Below is the second part of 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.
My Dad first went to prison for five years when I was 10 until I was 15. ‘That was that’ my bloodline said. ‘Dad just went to prison’, my brother said. It was never just that. It was because of that; because I had no boundaries, validation or emotional support, that I moved out at age 17. From the frying pan and into the fire. Into an existence where my life was further emotional turmoil.
I lived with a boy who slept with every tramp on the estate and brought to me as his gift the sexually transmitted diseases. I was raped. I sold drugs. I had fights. It was a life of hell actually. But yet, I endured. I had no boundaries, no healthy relationships, no love, no friends, no life. But yet, I endured. This was when my lifelong friendship with cannabis began. From age 17 to age 37 I smoked it heavily and consistently. Morning, noon and night. It was my freedom, yet it was also my prison. It soothed me each night as I stared at the ceiling wishing to be dead. It numbed me, as I lived my life without relationships or love. It saved me, from suicide. It was the thing that made me feel alive. I desperately wanted to give it up, yet I was completely unable to.
Dad went to prison again when I was 21, this time for mass-scale cannabis cultivation. A million-pound cannabis farm he had. A cross between Howard Marks, Scarface and Del Boy Trotter I used to call him. There was the glorification again. By this time, I was a popular and trusted drug dealer myself. Thought I was proper little ‘bad gal’ I did. This makes me very sad now. It’s a good job I also didn’t end up in prison. By this point, Dad had got together with some girl a few years older than me, who he had hooked up with when he was in prison the first time. I was 15 then, and Mum divorced Dad.
Unknown Woman starts to visit dad in prison. She was 27, he was in his mid 40s on a ten year sentence for armed robbery. She had never met him. She’d just been asked by my dad’s mate to write to him. He was on hunger strike because my mum had finally left him. Wasn’t going to eat until he died. Cheers Dad. This woman got money and stuff to visit him and send him erotic letters and that. It’s probably very common. My dad left prison and moved in with her. Then I watched this other woman and her kid have my dad.
Without Dad’s permission, she changed her kid’s name to Devlin. This was very traumatic for me. This kid used to call my father ‘Dad’. This caused me a world of pain. Now I didn’t even have a dad at all. At least when he was in prison, he was mine. Soon she got pregnant. Then again. Now my dad had a new family and meanwhile my mum lived in poverty. This woman started calling herself Mrs Devlin. They were never married. She started using my family name without anyone’s permission. My dad never told her not to.
He just played this fucked up game with my heart, telling me he dreamt me and him could run away and live in a flat together. He made me believe this would happen, but it never did. This was my life; tears and pain on the inside, and simply pretending on the outside. I would commit any crime to win my Dad’s admiration. ‘That’s my girl’ he would say. It was so messed up.
He later went to prison again. This time just as I was about to go and study at a university in Hong Kong on a scholarship I had won. I was off to study Eastern Philosophy as part of my philosophy degree. Only ten people in the whole country were chosen. I learnt to speak a little bit of Cantonese and everything. It’s no wonder the British Council chose me when I conversed in their language on the video interview. However, with just a few months to go, Dad went to prison and he would never get out this time. He was young, in his early 50s, but had terrible emphysema from over 40 years of smoking. We knew he would die in prison, so I didn’t go.
Instead, I mourned my dad. We agreed he would commit suicide so he could get out of there. And so I went for my last prison visit, to see my Dad for the last time. I remember that day vividly too. It was agony to say goodbye. I loved him so, so much. It’s strange, the worse they treat us, the more we love them. This also stayed with me through all of my relationships as an adult. And then he killed himself. He saved up all his medication, took it one night, and was found dead in the morning. I knew he was dead because he came into my dream. I could see him. Riot police were bursting into the house, my Nana’s house, but no-one could see him. And I asked him “why dad, why can’t they see you?” And he said “because everything is alright now”. And I knew that he was dead.
All of this is invalidated and unaccepted by my bloodline. They tell me, ‘it wasn’t that bad’, ‘you had a good life’, ‘you just wouldn’t be told’, ‘you were too much of a handful.’ ‘No-one would be able to handle you’, ‘you’re bossy, you’re moody’, and the worst of all ‘if only you could just be happy, I could be happy.’ There is a term for this. It’s called gaslighting.
If as a child, teenager, person, or throughout any of this, someone, (maybe a professional) sat me down and said “none of this is your fault, none of this is okay. You are doing the best that you can do, you are doing amazingly. You are amazing. You are loved. One day all of this will be over.” Sadly, that never came. So what did I do? I did it to myself.
I was determined to achieve something, which I did with my mental health nursing diploma, my first class philosophy degree, with my three years living in Bangkok as a teacher, and then becoming a Teach First ambassador; with ‘Outstanding’ achievement. I achieved through working with children who had been abused, through changing my name, and stepping away from my family. I achieved by moving to India, finding my truth, and bringing back my studies in yoga, meditation and massage, and then offering these as my gifts. I achieved by building a community of wellness by the sea on Brighton Beach, and letting my pain become my heart song, my resilience become my flag, my power become a beacon to others so they find it in themselves to be all of those things. To be vulnerable. To be open. To keep loving even when “your most loathsome self, is loathsome to you” (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra). To “keep fighting the good fight, because it is the only one there is” (Charles Bukowski, Roll the dice). I leaned into my shadow, my darkness, because it is only when there is darkness that light can exist, be seen, and illuminate that darkness.
So what is the takeaway? That criminality and imprisonment of parents is severely traumatic and emotionally damaging for children. Without compassion, understanding, support and emotional validation, they often become very damaged adults. Adults who live without love, without healthy relationships, and without the ability to see their value and set boundaries around it. Ironically, the prison sentence of the parent is a lifetime sentence for the child. I write this in the hope that the adults, that were those children, feel seen and heard. So that they know I hear their heart’s song and I sing along loud and proud. That wherever you are in your journey, be it deep in the shadows searching for the light, or on your journey back to wellness, the light will come. You are the light. You, us, we, survived. We are more powerful than we can ever, truly know. I salute you. I love you.
And to the children, who won’t read this blog but are connected in the energetic heart space of our being. I feel your spirit, I hold your hand, I sit with you in the darkness and I scream with you in the light. Tears fill my eyes and compassion floods from my heart. Please never take the ‘easy way out’ – ask for help, with your words. And forgive them, ‘For they know not what they do’ said Jesus, I think ;).
This is one long monologue from my heart and through my fingertips. It is unedited. I feel that is important for it to be that way. Thank you. I love you.
And my final words to share; after twenty years, I am now six weeks weed free. I have a beautiful woman in my life, Lucie, who helped me heal my ‘Mother Wound’ – which is a whole other story. One day, I will write a book – called “My Dad’s a bank robber” – but for now I am happy, I am healthy. My heart burns on with my twin flame, my karmic flame who lights up my world, who showers me with love, with adoration, with joy, and with happiness.
And to all the amazing and glorious women who have formed my foundation, the bedrocks of my community, those who see my light and see me shine and roar into the wind and howl into the moon with me. Women are so powerful, and when we unite magical things happen. To all the women in my life, including my mother – I love you. And to my Dad, I forgive you. And to all those who read this and find some light, I thank you. And to those who still cry in the shadows, I’m sorry, I love you the most.