Victims

Unpopular Causes – What is One?

I’ve been in a few discussions recently over unpopular causes.  I compared SHE’S fundraising campaign to that of a journalist’s to live tweet from the hacking trial. We raised £65 and his campaign received well over £10,000. I’m thoroughly grateful to the wonderful people who gave generous donations and that money has been used wisely. We have almost got everything we need for our next house and we have five rooms now available for those leaving prison without a home to return to.

During the development of SHE, while I recognised services were patchy to say the least, there are some brilliant support networks for women leaving prison.  Some of the women housed with SHE are hooked into Lancashire Women’s Centres and other agencies which means the level of support is strong. The fact I encourage this widely is because I was desperate for support and at that time my fragility of mind meant I could have easily become dependant on anyone or anything.

Our men’s project, INCAS, is spearheaded by men. Men developed the project based on their experiences both of the CJS & society.  In the town of Burnley, services for men are as rare as rocking horse shit. Our first member of the projects was male. Released from prison after serving nine weeks of an 18-week sentence, this man had no home, was suicidal and came to us shaking and terrified.  Our chairman spent time with him, playing chess, talking and supporting him. We managed to find him emergency accommodation until his property was ready. We got him hooked into services and he took it upon himself to sign up to the Revolution team from Lancashire Police who offer support to prison leavers.

INCAS is soon to be starting a men’s group. Men, unlike women, can isolate and withdraw which is dangerous particularly when simply dumped outside a prison gate with nowhere to go. Men are much less likely to draw empathy from society than women are. It is no secret men are more likely to take their lives than women. Men struggle to ask for help and reoffending is often their only option to survive.  Going a step further,  the CJS was designed by men for men and it shows. Not because it is unsuitable for women, (it is)  but there is not the support for men which is why the CJS is one big monstrous mess. Women are far more likely to be further up the sentencing tariff,  than a male for a first offence, particularly mothers, as middle class Magistrates judge the woman as opposed to the crime. Men will climb the tariff and have more custodial increments than women.

During a meeting on Friday with a probation officer who is joining our management committee, I discussed with him early intervention in domestic abuse incidents and the possibility of the INCAS Project coordinator working with him on this area for men. Probation agreed it was an area he (bearing in mind his demanding full-time role) would put time into.  My default setting is keeping the family unit intact where safe to do so. At the first sign of abuse, intervention at an earlier stage is vital. I have read some excellent work on early intervention in domestic abuse situations and I fail to see how more work in this area should not be explored. Ignoring abuse at early stages has cost lives, split families and caused generations of children to suffer as adults after witnessing domestic abuse. I witnessed my mother attack my father with a knife as a child, I’ve never forgotten this as an adult.

The support in place for victims of domestic abuse is highlighted often.  But the problem will never be eradicated or solved if only side is supported and the perpetrator isolated. To raise awareness and truly take the bull by the horns, we have to, for the sake of our future generations, look at pathways to step in at a much earlier stage. An unpopular cause? Very much so. I’ve seen resistance to the research on restorative solutions in domestic abuse. As unpopular as it may be, we at INCAS are willing to explore this area. INCAS & SHE are fortunate in that we have a management committee with a lot of experience in a vast range of areas including unpopular causes.

For the sake and safety of our next generation, we should be looking at earlier interventions to keep a family together and show that solutions are possible. Unpopular as this may be, our children deserve at least further exploration.

 

 

Prisoners are a part of Society. Time to face this fact..

stock-photo-lonely-woman-is-walking-through-dark-tunnel-to-the-light-52591162Six weeks in from launching SHE, I have reflected on society’s perspective of prisoners and prison.

The Prison Estate is needed in any society that has laws & a justice system. Prison protects the public by removing those who are a danger to society and as a reasonable woman, I will not argue otherwise.  Any offence committed should be punished & dealt with by a justice system that is fair and dispassionate from the reasons why an offence has been committed.

The current prison crisis, (and there is one, Mr Grayling, not quite sure how long the sand will keep your ears warm) has not just happened since 2010.  The Corston Report as an example, was written on the back of six female suicides in 2005 who were imprisoned at HMP Styal in Cheshire. Yes, six women in one year. Six. Under the Labour government. Sadik Khan may be fighting the corner of Probation as the meat cleaver comes down on the service, held by the hand of Mr Grayling. But, The Corston Report is gathering dust and we have a crisis on top of a crisis. A total fucking mess.

The British are well known as a public for being curious about prison & prisoners. I see campaigns for more people to be locked up counter-acted by campaigns for less punishment and more rehabilitation.  Whichever way the coin is turned, there is a crisis. Prison is part of our society and it costs money. As a tax payer, I’m content that my hard-earned contributes to keeping a prisoner safe and where necessary, away from the public. On the back of this, I’d go further to say, I’d pay more tax so those who leave prison have a pathway whereby they have a shot at becoming working members of the society I live in.

One of the biggest questions I have been asked since launching live delivery of SHE, is “How do you get on with women who have left prison? ”

I’ll tell you. These women are human beings. They laugh, they cry, they get mad when people clutch their personal belongings as though Satan is in their midst. These women have the same travails that any member of society has. Living on a pittance, waiting for six weeks so their rent can be paid, wondering if their landlord will place an eviction order on them.

