
Let me give you just a couple of funny examples to explain what kind of girl she is. A few years ago my sister and daughter visited me while I was at work, My daughter was 6 years old at this time. I went to my handbag and gave her £10 to spend while she was out shopping with my sister. They left my place of work to go about their day shopping. When I returned home my sister told me they had walked past an animal charity event on the high street where they had a Donkey to pet for a donation. My daughter had asked my sister for some money to give to the animal charity but my sister didn’t have any change so my daughter said, ‘Mummy just gave me £10 lets give them that.” My sister said no, we aren’t giving them ten pounds and my daughter replied with “Well, Aunty Soph, at least rip it half and give them £5”.

 

 

On another occasion, my daughter asked me “Mummy if I do the washing up and clean my room please can I have some pocket money” This was strange as she was 7 and had never asked for pocket money before so I asked her what did she want money for, she said “well my school teachers are going to Tanzania to visit a school and I wanted to buy some school supplies for the children there because in Tanzania they don’t have as much as we have at school”.

 
She is so selfless. Any family birthday she always insists on making cards and gifts because in her words ‘making stuff is nicer than spending money’.

 
Having been sent to prison when she was only just 4 years old, it really broke my heart and the guilt I feel still, is hard to shake off no matter how much self-forgiveness I can practice. I missed her first day at primary school and that is still horrible to think about. Looking at her photos with her hair in pigtails, her rucksack was bigger than her back and she was so tiny and looked so excited. I have the pictures of her first day at school up in my kitchen. Missing birthdays and Christmases were hard, but this day is a day that I will never ever get back. The biggest milestone in her life and I missed it because I was in prison. My sisters and my mum took her to school on her first day, and all cried their eyes out waving her off. How was our baby starting school already and how was her mum missing it….

 
I missed her 5th and 6th birthday and two Christmases. I was sent to prison in November so the first Christmas was horrible. Nobody expected me to go to prison on the day that I was sentenced, with no pre-sentence report and no regard or questioning as to what measures I had in place to care for my child, which at the point I was sent to prison, were none. 5 minutes before sentencing me to two years in prison, was when the judge found out I was a mother. I had dropped my daughter off at nursery on the morning I was sent to prison, headed off to court with all expectation on returning home that day. I didn’t return home for two years. My daughter at 4 years old, had no idea what had happened. Thankfully, my mum took her in without even a second thought and cared for her during my time inside.

 
I called home on Christmas day 2011, holding back the tears I briefly spoke to my mum and sisters telling them how shit my morning was so far, then I spoke to my daughter, trying not to cry. I asked her a few questions and asked what did she get for Christmas, she named a few toys and items she had received and then she said “But mummy why aren’t you here because all I really wanted was you.”

 
I hung up on her because I couldn’t talk through tears. I was hysterical. I Went back to my cell where I remained, in tears for the rest of Christmas day. Even just recalling that phone call has made me cry now. I still feel bad that I put the phone down on my daughter, but I didn’t want her to hear me crying because she would have been upset hearing that.

 
The second Christmas I was applying for a home leave to be able to spend Christmas at home. My probation officer had approved my home leave, contacted my mum and said she had approved it and that I would be home. Then the bombshell that she upped my risk from medium risk to the public, to high risk to the public, knowing full well that regardless of her approving my home leave (yes, that’s right my probation officer approved a home leave for a person she considered to be a high risk to the public) that prison wouldn’t let out a high risk prisoner. The prison had no idea why she had done it and neither did I. I took me weeks to get an answer in writing, gather evidence to disprove her, complain to her manager and get her ridiculous decision overturned. Which I did do, but again, that meant I spent Christmas 2012 in prison to.

 
Throughout my two years in prison I had steady contact without my family on a daily basis. Letters, emails, phone calls and visits. In my last 8 months I was going out on day release at the weekends and spend 4-5 days at home on temporary licence. On these days I would take my daughter to school and collect her. While I was at home she would sometimes say “mummy” and my mum would answer her. For a period of her life, I witnessed my daughter mistaking her nan for her mum. Whilst I completely know my mum did everything she could to care for my daughter it was still horrible to know that my child thought my mum was her mum.

