Carlotta Allum

I was born in Milan, but lived for my formative years in Manchester. My mum is Italian and a doctor although she couldn’t practice in the UK and my dad was a university lecturer. It was quite a liberal upbringing – I’m the youngest of three and struggled to find my own ‘thing’ in the family. I felt like I ran wild a bit as a teenager, the Madchester music scene exploded as I hit 16 years old, I lived in the Hacienda and embraced the druggie lifestyle – I found my ‘thing’!

I was swept away with a certain lifestyle, easy money and dirty cash became the norm. I was used to being a bit of gangsters moll, well looked after by criminal boyfriends, I wanted to do it, other people had done it before me, what could go wrong? I had built up lots of debts as a student, it seemed like the perfect answer and a fun holiday thrown in. Although it didn’t seem it at the time, it was a blessing I was arrested in LA. The laws are different over there and the same crime would have got me a mandatory 3 years in the UK.

I was able to plea bargain, if I got some one else arrested over my crime they would release me on bail. My routine medical showed me to be pregnant! I was released on bail after 8 months as they didn’t want the baby born in the US. My parents remortgaged the house to put up the bail and were incredible with their support – when it went to court I got time served as I had given a comprehensive statement against the perpetrator. On the whole I think they were fair, but there were times I thought I was looking at 10 years and my mum was thinking of staying in a mobile home near the prison to look after the baby, so things could have been very different. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes and being released it came as real shock.

My prison sentence has affected me deeply and inspired a lifelong interest in the welfare of prisoners. I can not believe I was that stupid looking back, I was so naive. I learned how important support is from your family and loved ones and having a life to come out to, I was so lucky, but there were girls in their with no one and nothing. Having a serious offence on my record has caused a lot of problems in my chosen career, I do not think drug offences should be classed the same as violent or sexual offences, I trained to be a teacher then found it very hard to get work, no one knew what to do with me.

Today. I run a charity called STRETCH that facilitates arts projects for marginalised groups and the offending community. It is my passion and I am driven in my work, I love working with prisoners the most. Just as ex addicts are the best people to work with addicts I think there should be more peer mentors for prisoners.

If I could change one thing about the world, something that would have to be a global decision, would be changing the drugs laws, decriminalising as much as possible, the prisons would be empty, stop the violence and gun crime from drug cartels, stop it being ‘cool’ and underground, make money from taxing it, deal with addicts in a completely different way. The repercussions would be huge – but I know it’s too big a job to contemplate, as the world would have to be thinking as one.

I’d like to think that I can inspire some women not to see a prison sentence as the end of the line, you can recover and lead a positive life afterwards. I have seen many women, including myself, who do time for their partners, I know it’s all very well to say in hindsight but we need to be strong enough to move away from the criminal activity before it gets to a custodial sentence!

My three lovely girls, my work and my life now is good today. Ooh lots of things make me smile, my three lovely girls, good food, blue sky, anything with Rob Brydon in. For more information visit stretch-charity.org

Taken from Issue 18

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