I am tired this week. I have had a relatively good week in terms of meeting some wonderful people, seeing our next generation receive awards and attending the Justice Matters for Women event in London. Justice does matter, that is certain. It enters most people’s world at some point during their lifetime.
I am approaching my tenth mother’s day without my children. Those were the children I raised for twelve years and an acrimonious divorce which eventually almost cost me liberty and I miss them immensely. Don’t get me wrong, I broke the law and I deserved to be in a court dock. The hurt caused by me was my doing and only mine. The remorse I feel is huge. Yet, a tenth year of a day where we are meant to celebrate Mothers. Mothers are the glue that are supposed to hold the family together. As a child, who was taken from her mother by a court, how ironic 35-years later I was to find myself in a criminal court dock after spending five years fighting to see my own children. That has failed. I still have not seen them.
But then, I have spent 25 Mother’s Day without a son adopted when I was a 20-year old. My first adult relationship was with a married man who was 32-years old. I became pregnant and after promises of leaving his wife, I ended up homeless and pregnant. He had returned to his wife. How foolish I was. My family rescued me from that and arranged for my son to be adopted. A process that I still remember today. I wasn’t in their shoes at the time and in their own way, I guess they were trying to do the right thing. Working class girls were not given the opportunities I had been given. My family wanted me to continue on what was considered a promising career.
There is a follow-up story to this one though. My son did find me and it didn’t work out. His adopted parents were upset and as parents that I was allowed to choose from a list, I felt it my duty to take a step back for their sakes and his. Another huge personal cost to me, but I was on the verge of going to prison… He has a loving family, they loved and cared for him for 22 years and he was having problems of his own. They loved and wanted to support him and I have left them to it. The last thing they needed was a birth mother going to prison hanging around.
I’m not sad. With my two children from my marriage, there is always hope. But hope doesn’t exist for me. I have learned to live a life without them. I peer at pictures that I have. You know the ones, kid’s birthday parties, holiday snaps of burying Dad in the sand, crayoned scrawls in the way only a 3-year old can on card provided by nursery assistants and given to you on special days, like erm… Mother’s Day. I lost those personal items when I ended up homeless as a result of behaviours that I resorted to that were against the law. The loss of those mementoes has caused me grief, but had I not committed crimes, I wouldn’t have lost them would I?
Of course, the last seven months has been a battle to prove myself in a society that is deeply embedded on being “tough on crime” Punish and make life hard for them as possible. If it’s not the Daily Mail and the “hang em and flog em” crowd, it’s the Guardian fighting the corner of those who have stepped outside the law. Then we have the ongoing debate of “ex-offender” title and the current GraylingFailing in his “rehabilitation revolution” (Frankly the biggest load of bollocks I have ever come across) My day-to-day dealings with clients who I work for, treat me as any other human being. Friends who have no idea of the CJS, treat me as they did before. It is the services in the rehabilitation arena I have had the biggest obstacles from. We have never had more of community interest in the rehabilitation of offenders than we do now. Volunteers crop up everywhere, charities, CICs and yet still in the 21 century, there are more obstacles in place for those with convictions. I have not been to prison, but there is something so entrenched in society that makes it impossible to make any head way. It’s a bit like alcoholics who get dry and want to become alcohol counsellors. We all do it. Criminals become criminologists and those who have misused substances become experts on the issue and help other people, all as volunteers of course.
It’s like with attempting to get a business account. It’s been nothing but pure hell even though I have been in business for many years. When I committed fraud, because it was a financial fraud, all my accounts were closed down with immediate effect. There was nothing I could do and I couldn’t get a business account. Despite the fact I have had over ten years of financial accounts from my sole trader business. I had to pay a fortune via complicated methods to bring overseas earnings into the country, (all recorded on a tax return, you know just in case I’m labelled as an international money launderer), I had Paypal block my account and I had to have a complicated American account that cost me $5.00 every time I was paid from a client overseas. Clients in the UK paid into my mother’s account and she opened a business account to support this. It’s been hell. All because I refused to succumb to the state, give in and claim job-seekers allowance, housing benefit and the rest. I wanted to work and knew I could work. I have fought with every breath to do so and managed to scrape a living together. It was just me. (remember, I don’t have to children to feed, they are no longer in my life) I managed to earn a measly income and worked 15-18 hours a day to move into a home.
So you see, it is not easy. But don’t forget, hanging me and flogging me is one thing, and once the flogging is complete, (press, sorting out fines, re-arrested as one admin error caused a bench warrant to remain on the system, looks from neighbours and the looking away) what do we have? Oh yes, a whole new set of obstacles. I am told by many, rehabilitation is in place, (do me a frigging favour) and the best line, “give ex-offenders a chance” those of us with convictions are picked over like vultures, researched, written about and then some…
We, as a civilised nation speak often of the incarceration of other countries, yet I cannot help but think the battles we face post dock appearance are the biggest hurdles we have to overcome. The shitty hack reports in the local rag are done and dusted, chip paper. A mistake I made was trotting along to a service and offered my projects to be told “You’re current, I recognise your name and we cannot work with you, the ESF (European Social Fund) will not allow it” I was then asked if I wanted “money” to support my projects and I should return in June when I am no longer “current” ” No, I don’t want money” was my response. It was not the most successful meeting I have had in a 25-year working history.. I’m quite happy with the little I LEGALLY earn and pay my taxes on. I expected better from a service that shouts out daily about the injustices of Mr Grayling. Being mindful of language should be first on the agenda.
I am now in the process of winding my little sole trader business, it wasn’t much, but all mine and I have had to turn LTD. I have received immense support and have finally been able to function with the help of a bank and people close to me who do believe in me. Listening to those on Wednesday, who have been paid to research the world of female offenders and why we do what we do, what we need in the community, it’s brilliant yet the bigger picture is still being missed. No matter how hard I shout and I have watched others who are in the same position as me shout, we are not being heard.
I have rehabilitated myself. I had no choice. Not one service would engage with me. Simply discarded and sent away. I’ve studied what is out there and in my area it is poor. I have not been afforded the opportunity to apply for funding and I have had to approach those who truly do believe in me and I have educated them about what goes on. I was evicted from the system and the only way I would have had a commute to any service was if I committed another crime. That’s not even close to rehabilitation. That’s punitive and mean. That is what happens and has happened when I was on the streets talking to other people who were in and out of the Magistrate’s court on a regular basis. The system now and the rehabilitation revolution is diametrically opposed to true rehabilitation.
Yes, I am tired. Tired of listening to crap from those who sit in ivory towers. During my time in the CJS, it was the Judge who sentenced me who looked at me and said the words “It is pointless sending you to prison” he showed me the way. He knew I could do it.
I’ll end on this, (if of course you have gotten this far) I am not unhappy, I have a little home that I hang onto with the skin of my teeth, I have a little business that isn’t going to make me a millionaire and nor do I want to be one, I have good people around me and while I have had problems overcoming all this crap, life rocks along okay as long as I don’t attempt to enter a system that continually blocks my path.
There is more than one way to skin a cat….
Happy Mother’s Day.
P.S. – To my children, there is not an hour that goes by where you’re not in my thoughts.