 

In two years in prison I benefitted from TWO family days visits. Where my mum and daughter could come and spend the day in the visits hall for a few more hours than normal visiting times. They had a few games, lunch was provided and we spent the day making stuff with arts and craft material. In my opinion and experience, a lot more could and should be done for parents in prison to keep their bond and connection with their children.

 

Living without her mother for two years, I am sure has had a lasting impact on my daughter. For a year or so since my release she was always ok and happy with staying at my mums, staying at her dads and having sleep overs at friends and family’s houses. She never really ‘missed me’ so to speak. And she was used to living with my mum so she still used to go there quite often to stay, even when I was home. In more recent times I am seeing such a change in dynamic. She is very clingy, very anxious about me working, asking what time will I be home, how long will I be away, how long does she have to stay at nanny’s for? When ever she is not in my care, for what ever reason, I am always receiving phone calls and texts saying she is upset and asking when I will be home. She can’t stand to be away from me now.

 

I am still appalled by the judge who sent me to prison, for not allowing a pre-sentence report, it was my first time in custody and I was a mother of a young child. As I previously stated, the judge found out I was a mother and sole carer of a 4year old daughter 5 minutes before he sentenced me to two years in prison.

 

My relationship with my daughter now is great. She is happy that I am about to start university and despite giving up my full time job to pursue education she says we may have less money but at least we have more time ‘to do fun stuff together”.

 
Before I am a student, a bar maid, a sister or a daughter, I am a mother. I was a mother in prison and now I am a mother living on the outside. My role as a protector, a friend and a supported never changed, only my location did. My daughter has a shoe box full of all the cards and letters I sent to her while I was in prison and she has kept them and sometimes reads them. I asked her if we could get rid of them (I want to) and she said no, “I am keeping them in case anyone every says you just left me”.

 
I would never leave my child. Judges sentencing mothers to a prison sentence need to ensure that there is really no other option and that the woman can arrange and put in place measures for her child to be cared for during the time of incarceration. Thankfully, my mum was ready and willing to do so. But the judge didn’t know that. I guess I cannot change the past, all I can do is concentrate on the future and be the best mother I can be, regardless of my past.

 

 

 

Educate Me

 

Well tomorrow marks the 7 week countdown before I begin my degree in Criminology! To say I am excited and proud would only be a tiny understatement! And, I promise I am not counting!

 

With my education journey about to begin I have been reflecting on the opportunities that were available to me in prison….. I should end the blog here! These options were minimal. While I agree that the majority of prisoners may have had a lack of formal education prior to their prison sentence, that is not true for all prisoners. And even so, a lack of formal education doesn’t mean a lack of education, ambition and aspirations. Many are far more skilled than people would believe. Many hidden talents going unnoticed and to waste.

 

I was offered a level 2 adult literacy and maths course but after sitting an initial exam in my induction process, I didn’t need to do these courses. I then signed up for my level 2 certificate in I.T which was an 8 week course and I completed all modules in 2 weeks. Drake Hall did offer hair dressing and beauty therapy courses however that was not my cup of tea and the waiting list for those were months. I was trying to find any course that I could do just to pass the time. I signed up to do a Level 1 customer service course which I attended after a 6 week wait. That took me two sessions and I was complete however due to me being so far ahead I had to slow down my work to be in line with the rest of the class.

 

With the hairdressing and beauty therapy courses being out of the question for me, and the only other options being very basic level, I applied to do the gym based qualifications as I was always in the gym and then became a gym orderly. I did my level 1 certificate in gym based exercise and then went on to complete my level 2 in Fitness instructing. These courses for me were great because it was all knew to me, so it kept me interested in learning new things and also kept me fit and socialising with prisoners who were trying to learn new skills and qualifications to use post release. Little did we anticipate the ordeals we were to meet ‘on the out’.

 

Aside from my gym qualifications which took me about 6 months to gain, my family paid for a distance learning course, which I completed along side my gym work. This was a diploma in Personal Life Style Development. I passed this with a A* and it filled my time with research in the prison library and typing and sending my essays for marking. That course was quite in depth and took me about a year. I could have gone on to do a level 3 gym qualification in Personal Training however I was due to be released before I would have completed and I was working out of the prison on ROTL. My gym qualifications are a great achievement however they havn’t yet been utilised. My fitness regime also went down the drain upon my release! Joining the gym every January to leave by March!

