Dealing with a loved one in prison a collections of thoughts, emotions, memories and photos by Rebecca, 25
The Offence Nobody tells you how to deal with your emotions when you hear that your loved one has been arrested. You are not alone... The UK has a combined prison population of nearly 85,000. That means there are many other families out there who have been going through what you are going through right now. The day my loved one’s crime came to light I was crushed and my life changed forever. It was as if a 5 ton slab was sat on my chest. You will cry, scream, shout. Shock, anger, disbelief and grief work differently for everybody. I know I felt numb, a sensation that has stayed with me all the way through my experience.
I’m Rebecca, I’m 25, and I’ve made this book with the help of Fixers, the charity that gives young people a voice. I was at home dealing with a family emergency when I got the phonecall to say that my partner had been arrested. Pregnant and confused, I waded through a range of emotions and feelings. This book is designed to help people who have a loved one in prison. While not everyone will experience things exactly as I did, this booklet can hopefully show that there are others out there who feel the same emotions, and who have come out the other side. Because no matter the circumstances, you can too. Rebecca
Don’t be surprised if you get treated unfairly. Unfortunately families of offenders are a silent minority. If you have a victim involved in the crime, the main focus of course will be on them. Police, prison officers, lawyers and so on will not always be that sympathetic. You are going to want answers. The problem with criminal offences of any nature is that you are unlikely to get answers straightaway. Your mind is overrun with anxiety: What did they do? Why? Who did they do it to? Unless you were there you shall never know so please stop torturing yourself, everything will become clearer in time. Your family can also become a huge help in your situation. Keep them close and use them as a support system. Try to ensure you listen to their opinions and consider them but always do what YOU want. If this is to stick by your loved one then do it; if not, that’s ok too. Please don’t suffer alone. There are people who can help you in these first initial stages. They are trained to help you and your family navigate through this hard dark place. There are links on the back cover of this booklet.
Try this exercise: sit in a quiet space with no distractions. Get a piece of paper out and write down a list or a paragraph. (This is mine): I cannot find out the information I want. I will try my best not to let it run away with me because it’s making me feel awful. I know I have to be patient and everything will come in due course. I believe writing down everything you feel is an extremely helpful tool for getting all your worries out of your head and onto a piece of paper.
Waiting for Court
The Aftermath If I told you this journey was going to get easier I would be lying. When you thought your life would return to some sense of normality you come up against your next obstacle. In those initial weeks that followed my loved one’s offence I stayed with my family as I tried to process what had happened. There is nothing wrong with taking time and getting your ducks in a row. People will have a hard time understanding what you’re going through so ask for their patience during this difficult period. It’s okay not to be okay. Something huge and disruptive has happened to you and you can’t be expected to recover overnight. THE SHOCK BUBBLE: When you first found out, you were probably in shock. As time goes by that shock will wear off, the reality will set in and your bubble will burst. This can be a long time coming or it can be sudden and without warning. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I felt like there was no escape.
THE FAMILY SEESAW: Everyone will have opinions and will chime in with every belief under the sun. Try to remember, in most cases family and loved ones want the best for you and will want to try and help you cope. The same rule applies to the people around you too.
So the long road ahead starts. You could be waiting weeks, months or even years. This is where your life will be caught in this permanent limbo land of "what if" and "when". This is where you have to find some inner strength and patience. Be prepared for things to change in your life. Things may start to get stressed and emotional. It will be brought up in every argument. Blame, accusation and wonder will float around for the months to come. You can do it. People say it could be a lot worse, but you are still grieving. Mourning a life you used to live. I lost a lot... my job, my home, my confidence and what follows is resentment and regret. What could I have done to prevent my loved one’s actions? Nothing. The actions of someone else are just that... someone else’s.
SOLICITORS: These may seem like big and scary people but it’s their job to help and guide you through this process. The best advice I can offer you is to try your best to take everything they say literally. Expect the worst and hope for the best. The last thing you want to do is get your hopes up. They will bring both good and bad news. They are not your enemy. Ask them anything and everything you can, write it down so you don’t forget. They may not give you all the answers but something is better than nothing.
Try this exercise: Get all of the people you are closest to. Ask them to explain their thoughts and feelings and let them air their concerns. This should get everyone’s thoughts out in the open. If after this they continue to force their views on you then just try to ensure you keep your decisions yours and hold your ground.
Stay strong when times are hard. People’s reactions can be hard to deal with. People deal with situations differently. I chose to stand by and support my loved one and not many people agreed with this. Some flat out refused it. There are no right or wrong answers and whatever those answers are they will become clear to you in your own time. Try to remember, on those days when it’s extra hard, that it’s just a bad day and not a bad life. Pick yourself up and dust yourself of. There’s a saying for these situations... KEEP CALM, AND CARRY ON.
