Below is the third in a new series of blog posts created by adults who have lived experience of parental imprisonment. By sharing these hidden voices, we hope to show how the impacts of parental imprisonment can stay with people well into adulthood.
I hate Maidstone, I hate the one way system, I hate I can never find my way through it but most of all I hate the prison.
I can’t remember when my Dad went to prison and I have no real memories of him prior to those in the prison, however there are pictures of us on holiday and on walks, normal family things.
What I do remember is having to go to this godawful scary place with high walls that looked like something from my story books and not in a good way. I think there was a time my mum came in with me but mainly I remember her not, I think this because you were only allowed a certain number of visitors, we would meet my Aunt or my brothers Mum outside and I would go in with them… sometimes I’d have to enter the prison on my own, into this big grey block of a room, where we would have to wait with other families, strangers all looking at each other but not really, more looking through each other.
Entering the visiting area was intimidating all these people sitting at tables just waiting. Then I would have to wait for my Dad, I’d never know if he was going to have a beard or not. I couldn’t tell if he was going to come out looking like my Dad, or someone completely different. A couple of times he would get to the table, and I wouldn’t realise it was him, until he sat down. For a child that fear of not knowing your own parent is immeasurable, letting them down by not being happy to see him like some of the other children were.
I was very conscious there were other people there, not just other prisoners with their families, but people in uniforms watching everything everyone did, as a child that was scary and there is a fear of authority, why were these people keeping your Dad away, taking him away, best to be on your best behaviour.
A feeling that sticks with me is that I didn’t want to be around the other people. I didn’t know who they were, I didn’t get a very good feeling. I always felt nervous around these strangers, I would’ve liked a little more privacy a little more time to get used to my Dad again. I get that there’s not always much space, but it was incredibly intimidating.
Prison is a deterrent it’s supposed to be intimidating, but why is it intimidating for a child? You shouldn’t be made to feel like you’ve done something wrong, that you’re going somewhere bad and you shouldn’t be made to feel scared. Even if your parent does do something pretty serious, you shouldn’t be made to go there and see them. There must be other options, because regardless of how they act they are still your parent and you are still a child.
As Dad started preparing to come out of prison, things felt better but then there was then the worry that my friends had never met my Dad, he was never at my house when they came over, I probably had never mentioned him, would they realise he was coming out of prison, would they judge him, would they judge me?
When he went in, he was still married to my mum, his bail conditions were he had to live in the same town even though he was from London and that’s where my brothers, his sister and parents lived. My first memory of seeing Dad outside of the prison, about a year before I went to secondary school, was I was playing in an important after school netball match, it was a surprise, and I remember being so happy and proud, but then started a whole new chapter of chaos in my life. When I was around 16 or 17 he was potentially facing another sentence. I phoned him up and I asked him to stop taking drugs, stop doing what he was doing, because I couldn’t take another stretch of him in prison. I asked him to please give up that life, “I’m not going to come and visit again.’ He didn’t speak to me for what felt like nearly a year, my Mum did warn me and it was me who made the 1st move to get in contact again. He did arrested again, and got given an 18 month sentence. I didn’t go see him. I didn’t want too, I didn’t want to admit I once again had a parent in prison, my life was stable, I had a nice family with my Mum, step-father and siblings, a nice relatively normal family, not 2.4 kids and a Labrador but still normal. It was also in my head if I did, I would be allowing his mistakes, accepting them and I didn’t, I thought he should think about me and his other kids more. Looking back that was probably quite harsh, but at 18 years old I didn’t know about addiction or emotional trauma.
I don’t really discuss any of this with my husband, but if we ever go anywhere near Maidstone I crack a joke about hating the place and he knows why, the bare bones of why, I have never gone in to depth about the feelings. If I ever must go there, I don’t drive, my husband drives, before I met him I just didn’t go there. About three months ago, I had to drive past to get to an off site work meeting which should have been a lovely thing to look forward to, a day spending time in a lovely hotel with my colleagues after so much time all of us working from home and not seeing each other, driving through was hellish, the one way system, the panic of being there alone, the fear of seeing the prison, by the time I arrived I was shaking and “on the ceiling” I had to take 15 minutes to calm down enough to be able to enter the meeting room. The way home I took a ½ hour detour to avoid Maidstone.
As a child I never admitted my Dad was in prison, but I remember a new girl starting at our school, who lived with her mother and sister, when I went for tea she said her Dad “was away” at that point I realized he was the same “away” my Dad was did but that was the only time and I remember the feeling of being the same, someone else knew how it felt, she didn’t stay long and I never told anyone else until I was much older and an adult.
I live/lived in a nice town and went to a nice school. People and I suppose I always thought kids with a person in prison wouldn’t come from a nice town. Everything where I lived was middle class and very, very straight. People just didn’t talk about these things, we certainly didn’t. If Children Heard and Seen (CHAS) had been around back then I would’ve wanted the support, but not people knowing. When you’re a child you don’t want to stand out, be different, I was different enough, I started school with a broad Scottish accent and ginger hair, I soon lost the accent, but the ginger hair is still with me, although I like it now!
Over the years the prospect of him getting arrested again has been a nagging worry, especially when I had my son. The thought of Grandad going to prison and my son learning about it is awful. If Dad were to get arrested again we wouldn’t be going, well my son wouldn’t, I probably wouldn’t tell him, I definitely wouldn’t tell my step children! . The people in prison, more often than not, they did what they did. When it comes to the children however, you’ve got to put them first. I wouldn’t put my son through it.
The oddest thing was discussing the possibility of me talking to CHAS with my siblings on my Mums side, one even asked me “why would they want to speak with you”, it then came to light they didn’t know I visited Dad, my brother closest in age was too young to know what would have been going on, my sister is a stepsister and the other 2 were born much later.
It shows how children and families don’t talk about it with the fact if it wasn’t for CHAS my siblings may never have known about quite a significant time in my childhood.