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…

Rehabilitation

‘The process of returning to a healthy or good way of life, or the process of helping someone to do this after they have been in prison’

 

While reflecting on the distance I have come in the past few months, with the help and support of so many people, who don’t even know me, who don’t have to help me and who most certainly do not get paid to help me, I have been thinking about the people who actually get paid, and work to rehabilitate people leaving prison. I was in prison for two years, I saw many people enter and exit the prison system, countless women leaving for only a few weeks before they came back.

I was very lucky, I left prison with a full time job and a home. This was not due to anybody helping me find accommodation or employment. I did it myself. After the whole appalling situation that occurred before I was granted my home leaves and release on temporary licence, when this finally happened for me, I was able to find myself a paid job which enabled me to save money and look for a house to rent while I was on home leaves. Thankfully, I managed to find somewhere for the day I was released.

With regard to my paid job, it was a fellow prisoner that told me about the company coming in to interview prisoners, I wasn’t asked by staff or even informed about it by staff, I had to approach them myself and pester them to let me attend the interview. Again, I was lucky and I got the 16 week trial period and 16 weeks of paid work. When my 16 weeks were over, I contacted another area manager from the company and asked if I could do another 16 weeks on a different area and hopefully work on that area upon my release which at that point wasn’t too far away. After meeting with this manager, she contacted the prison and asked if I could be released to work on a different area and I would be given a job as soon as I was released. This was agreed and I worked for the company for 4 and a half years.

I shared a cell for 6 months, with a girl who’s tag date came and went, she was assured she would be released on this date. She has no where to live. She was released 4 weeks after her tag date because it took a month, for the prison to find her accommodation. After she had been in prison for a year and half already.

I was told by the governor of my prison, a year in to my sentence, as well as my probation officer, that I would not be able to return to my home town when I was released. The town I had lived in my whole life, where my whole family lived, my daughter went to school and anyone who would be supporting me upon my release lived. To this day I still don’t understand why on earth they said this to me, I was on bail in my home town for over two years, with no restriction on where I could go. I of course had a bail condition to have no direct or indirect contact with my victim, which I adhered to for the two and a half years. After contacting a solicitor and writing yet another letter of complaint about this to my probation officer, this decision again, was changed.

Prior to my offence, the victim of my crime was a stranger to me. I lived in the same town as them and saw them on numerous occasions while I was on bail. I was born in this town, prior to prison, I worked in this town, every single member of my family live here. How on earth could anyone think that the right thing to do upon my release, after spending two years in prison, would be to make me relocate to a place I had no connection to, no family support and no familiarity with!?

I had spent two years in prison, away from my child. I needed to go home, to my family. I had already shown while on bail, that I was more than capable of staying away from my victim. I still do not understand what the hell these people were thinking, telling me I couldn’t go home after my sentence. How disastrous would it have been to send me somewhere other than where my whole support network were?

Again, thanks to my complete unwillingness to agree with these people and after sourcing advice and complaining yet again, I was able to be released back to my home town, with a restriction zone for my two year licence period. This was ridiculous but at least I was allowed home. I was unable to use the train station (the only one, and I didn’t drive and needed to use this to get to work) I was also unable to go to the local supermarket. Yet, I was allowed to use all of these places while I was on police bail for over two years.

The scary thing is, had probation and the prison tried to stop another girl (I was a girl, 21) from going home, she may not have been as assertive as me and may have just accepted it, because its what was being told to her.

After having such an awful relationship with my probation officer for the whole of my sentence, in one letter of complaint I sent to the probation manager, I stated that I did not trust this woman with my rehabilitation and I did not trust her support up on my release, I asked for another probation officer and I was told, there was not another probation office available for me. This woman told me I couldn’t go home, she increased my risk for no reason and without informing me or the prison and she called my mum and told her she had approved my home leave knowing damn well the prison would not let me out due to her increasing me risk, forced me to do courses which were of no use to me and raised serious concerns about me, that were all fictional.  I was supposed to trust this woman to support me upon my release!? How scary.

During my two years on licence we actually got on ok, I was ok because she didn’t ever recall me! My appointments never lasted more than 5 minutes and there were three or four times I would turn up for appointments and she wasn’t there. We had booked these appointments and no body ever called me to tell me she wouldn’t be there. I didn’t ever see another person standing in for her, I was just told ‘she’s not here’. I made sure that the reception staff documented that I had turned up and I signed their diary in fear of being recalled for not attending. Had it have been me not turning up for appointments I would have been heading straight back to prison.

So, after a long consideration to the actual meaning and definition or rehabilitation, it is safe to say that prison and probation offered me absolutely nada, nothing, no rehabilitation at all. Thankfully, I am full of motivation and an utter determination to rehabilitate myself. Its safe to say, not all prisoners are the same as me. I dread to think what prison and probation are trying to do with them, to rehabilitate them. All they did for me, was try and hold me back, prevent me for any kind of restored life. Had I have listened to the prison and probation I would have been released to a completely different area, living god knows where, with no job!