 

It is great and obvious that prisons need to offer maths and literacy for prisoners who have little education. But very worrying that for people with long sentences, who may have had an education prior to prison, the only thing on offer to them is gym qualifications and hair and beauty. As well as people who have short sentences who may wait months for a place on a course, only to be told they will be released before it ends so they can’t do it.

 

I was never informed of or guided to Open University courses in prison which is a shame as that would have been good for me. In fact, I don’t recall ever meeting a woman in Drake Hall who was studying with the Open University. I was never asked what I was good at, never asked what I liked doing and never asked what I wanted to do once I was released. I was also never informed of The Longford Trust who offer scholarships and mentors for former prisoners to access Higher Education.  I found them online and I am lucky to now benefit from their scheme post release.

 

I saw many women benefit from Level 1 and 2 qualifications in Maths, English and I.T. The hair and beauty therapy courses also helped a lot of women gain qualifications and skills to use up on their release however it seemed to me that women entering prison who already have a good knowledge of English Maths and were I.T literate, there was very little on offer for them. I don’t understand why so little is on offer in terms of education for woman who have been sentenced to a prison term. For women serving short sentences, most are not there long enough to wait for a place and then complete the duration of the course and for women serving long sentences there were minimal opportunities available to them above level 1&2.  So, a woman could be serving a 6 year sentence, complete the gym based qualifications and the hair and beauty courses in 3 years and then have three years left with no educational opportunities of benefit to her.

 

There were no careers advisers to tailor an educational support programme to assist with employment goals and aspirations, there was no support of encouragement to aspire for a career post release at all. The education department who facilitate the courses had next to no information on how to access any education other than what they offered.

 

I am thankful for my I.T certificates and my Gym qualifications but very much disheartened by the sheer lack of education accessible to all serving prisoners.

 

The Forgotten

Being a part of the annual Anawim awards 2017 was an honour, receiving a certificate and flowers in recognition for my voluntary work was an added bonus. I feel privileged to have witnessed and contributed slightly to some amazing work, outstanding triumph of woman who at one point may have described themselves as broken and to have listened to unarguable strength in the face of the most horrendous of situations.
The day was amazing. It gives a platform for women who use services within Anawin to share their stories, their battles, emotions and ultimately their journey of success and achievement. It also recognises the staff who go above and beyond their ‘job’ to support the women, with compassion, resilience and simply because they care. Not because their job pays the bills.
After the award ceremony, I returned back to the reception office to do the afternoon shift. It was there that I really paid attention to the poster right in front of my face, that I have seen numerous times. It says, ‘Anawin – Hewbrew term meaning The Forgotten and The Poor’. Knowing that listening to the stories of the women who benefit from Anawim, I wouldn’t be able to forget them, I started to think about the irony of the term. Anawim can be used to refer to those who are downtrodden because of their poverty. Voiceless people with no influence, no help or no power. The forgotten, poor, outcast and abandoned.
Today, through shaking hands, trembling voices and tears, I heard such powerful voices tell stories with inspiring content. Women who have undisputable strength and power to overcome such adverse circumstance. Their voices and stories help influence the services that Anawim provide to enable women to bring back their own power. A sentence that was used by several women in today’s event ‘I now feel empowered’.
The raw emotion in the room today was overwhelming. Thankfully, the tables were nicely decorated with tissues at the ready. I shed more than one tear and as I looked around the room I didn’t see many dry eyes. Staff sharing stories of women’s achievements, beeming with pride and teary eyed was an absolute pleasure to witness. Women, sharing their own stories, recognising their own success and thanking the Anawim staff in tears was also witnessed today. The woman thanking and assuring staff that it was down to their dedication for the success of today and the staff assuring the woman that it was all the women’s doing.
In any case, Anawim, a term used to refer to the downtrodden, the voiceless, the forgotten, the outcast and the abandoned was not what I witnessed today at the Anawim awards. The Anawim team treat everybody with respect, compassion and kindness. Nobody is an outcast at Anawim, every single person is valued. Anawim offer the tools needed for women to find their voice, regain their power and overcome feelings and situations of isolation.
I will end this blog, how I ended my speech….
‘Anawim brings hope in a hopeless world’

 

Pupil engagement at Brynmawr Foundation School.

