24 Jul ‘Prison; At What Cost?’ – The diary of a prisoner’s wife
The diary of a prisoner’s wife
The writer of this article wishes to remain anonymous and throughout I will completely honour her privacy. The reason why I felt it so important to ask her to come forward and share her story with me is not just because I was close with her husband during my time inside and I felt he was the least deserving man to be there but because I want to share with you that the punishment goes beyond the walls of the prison and affects the entire family. I am so glad to be home with my family and I cannot begin to imagine what the writer of this article and so many other partners of prisoners must be going through. I am sure like me, you will enjoy the read.
Prison; At What Cost?
As we drove away from the court my husband offered me a way out. He said I could leave him; that he didn’t expect me to stay. The truth is, he needed me more than ever and I needed him too. We had one week to pick ourselves up before he was sentenced to prison. I knew I would be losing him but the last thing I wanted was for that to be forever. Most relationships end when one partner is in prison. I wouldn’t let that happen to mine.
When the sentence was given, I was strangely relieved. I celebrated with my sister-in-law and a bottle of wine the night my husband went to prison. Some may find this a peculiar reaction but at that point we had endured almost two and a half years of uncertainty. Everything was uncertain from the moment my husband was arrested, to the trial, and finally the sentencing. I spent all that time not knowing whether my husband would go to prison or not, not knowing if we would lose everything, not knowing whether the chance of extending our family was over. I felt as though we had already served a sentence so when my husband got given six years it seemed harsh. Apparently, the sentence was lenient, but six years for ‘receiving criminal property knowing or suspecting it was criminal property’ did not seem lenient. He would have got less time for manslaughter or rape.
Little did I know at that point that the uncertainty was not over at all. I had a lot to learn about the journey through prison and the harsh reality of a financial crime. Firstly, when would my husband get placed closer to home? Prison visits are not easy, especially when you have to travel four hours to get there with a three-year-old. Then, there’s appeal. If the court of appeal does not think we have sufficient grounds to appeal, my husband could get time added to his sentence. That time would reflect the period between the first and second stage of appeal (currently one year), a time period we have no control over and yet a very significant increase in sentence length. It doesn’t end there. Once a figure is agreed for repayment (under the Proceeds of Crime Act) we have three months to pay it and if we can’t, a further default sentence of up to seven years is added on top of what we already have to serve. What was a six-year sentence could turn into a 14-year sentence.
We are now 16 months in, and as time goes on it becomes more apparent to me that prison has not only punished my husband, it has punished me, our four-year-old daughter, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law… I could go on. The ripple effect of incarceration is far bigger than you might imagine, both emotionally and financially. I have had long-term sick leave for the very first time in my career since starting work as a medic 12 years ago. I am accessing psychological therapy for my daughter, have had more trips to the GP in the past year than ever before, and at least three close relatives of my husband are on antidepressants. The cost to the taxpayer is far more than the legal fees and the prison sentence itself. The emotional impact of imprisonment on close family and friends is huge.
I am not saying prison is wrong; it is in fact an appropriate punishment for many. I want to live in a society free from crime and violence as much as anyone. Criminals need punishing – fact, but there is something about the sentence length for violent versus non-violent crimes that feels both unfair and arbitrary. Is there not a better way to punish financial crime, where offenders can pay back their debt to society without incurring further costs, both emotional and financial, for everyone?
My husband has been punished. Even though the court decided that most of his trade was entirely legitimate, he has lost everything financially, including our family home. He has endured the ultimate punishment of being separated from his (then) three-year-old daughter, missing out on some of her most precious years. He has been stripped of his liberty and will always struggle to find work now he has a criminal record. But I sometimes wonder if it is just as hard for the ones left behind to pick up the pieces.
There are currently 94,900 prisoners in the UK; that’s a lot of dependent spouses. I am just one and by all accounts a lucky one. The amount of love and support I have received since my husband went to prison has been phenomenal and is a reflection of the good person he really is. I am not only blessed with wonderful people around me but I also have a good job, a roof over my head and a delightful daughter who keeps me smiling on the darkest of days. Despite all of this, it’s still hard.
There have been times when I almost wish I could swap places with my husband. I would welcome the rest of being locked in a cell with nothing to do but watch TV and read a book maybe. I can’t remember the last time I read a book. I would like not to have to think about cooking the dinner every night, paying the bills and having to explain to yet another person where my husband is. My husband works for a few hours in the morning, has an hour or so rest at lunch time and then works for a few more hours in the afternoon. I am out of the house before 8am and return at about 6:30pm. My time at work is a welcome distraction to the reality of my life. I no longer feel like a prisoner’s wife; I am a doctor. I love my job but it’s not without its stresses, and I miss having my husband to come home to after a demanding day. He goes to the gym four or five times a week, he’s lost weight, is getting fit and looks better than he has in years. I don’t get a chance to exercise; in fact I’m putting on weight and look worse than I have in years!
By the time we get home from nursery and work my husband is locked up, with no choice but to read, write or watch TV. I still have to give my daughter something to eat, bathe her, read her stories and no doubt endure yet another bedtime battle. I often get questions about Daddy at bedtime; “Why can’t Daddy come home Mummy?” “I want a Daddy cuddle now”. “It’s not fair, everyone else has a daddy and I don’t. My daddy has died.” After an hour or so of comforting her and explaining that Daddy is not dead but in prison, I finally sit down on my sofa, reach for my work laptop and catch up on the work I didn’t finish that day.
However hard this is for me, it must be worse for my daughter. Sometimes she wakes in the night, crying in her sleep for her daddy. Other nights I hear her grinding her teeth. Her little heart is broken and I can’t fix it. I am a grown woman; I have faced challenges in life and know that this experience, although hard, will make me stronger. I worry for my daughter. What will this do to her? Will she be permanently scarred? Will she be bullied at school? Will her relationship with her Daddy ever be as beautiful as it was before he went away?
So, why did I decide to stay that day? Why did I not leave him? Despite the verdict I know that my husband is a good person. I don’t resent him for one second; I don’t blame him or feel angry with him. Maybe I should, but I don’t. He never did deserve six years in prison. He is the best husband I could have ever wished for and even better than the best father I could have imagined. When I got home from work, often late, I would walk in to dinner on the table, a daughter asleep in bed and a tidy house. If I wanted a lie in at the weekend, I would get one. I want that life with him again, and I will have it, but first I need to do this sentence too. I need to serve my time for being a ‘criminal’s wife’ and our little girl needs to serve her time for being a ‘criminal’s’ daughter.