These women were still a part of Society when in prison, for non-violent offences. No agency went into help them with resettlement.  In fact one of them was on remand for eight months & found not guilty.  She was dumped outside the gates without a £47 grant and no home to return to. She had the clothes she was standing up in.  She has dangerously low blood pressure and has had to wait for six weeks for a GP appointment. She has never sought action to shout about her situation on being incarcerated for eight months. She’s the least self-indulged person I know.  SHE team have supported her (no payment received) and she’s soon to be engaging in a market stall to be guided in retail skills. A normal woman who has been discarded by a society that claims to care.  She is part of Society. Yet never asked for anything apart from a home where she could build a life.  SHE gave her this.

I was discarded by society in 2013. I never stopped submitting a tax return, I worked and while I was given a custodial sentence, I served a suspended sentence which carries as much weight as a custodial sentence in terms of disclosure requirements. I gatecrashed my way back into being a functioning member of society. Members of SHE will do so too.

So, when campaigners are fighting for more prison sentences for people, remember, it costs money, and all very well locking people up and feeling satisfied when this happens. But 95% of those people at some point will return to society and that society has a duty to ensure help is there to facilitate progress.

Prisoners are part of our society and it is time society wakened from their slumber so that prison leavers are able to move forward.

 

1400 Children and Questions that Need Answering writes JP Riley

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Rotherham has hit the headlines this week for reasons that are wrong on so many levels. It appears a huge systematic failure, on a scale that beggars belief, has occurred over a number of years and now the authorities need to explain why. Feeble excuses of “we must ensure this never happens again” are just not good enough.

Child sexual exploitation is a very serious matter. As an observer with no legal experience, the glaringly obvious is the following:

1) Engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of 16 is a crime.

2) Authorities have a duty of care in order to protect children from harm

3) The police have a duty to investigate any allegation.

4) The CPS must consider any case presented to them.

Seems to me this ought to be a simple process that should quite easily run its course.

When is the law not the law? It seems to be able to move the goal posts with the complexities that surround it, nothing seems black or white at times. If a crime and/or crimes have been committed or indeed many crimes as appears in Rotherham, why was it allowed to happen to so many? Who knew about this, and who were actually involved with the process that seemed to fail them all? If politics are allowed to be thrown into the mix this may hinder the process further, throw in the race card or cultural differences and this could hinder the process. Throw in community cohesion and multi-cultural agencies and this may also hinder the process further.

Will one authority or a number of authorities be sufficient to suppress the distaste of many people that are appalled at what has happened in Rotherham? Will it spiral to other parts of the country and show failings in their local authorities too. One needs to cut away the chaff, no excuses from the class system, or the out of control children from the worst deprived areas of the country, or blaming the parents of those children. The law applies to all. Why has the law been distorted in this way? To the naked human eye, it appears the law has been broken to avoid the law.

The police have many questions to answer. There should be questions to answer. Lest we not forget the media. Their control of such events of late have been nothing more than contempt in order to cause frenzies and sensationalise these events. Their profits will soar and they will be wielding their axe on many people in order to conduct their kangaroo trial of these events.

These children have suffered heinous and violent attacks and have been failed on a monstrous scale. By the law, that is supposed to protect the public. Statutory agencies had a duty of care to these children and the voices of these children were ignored. There has been no recourse to help from the victim support networks that are available. The agencies who were aware of these crimes had a duty to report, furthermore, the police had a duty to investigate any allegation and they have a duty to answer now, why they chose not to act on these matters.

The magnitude of the failings between so many agencies and the people responsible for those failings need to be brought to task, people cause system failure and in turn ought to be accountable and dealt with accordingly to that of the law.

Cheery Advertisements for Adopting Babies – Give me my Baby…

ImageLast night a cheery advertisement appeared. Of course, this is a registered charity. It is called Adoption Matters (North West) and is a combination of the (formerly known as) Chester Diocese of Adoption Services & Blackburn Diocese Adoption Agency.

The cheery flashcards appeared in front of smiling couples. Same sex couples, older couples, working couples and younger couples. It’s aim, I have translated to “we are open to everyone” Beautifully delivered with pretty colours and smiling children doing finger painting and such. Lovely…

Prior to seeing the cheerful marketing piece, I’d read a report from the Lords discussing women in custody. In there were some sobering figures. 18,000 children had been separated from their mothers who were sentenced to short-term custodial sentences. If you’re getting my drift, you’ll be expecting a rant on short-term prison sentences for women and how costly these are… But no. I have done that one till it’s died, been resurrected, reborn and then some.

I am a birth mother. At the young age of 20 years old, I found myself pregnant. My family were in a pickle and did not know what to do with me. This pregnancy split my family deeply – and eventually, a member of my family found me, took me home, decided I was unable to care for my baby and arranged with my GP to begin the adoption process. This was in 1989. I gave birth to my 8lb son after 15 hours of labour at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral. I was allowed contact with my baby for the two days I was in hospital and one memory that truly hits home is the tiny wristband – Baby McMahon – for adoption. I left my son in hospital after 48 hours. My feelings were not addressed as a young woman, I was on tablets to stop my milk & my family told me to get on with my life. We registered the birth, we completed the forms for child benefit and a social worker came to visit me to inform me of the process. When my son was six weeks old, I was allowed to visit him with the foster parents he had been placed with. I was given a short-list of “picked” parents and I dutifully chose a couple. In the run up to the birth, I had made an album for my son, with a letter that I had written to him. This detailed our family background, as much as I knew of his father and a nice analogy of how happy our family were, but that I was unable to care for him and I felt this was the best way forward. I met with the couple I had chosen, I handed them the album and said the words, “You will be his parents, you may not want to give this to him and I understand if you don’t, but it is there for you should you feel it will help him to understand his biological family.