Thanks to myself, I was released to my home town, with a house, a full time job and I was never recalled and I have never re-offended! Now, I am off to university, ultimately to work towards a massive change to the shambles I had to witness, live through and fight against!

Here’s to all the money spent on ‘rehabilitation’….

“I am no longer worthy”

Below is the email I sent to a woman who interviewed me for a job, offered me the job and then retracted by job offer, after late discloser of my conviction on the recruiters part. This email was sent on the 19th April 2017 and has been ignored by not only the woman who interviewed me but by the whole company and recruitment agency. So, not only do they feel I am unworthy of an advertised job role, I am also unworthy of a reply to my email. Is this rehabilitation for ex offenders? Is this a fair chance at employment? Is this right? This lady was made aware of my conviction at 8am and my job offer was retracted at 10.30am, with no contact at all with me, while considering my offence/conviction.

Hi Louise,

 I hope you are well. This morning I received a very disappointing phone call from Alice at Hewett, advising me that the job offer verbally proposed to me on Thursday 13th April has now been retracted due to my disclosed conviction.

 After a very successful interview and subsequent verbal job offer, I would just like some clarification on why the offer no longer stands, based on a conviction that was for a single offence in 2009, with no other offences in the last 8 years and me having solid employment for the past four years.

 I was the best candidate for the job role, hence the quick offer. My single offence in no way affects my ability or suitability for the role I applied for and the role I was offered, prior to my conviction disclosure.

 I wasn’t asked about any convictions during the interview however I did disclose them on the appropriate application form.

 I am very sorry that based on a single mistake that happened 7 years ago, you feel I am unfit for a role in the Mainstay group, however I would urge you to consider a more lenient approach in the future when it comes to the employment of ex offenders, as we all make mistakes and still have to move on, work and live a life. I have showed a strong willingness and determination to change my life and make the best out of a bad and unfortunate  situation.  1 in 4 people in the U.K have a criminal conviction on record. A more thorough approach maybe sought while considering people like myself for a role in Mainstay because as previously stated, an incident that happened when I was 19 in no way affects my ability to carry out the requirements stated in the proposed role.

 It’s a shame that Mainstay have retracted my job offer, however I look forward to hearing from you with your reasons why this has happened and why you now feel that I am no longer worthy or suitable for the role I was suitable for yesterday.

 Many thanks for your time.

 Michaela Booth

Against All Odds

Dedicated to my mum, my world, my protector, my worst critic, my best friend and the definition of strength.

 

My family offered me patience, they showed me true loyalty, their forgiveness, hope and motivation were the reasons I was able to endure such adverse circumstances throughout my investigation, trial, prison sentence and on to my rehabilitation. I am sure, these traits shown by my family, are also offered by thousands of families supporting their loved ones world wide, on their terrible, trying and often unbearable journey through our criminal justice and prison systems.

My sisters, my mother, father and distant family all pulled together at such a traumatic time for me and my young daughter, to make my time inside as pain free as they possibly could. Money sent to me, by all, weekly. Letters sent daily, stamps, phone calls, emails, that took a considerable amount of their time up, still came through. They say I still owe them thousands! I actually do. Other than owing them thousands, I owe them my life, I owe them success and I owe them gratitude. I don’t need to write a blog, for them to read, for them to know how much I appreciate every single thing they did to help me, support me, and love me against all odds. Even when I didn’t want to be loved. Even when I wanted to give up, they never let me. I am a fighter, my family took over when I needed a rest.

My mum, one tough woman. I love her beyond words. To say she is my rock would be the biggest understatement I have ever made. This woman is the ultimate, tough love lady. She has three daughters, successful, independent and warriors. Thanks to her. If ever I have messed up, at anything and I feel like I need a hug or comfort, I go to my mum. Not because I will get a hug, because this woman will tell me, I messed up, big time, she will tell me to remember this, learn from this and be a big girl and find a way to move on, without help, because if I got myself in a mess, I am sure as hell capable of getting myself out of it. Obviously not my time in prison, because I couldn’t get myself out, and she would not have assisted with my escape! Actually, had I of suggested it, she probably would have! Situations where my mum had foreseen a bad outcome, she wont say so, she will let it play out and let me make my own mistakes. She will then enable me to correct them myself. Never have I heard my mum say ‘I told you so’.

The glue that holds my family together. My mum didn’t come to court with me the day I got sent to prison for two years. My first phone call to her, is a cold memory that sends chills through my body just recalling it. I had cried for an hour on my own before I went to the phone. To get it all out of the way and not let her hear my pain. I called, she answered…

Alright mum“.

