Make a list of all the things that you are grateful for-big things, small things and everything that you can think of:
1.My partner…We’ve had our ups and downs over the years and he is currently in prison, miles away from me, but he is such a huge support and I really do love and miss him so much.
2. My friends…it’s true that friends are the family you choose and mine have been through a lot with me. Being in a psychiatric hospital it’s surprising that not only do you make new friends who understand what you are going through, but you also realise, who of your existing friends, are your true friends.
3. My family…especially my newborn niece. I never thought that I could be more proud of my younger sister than I already was, or be so broody. Sadly, thanks to the meds I’m on, I’ll probably be unable to have kids of my own, so instead I will be spoiling my perfect little niece.
4.Being able to read…although it’s a battle at the moment, it helps me to get lost in someone else’s story, escape to another place/world. Reading has always been my refuge. I’m gradually clawing back the concentration levels I once had, which is a real battle against fatigue caused by the form of arthritis that I have , mental illness symptoms as well as the medications for both conditions. When I’m not able to read I feel angry, frustrated and alone.
5. Being able to write…This is another battle, especially when I’m constantly struggling to keep my eyes open. I love being able to express how I’m feeling deep inside in a constructive way. I like the writing community that I’ve found and I’m beginning to feel a part of it by blogging. I also love that I’ve been able to share my experiences with others as well as to raise awareness of mental illness.
6. My personal assistant/carer…although I’ve had to pretty much let her go for the time being till my finances are in better shape, she has made herself available, even now, for the measly number of hours I can offer her, which shows me what a true friend she is, as well as the fact that she’s made a huge positive difference to my life.
7.Arts and crafts/being creative…I love cardmaking, scrapbooking, clay modelling/sculpture making, photography etc. I love spending time being creative as it helps me to escape my thoughts for a little while and gives me a more positive focus.
8.Watching good/bad TV…A personal favourite is Home and Away. Again, anything that gives me escapism and helps me to lose myself in something else for a while, distracting me from my thoughts. I love the thought of sunning myself on a hot, sandy beach eyeing up the even hotter surfers.
9.Shopping…especially for books, clothes, toiletries and arts and crafts stuff. I tend to overspend though which can be a bit of a problem.
10. Pampering myself…getting someone to do my hair, doing my make-up or trying out new outfits. Anything a bit girly and something to take my mind off things.
Well considering how negative I am feeling at the moment I think 10 things to be grateful for is a pretty good start. My eyes are quite heavy again at the moment, so I’m going to leave it at that. What things are you grateful for? Feel free to comment or tweet me @spursbythebeach .
As I’ve mentioned before, my partner is currently in prison, serving an IPP sentence. This is a brief explanation of IPP and how it feels to be both a prisoner serving an IPP sentence and their loved one on the outside. I’m not writing this to complain or for pity it’s just to raise awareness that sentences without an end-date do exist and why I think they are so damaging.
‘In 2011 790 IPP sentences were issued for those aged 18 and over and the number of the prison population serving an IPP was 6078 (January to March 2012 figures)’ . More information about IPP sentences can be found here but basically they are used for ‘public protection’ where they think that there is a high risk of the prisoner reoffending. So what they decide to do is send them to prison without any idea when they will actually be getting out. http://sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk/sentencing/indeterminate-prison-sentences.htm
The perfect punishment you might think, but isn’t prison supposed to be about rehabilitation? Haven’t you thought about how much it costs to keep these people in prison year after year? Also how can someone work towards rehabilitation effectively when they have no idea when they will be getting out of prison? In my view it is not punishment it is laziness from the justice system that ensures that repeat offenders receive no effective help inside prison to prevent them re-offending so instead the answer is to never let them out again.
I might sound over-dramatic but that’s what it feels like and looks like as the partner of an IPP prisoner. My partner is now over tariff (meaning he has gone past the recommended amount of time to serve) and is waiting for his second parole board case review which will take place later this year hopefully (if the prison do everything that they have been instructed to do). This includes waiting to have an assessment by a psychologist, something that we have been waiting for for months.
Then there are often delays with the parole board due to the huge number of cases that they are trying to get through and a lack of funding. Simon Rollason a Solicitor Advocate speaks out about this in an Inside Time article: http://www.insidetime.org/articleview.asp?a=1720&c=the_future_of_the_parole_board_and_ippa_downward_slope
There are huge queues for rehabilitative courses and not all courses are available at all prisons so there is a lot of moving around usually. My partner is one of the lucky few to have been able to remain in the same, ok prison, for the whole of his sentence. This should help with his parole reports as prison staff will be aware of him and know him better compared to if he was new to a prison.