After delivering a speech on the consequences of crime and punishment and highlighting the fact that anybody, in any place and at any time, could become a prisoner, I asked the children at Brynmawr foundation school to write a letter, to whoever they choose, imagining that this was their first night in a prison.

It was amazing to see the kids reaction when reality hit them, no iphones, no wifi, no internet access at all. Some thought that you could be bailed out of a prison sentence and were shocked to hear that the geographical locations of prisons meant you could be hours away from home to serve your sentence.
I will blog more specifically about how the day panned out, the interaction with the kids and feedback from staff and the children following the event, but for now…..Enjoy a read of the children’s letters from their first night in a prison!

“Dear mam,
I’m in prison, I won’t see you for two years. I am in a cell with a doctor. Mam, I didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident.
Please come and get me, I want to come home. Tell everyone I miss them and to come and visit me soon because I miss you loads.
I love you”     Year 8 Pupil.

“Dear mam and dad,
Im so sorry that I done this, I’m so disappointed in myself and ashamed that I let myself slip with my anger. I wish I wasn’t there then and at that time cause if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be in this situation, all I want you to know is that I am so sorry and I love you. I hate myself and if I could go back I wouldn’t of done it but I was so angry mam.
I love you both dearly mam and dad xxx”     Year 8 Pupil.

“Mam and dad,
Its really scary, I’m missing you so much can you please come and get me cause I feel scared and upset. I really want to see you and dad. How are you feeling I hope you are ok. I can’t wait till I get out of here. I’m going to start from the beginning and start my new life, get a house and job. There are people screaming and shouting and sometimes they are fighting. I stay back in my cell away from them. I stay in this little cell with a toilet and a sink and bunkbeds. My room mate is very kind and helpful but I miss you so much, love you millions mam and dad, see you soon I am so sorry I let you down.
Love you.”     Year 10 Pupil.

 

“Dear mam and my family,
It’s my first night in prison it’s really scary here, they are screaming and shouting and there are fights. I don’t like it here come and bail me out and please bring me a mcdonalds.
Hope to see you soon.
Love you loads.”       Year 7 Pupil.

“Dear mam and dad,
It’s really scary here and I really want you to come and get me bail me out, I hate it. Bring me a Mcdonalds I am craving a cheese burger and I hate my life so much I hate all of the fights and arguments in here.
I have to go now, this is my only letter for a week.
Lots of Love.”           Year 9 Pupil.

“Dear dad,
I am very depressed and feeling so angry because I never knew doing something so stupid could lead to this. I just want to come home. Being in here for as long as I am isn’t going to be normal. I am missing you and the rest of the family so much and knowing that most people wont want to speak to me now is horrible.
Love you but I have to go now.”             Year 10 Pupil.

“Dear nan,
I hate my life so much, I feel so sad and I miss you so much. I love you so much nan. Please tell mam and dad and gramps and everyone that I miss them all so much, I cant wait for this to be over, Its so dark and boring and depressing I cant believe I am in here for 4 years because of an accident. Please come get me I love you so much.”                     Year 8 Pupil.

As well as asking the pupils to write a letter, we also asked them to answer some questions for us. Below are the questions and answers, completed by pupils between year 7 and year 10.

