Children Heard and Seen

Hidden Voices 5: Emily’s Story

Below is the fifth 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 was five when my dad was imprisoned. I think I was already picking up on the shame element even at the very start, when the police turned up at the front door. I remember my mum talking about the police car being outside the house. As we lived in quite a nice cul-de-sac in a quiet village, it was the talk of everyone in the area. We soon left the county, as my mum found it really difficult to cope with staying there.

Some of it is a bit of a blur. I didn’t know at the time that my dad had been arrested for child sexual offences.

I didn’t know where my dad was. I remember thinking at first that he’d actually died. I was told he’d gone to hospital and because nobody was really talking about it, I thought he was dead. A few weeks later I was told he’d done something bad, and some of it was explained to me in very basic terms. I didn’t see him at all whilst he was in prison. I didn’t know where he was, which prison he was in, my imagination ran wild really. I had images in my head of what a prison looked like, but I had no clue what the reality was.

Part of me was kind of glad he was in prison. He had been abusing me at the same time, but I hadn’t spoken about it, as there was a lot going on and I didn’t want to upset things more. I was quite glad that he was out of the picture, but I did miss him as well.

I remember having to go to court and being presented to the courtroom, which was really scary as a kid. I’d just turned six, and saw him outside the court for the first time in a while. I was able to see and talk to him, and it was very surreal. At that age I didn’t really understand what was going on.

When he got sentenced, I’d started a new school and I wasn’t allowed to speak about what had happened. There was so much shame within all the family about what had happened and what he’d done – not just that he was in prison but why he was in prison. I was taken out of school a lot to see social workers and family therapists, and I had to make up that I had medical appointments. I remember feeling lots of shame about it. A lot of that came from other people – the shame of why he was in prison, but I also felt bad because I didn’t mind him being gone.

Some members of my family missed him a lot, and I did miss him in some ways. There were so many conflicting emotions at the time, and not having anywhere to talk about it, having to hide it from everybody and actually lie about it, that really compounded it.

Growing up having had him in prison always sat with me a bit. It was always a shameful thing when people would talk about their fathers or prisons because I’d never spoken about it. I just had to accept that’s what it was. It almost wasn’t seen as a big issue.

There wasn’t any safe space or support for me to talk about those feelings. I’m sure if there had been it would have felt so much better, to talk to other kids or other people going through a similar thing. Even sometimes with your family, it’s quite hard to say all those things. I know that my mum and my brother had their own stuff going on. It would’ve been good to have those conversations more openly, as your experiences are different from your family as well. There were social workers to speak to, but I didn’t have a very good relationship with them. It was never a focus, that your dad’s in prison. It was never singled out and talked about like it could be a distressing part of it. 

If I’d have had that space, even if I’d still hidden it at school, having somewhere to talk about it and voice all those feelings would’ve helped so much. Having to not speak about it, having to not talk about where he was and what he’d done just felt too much. It was overwhelming, and it really made me feel lonely and different in a lot of ways. Not talking about it led to a lot of hiding things, which then carried on as I got older. It makes it harder to talk about things that are shameful in the family or wider society. Now, I know people who’ve been through similar situations, and it feels like there’s a connection through shared experiences. Knowing that its ok to feel like that would have alleviated the shame and helped me understand myself and the situation a lot better.