*All names and identifying information has been redacted or substituted for confidentiality*
“An estimated 310,000 children every year have a parent in prison in England and Wales.”
According to https://www.nicco.org.uk. I was shocked when I first learnt this statistic. How can a figure be so high yet not commonly known? Is it because of the taboo nature of prison, or is it simply not something we like to shine a light on? It’s hard to imagine the impact this must have on so many families throughout the U.K. To give me a better insight, I interviewed someone who had a parent in prison when they were a child.
How old were you when your parent went to prison?
12 I think, so that was year 8 and my dad was in prison for a year. His sentence was two years but he only served one.
How did this affect your school life?
No one said anything – it was very bizarre. But there was no way they couldn’t have known because there was only one school in the area. It was a small town. Yet no one confronted me, and I was kind of expecting it – it’s almost like I wanted them too. I was really angry inside and it’s like I wanted an outlet, I wanted someone to confront me about it. My three best friends were the only people I talked to about it but I hardly ever mentioned it. I never told them about what the visits were like when I went to prison. I had one day off school a month to go and see him so the other pupils definitely knew, they just didn’t say anything. I got the feeling maybe a teacher had told them not to. My form tutor had a little chat with me but it was never direct, he didn’t mention anything specifically. However I knew that my dad wrote to the headmaster and asked to keep an eye on me and I was furious.
Why were you furious?
I thought how dare you, I’m fine, don’t bring attention to it. You know? I was angry in general, I had a lot of anger to start with. But as the oldest child my dad had always said look after your mum, look after the family so I had those responsibilities to focus on.
Was he able to contact you?
He started off in a horrible prison so that wasn’t nice. Once he got moved to an open prison he could phone us. It was nice to be able to keep in touch. It was hard though because my youngest sister was born whilst he was in prison – she was born about 6 months after he went. I found that tough because I felt I had to help look after my mum… no that’s not right, I felt protective of my mum. That’s how I felt; very protective. I did have a lot of responsibilities. We also got evicted in that time.
Was that because you didn’t have money coming in with your dad in prison?
Yes, so we lost the house. Mum was pregnant, we’d lost our money, so yes. We were in a very big semi-detached house in a really nice area and we got evicted to a council house in a rough estate. In terms of family, all we had was an aunty and uncle who lived down the road but they didn’t help us much at all. Although they lived less than five minutes away, we hardly ever saw them. Reflecting on it now, I think they were ashamed. So we didn’t really get support. We didn’t really have a family support network.
How has the experience impacted you?
Quite a hard question. Well it’s impacted me in various ways. I’m empathetic, for example with homeless people. We were lucky enough in those days that there was a council house to put us in. We had a three bedroom council house. Okay it wasn’t a nice estate, but there isn’t as much social housing now. I mean, we were made homeless and luckily there was council housing, otherwise we could have been in any awful situation. And it just makes me think, well there’s lots of things it makes me think of. Like when someone gets put in prison right, they’ve almost got it easy. They don’t have to worry about bills, where their next meal is coming from, heating or anything. They’re looked after. The ones left behind get all the stuff from their neighbours and people talking, had to put up with all the stigma. Mum had to support her children independently all of a sudden and find out how to claim benefits. So it can be harder sometimes for the ones on the outside than the inside. And back then we had no real intervention from a social worker or anything, I can’t remember anyone helping out whatsoever. So it just makes me more empathetic I think. It’s taught me not to take your home for granted. That’s partly why I don’t think I’m a great homemaker because I just think it could go at any point you know. I put more of my emotional energy into people, rather than places.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I’ve only been able to talk about my dad going to prison quite recently. It almost still feels too raw, even after all this time. Because I love my dad so much, it’s just like as soon as you talk about it people are going to pre-judge. Same as I do – it’s human nature. They’ll just think “Oh he went down, he did it.” That’s it.
Yeah I suppose if you say to someone “This person really liked roller skating, he loved the colour blue oh and he went to prison” the thing you’re gonna remember is that he went to prison, so that’s what you’re going to associate with him. So I can understand that that’s not the first thing you’d want to mention.
Yeah exactly. There were so many good things about my dad I wouldn’t want him just defined as a criminal.
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Nia Clark is a Final Year English Language and Linguistics Student
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