Below is the thirteenth in a new series of blog posts created by those caring for children with a parent in prison that we have supported. The series aims to shine a light on the harms experienced by children and families when a parent goes to prison, and highlight the benefits that providing good support can bring.
I first met the father of my child when I was 16, he was a year younger than me, and it wasn’t very serious at first. He showed malicious tendencies from the beginning, but when you’re younger you tend to be gullible and expect people to change. He was quite an aggressive young man, and as he got older, he got worse.
At first, he showed controlling behaviour, like shouting in my face, but then it got considerably worse over time. There was emotional as well as physical and sexual abuse. One of the worst things he did was when I was pregnant with my son. He pushed me hard into a van, and I had to stay in hospital for a day or two afterwards. A year after my son was born, he handed me boxes of pills and told me to commit suicide and raped me. That’s when I started to feel truly helpless.
He was having quite severe mental health issues in the lead up to his offences, so the whole time we were very scared. He would turn up at the house daily, physically assaulting me and controlling every aspect of our lives. One day, when my son was in year 5 or 6, he turned up outside his school and started acting aggressively and violently without any reason. All the parents had to be ushered inside the building by the staff. The school knew at the time that it was my son’s dad, but they decided not to take it any further. There was no concern from the school about what I was suffering. His actions really took their toll on me and my son, as we didn’t know what was going to happen to him, or what he could do to us. He was then sectioned, but upon release was put in prison for drug offences. No one told me he had been arrested or when he was going to be released which left me in a state of constant worry and panic.
He was released after 7 months. We weren’t even told about this until he came out and was at my door again. There was no support in place to tell us what the process was, or if we were going to get any help or guidance. No action was taken by any authorities and things got worse.
In 2019, he battered his cousin to such an extent he was in a medically induced coma. I was so, so scared that could have been me or my son. A week later, he was found guilty of murder, and was given a minimum sentence of 16 years. His Auntie knocked on my door at 6am posting a letter through from his mum, saying it’s going to be on the news, but “he’s killed someone’’. She came in and told me in detail what he’d done. He’d been taking what we think was cocaine and was in a drug induced psychosis. Driving around, he saw an innocent bystander, and battered him to death. No support was there to prepare us for the public scrutiny, or the shame we’d feel thereafter. Not to mention the bullying from other children.
What was especially difficult was when he got ill in the year or two before he committed the offence. His family blamed his aggressive behaviour and deteriorating mental health on me not letting him see our son, but I was scared for my son’s safety. They were still happy to have my son in his care without acknowledging his father was a danger. It was hard for my son, as this took place just before secondary school, and he needed a dad around to prepare and support him for that. In the last few years, it’s lucky he’s had his step-dad to help with this.
His own father passed away soon after the offence with a stroke, as it’s so much for someone to take. My health deteriorated, and I had to go to hospital a few times as I thought I might be having a heart attack. A couple of years down the line I’m being told I’ve got precancerous cells and I have PTSD.
Before the murder, he was in court after being accused of sexual assault. I only found this out because he chose to tell us, and it left me quite scared, as I felt like there was no support to help protect us. If I knew he was put in prison the first time and was told of his release, perhaps I could have protected my son better. The few times I did phone the police to report him, it was almost my word against his. There was no sharing of information. They weren’t acknowledging how dangerous he was.
After 12 years of living with abuse, I was understandably furious with the authorities. He’s such a dangerous man, and no one had told me the true extent to his actions. When he got arrested there was no contact from the prison or the local police station, nothing at all. Hearing from his family and seeing it on the news I was so scared that he could only get a couple of years, and I still didn’t know what would happen to me and my son. The only contact we received was when two police officers turned up at my house to see if I would be a character witness in court. That’s all they did. They didn’t care about the repercussions. They knew full well he only lived a few streets away and how dangerous he was but showed no concern.
Even now, even though he’s got 13 years left, I worry all the time about what will happen when he comes out. I worry what will happen to me and my son. When he’s released, I won’t be told that it’s happening, nothing will be put in place to support us.
My son has never been the same since his sentence. The glint in his eye, the innocence he used to have has got taken away from him. That’s the most heart-breaking thing out of it all, through no fault of his own. He will never forget what happened and neither will I. Perhaps if there was more support out there, it would not cause such irreparable emotional damage in our children.
The lack of support available for children with a parent in prison is very concerning. It’s been proven that children are more likely to end up in prison if this type of event happens without a proper support network, and there’s almost a forgotten generation out there. It’s our duty as a society, with all the resources that we have, to look after these children too.
I first got in touch with Children Heard and Seen (CHAS) out of concern for my son and the lack of support available. He wasn’t badly behaved, but it’s natural that this sort of thing has a serious emotional impact. I rang social services, the council, his school, and they had no real solutions to offer. They simply told me to go see a doctor, ask for counselling, and that I would most likely have to pay for it. I was speaking to one of my son’s teachers at school, and he happened to be a former prison officer. I told him about my concerns, and he said he’d heard of CHAS, and gave me their contact details.
If CHAS was better known, instead of this affecting a child’s life well into adulthood, something could be done earlier on. This type of traumatic event can have such a lasting impact on a child’s future, and an early intervention can make a tremendous difference. Since my son has interacted with CHAS, he feels like he isn’t the only child in the world this has happened to and he feels as though he has joined a community with no judgement, just support.