When my son was six months old, I signed the papers presented to me by the social worker. I simply signed my name and that was it. Officialdom was done. Child benefit was dealt with – (the child benefit during this time was sent to the agency to pay for the fostering fees) and away I went with my life.

But you see – nobody can ever fill this hole. Platitudes of “it must be awful” and “only a person who loves their child would do such a gracious thing”  honestly? They do nothing for me. The tears of parents who are broadcast on programmes finding their loved ones, I cannot watch. They make me feel sick to my stomach. It isn’t a grief that ever goes away – it is a grief that remains daily. A pain that can never be soothed no matter how much balm one places on it. Grateful parents who are unable to have children rain down immense amounts of praise on the birth mother and make promises of caring for this gift they never thought they would have. I’m supposed to feel proud and a good person for doing something worthwhile. When I actually feel like screaming out “give me my baby” No counselling, no therapist can ever remove this. Because there is not a godamm fucking thing you can do about it. All I could do was come to terms with walking away, signing some court papers and holding onto to one picture that was sent to me of my baby sitting on a furry rug in an outfit that I had knitted for him.

Of course, my life has not been smooth – the state took me away from my mother, then took my child at the behest of my family, then allowed the eroding of my relationship with my two children from my marriage. Ending up in a criminal dock with a Judge holding my liberty in his hands was the ultimate straw that broke the camel’s back. Smashed to bits, I have thrown myself at walls many times, smashed myself up and committed acts that are against the law… the last year has been forming a new existence and working myself into the ground to work to help women who have lost everything. I don’t care what they have done and when they have lost their children, I see it in their eyes. No matter what nasal-expanding exercises they engage in, no matter what they steal, I know there is pain there that can never be dealt with in the realms of rehabilitation.

As I sit here now, in my little home, watch cheery, colourful marketing ploys for adoptive parents, look at colourful websites with call-to-action statements to “contact us” I look and think of picking up a sledgehammer and smashing it through the TV screen and say:

“Give me my Baby”

 

 

Empower Women – Resist Justice – Transform Lives

Determined womenEmpower Women – Resist Justice – Transform Lives (click)

 

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has launched a call-to-action for interested parties to build a network of people in order to get to the root of problems faced by women in the criminal justice system. Of course, this is a matter close to my heart and is no secret. Women are shoehorned into a justice system designed by men for men. I am not a feminist who is ranting that women are treated unfairly in comparison to men, I believe that both genders should be treated fairly. I am a woman and I have been through the justice system and I have direct experience to understand what challenges are faced by women in the CJS. In particular, older women, such as myself, who do not fit into the youth offending age range. There are very few services out there who have refined their services enough to drive down to the direct needs of women.

The Centre for Crime & Justice Studies was one of the first organisations I contacted last year post-sentence who actually listened to me around what I found was lacking not only in services, but in the justice system as a whole. The system fails those it can help the most. Help to keep families together, to ensure that children are cared for and to truly enable women who are in the hands of justice, to empower themselves to rise again and lead a decent and workable life where they can care for their children and sustain themselves.  The MoJ’s mantra, “Justice must fit all” isn’t working and nor will it ever while women are shoehorned into the current system.

The Centre for Crime & Justice Studies have collaborated with Women in Prison to form a strong network of willing people and organisations to tackle and prioritise the needs of women rather than CJS objectives.

It is time – justice is about help, support, empowerment and dealing with injustice. I wholly support this and it means so much to me as a woman who has journeyed through the CJS. Let us support Women in Prison and CCJS as they have set the foundation to bring about some change and justice for women in a system that largely ignores women.

(more…)

“Sam” – just a name…

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Just a name – not her real name nor is this a picture of “Sam” She is a woman I have never met or spoken with.

Sam has been released from HMP Holloway. I found Sam on a live stream from London Probation Trust. Sam is homeless, we know nothing about Sam, only she is in despair. Sam feels her only option is to commit a further offence in order to be recalled to HMP Holloway. I know nothing of her crime, I know Sam is a mother and that she signed her tenancy over to her partner at some point. Imagine, ensuring her children have a roof over their head. We know Sam has suffered domestic abuse, is mentally suffering and is basically, a woman, who has been abandoned by all but a handful of people.

I picked up on Sam’s story, purely because I know what it is to be homeless. I know how it feels to call many agencies and charities and be told many times over, that you cannot be helped. I know how despairing it is when you sit for hours in a Local Authority office to be told “you have intentionally made yourself homeless” and to be sent away. And I know what it is to be left to the mercy of the outdoors, walk miles everyday and ask for a drink of water.

Three of us today, got our heads together. With the power of friendship, trust and approximately three decades of knowledge between us of how hard it is to face life after prison and suspended sentences, we have hopefully signposted “Sam” to get the ground help she needs. I do not want to see Sam back in HMP Holloway. But I can understand her wanting to go back there. She’s weak, scared, on the edge, she likely has little or no money. I have said it before, I’ll say it again. Without a home, there is nothing. No pathway to benefits, no registration of GP, people walk around you, steer their children away from you. There is nothing.

