I was asked by Jo-Anne the manager of the Oasis project if on Tuesday 13th September 2011, I would like to attend a conference in London with her in reference to do with women in prison. Questions had been sent to women in prison, to be read out by members of the audience. I had been asked if I would read one.
Firstly I was so grateful to even be asked to go such an important event, I was thrilled and excited, then the nerves kicked in because I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there was going to be a panel there but I didn’t know exact numbers that were going to turn up. I have got a big mouth at the best of times and sometimes I never shut up, most of it waffle mind you but to speak out in front of so many people made me quite anxious and excited but all in a good way. I just looked forward to the day of the conference, still wondering what would be said, the sorts of things people could ask, say and even if I would have the courage to say anything, ask anything or even give a important response that I felt strongly about.
At the conference I was really surprised by the turn out, the people that attended obviously cared about what was going on in our criminal justice system and the fact that there were women in jail and maybe most them shouldn’t be. The lady that had organised the conference came over and gave me a little slip of paper with a question on it that she would like me to read out for one of the prisoners. The event was being recorded. My initial thought was I can’t do this if the whole nation is going to see it, what if I stutter or make a mistake or even forget what I was going to say, I started to panic just slightly so I studied the question that needed to be read out; at least if I remembered it I couldn’t go wrong.
The question was to Eoin McLennon Murray, head of the Prison Governors Association, who was on the panel, it read:
“Why does probation constantly over populate our prisons for breaching? If circumstances were taken into consideration sometimes the reasons should be valid and recognised. After all it costs over £53,000 to the tax player to put/keep someone in prison for a year.”
His reply was, that was a very good question that he strongly agreed with and said probation holds too much power when it comes to breaching. Some of the reasons that land women in jail should be explored a little deeper.
After listening to the other panellists’ and hearing one of the girls speak out about her life experience and working with the Oasis project, I suddenly had this burst of confidence. I put my hand straight back up and started reeling off my life story about my experience of being a heroin addict on and off for 12 years and the lack of support which I really needed at the time. The kids had been placed with my mum because I made one stupid mistake. The crimes I committed including, one which meant that I was up before different judges four times in nine months for shoplifting. Three of them had given me fines as punishments and on the other one they had given me an electronic tag for three months. Why they did that no-one knows not even my solicitor at the time, because my crimes were committed in the day, the tag curfew was for the evening so that made no sense whatsoever. No mental help or any help for my drug addiction was offered. The only thing the tag did was add fuel to fire and made me worse. Not once through my criminal proceedings did anyone mention a DRR (Drug Rehabilitation Requirement), it was a friend that told me about them. When I got arrested again and got put before the judge, I myself asked for DRR bearing in mind I hardly knew what one consisted of.
The point I wanted to get across in the conference was that these issues need to be talked about more in court, it won’t solve the problem but it will stop women with first time offences going to jail. Like one of the points discussed in the conference, there is a man on the street with nine GBH/Assaults on his criminal record and he still hasn’t been to jail.
The Judge’s reply, at the time was women shouldn’t be seen to commit this sort of offence, that’s why she went to jail, to teach her a lesson; where’s the justice in that?
There was another story that was talked about by one of the panellists and that was of a young lady that went to prison, her mum went in every week to visit her but the young woman was having a really bad time in prison and in the end she ended up committing suicide. A high number of female inmates self harm whist in jail. The mum visited her daughter’s grave everyday and in the end the mum ended up committing suicide as well, on her daughter’s grave. I think a lot of these situations can be prevented if the government put a little more time and money into the reasons why women are in jail and, if there is any way jail can be a very last resort.
There was another point I wanted to make at the conference but I got brain freeze and I forgot. On the street they say that if I went into rehab I would lose my flat. I think that’s unfair because for some of us that’s all we have left and to lose that would just be a massive knock down, because we could go into rehab and come back out to our own apartments instead of being placed in a hostel where its full of addicts and we’re likely to relapse.
Overall I’m glad I went to this conference, I learnt a great deal. I would support this, day in, day out. I’m a mum of two wonderful, intelligent children, I have had a drug problem ever since I understood what happened to me when I was 8 years old. I have made some mistakes and some very bad choices, but right now I’m trying my hardest to kick my addiction. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I hope whatever situation I got in, a judge wouldn’t just throw me in jail, I would hope they would try everything going first. I do know one day I will kick this addiction and it will be for good so I will be good enough to get my kids back because when I’m good with my kids, I’m good.
Taken from Issue 17