Children Heard and Seen

Hidden Voices 16: Jesse’s Story – ‘My Dad’s a Bank Robber’

Below is the 16th in a 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. This blog is split into two parts.

Part 1:

“In the 80s, my Dad dressed as woman and robbed a bank. He got away with it! ‘It was either a very ugly woman or a man in drag’ they said.”

This was once the opening gambit when telling people about my Dad. From a very early age his criminality was glorified. Perhaps that is the wrong word. It was trivialised, ah that is the word. It was accepted like it was totally normal, something to laugh and joke about. This was the message impressed upon my mind from an early age. With my adult mind, I see that with the trivialisation of criminality comes the dissolution of boundaries. How does one know what is right and wrong when ‘Dad’s a bank robber’. This absence of boundaries not only permeated my childhood and adolescence, but it flooded my adulthood. It meant I was unable to set boundaries in my life; in my relationships – both with others and with myself.

Let that sink in for a second. When one is not able to hold or even really understand boundaries, one is not able to have happy and healthy relationships. And there it is – the truth staring at me in black and white. The reason I spent my entire existence alone. The reason I have never – until very, very recently – been able to have a healthy relationship. Again my adult mind can see that I engaged in very unhealthy relationships with men – trying to repair the ‘Father Wound’ deep within me. Again this is talked of light-heartedly these days – ‘daddy issues’ they call it. Whoever they are. What does that mean though? For me it meant to allow boys and men to trample over me, over my consent, over my heart, over my values. My virginity was taken from me at 13 years old. I was coerced into what actually was a non-consensual sex act. Yes, I walked into that bedroom and lay down on that bed, but I did not consent. I was told the day before if I didn’t sleep with this boy he would dump me, and ‘shag’ so and so on Monday. I couldn’t bear to be abandoned by a male again, so I did it. It hurt and I cried and I bled and I cried some more. Guess what, he dumped me on Monday anyway. This was in year seven or year eight. I don’t really remember because I have very few memories of the tapestry of trauma that forms my life.

From here, I allowed males to use me for sex, even into adult life. Sometimes money was exchanged. I didn’t value myself, my body or my mind. So why not trade it away? Why not sell it to the highest bidder? Anything to feel desired or wanted. It all stems from the ‘Father Wound.’ The father who we had to beg to get out of bed and drive us in his BMW to school. The father who would later fuck our teenage babysitter. Excuse the crude language. It was a crude life for a child. The father that went on to be imprisoned for armed robbery when I was ten. I remember the day – crystal clear in fact – when my mother gave me the first letter. His first letter from prison. I remember sitting on the floor in the cold, damp house he had left us stranded in, stranded on Dyer Street, in dire straits. I was hiding my crumpled, tear-soaked face behind that letter, afraid to show my mum how much I was screaming inside. It was this moment, hunched over and trembling, my body crystallised that position. Rounded shoulders, heart in a cage, it was this moment I learnt it wasn’t safe to show my emotions to my adults as it might hurt them even more. My dad hurt my mum so much. From a very early age, that I remember. 

Next came our prison sentence, five long years of ‘The Letters.’ Emotion-laden, manipulative manifestos of his love for us, his sorrow, and his regret. It was thus modelled to us how to respond. It broke our little hearts, my brother and I, each week, in our scripts of sadness. The Father that was completely absent from our childhood, who had hit my brother with belts and me with slippers, was now demanding our pain, our tears, our woes. It was royally fucked up.

This is the first instance where a charity such as Children Heard and Seen should have stepped in. A professional to say, “hang on, let’s have a quick look at these letters before we give ‘em to the little ‘uns. Oh dear, no, no, no – we can’t give them these. It’s too much for any adult to bare, never mind a child”. But that didn’t happen. My mum was just my age at the time, which blows my mind. She was trapped in Dad’s web of manipulation. She had no real choice but to cart us along the long journey to the prison each Saturday. To stand with us in the shame and public eye as we waited for that big door to open. To walk with us, as our tiny eyes stared in fascination at the socks containing human poo that hung from the barbed-wire that decorated the long metal, fenced pathways along which we would trudge. It was her who held us as we watched the grey faces come out of that door, until one grey face was ours. Then the four-hour visit of Mars Bars and Misery that formed our weekends. Then the journey home steeped in despair. I do not use these words lightly – this was our life.

How was it possible to respond to the authority of my teachers at school on Monday, when just two days prior, it was scary prison officers checking inside my mouth for hidden drugs? It was them who forbade me from sitting on my dad’s knee when I was sobbing, in case drugs were being smuggled in. How did those poor teachers stand a chance? ‘You can only wear one ring in school.’ ‘Fuck off.’ That was the general exchange. No boundaries, no validation, no understanding, no coping skills. Is it any wonder I starved myself and took laxatives to rid the little that I had eaten. The only thing in my control was what I put into my body and how I might make it look. Thin, beautiful, wanted. I was only a teenager. Is it any wonder one evening my meal, my only meal, was 60 paracetamols? The desire to fall onto the floor and then, my mum, to realise, ‘oh dear, my little girl needs some help.’ Good job the angels were with me, when I vomited pure bubbling paracetamol juice for 24hrs the next day. The worst vomit of my life. Sometimes, now, if I’m sick, I taste that taste, and wonder if one day I might die from liver failure. Thanks Dad.

Yet, I hold no blame. I hold no anger. Therapy and years of inner work has helped me work through that.

It’s funny because the focus is often on the parent in prison – I mean the time ‘spent’ – but actually let’s consider the fact of a parent being a criminal. How that impacts upon a person. How the effects of the trauma of prison live on for years and years.

End of Part 1…