If Sam’s only “hope” is to be recalled to prison and she feels this is the easiest way, what does this tell me? It certainly does not tell me that prison is a holiday camp. Conditions are terrible. I have spoken with friends who have been there. It tells me everything I have been banging on about for almost a year and then some…. Life after prison is shit. £47 is all you have in your pocket. (If you are on remand, there is not even this and no support from Probation) If you are lucky, there may be a probation hostel. Chris Grayling thinks supervision in the community is going to solve the re-offending problems? Training and education signposting is all very well. But little point without a home. Homes have to come first.

My message to Sam:

Don’t give up – there is help out there and from the unlikeliest of corners. If I could bottle what I have had to do for myself and send to you via LPT, I would happily do so. It is shit right now for you, but there are other options that are easier than going back to Holloway. We do not know you, Sam but for some reason, you’re in my head today as I look around my little home and cherish it as I know how hard I have worked to come through adversity, the crap, the police cell, the court dock and find a life that is rich with peace. Not money, but peace and I can finally hold my head high. Call the lasses at Kazuri, they’ll help you and when you’re through this time, you will get through it, it isn’t easy and it is not pretty, send a message via LPT that you’re on your way up. When you have to build from nothing gal, build the right way.

I have looked back – over my situation a year ago. I was like a house with subsidence. I could no longer plaster over the cracks. It had to come down. Because only then, could I cleanse the wound.

Once that wound is cleansed and the healing process begins, you can dress the wound to protect it as the healing sets in. The ripping of the plaster will make you wince for a moment and then you can step out to a brighter future.

The scar will fade to a fine silvery line and will always be a reminder of this time. You can do this – you deserve a stab at a life. It will not be handed to you on a plate but if you give this a chance, you just as much as the next person, can have a life.

I am willing you on and willing you through, Sam. I know you can do this.

From one woman to another.

TM

Despairing…. Another week in the CJS

ImageWhat a week – The Criminal Justice System is never out of the news is it? And no more so than this week. “High profile” cases are rampantly running through busy news editor’s desk as papers battle for who can flog the sleaziest copy.

Let’s do the tabloid’s favourite first… Max Clifford. The very papers who used him to sell sleazy stories are the very ones now talking about how “cushy” his life will be in a prison. “Build him up, then tear him down” (Words from a song somewhere, but I am sure you get my drift) Do not get me wrong – whatever I think about his sentence and how it has been used to somehow justify the controversial Yewtree enquiry, my thoughts lie entirely with the women who came forward. I have read various opinions on the women who came forward and why they have waited years to bring their complaints.

I will explain here why I am impartial on this matter and I am. I feel I can be now we are a year down the line. I had an unfortunate incident with a landlord whose house I was a tenant in for three weeks. I was in a pickle financially. Having been sentenced for various HMRC tax offences over a number of years, the landlord on renting this room was quite scathing about his own dealings with the CJS. I told him my situation in that I was on a suspended sentence. He was gracious and charming over the matter and stated it was of no concern. We had dinner over the kitchen table one night and copious of wine was imbibed. I was highly stressed after one court case where I had been plastered all over the local press for credit card fraud against my stepmother. I had also been reunited with my mother after two decades of estrangement. I had fought the local NHS trust with the help of my MP to ensure she was diagnosed correctly. My mother had been homeless for two decades and is a well-known figure in the town. She was on the verge of being discharged from an acute mental health ward and the only offer from the various agencies involved in her MDT (multi-disciplinary team) meeting was of residential care. My mother has schizophrenia. I had knocked on the doors of housing associations in order to gain her a property. I was eventually successful. She had no furniture, she was then 65-years old and without going into a long back story of her past, she finally had a home where she could be safe.

All of this was going on while I was struggling to come to terms with my own actions after a lengthy five year battle to see my children. The very charming, well-connected landlord was quite taken with the woman who was sub-letting one of his spare rooms. We got on, he suggested he support me and help me to arrange the moving of my mother into her accommodation. It was then I felt he was overstepping boundaries. It was an uneasy feeling of red flags waving in front of my eyes. I was then 42-years of age. I withdrew slowly from him and with work, I managed to distance myself from contact and refused dinners with him. I was self-contained in my area of the house in terms of bathrooms and sleeping areas. Occasionally, the odd text would come through late at night asking me to join him.

He used his influence and power over me and I’m a hardy tough old boot. I have had to be over the years. I have worked in male-oriented departments and had my fair share of “banter” and walked away. On some occasions, using the old Foxtrot Oscar term, I have warded off unwanted attention and gotten on with my life. Despite my estrangement from my children and my ex-husband’s treatment of me in emotional terms and a couple of pastings from my father as a child, I would go as far to say my life has not been dogged by violence. My parents were violent to each in front of me and I was used in the 70s as a witness for false allegations of sexual abuse by my mother against my father (categorically untrue) and watched as my mother tried to stab my father. I was dragged to Tipperary and back as a child as one parent waged war on the other using me as the pawn. Police, social services and any person who talks about my mother even today, remembers the whole saga of me as a child being pulled out of school, as my mother would march in and remove me claiming my father had put my hands in a fire and locked me in a barn. There are no barns in rows and rows of terraced houses. I do not see my childhood as unusual in that in my working class town in the 70s, it was usual. By today’s standards I would have been in a care home and no bones about it. I am now in my 46th year. I have had one smack across the mouth from a woman and my ex-husband and I got into a fight once and the police were called back in 2003. I would never in a million years suggest my ex-husband was a violent man. He isn’t.

