Children Heard and Seen

Hidden Voices 24: Jason’s Story

Below is the 24th in a series of blog posts created by adults who have lived experience of parental imprisonment. By sharing these hidden voices, we hope to raise awareness of the impacts of parental imprisonment to inspire immediate change for the children of today.

When I was 12, my mum went away out of the blue. I came home from school one day and she had just been taken away for a year. I knew she was in trouble, but I didn’t know it was that bad. It was for benefit fraud.

Overnight, I had to learn how to fend for myself and my brother. There was no guidebook, just a callous “your mum is in prison now” and then me and my brother were on our own. We were staying with her partner – my step-dad – who had been in and out of prison himself and we didn’t get along.

From the age of 12, I had to become an adult. I took on a role as protector with my brother, I fed myself, I took myself to school and home again.

My mum was in prison in Stoke and I was living in Brighton. During that time, I only visited her about three times. It was a difficult trip, hours spent in the car to go to a place you were not looking forward to, only to be separated from each other again at the end. When I arrived at the prison it was just awkward, silent. No one really knows what to say. It wasn’t even the worst conditions, as far as visitation goes. You weren’t searched and it was open conditions. But it was still scary for a 12-year-old, being sniffed by the dogs. She wrote home sometimes, but she was essentially illiterate, and her writing was difficult to comprehend.

It was a big deal at that young age but I had no one to talk to about it. I went to a state school in a middle-class area, and I just thought I was the only one in the world that went through that experience of having a mum in prison. I shouldn’t have been carrying any shame, I didn’t do anything wrong. But, aside from my grandparents, I didn’t tell anyone what happened to my mum.

When she came back, I was 14. Her being imprisoned led to the breakdown of our relationship. She wasn’t the same person really. It affected her in a bad way. She became quite alcohol dependent when she came back, and I resented being left with her partner. So we grew apart and never came back together.

My mum could no longer collect benefits and she didn’t work. I moved in with my grandparents at 15 and I began working as soon as I could. From 15 on I had a part-time job, and I’ve worked ever since. I have my own business with 10 employees. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I came from a family where crime was prevalent – my mum, my step-dad, my uncle. I saw the way they had to scratch the pit to survive and I didn’t want that for myself. That’s not living life. I worked hard and I restarted my life. And, sadly, I distanced myself from all my family.

Even into adulthood, I didn’t tell anyone about my mum. I only told my own wife about 18-months ago, and we’ve have been together for ten years. This all happened about 25 years ago and I still hold onto that shame and stigma.

It wasn’t until I watched the show Time and sought therapy that I thought I could talk about all of this. I saw kids going through what I went through, being sniffed by the dogs and scared when they came to visit. It was like they had gone back in time and filmed me as a kid. I didn’t know so many people have been through what I’ve been through. I didn’t know I wasn’t alone. Children in my school probably had parents in prison too, and none of us talked about it.

Looking back, I really could have used someone else who could have said, “I’ve lived that life and I’ve done alright.” I want children with a parent in prison to know that there is no shame. They didn’t do anything wrong and they don’t need to be held back by this. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved after the upbringing I’ve had. I now have my own business and am married with three happy, healthy children. Luckily, they have never had to experience anything like that or live that kind of life. I hope that in some small way, telling my story can help a kid out there who is in the same position I was.