Michaela, are you ok, did you get the stuff we sent in for you, we are coming to see you in a few days”.

“Yes, I got it, thanks. Mum, this isn’t weeks, months, I have got two years”.

My eyes are welling up now just as I type this, my mum paused, I think to compose herself, her reply was something I never expected.

At least no-one has died. Don’t worry about anything”

When she said this, she was chocking up, she didn’t know what to say, I could tell she was crying. When I asked her if she was crying, she just cried, I told her I would call her back and hung up the phone.

Too hear this woman crying, because of what was happening to her family, hurt me to the core. I didn’t want her to hear me cry and I didn’t want to hear her cry. Thankfully, that was the first and last time throughout my prison sentence that I heard her cry. She, of course, endured my frustration, screams and tears for the next two years. She still gets it now. That’s what mums are for!

Her dedication to her daughter and taking on the responsibility of my daughter for the next two years, just shows what a strong woman she is. Every single weekend in two years she came to see me. I was miles away from home. She even cancelled Christmas! I think my daughter was the only one who got presents! She said, How could she celebrate, knowing that one of her daughter was suffering so badly. She was always made up, dressed nice, smiling. I could tell, for the time I was in prison, she was broken.

My family witnessed all of the trials and tribulations I faced when I was on bail for two years, in prison for two years and then on license for two years. They still see the constant barriers I now face as a young women, with a serious criminal conviction, trying to succeed in my own life, as well as raise awareness of the challenges all ex offenders face during their rehabilitation. As well as highlight serious issues that I have witnessed, causing a detrimental effect to the rehabilitation and ultimately, the release of prisoners.

By no means am I of the opinion that all prisoners families are not supportive, because I know, from my own experience, with my own family, and from seeing such devoted support, drive, determination and restlessness from so many families on visits every weekend for the two years I was in prison. I have seen this and I know it is the case for the majority of serving prisoners and their families. However, I have also, witnessed and watched the disastrous affects, when this does not happen. Yes, I know it is a minority but to let this concern and serious issue go over my head, because in most cases it doesn’t happen, I would not be being true to myself. To know of things that are happening that are so counterproductive to rehabilitation and for me not to address it, is out of the question.

I have always and I will, always, question anything I feel causes damage, to something I feel so passionately about. I did this in prison, I did this on probation and I still do it now. I have seen women in prison, serving sentences for assisting their then partners, in prison to commit crime inside. This is a concern, as it can and does put vulnerable prisoners at risk. It risks rehabilitation and releases. It also sometimes ends with another conviction and another person in prison.

My thoughts, concern and experience of women who assist with this (my experience is mainly of women as I was in a female prison) does not mean I think that all women who support their partners or all families who support their loved ones in prison are involved in this, but to say it doesn’t happen, is a lie.

For me and many other women and men serving a prison sentence, family support is the only thing that got us and gets us through, I am not undermining the importance of family contact and support, I am simply raising a concern of when this ‘support’ is counterproductive to rehabilitation and release and that also ends with drastic consequences.

I was a serving prisoner, my family were at one point, for two years, supporting a prisoner. They are now still, supporting a young woman with a criminal conviction. Their support for me, will never leave. They were my light in the dark, they were my voice when I couldn’t speak, my backbone when I couldn’t stand, my army when I was on R&R. They have shown me the definition of unconditional love. I would not be the woman I am today, had it not been for the family I have, the fight they gave, the commitment, strength, struggle and determination to see me through.

Hearing my mum cry, seeing the frustration on my sister’s faces when they were holding down full time jobs, harassing solicitors, probation, the prison, as well as maintaining contact with me, is something I will never forget. I know how hard it was, they told me, showed me and I saw it.

Their struggle on the outside, was worse than mine on the inside. I had nothing to do but write, read and moan about prison! They had my daughter, jobs, a life. They never gave up, they were never too busy to write, to answer my calls, to do things I asked them to do, to visit, send me clothes, stamps, they did everything for me that I was unable to do for myself. They didn’t have too, they did it because they are my family and they love me, and to think of me struggling was something that they would have never let happen.

My family, like many others prisoners family’s, are the sole reason, prisoners wake up and battle on with another day, the reason we smile and laugh, the reason we do things we don’t want to, in prison, to help us get out. For our family, who just want us home. I cried my self to sleep many nights, thinking about my daughter, who probably thought my mum, was her own mum for a period of time. Against all odds, prisoners battle on with their sentence, for their family, and prisoners families battle on with their fight and sentence, for their loved one. To get them home, safe, sound and ready for a life on the outside.

Prisoners wives

Recent events have really got me exploring the loyalty, or lack of, that women show to their partners in prison.

Is it love or is it loneliness? Do they want stability, or status?