What does a prisoner look like, describe how you imagine the appearance of a prisoner?
• Scruffy
• Unkept
• Covered in tattoos
• Orange jumpsuits
• Uneducated
• Rough
• Smelly
• Shaved head
• Grey tracksuit
• Looking very ill
• Ugly
• Muscley
• Scary
• Look like they don’t wash
• Ratty
• Scars
• Mad and angry
• Fat
• Skinny

How would you feel if you went to prison today?
• Really scared
• Depressed
• Disappointed
• Upset
• Guilty
• Absolutely horrible
• I wouldn’t know what to do
• Feel sorry for myself and my family
• I would feel like there is no point in life anymore
• So many opportunities have been ruined
• Devastated
• Ashamed
• I would feel like I have let my family down
• Totally gutted, I don’t think I could survive
• Hurt
• Heart broken

What would you miss the most if you were in prison?
• My freedom
• Family
• My job
• Nice food
• Friends
• My phone
• My bed
• My house
• My social life
• School
• Privacy
• My pets
• My t.v
• Teachers
• My education
• Cleanliness
• My rights
• Mcdonalds/KFC
• My xbox
• My ipad

What would you say to a serving prisoner to encourage them to change and stay out of prison upon their release?
• Behave
• Please don’t go back, I know you don’t like it
• Learn from your mistakes and move on
• Life will be better if you don’t go back to prison
• Keep your mind occupied on changing the world
• Your mistakes will follow you for your whole life
• “do you really want to come back to this place?”
• Stay out of trouble, don’t get involved, move away if you have to
• Freedom and life is amazing, find an opportunity to move on
• Think about the consequences and be the bigger person to not get involved
• Was it worth it? Because you could have done anything…
• Think about your family and the sentence they had
• Remember what it was like when you were living in a cell
• Think of the life you could have if you didn’t go back, stay positive because life outside of prison can be good
• You still have a life after, fight to change what you can
• I would remind them to think how awful prison was

Describe how you imagine the day to day life of a serving prisoner?
• Long
• Boring
• Miserable
• Depressing
• Hard
• Isolated
• Lonely
• Just in a cell all day, horrible
• I thought they would be out of their cell for at least 5 hours
• Awful
• No fun at all
• Someone is always going to try and bully you and get the best of you
• Staring at a wall
• Sleeping all day
• Wake up, eat,shower,sleep every day
• Intimidated
• Incomplete
• Working a boring job
• Horrific

Would you spend a night in prison if you were given the chance?
• Yes, to see how some criminal feel and how they live.
• I don’t know
• Yes
• No, I couldn’t last a day alone
• Only if someone I loved went to prison
• I wouldn’t go alone
• Yes, to lean how others live and feel
• No way, I wouldn’t like it at all
• I wouldn’t want to ever experience that
• No, after hearing about it, it sounds terrible
• Definitely
• Nope
• Yes, for the experience
What do you want to be when you are older?
• Lawyer
• Social worker
• Foster carer
• Teacher
• A vet
• Police officer
• Soldier
• Nurse
• Doctor “I have no intention to go to prison” (age 14)
• Midwife
• I would like to work in New Look
A huge thank you to Brynmawr foundation school for allowing us to come and share our experiences and to Barry Mason who arranged the whole day, a big thanks to all of the pupils who were a pleasure to talk to and who engaged fully and interactively. I think all involved in the day, took something positive away from it.

Our aim is to bring informative conversation and educate on the realities of life in prison and the affects it can have on life for a very long time. Moving away from how media portray prison as ‘butlins’. Luxuries such as playstations, still get boring after sitting in a cell for years.

 

 

In the midst of something spectacular…

It seems from my first ever blog, expressing my concern for my life post prison, my upbeat attitude, complete resilience and endless nights looking for opportunities, I have found some light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

It’s been 3 months since I went for my first proper job interview in 8 years, the job that I was offered over other contenders and the job that subsequently got snatched from my grasp after the poor and inadequate support I received from the recruitment agency dealing with my application. The application, on which I disclosed my convictions and was asked “had I done this by mistake”. As stated in my previous blog, the employer, after hearing of my conviction after offering me the job, retracted my job offer after less than a 2 hour deliberation. I very much doubt it even took them two hours to consider it. They certainly did not contact me to hear from me about how I came to end up in prison for an offence committed as a teenager. Needless to say, had the company of known about my conviction prior to my interview, I wouldn’t have even gotten through their door, despite the fact that they congratulated me on such a successful interview and offered me the position the very next day. Furthermore, they tried to silence me from speaking out about their employment practices and the terrible experience I endured with them. They refused to offer me any explanation as to why they came to such a ridiculous decision that I wasn’t suitable for the position I was offered, based on a conviction as a teenager.

