Below is the fourteenth in a 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.
He was in and out at the beginning, it was just short sentences at first. At this stage I wasn’t allowed to go on my own, I had to go with a responsible adult. Then Alisha was born and he was still inside. The longer the time went on the longer sentences he got.
When Alisha got to about 5 years old, I could see that the visits were taking their toll on her. It’s a long day – the drive there, the hour or two you wait before you’re allowed in, the security checks in and out. You start worrying about little things because it’s so strict going in. The searches and sniffer dogs would put me on edge, and I would worry about what Alisha was thinking. Children don’t have a lot of patience, and it’s a lot to endure. I didn’t want to not take her without asking, but five’s way too young to make that decision. When they’re little it’s hard to know whether they want to visit or not. I didn’t want to get to a stage in the future, where she would ask why she hadn’t been allowed to see her dad, but I also didn’t really want her in that environment. It’s difficult to know what the right thing to do is.
When she was about eight or nine she decided she didn’t want to go anymore and so we stopped. I think she’d just had enough. She doesn’t like travelling, and gets carsick easily. There’s also not really much there for the children, it’s all about the prisoners. I think the families at home should be a consideration in what prisons people go into, because at the moment it feels the whole system is based around the prisoner. It’s a shame really because if it wasn’t such a long journey, it may have kept Alisha and her father’s relationship going.
Before my relationship with Jay, he had assaulted his ex-partner. When I gave birth to Alisha prematurely, the Oxford Mail published a story detailing how Jay had beaten me up and caused the premature birth. It was a huge article on page two. I was really offended, as he’s never put a hand on me. It’s my body, and I was already dealing with the emotions of my body not doing what it needed to to help my daughter. They ended up squeezing in their apology down the side of page seven or eight correcting the story, but no one really reads those bits down the side do they.
Another time it was discussed in court that I was pregnant with Alisha. I wasn’t part of the court case, and I hadn’t even told my family members at that stage. I was 7 weeks pregnant, not even 12 weeks where they say that you’re safe, so I had decided not to tell people until 12 weeks. That was the way my dad found out I was pregnant, through the reporting of the case, and he was angry that I hadn’t told him.
Since the Police were often looking for Jay, they would regularly be in and out of the house. There was a time when armed response were walking around Alisha’s room holding guns. On another occasion when he was on the run, the police were getting desperate, and an officer said to me ‘if you don’t tell us where he is, we’ll ring social services and have your daughter taken from you.’ I never reported it, but I wish I had because that affected me so much. When someone in that position can make those kinds of threats, it really affects you emotionally. Most officers have treated me like I’m the criminal, and they have no concern about the impact the situation has on you and your family.
We were living in an area where Alisha didn’t really have anyone she could relate to at school in a similar position. There wasn’t really any support for that sort of stuff, and it was never anything that was ever discussed. I’m a very proud person, and I don’t tell a lot of people that aren’t in my inner circle about Jay being in prison. The school were aware of it and they mentioned Children Heard and Seen (CHAS) when Alisha was in year 4, but I wasn’t interested, and told them I could do it on my own. I got a little defensive and thought ‘why would you think I need that?’ The school are lovely, but I’m from a different area to a lot of the staff. Most of them are a bit better off money-wise and don’t really understand the situation.
It’s got to a point now where I like doing things by myself, but if I was offered a bit more help earlier on, I wouldn’t have had to carry all the weight on my own back. I could see Alisha’s anger towards her father, and her behaviour at school changed. She didn’t want to join in on zoom calls with him at all, which was sad for me because they had always had a good relationship. There was a lot of built-up anger that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. That’s why I then contacted CHAS.
I knew she needed to work through her emotions towards her dad. She had just turned eleven, and was going to be dealing with so much confusion about why her dad wasn’t around. A lot of children can then start to blame themselves in these situations, and I also needed to explain where he was. He’s quite well known in our area, and went to her secondary school for a few years. She just had to bump into the wrong person or search his name. Getting in touch with CHAS is something I wish I’d done sooner. We’re at an angry stage now, if we’d done it a few years ago she might understand a little more.
I feel like CHAS has taken a load off me. For example, when we used a crib sheet to talk about Jay’s drug sentence, I have no idea how I would have explained that otherwise. Alisha’s at an age now where she does need to have an idea what her father is in there for. How do you explain drugs when it’s not a conversation that’s been had at school already? I don’t like to lie, but a child’s brain is a child’s brain and there are some things they don’t need to hear about, and things I don’t want to lie about. It’s hard to know the best decision to make when faced with something like that. I think that things need to be done properly, in a sensitive and child-centred way. There just isn’t the opportunity to do that most of the time.
I have friends with partners in prison, but we’re all at different ages, different stages of our lives, and we all feel things differently. Since we’ve been involved with CHAS, Alisha has seen how many other children there are in her situation. It’s also helped me realise I don’t have to do everything on my own, and I now feel less ashamed and find it easier to talk to people about it. My past relationship with him doesn’t define me as a person.