In the 1990’s I got a conviction for GBH. I hit a guy and he suffered brain damage; he very nearly died. At first I was told I would be facing a charge of murder. Things were so close.
I found it very difficult in prison, beyond any stress level I had encountered before, but as it was my first offence I managed to transfer very quickly to an open prison. That was better, but it wasn’t until my last week inside that I could actually lift my head up and look at other people. I was really depressed and a little paranoid. One thing that I did find in prison was a small book about meditation and Buddhism – I was desperate to find some way to relax. It helped a bit to read the stories in the book. The fact I was reading this meant I didn’t finish myself off.
Despite being so frozen with fear whilst in prison, I still felt nervous when I left half way through my sentence. I found it really difficult to go out, I was just scared and thought that the people at the bus stop might be talking about me. I wasn’t well. Depressed? Lost? Shattered?
Luckily for me, my old employer let me have my job back. I worked in a laboratory at that time. However, they wanted me to be interviewed by a psychologist just to ‘be on the safe side’ before letting me back. I was given the choice of either seeing a psychologist from the probation service, a psychiatrist or I could go and see the psychotherapist that worked at the university where I was employed. I opted to go to see the psychotherapist – thinking I would just go for a one off interview.
Well …. I ended up having weekly psychotherapy for 13 years! But .. they were a really interesting and amazing 13 years!
When I first came out of prison I was in my late 20’s. I’d never had an actual girlfriend, never caught a train by myself and never really been anywhere. I lived at home with my parents as I’d done since I dropped out of university in my first term. I had very low self esteem – always had.
The fact is I needed psychotherapy, but it would never have crossed my mind before prison. I came from a very working class family and things like that were just off the radar for me. While at the open prison I used to go and have a cup of tea and a chat with a nun who used to come and talk to the prisoners. I didn’t believe in God but talking to somebody was a life-line for me.
It was so helpful to have my job. At least I could go back to some of the safety I had been hiding behind before. However, after a couple of years of therapy I was changing. I was able to walk around town without thinking I was going to be beaten up or killed, without feeling ashamed.
By this time I had moved out of my parents home and was amazed to find that I could survive by myself, cope with paying bills and being alone. I had also started catching trains by myself and used to go to Cardiff, Bristol and London and look round the shops. Then I travelled to Tibet and South Korea to explore and to stay in a Zen Buddhist temple for a short while. This interest in voluntary work continued and I started volunteering back home for a mental health project.
I felt life was a really precious thing. I had destroyed one person’s life and part of me felt I didn’t deserve it – but it wouldn’t have helped to destroy my life too. I also realised that I didn’t want to work in the lab anymore. It was a good job with a future but it wasn’t right for me. I wanted to be a psychotherapist. I was worried about how my record would affect that. My conviction would not become spent for many more years and if you work with vulnerable people it never does really.
I found a place that would give me an interview, actually a lot of counsellors and psychotherapists have come through difficult times – some have been to prison.
The course, the therapy and the travel back and forth to London was going to be very expensive and I had no idea how to pay for it. Also my employer, despite having been brilliant were not willing to give me day release to go and do the course. I had to find another job if I was going to do it. I’m sure you all know that it’s not easy with an unspent conviction for violence.
The course was going to start so despite being really scared and wondering if I was a bit crazy, I gave up my job at the Uni and now unemployed, gave all the money I had ever saved up to pay for my first years tuition. I needed a job straight away but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find a decent job and ended up getting a zero hours minimum wage job in a pub. They were nice there, but I still needed something paying a bit more.
After six months and the benefit of references from the Uni, my voluntary work placement and the pub, I got a job working with adults with learning difficulties. They were willing to listen to the circumstances around my conviction and gave me a chance. They were really challenging clients with autism. I was getting beaten up and bitten every week but I was so much happier than at the Uni. The pay was still pretty poor, about a pound an hour better than before – I still have that job!!!
It took eight years of training but I am now a fully qualified psychotherapist registered with the UKCP. I have my own practice and some private clients. I hope one day to get to the point where I can rely on the income from my psychotherapy work.
Even now, I still struggle from time to time with self-esteem issues but ……..I got married recently and had a Buddhist blessing last week.
So hang on in there folks, everything changes, including you.
The man I hit died not long ago. He died young. I’m not sure if this was related to the injury I had caused but I guess it is likely. I can’t make it better, I’m sorry.
Something I can do is use my precious life to help other people to know that their lives are precious too – every single one of you – whatever you have done.
By Terence (name changed to protect identity)
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