I like to say: The past is past you cannot change it, the future hasn’t been written yet so stop predicting it. The present is now, so live in it. Try this exercise: Wake up each day and remind yourself of one thing you are thankful for. Write it down if that helps and think about it throughout the day when you are feeling a little low.
The Court Day is Near So the time is near and you know that day in court is looming and it’s scary as hell. You don’t know what to expect, and there can be many factors to consider. By this point you should have all the facts from your solicitor and you should have an idea on your loved one’s decision or plea. If your loved one is going to stand trial they need to prepare for the worst. Pack a prison bag for the hearing and ensure they are prepared to go to prison on either a sentence or remand. Try to speak to the solicitor beforehand to make sure everything is in place, that you are on the same page. Ensure those closest to you are protected and know what’s about to happen. They may want to be there and support you, so utilise them. If you have children then you will need to sit down and explain to them in the best way you can, that they may lose their mummy or daddy for a little while. You also have to prepare yourself. You are about to face something traumatic and distressing so ensure you have things in place to help you, including the right healthcare and support professionals. Don’t worry... you have been waiting but its finally here. This isn’t the end though. It’s just a giant step forward in determining your future.
Everything happened in slow motion. Watching as my loved one stood in the dock and cried as they waited to hear their fate. There were people shuffling around, one I recognised as the solicitor. They were handing around bits of paperwork and talking to themselves whilst they were processing. You wonder what they’re saying, and then the judge starts his talk, using words you may not understand and lawyer’s terms that may confuse you. You may be in a haze concentrating on what they are getting at. Eventually you hear the charges, the date and all the information you’re expecting. Then you hear the summary and the words "bail revoked" and your world crumbles. I can’t tell you how you will be feeling at this moment, it’s different for everybody, but I was overcome with every emotion possible. But it’s ok to cry. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it has showed me that it was much better to let it out. After sentencing I had no knowledge of my loved one’s whereabouts and it required several phone calls to locate them and eventually arrange a visit. Be prepared to come up against people who aren’t willing to help or can do very little for you. I continue to repeat it...
Court: What to Expect This day has to be the scariest I’ve ever experienced. We had an initial hearing and then six weeks later came the sentencing. My loved one was remanded into custody on this initial hearing. That kind of heartbreak is indescribable. Court is scary, especially if you have never been before. They’re cold, depressing places full of important looking people. You can sit there for hours with name after name being called waiting for your loved one. Then when they’re called your heart sinks into your stomach. Here we go; this is the moment you have been waiting for since you sat in your dad’s arms crying when this all began.
“Expect the worse and hope for the best”
Remember this saying as you don’t want to fill yourself with false hope.
The Days and Weeks After Court
A Year in the Life of a Prison Visitor
The days and weeks that followed were ones of reflection and anger. I found it very difficult to deal with all the different emotions. It is important to surround yourself with family or supportive people that can help and guide you.
Prisons are surreal places and every single one is different. The England and Wales Prison Service runs differently to the Scottish Prison Service or the one in Northern Ireland. It also depends on the type of prison. You can get young offenders prisons, adult prisons, special units, psychiatric units and so on. I’ve only experienced a regular adult prison.
Pull together and be as one during this time. Also ensure you get the support from professionals available to you. It is also a good time to consult a GP to discuss your feelings and health to ensure you are getting the right treatment if you need it. You will slowly adjust to the thought of being without this person and the thought of going forward.
As a general rule for all prison visits you can expect the following: You will be expected to be searched on entry including use of a metal detector and scanning equipment. You aren’t allowed anything through including phones, handbags etc. If you have small children you should be allowed the bare essentials through to ensure your child/children are happy during the visit. You should be allowed a small amount of cash through for the canteen but not always. You are likely to be searched more than once and they also employ the use of drug dogs.
About 3 weeks after sentencing I shaved my head bald. 5 inches of blonde hair gone. I don’t know whether this was a moment of madness or just to try and distract myself and everyone around me from how I was really feeling inside. I got called Britney Spears and also was asked if I had cancer on a few occasions. It was somewhat liberating for me to do this, like a release of emotion. I don’t expect you to run of and shave your head. Maybe trying something exciting or new is the best idea in this new period of strange emotion. I found that running is an excellent release of stress that allowed me to immerse myself into my surroundings and nature. There is also a release of endorphins which help to make us that little bit happier. I know what you’re thinking though... A jog won’t change my situation and after everything that’s happened I still feel like I’m in limbo. I’m afraid to say that this will continue until you make some strong decisions on whether you stick by your loved one... or walk away.