But, emotional violence is another thing. Rape is emotionally and physically violent. There is no more a crime that is both destructive and damaging for any person. Yet one of the hardest to prove. I know how this feels. I know the terror and shame the act raises in a woman. Where does the CJS go in terms of a rape claim from a woman who the attacker now has on a fraud charge? There is no person who can verify my claims and when I was “brave” enough to go to the police, 18 months later, I was told no evidence. I have my side of the story and only this. He was arrested and questioned. I wrote him a rubber cheque, mired in a family history of whataboutery, two fucked-up parents who should have in no way had a child between them. Let alone two. I signed the cheque knowing full well I was writing this cheque without enough funds in my bank account as I had paid the deposit for my mother’s home in order to secure her safety. I was told – “your action is what is in question here, not his” I produced threatening text messages, described as “non-threatening” on my transcripts from the Police, there was no defence for me, all the evidence was there, how could I argue?. I was sentenced to a suspended sentence for writing a cheque for £825.00 when in fact, I only owed him £250.00 for rent. This was proved in court. He had let the room to me, illegally, his soon-to-be ex wife had also called me, confirming she was the owner of the property. And just in case he could not get me on the cheque, he then made a further false allegation of theft from his property which the CPS “withdrew”  Not only this, I had to go and tell the man I was soon to marry, I was about to be charged with fraud.  Did I agree to sexual intercourse with him? No, did I say no? It’s a tricky one isn’t it? Was I too drunk to consent? Did I take enough responsibility for my own safety? Was I dressed provocatively? (No – I was wearing jeans and a shirt) were I “inviting” him sexually? Do you ney sayers even think about what a complainant has to go through? This is the Criminal Justice System, where any complainant will be robustly questioned by a defence that has a 49% chance of acquittal.

There are no favours of kindness or emotional support within the CJS. It is impartial and should remain so. Pathways and commutes through to support are there, it is knowing where to turn and in my case, the Police were instrumental in this. They guided me to the right support network so I could receive the support and counsel I needed. Maybe this is why Lancashire has a good record in supporting victims, I have come to terms with all that happened to me, even a fraud charge. Ultimately it was my decision to write a cheque without enough funds, I paid the price, I have and that stain stays with me for life.

Yet, going back to these women who the now guilty Max Clifford abused. Young women, aged between 15-19 who have then since watched as this media mogul has risen to become a well-known publicist. If I as a hardened 42-year old felt scared about reporting such an event, imagine what a woman aged 15-19 year old feels with someone who hoovers up stories based on sex scandals? Would we now be so glib in castigating them for speaking out as grown women?  Finding the language to communicate what has happened to these women would be hard. So very hard and yes, years have passed but I have never forgotten social services stripping me off in the back room of a county court to examine me while a judge was waiting for the outcome, why would any other person have scant details of a powerful man placing his hand down their underwear? I have never forgotten living in Tipperary as a child during the Troubles, and telling everyone as an 8-year old my father in England hated Catholics and my Grandparents dragging me in and telling me I would be in massive trouble?

Has the justice system been heavy-handed on Clifford? Will an eight-year sentence serve his victims well? I doubt this very much. Being believed is enough and my hand on heart, my empathy does go out to the young women who are now grown women. I know how hard I have worked to come to terms with the loss of my children and recover from losing everything. Not every person wants to be seen as a victim. I certainly do not and I see these women being called this. Pain is what they have suffered. I see people call themselves victims at the drop of a hat. It is not a vocation, it is not a state of mind, it is not a status. The pain of intrusion is immense and the last description of me would be as a victim.

Constance Briscoe

Should she be in prison? She will serve eight months of her sentence (other investigations pending) There is nothing like throwing the book at one of your own. I have no doubt she used her power to target the man that is now a Guardian columnist, Chris Huyne.  Will prison help her to “rehabilitate”? Am I rehabilitated?

I am stunned and astonished at her sentence. It is double that of Vicky Pryce and Chris Huyne. I am not however surprised that Mr Huyne, who lied to the court, has come out and called Ms Briscoe, “batty” and is now using her crime against him as a defence in his quest to reduce his costs’ bill. Of course, perverting the court of justice undermines justice. The offence should be punished. Resources are taken up by statements that are false. I have a handful of friends who have been on the target end of this crime and currently there is no recourse for them.

Was the sentence because of who she was professionally? Dare I say it, is it because she is black and a woman? There I have dared. Did Chris Huyne and Vicky Pryce receive a sentence that was not fitting with their crimes of perjury? My sentence for misrepresentation was an 18-week sentence suspended for a year. I was a single woman and no matter what the public says, sentencing for women is always harsher. I have the experience, the knowledge and the figures to back this up.

I am deeply saddened to watch a woman who had achieved so much resort to such tactics and lie about her involvement with Vicky Pryce.  (who has had the sense to keep her mouth closed) She deserves to be sentenced, just as I was, yet she is no threat to the public. This sentence and that of her co-hort does nothing for these women, only land the taxpayer with a bill. Which is what the sentencing judge said to me on my sentencing. “It is pointless sending you to prison, this will serve no person other than land the taxpayer with a bill”

Many will rejoice in the downfall of Constance Briscoe. But those which do, those law-abiding citizens who work hard and pay their taxes, just remember, you’re the ones who are paying for her to be where she is, when she could have been in the community and doing some proper good.