Having experienced such obvious discrimination, I set out to raise awareness of the life long stigma and discrimination that people with criminal convictions face, day to day. I left my job to pursue voluntary opportunities within a related sector of the criminal justice system and I am pleased to say, I have been welcomed, valued and supported, from the day I set foot through their door. I also have received great feedback from the staff regarding my own role within the organisation. I have also applied to and received an unconditional offer to study Criminology at The University of Worcester and I am due to start my degree in September of this year.

As well as my voluntary work and the pursuit of higher education, I also applied for funding from The Longford Trust. After spending a few days thinking long and hard about what to write in my personal statement and application, I finally got it sent off with a few days to go before their deadline. I was absolutely over the moon when I received an email to say that, after considering my application it, it was successful. I was then invited to London to meet the scholarship manager and discuss my ambitions for the future and the possibility of a mentor to support me through my academic studies at university.

Aside from that, I have had great opportunities to talk to children in schools about the detrimental effect a criminal conviction can have on the rest of your life. I have been invited to speak at a probation reform seminar at Westminster and I hope to, in the near future, share my story from prisoner to Criminology student with other Universities and criminology students. I have also completed and adult safeguarding course and been to various mentor training sessions in the hope that I will be able to assist and support prison leavers with their transition.

Oh, and I also got a new job!

Despite committing an offence in my teenage years, I am unwilling and unable to accept the fact that for the most part I have already been written off by society for the fact that I spent time in prison. In actual fact, I was more unemployable, more unreliable and more of a concern when I was a teenager (and still I was in full time employment).

The prison experience gave me a work ethic that many people without convictions don’t have, it means I always have to work that bit harder because I always feel like I have something to prove. In prison I was never one to accept what the officers and probation told me, without questioning it and ultimately trying to change it, if I thought it wasn’t right. This can also be said for how I live my life post release. If I believe that something isn’t right, I will appropriately challenge it and work endlessly to try and change it. It has been said that I have a slightly aggressive tone… I would be lying if I said I am not pissed off about the treatment I have received. I am a mother, trying my best to work hard, to make a career for myself and be a great role model for the young girl I am raising and who watches my every move. If my passion for a better life, for a better society and for a fair chance at progression comes over as ‘aggressive’….well, that’s unfortunate. Me being pissed off about my situation is the reason I get out of bed in the morning, it’s the reason I do all that is within my power, to change this for myself and anybody else who is or may be in the position I am in.

Not all prison leavers are able to or even want to move on from crime, but with the complete lack of support from prison to probation to society, it really isn’t that much of a shock that most go on to reoffence and are reconvicted.

I hope throughout my studies and post graduation I can work with people within the prison and criminal justice system to support their successful life away from reoffending. I hope to be a role model and set an example of just what is possible if you work hard, stay driven and do not allow ‘society’ to limit your dreams.

Katy

I have always enjoyed writing, note making and words. If I write something down it helps me to remember. Jotting books and a million ‘borrowed’ biros are always in my handbag, my cupboards filled with journals and half hearted diary entries from what should be every day of the year. I’ve been revisiting my prison poems, if you will call them that. This is a harrowing reminder of a night that caused me great trauma….
While I’m sat in a dim light
contemplating dimmer life
the girl next door was attempting suicide
taking her own life
I knocked on her door and pressed the panic alarm
this teenage girl emerged with blood for an arm
in life we were strangers
in prison we were neighbours
my reaction was hysterical
for her, this was recreational
self harm was escape from a world
that had harmed her
she was an arsonist
meanwhile I was trying to remain my calmest
my sweating palm emerging into a fist
a nurse was called out to bandage her up
then it was back to bang up
back in my cell
I thought her reality must be hell
a suicidal arsonist, clearly unwell
banged up next door
in a cell
2 hours later I was back on the bell
insisting on checks
I didn’t want to make myself
I couldn’t sleep in fear
of waking up to death
witnessing such vulnerability
I couldn’t rest
this was mental torcher put to the test
her body was scars
I don’t know where she’s going
but I hope its far
far from the hurt
far from the pain
bang up is not a place for her to remain…