The worst part of IPP is not having a certain future. Most prisoners know that if they are well behaved then their sentence will end on a certain date so they get their heads down and wait for that day to come. IPP prisoners and their families are left in limbo with no idea whether they will spend many more years in prison or be out in a matter of months. It leaves you feeling unsettled and often causes you to lose hope.
I made the decision to wait for my partner and I will continue to do so, however long it takes for him to be released. It is my choice and I hope that I will not be judged for it. After all, you can’t help who you love. Yes life would be simpler if I wasn’t involved in this relationship but it would also mean losing the person who makes the biggest difference to my life, for the better, even if they are behind bars.
Do you have a loved one serving an IPP sentence or have you served one yourself? Please get in touch, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this and may do a follow-up post if there is enough interest. I can be contacted on here, via Twitter @spursbythebeach and email firstname.lastname@example.org
Writing is something that I have mixed feelings about. It can be such a pleasure sometimes, pouring out my heart to the man that I love. Other times it can feel like an item on the to-do list and I feel guilty about just rambling on about my problems when he already has enough to deal with.
The same varied feelings apply to getting a reply. Usually a letter from him makes my day. Him telling me how much he loves me and can’t wait for us to be together. Other times his letters are filled with bad news, or he just sounds so down and I feel powerless to help. I beat myself up for not visiting enough, not saying the right thing when we write or talk.
Writing feels like a pressure to reach the right balance between honesty and suffering. A lot of things are played down or barely mentioned, even if they feature a great deal in my life. I lean on others as much as I can but he is the one person in my life who really gets me and who gives the best advice, my best friend. The only problem is that I know he’ll worry about me the most too, in the same way that I worry about him.
Added to this is that by the time the letter has reached him, the problem may have resolved itself. If it hasn’t then it may be too big for him to help resolve. If we don’t share though, would we be as good as strangers by the time he is released? That’s my bigger fear so I have the habit of telling him EVERYTHING that goes on, however irritating that may be for him at times. I hope that not only will it bring us together but also encourage him to open up too. And that can never be a bad thing.
When I started reading the Vicky Pryce article in Red’s December 2013 issue ‘They say that the first night in prison is the worst’, I expected her to whine about how hard done by she was, how unfair her sentence had been. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The more I read, the more I thought of my fiance and the more I became a Vicky Pryce fan.
Her preparations for her family to be taken care of whilst she was away were touching and her descriptions of prison life were very accurate although my partner has yet to experience open conditions.
She talks about having ‘to rely on hard-to-get phone credit’. This is another financial expense for me whilst my partner is in prison, one that I don’t begrudge paying but nonetheless between organising that and visits it is a bit of a struggle at times.
She talks about how she felt about her loved ones on the outside ‘I worried more about all of them than me. I knew I would be alright’. It’s the same for my partner. It’s very rare that he feels sorry for himself but he does worry about me with all of my health problems. I’m sure he wishes he could be by my side at my hospital appointments and he hates it if something has upset me as he is unable to properly comfort me.
‘It was the first sign of camaraderie – and that I would be ok’, reminds me of my partner. He tells me that they all look out for each other and much as they might banter and play practical jokes sometimes, often that is part of the distraction. They’re mostly all in the same position, trying to keep busy, serve their time and distract themselves from thinking about their loved ones.
‘Many lose their homes and face a dire future with little prospect of employment’, This reminds me of the fewer options that will be available to my partner, especially when trying to get a job. People will judge him on his past instead of what he has learned from it.
‘Others lived for visitors’ days when family came to see them – any sign that we were under the weather or not well-groomed would spell unhappiness and worry for our children and other loved ones’. This reminds me of the extra worry that I face when he is ill and I honestly believe, not looked after well enough. When he had shingles he was treated appallingly even though he was in agonising pain.
‘…but we were locked up for most of the day unless we were exercising, had enrolled in educational courses or had managed to get assigned to some prison job’. My partner has a good prison job so he is allowed out a great deal of the time but is still locked up a lot at weekends or when there are staff shortages.