 

 

 

Despairing does not even begin to scratch the surface.

Putting The “Sis” back into Genesis

sis 2

What’s not to love about Sister Act, the playful intersection of sex and sorority. The gritty dreams which rise from the street meld with the glamour of performance and into headlong collision with the self flagellation and denial of a convent. In a woman’s prison, filled to the rafters with the unlikeliest of friendships, like couples forced to stay in unhappy marriages because of economics or children, this was a gem of a production at HM Bronzefield in early March 2014.

This production by Pimlico Opera, a charity in the criminal justice rehabilitation sector has undoubtedly enhanced the confidence of the 20 or so women who took part, on stage and behind the scenes. They were each given £5 phone credit and £10 to spend on toiletries on their prison accounts.

Each one was brilliant and it was a pleasure to watch their confidence blossom. But what next?

In times of extreme austerity and the swinging cuts of Axeman Grayling, is the £180 000 cost to the prisons justified? In the brave new commissioning landscape of payment by results and a renewed focus on the arts as a tool for rehabilitation, metrics must be in place to measure hard outcomes aligned with the 7 identified pathways out of offending behaviour, as defined by NOMS. We have to be able to identify the long-term benefit of women prisoners taking part in these types of projects, which might appear, on the surface to be nothing more than excellent PR opportunities.

The production itself was spectacular though the full orchestra might have compensated for the very high ceilings in the gym at Bronzefield and the dreadful acoustics. Was this about showcasing the talent of the women prisoners or the dazzling orchestral manoeuvres in the dark of the Pimlico Opera orchestra? This is only the third time Pimlico Opera have produced a show in a women’s prison, their back catalogue is more impressive in men’s prisons.

Krispy Crèmes and exotic cheeses brought in as treats don’t add to up to long term rehabilitation. Why are they filling women with carbohydrates to make them behave nicely? These empty calories, both spiritually and vocationally symbolise the misplaced puffery and hype in a prison which has a battered reputation and enjoys a shocking reoffending rate in excess of 71% within a year.

Women prisoners at HMP Bronzefield were treated to a viewing of the performance on a Wednesday afternoon. This feminist manifesto made famous by Whoopi Goldberg in the lead role as Dolores van Cartier brought light and laughter to the grim greyness of HMP Bronzefield. It’s an institution where individual members of staff show dedication and compassion and where stories of inmate abuse, documented by HMPI Nick Hardwick last year, and sexual relationships between prison officers and the women are rife. The good ones – and they far outweigh the few renegades – are stifled by archaic management systems and an old guard of governor grades who believe in prison and making it as unbearable as possible – it is all about punishment. These worthies take on the role of God, all knowing, all seeing the eye in the sky and CCTV. When I asked the Head of Decency (whatever that entails) the justification for 500 women being locked down on a Friday afternoon so that staff could see the performance, leaving prisoners without access to services and even normal access to telephones, for the glorification and convenience of the few, he replies

“Well, they are all here to be punished.”

Chilling words as Bronzefield is a remand prison.

Many women did not bother to attend and visits were cancelled for the 8 days of the show’s duration and a few days either side. This included legal visits. These systems entrenched in punishment and retribution are the antithesis to rehabilitation. Bronzefield is notorious for its impossible visit booking system. How did the perverse decision to disrupt visits yield a net benefit for the 513 women who did not have anything to do with the show? Maintaining links with the community is an essential component in successful re-entry post incarceration and access to legal services is a basic human right. Should core ethics and values be hived off for the participation of a few or more perversely, in an attempt to repair the battered reputation of a beleaguered prison?

The punishment for profit agenda represents the negative, hardened attitude prevalent at this privately run prison in west London. It becomes necessary to magnify all the “worst” in these women and justifies this unfairness by abrogating responsibility. Until prison governors are clear about their remit to deliver a public service and whether safety, control and restraint trump compassion and rehabilitation we will continue, as the public, to suffer unacceptably high reoffending rates. The women’s prison estate remains successive governments’ biggest political failure, running over 200 years. We need to be clear as a society what we demand from those tasked with implementing policy; is it rehabilitation or retribution? Until such time as we exercise this choice, perverse attitudes will prevail.

I’ve asked the women what they gained besides soft, fuzzy outcomes which are short term, besides donuts and pin money. They also received 2 complimentary tickets and discounted tickets for friends who wished to attend. The current male lead who plays Curtis is a former offender who found employment with Pimlico Opera , post release. However, what of our own star in the making the fabulous Sister Mary Roberts? Is there a future for her on the stage or are these air dreams? There are vague promises of working with the women who took part post release and job prospects but there is nothing to evidence what these breathless opportunities mean or how they will manifest. Show me the money, as Dolores van Cartier might say.

It is an interesting time to consider the role of the church and the continued diminishment of women, evidenced in the refusal to allow women bishops and the recalcitrant patriarchy, which presides over the church. The servitude and Catholic guilt infused in most women – even those of us a million miles from entering a nunnery – resonated in the audience of “bad girls”. We must question what makes these women so bad, like Dolores that she needs to be hidden in a nunnery, so God can keep her safe. Safe from whom? Herself and her bad acts? To keep safe the poor vulnerable men in the community who might be her prey?