I was in prison with a woman whos husband was disabled, after a motorbike accident, he was sentenced to life for a murder in Merseyside. She was also in prison. They had left behind three children. This situation and circumstances around this case were very sad, appeals were in place and contact for the couple was very restricted. This woman, regardless of my own opinion, showed the definition of loyalty to her husband. It really was ‘Till’ death do us part’. For him, she was light, she was strength, with tears in her eyes she would smile and talk about the love she had for this man. Every single day she would write letters, read letters and make applications for phone calls and visits. I have never seen love like it. She has received a 5yr sentence for disposing of the weapon. For her, it was undoubtably an action that changed her life for ever and that of her childrens . Did she regret it? I don’t think so. It was, an action, from a wife for her husband. For his protection!?
Here is a man with a life sentence and his wife in prison also, with their children left at home. A very sad situation for all involved. For some people loyalty is word, for others, its a way of life. Loyalty from a woman, to a man, in a situation like this, is very scary.

I am a single woman, I am a loyal person, I cant speak for what I may possibly have done, had it been me in that situation but i cant help but think, if i ever married a man, surely his job first and foremost would be the protection of his wife and children. The protection of this feircley loyal woman who was now in a cell, next door to me, crying herself to sleep and singing like a bird in the early hours of the morning. I conversed with her about her future, their future and what her plans were. Never for a second, did she doubt, she would stick by this man, for the rest of her life. I didnt doubt her either. I left before her release. She was to serve two and a half years.

This woman wasn’t lonely, she wasnt after status, she was married, her life had been with this man, they had three children, a house, a business. Her loyalty as a wife, to her husband serving a life sentence, was true. For no other reason, than love. Her intentions for this man, were clean and pure, she would not condone his actions, nor her own, however she had made vows to this man. Her vows, were everything to her, him, their marriage and their life. Now as prisoners. One thing is for sure, she would not allow criminal behaviour inside of prison, she would not assist with it, talk of it or even consider it. Lets face it, being loyal to a man in prison, who is screaming out for release but engaging with criminal activity inside, is not being loyal, its being stupid.
It must be hard, to be in love with some who is in prison, for a long time. Love doesn’t put you at risk, love doesn’t waste your time, love isnt easy, but it doesnt use you, manipulate you, engage you with criminal behaviour or take away your own life, for that of another.

I have seen women who have partners in prison, who are fighting for them, being the light in their dark and ultimatly would do anything for them. These prisoners are involved in criminal behaviour in prison. Why as a free woman, would you put yourself in this position, to risk your freedom, your life, for loving a man? Loving a man, who is in prison, involved in crime inside and promising you the world when he gets out? Is it me,or is that not love? Because if it is, i dont want it! To be used, manipulated, vulnerable an put at risk, not only your freedom, but you future. It scares me. If this is what a loyal woman is?

As a man, to put your wife in that situation, is not showing love, its not showing progression or change. As a women who accepts that, its not love. Its status, ‘I’m a ride or die’ ‘I’m loyal’.
Where are the women, who would never accept this way of life, the woman who ‘ride’ for themselves, who are loyal to a cause and whos only concern is for the welfare of herself and her own life?

Ive seen all to often, the status that comes with being a prisoners wife, from contraband phones to drug smuggling. If a prisoner is texting you, believe me, he is texting someone else aswell. Can you even imagine, if you, took him the phone, enabling him to be on pof, twitter, facebook and where ever else he can access an account? Do you think, you took him the phone, or he has a phone,to only call you!? Are you being loyal to him, for years, while for years he is awake at all hours calling and texting other women. Its a shame but very much happening today, tomorrow and for however long you allow it. At what point, does loyalty become lonely, desperate and something that isnt worth fighting for anymore?

The lady who I met in prison, who was married, would have never considered speaking to her husband on a contraband phone. She would have never entertained the idea of him being a drug dealer, selling phones and involving himself in criminal activty. Does that mean,in these mens eye she wasnt loyal? Because, all she wanted was the best for her husband, to secure his release and ensure, there was never any reason, when they day finaly came, that he could still be held at HMP.

To accept, allow and be involved in such antics, is stupidity. As a prisoner who awaits release, who dreams of, talks of and wishes for they day they leave prison and as a loyal prisoners wife, allowing this, helping this to happen and accepting this way of life, isnt loyalty. Its a waste of a life, the prisoners and your own.

How are we fighting for the release of prisoners, who on a daily basis are still commiting crime, inside?
Prison will test a relationship, it will test loyalty, it should not risk the prisoners rehabilitaion nor the prisoners wives freedom, free will or integrity.

If you want to show loyalty, use the amnesty bin. Encourage change, fight fot change, live and breath for prison reform, fight your cause, use your voice and make a stand against systematic failure.