‘Would I want to rewind the clock so that none of this had happened? Of course I would’. My partner feels the same about his past life of crime and I honestly believe that this sentence has been a real shock to the system and one which he will learn from.
The article says that the prison population is around the 85,000 mark. Many living in overcrowded conditions as people are sent to prison on longer sentences instead of being rehabilitated in the community which some would benefit from.
Vicky Pryce has written two books hoping to make a difference to the prison population. One of these, ‘Prisonomics’ is out on October 14th. My partner and I wait nervously for his next parole hearing which has been moved to be towards the end of this year hopefully. We pray that this will be the one that we have counted down the days for.
I knew what I was getting into, he was in prison already on an arson charge when I first wrote to him. I didn’t understand the consequences fully then of an IPP (Indeterminate Public Protection) sentence and thought that, as he’d behaved he’d be let out after his first parole hearing. I was so wrong. And yet if I’d known everything that I was getting into, I’d do it all again.
Why have I stuck by him? Because when you truly love someone who has made a mistake, you try to understand why and you face the consequences of that mistake together. No-one was actually harmed in the fire but lives were put at risk and as a result my partner was given the most severe type of sentence possible. IPP means that he could spend up to 99 years in prison unless the parole board decide after one of their yearly hearings to let him out, either to come home or into open conditions (D Category).
Why I love him is easy to explain. Firstly, he was my first love, my first boyfriend but at the time I felt too young for how seriously we both felt for one another.
Other reasons are: he’s funny, sweet, brave and loves me so much that I know that no-one else could ever love me as much and I love him the same amount.
You’re probably wondering what it’s like to be engaged to someone in prison. Well firstly communication is a huge issue. We keep in touch by phone calls, cards/letters, emails via the prison from me and of course, visits.
Firstly, phone calls. At the moment we’ve switched to having short chats on a daily basis. These have replaced our longer weekend-only chats but in a way are better as it means that I worry less about him. At first it felt weird speaking on the phone knowing that every word we were saying was probably getting monitored. Now we’re so relaxed, we’re probably too relaxed and we talk about anything really.
At first when we started talking it was really awkward for him as he hadn’t spoken to anyone on the outside in years and so he wasn’t used to talking to a woman that he was attracted to.
Letters was how we first started communicating and they’re what I really treasure as they give me something to hold onto when times get hard. When he writes a letter he really lets his guard down and writes from the heart although, of course, letters are monitored too.
The first time I went on a visit was a mixture of fear and relief. Fear because I hadn’t been near a prison since I’d visited my uncle as a child and as a result was unsure what to do and felt very self-conscious, especially after being searched and having my every move watched the entire time. This makes even an innocent person feel guilty. The relief part was first of all seeing him in one piece and being able to talk more freely as well as realising that I’m not alone in this situation. The visit hall is packed with people in similar situations, some have it even harder because they have children to bring up alone.
Apart from those small spaces in time, life is filled with stress. I am constantly worrying about whether he really is as ok as he says he is, or worrying even more when he admits that he’s not ok and there’s nothing that I can do to help him.
I feel guilty about not being able to visit him enough as I’m disabled and my health fluctuates from bad to worse making travelling a painful ordeal. Financially it’s a struggle visiting and sending in money although thanks to APVU (Assisted Prison Visits Unit) I get some money back from my visiting costs.
Most of all though, you spend your life wishing away the time, hanging on for the next phone call, the next visit, the next parole hearing, the day they’ll finally say that he can come home. You spend your life thinking of the what ifs, imagining how different things would be if he was out. Ultimately though, apart from the small amount of contact, I am constantly reminded that he’s not here. When my coupled up friends are going out with their partners or having a family, when I have a bad day and want to talk to him about it, when I go to bed and think about him sleeping on his own miles away. The only thing that keeps me going, it sounds strange to say it but, is imagining that he’s here beside me. I know that he misses me as much as I miss him but that makes it even harder as I wish I’d been able to save him from himself.
I know people will judge me and think that I’m a fool for sticking by him. I know they will think he deserves everything that he gets. Surely though, in a civilised society, people deserve to know when their time of punishment will be over? I’m sure this will cause a lot of debate and differences of opinion and look forward to hearing what people have to say (although could you please keep comments civil). Please also feel free to add me on Twitter to discuss this further @spursbythebeach and check out the follow-up to this post which will be appearing on this blog soon.