Society condemns women to a much higher standard than men, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC confirms that women receive longer sentences are more stigmatised than their male counterparts in her seminal book, Eve was Framed. Women are not allowed by society and patriarchal justice systems consisting of all white, middleclass, Oxbridge, old men, to misbehave or step outside of normal accepted patterns of behaviour.

Time has come to look at why women offend and the inherent misogyny in the criminal justice system. We can no longer afford to consign these women to society’s trash heap forever, based on outdated mores. These are the modern equivalent of the Old Testament’s fires of hell, or witches who burnt in earlier times, if women committed crimes. We collectively judge these women beyond redemption, but we are responsible for a criminal justice system that is not designed to rehabilitate women. Women are square pegs jammed into round holes, still subject to a Victorian system of punishment designed by cruel men in a time when the deserving poor were separate from the undeserving criminal, feral underclass.

We are the new Victorians, unleashing and relishing social policy which creates a new underclass – the undeserving poor. Research into how austerity has affected women’s services by the Fawcett Society and others show women are disproportionately affected because of dire reductions in the funding of women’s services.

There is not a single sympathetic male character in the entire piece. The pimp / club owner embodies all the things little boys are made of: frogs and snails and puppy dogs tails. His motley crew of thugs are narcissistic, homoerotic boy-men who can’t relate to women beyond reductive objects to be conquered. The good detective is frightened of his own shadow and emotionally castrated. Even the Bishop is corrupt, vacuous and has a watery morality, taking payment to sell the church building to developers. Where’s God in all this mess, you might ask.

Men are redeemed by the power of love and a good woman, it’s the anti-fairy-tale, Cinderella in the driving seat. The sleeping princess is awakened, she becomes the rescuer of men, but more significantly, of herself. Dolores finds her own strength, inside and salvation comes to the detective who steps into his manhood in her reflected glory and new found confidence. The pimp dies, the plastic cowboy goons are overcome by the nuns. It’s God, indeed but embodied through female power, Gaia’s cleansing vengeance.
But the new feminists, whose matriarch is Naomi Wolf demands more of men than allowing them to remain stifled and immature. We the women must accept responsibility for male attitudes, not a victim blaming doggedness. It will take grown up men to bring about a truly 21st Century feminist revolution in the criminal justice system, not confused hyperbole about intersectionalism and segmentation.

Time for good, grown up men at the helm of the church, the Ministry of Justice and outsourced providers of prison services to realise that women are indeed not men and examine the causes of female offending, which is rooted in inequality. The issues must be resolved by looking through a gendered lens, not the unconscious bias of the collective and the male dominated hierarchy.

No more reports, no more funding for the Prison Reform Trust to hold yet more conferences and do more research, no more talking, no more justice task forces. It’s time to take arms and fight for all women’s right to justice, not just those who happen to behave well.

Jude Kelly’s annual Southbank festival extravaganza Women of the World came and went this year, with a whimper not a bang. The annual weekend celebration’s theme was One Billion Rising for Justice. Out came the old crones on their soapboxes, to dance the ritual sacrifices and tell us THEY know how to bring about women’s equality. One billion dancing or rising or whatever won’t change social policy or transform inequality. These vampires suck off the blood of the handmaiden and fresh ideas, about inclusivity and seeing powerful men as part of the solution, not the problem, are allowed to wither on the vine.

Naomi Wolf says poignantly that we need to take the tools of the master to dismantle the master’s house.

Author – Farah Damji

Leaving Chaos…by Debby Smith

As chaos ensued and enveloped my whole being. The day had finally made an appearance; I can’t remember whether it was summer, winter day or night. My epiphany, the one and only rational thought I could muster, amongst the combat of daily battles in a war that I was losing. This vivid thought is, and always will be embedded in my memory:
What will happen to my children if he kills me or I kill him? Get out – I’ve got to get out.

I was living with a husband I’d had two children with, who had turned into a hateful person but could still portray himself as a loveable man.

The battering became more violent over time. It was the norm, everyone around me knew, friends were in the same style relationships, it was a big circle and we were all in it together, but no one spoke about it.

His threats were a strategy, along with heavier bouts of violence. Having a hot iron held to my face with a promise of ill burn you if you don’t agree with me had the desired effect of surrender. A wooden storage box thrown on top of me whilst he laid on top it whispering this is what your coffin will feel like, had the surrender factor too. My survival instincts were put to the test on many occasions.

He stole from me physically and mentally. I became invisible, the nothing, I despised myself, much more than he did. The shame and embarrassment that lives alongside thus enabled me to become withdrawn, so he got away with more than I ever told. I sold my jewellery, pawned my wedding ring to buy food and pay bills. All this I did to get myself on a level footing, but I began to realise he would steal from me so I would be pre- occupied trying to feed the children. The control was all consuming.

I survived in an environment of criminality and pretence. All things in my life were tainted, any happy occasions where ruined by violence. I was on a merry go round and I couldn’t get off. Calls to the Police were frowned upon, and I would have been isolated much more. Asking for help was a sign of weakness; I was in a vicious circle inside the home and outside.