Prisoners are divided into different security categories. These are given according to the likelihood a prisoner will look to escape, and the risk they would pose to the public. However their categorisation could affect the visiting process. CATEGORY A: Prisoners whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public, the police or the security of the State.
What to expect when visiting: Visitors to Category A prisoners must be security checked and approved before a visit can take place. They are also subject to "Closed Visits" - where prisoner and visitor are separated by glass - unless decided otherwise.
CATEGORY B: Prisoners for whom the very highest security conditions are not necessary but for whom escape must be made very difficult.
What to expect when visiting: In general, visits for these categories will be similar, but may change depending on the Prison Service or the individual prison.
CATEGORY C: Prisoners who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who do not have the resources and will to make a determined escape attempt. CATEGORY D: Prisoners who represent low risk; can reasonably be trust; ed in open conditions and for whom open conditions are appropriate.
Convicted prisoners are entitled to receive at least one social visit every two weeks, and at least one weekend visit every four weeks. Up to three adults can visit a prisoner, with any accompanying children (under 18). FAMILY VISITS: Not all prisons have the luxury of family visits but if you do and you have children then this is a great option. This allows for your family to become a lot more interactive with your children in an environment that isn’t as strict as a regular prison visit. Your loved one will be able to get up and inter; act with your little ones and some prisons even organise activities. These are available by submitting an application, and dependent on security clearances
Information via gov.uk More information available at www.prisonersadvice.org.uk/information/advice-sheets
Preparing for Release
Release... wow that’s a word you weren’t expecting to hear but that time is finally approaching. The days are in small single figures and now what do you do? You have been through so much, so firstly give yourself a pat on the back for being so strong and getting to this point.
The day to end all of this. It’s finally here and now you can embrace your loved one as a free person. There will be a wealth of emotion, not only for you but the people who surround you. I felt it was very important to thank the people who had helped us through it; family workers and prison staff who had been with us from day one. We also happily waved goodbye to the people who had also been less than helpful.
PRE-RELEASE MEETING: This is something you may get invited to. It’s a meeting to discuss the ins and outs of your loved one’s release. This will have a selection of different people involved: a prison officer who has worked with them throughout their sentence; a prison social worker; the local social worker or probation worker; the police and so on. All these people will have various different views and concerns that will be aired. It should be about establishing the chance of rehabilitation and re-offending. If you have any questions or queries then make sure you ask at this point as this is your best chance of getting them answered by the right professional. There are no right or wrong questions. You also need to make sure you are prepared. Ask if there is anything that you need to do for their release. Whilst you are trying to get all the official stuff done properly it’s also important to ensure that you are prepared personally and mentally. Remember that family seesaw I spoke about? That will have a huge impact on how you could be feeling. I know in my case it was a year long battle of "what should I do?" The pressure was unimaginable. At every corner there was a never ending question about how I would be when they were released. Let me tell you right now: I’ve been in that place where I couldn’t get my head straight about whether I should stick by them or leave. I wasted many hours agonising and overthinking every angle and it became exhausting and pointless as I knew I had been this far I would stick it out till the end.
The first few days are basic administration. Reporting to police if required, probation workers, social workers and so on. You could also be in for home visits from the police just to check on your loved one’s whereabouts. This of course is down to how much of a threat they pose to the people around you. Release from confinement can be extremely difficult for your loved one. It’s a re-adjustment period for them as well as you. It can be a difficult balancing act of how everyone is feeling so try to take this into consideration. It can also be very hard for them to shake prison habits and behaviours. I found childish and immature behaviours came home with my loved one. But we dealt with it. Initially I struggled. Then it got worse, adjusting to living with this person who had been away for such a long time. You have learned to live without them. But this is a new beginning. This is a chance to move forward.
This booklet was made by Rebecca to help others with loved ones in prison, or going through the criminal justice system. These experiences won’t be universal to everyone, but the emotions will be. We hope this booklet can help. For professional help, please follow the links below. Family Lives www.familylives.org.uk Here you can find their service "Action for Prisoners’ and Offenders’ Families" National Offenders’ Families Helpline www.offendersfamilieshelpline.org You can also ring on 0808 808 2003 PACT - Prison Advice and Care Trust www.prisonadvice.org.uk Families Outside An independent charity helping prisoners’ families in Scotland www.familiesoutside.org.uk Prisoners’ Education Trust A list of support services for prisoners and prisoners’ families www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/prisoners-and-prisoners-families
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