Finally the day came when a battle weary 22 year old left chaos behind and never looked back.
This happened to me, forgetting is not an option. It’s not the whole of me, only a small part. I will not allow it to be a big piece of my life. In the aftermath I learned to overcome obstacles put before me by others pre conceptions and prejudices. Nothing has ever fazed me since the day I left. My experiences have made me the woman I am, and cannot imagine life any other way.

I was a victim but now I am a survivor of domestic violence and abuse. The sentence alone is self-explanatory. It shows the past, the present and carries positive connotations for the future.

About the author – Debby Smith is a survivor of domestic violence

Losing Everything – Really Mr Evans…???

Nigel Evans made interesting reading at the weekend following his acquittal of all charges. The MP (Apparently this stands for Member of Parliament and not to be confused with Maybe Prosecuted) for Ribble Valley has spoken out about losing every penny and the witch-hunt of “high profile” people. Well, Mr Evans, as a “low profile” woman here is my view. I shall not be highlighting the point that as Deputy Speaker, you were fully aware of the changes to the system whereby one cannot claim costs back. You know the one, October 1st 2012, one of LASPO changes. Nope, I will not highlight this point. Anyway onwards…

Mr Evans has lost every penny he had. £130,000. That is a lot of pennies. Calls for changes to the system whereby those found not guilty of charges brought should be entitled to a refund of the costs paid to defend allegations. You know the one – Mr Evans as deputy speaker you surely heard it. Your party brought the bloody thing in. Mr Evans did not come under the threshold of £37K- in order to qualify for legal aid. That test means as a laywoman “You can afford to pay for your own legal representation” (I am a lay woman. I do woman-speak)

Whether or not the case should have been prosecuted I do not claim to know a jot about. I am aware the CPS look at if, the case is in the public interest and, they believe they have a strong possibility of a conviction. I have no truck mucking around with that one.

I can however, look at Mr Evans’ and his “losing every penny” he has in order to defend the allegations laid before him in a court of law. He has been found Not Guilty and to my mind, justice has been done. That is the whole basis of law. Charges were brought, as a member of our society, Mr Evans had to answer the charges laid before him. He did. A jury of his peers found him Not Guilty. That is justice.

I have a pragmatic view here and I have shared this on Twitter. I was interviewed under caution knowing full well the allegation was untrue. The person making the allegation knew it was untrue. I knew in my heart of hearts it was untrue, I “no commented” I have had a few responses to my comment in this area and as we Brits do all that “stiff upper lip” stuff, many use the “If I have nothing to hide and I tell the truth, all will be well” That’s great if you’re dealing with loved ones but when it comes to being interviewed under caution and yes, it is on tape, I see a whole different side to this. Because, I have seen the transcription from tape to paper and it is that paper that goes to the CPS. The transcripts of my recorded interview made me look like a 19-year old thug who could not care less. Hence why I reserved my right as a British Citizen to “no comment” It is very difficult to transcribe “no comment” to “I am not sure where I was on the day in question” or “I was in bed asleep, alone” The charges I was guilty of, happily co-operated and we know what went on there. (I did lose everything – I was not sitting on a beautifully upholstered sofa with the finest bone china holding my tea talking to a Daily Mail reporter about how I had lost everything) I also raised an eyebrow at the reporter’s comment “It all started on 4th May last year when Mr Evans was in bed with his friend” If that’s not satire waiting to happen, I don’t know what is…

Public opinion is divided on the Nigel Evans case. Not guilty does not equate innocence, say some. Actually it does if we take the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra that is now loosely forgotten with our press. In the eyes of the law and let us look at the statement again. “Innocent until Proven Guilty Until the day of conviction, every person who walks into a court room (those who have pleaded guilty aside) is innocent. So, to pay £130,000 to defend that innocence is a hefty price. Mr Evans – I do agree with you. That is a large chunk of cash to have to spend. I am with you on that one. (Not that I have seen £130K and nor am I likely to)

Now Mr Evans is calling for a u-turn on the no costs refund thingy… As he believes this is damaging for high-profile people.

Hello…. small peasant here. What about those low profile people? You know, the majority who have no choice but to use legal aid? My close friend could afford to opt out of legally aided representation and pay privately when a member of her family was falsely accused (trial withdrawn) of many counts of sexual offences. Her husband and her have managed to hold on to their home but well, they have spent some time looking at which direct debits to cancel as they are a few thou adrift. That is one side – had my false allegation and the pressure at the time from my legal aid representation to plead guilty (true) I would now be able to talk about my own prison experience instead of writing about others.

You did not lose everything Mr Evans – you have returned to your job, you have your home and you have support from your party and your constituents. I do not doubt your trauma in being dragged through the Criminal Justice System. It is not a pleasant place to be.

Your battle as an MP and one that is on my geographical radar as in ten minutes over Pendle Hill, should be for those on the ground. Those who are now deprived of legal aid – women who are subjected to domestic abuse and are sent away until there is “evidence” That is almost like saying “go away and get beaten up or raped some more, then come back and we will see if you qualify” Women who are at risk of losing their children in Family Law. Your battle should not be for the “high profile” people. Your battle should be for those who are in dire need of a voice in Parliament who actually does care.

Credibility is what you have lost and that can be regained with the right approach. We might at times be harsh, we the British public, but there are times we do know that some things are worth forgiving. You have an opportunity to make a difference to the public and the injustices within the justice system due to your experiences. I would not blow it if I were you.