My name is Kelly, but for reasons best known to himself, David calls me Keef or the Missus. I’m proud to say that David Breakspear is my old man. Why am I so proud? Because in 1985, at the age of 15, David received his first custodial sentence and was sent to a Detention Centre and repeatedly returned to custody until 2015.
From an early age I have been both fascinated by, and scared of prison and life behind the huge, frightening, secret walls. Undoubtedly because prison was one of my Mother’s ‘final straw’ threats:
“If you don’t stop that you’ll end up in prison ….People get sent to prison for doing that….Do you actually want to go to prison??”
Typical offences were:
Fraud and deception Forging her name on a letter to school.
Theft Taking biscuits without asking.
GBH with intent Kneeing my brother in the proverbials.
My involvement with prison began when my younger brother, at the age of 16, received his first custodial sentence. I had supported him through Community Service more than once. I covered for him when he missed three days of Community Service when our dear Grandmother had three consecutive funerals. (She passed away four years ago!) I was there for him when he was sent to a bail hostel in Windsor. I went to every court appearance, I made sure he had a suit, shirt and tie, I wrote a letter to every judge at every hearing – pleading for leniency, providing every possible mitigation. The letters seemed to make a difference and 9/10 times the judge would mention my letter when sentencing. But not once did any judge mention how smart he looked!
When the judge finally passed sentence, I was waiting for him to continue with the words that usually followed “suspended for …”. The words never came and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. As he turned away to walk down the stairs, I just wanted to scream
“Get your hands off my brother! He’s going nowhere. He’s coming home with me”
To this day, I have never felt so hopeless. I went off to find someone who would take me to see him. I needed to make sure he was alright and not too upset. I was his big sister; I needed to comfort, reassure him and let him know that I would be there for him. I wanted to promise that I would write to him every day, get him everything he needs and visit as many times as I could. But nobody would let me see him. I waited over a week to get his first letter from the Young Offenders in Winchester and find out where he had been taken.
Like David, the ‘short, sharp, shock’ plan failed. So much for his rehabilitation when over the years I also visited him at Benbow House, Portland and Maidstone. In 1989, during one of my brother’s stints in jail, I was working as a DJ on a cruise ship in Greece. He didn’t tell me he was away, knowing I would’ve have jumped on the first flight home. He finally wrote to me a week before I was due to come home. He had been away for months and hadn’t had a single visit or letter from our family. I was physically sick and could not shake the image of my baby brother all alone and feeling that nobody cared about him. Years later he confessed to an attempt to end his life at that time. No clearer evidence of how critical family support is to people in prison.
In 2001, an old friend of mine called me out of the blue from HMP Elmley. He was on life licence and had been out of jail for more than ten years. He explained that he had been recalled by probation as they “had concerns about his behaviour”. He was ‘on a 28-day laydown and scared of getting nutted off.” I was there for the whole ten months of his ‘28-day laydown’, his judicial review, release and subsequent three months in the notorious hostel Nicholson House in Maidstone.
It made me understand the blatant and persistent injustice of our criminal justice system. I had to accept that my constant research and announcements of “They can’t do that because it says here …” were never ever, ever, ever going to make a difference. There was absolutely no point in writing letters to probation or the No. 1 Governor either. I was helpless.
My journey of the prison estate didn’t stop there. A friend of my son, who I’d known since they were at school together, got four years. He had no family support, so I was there for appearances in court and sentencing, back to HMP Elmley visits, followed by a few months visiting him in HMP Rochester until he finally came to live with us when he was on tag, staying for a couple of years after that.
This time my research into how I could best help and support him led me to Inside Time, a bottle of red and a drunken email to a transgender woman who’d been away for 30 years. We’re still close friends years later. That’s a whole other blog.
You’re right, I haven’t mentioned David yet. That’s because when we got together, he was living in supported accommodation in Norwich. Before he went to back to jail in 2015 he was a homeless crackhead and well outside of my catchment area!
Over the past four decades I have been involved from the beginning to the end of the prison journey of long-term custodial sentences a number of times. I suppose that makes me an Old Timer …. I remember when lockdown was known as the regime!
Living with David means that most of the time the sole topic of conversation is life in prison. He spends every waking minute promoting the power of education to change the lives of prisoners and his success is growing by the day. My knowledge of prisons has increased so dramatically that I could tell you the names of the best and worst screws in half of our prisons and probably a few of the cons. HMP Norwich would be my specialist subject on Mastermind.
In addition to improving my knowledge, I have been influenced and inspired by David, not just his success in turning his own life around, but the message he promotes.
If early interventions were around for my brother, would he have ended up in prison? We both went to the same school and they knew “things were a bit difficult at home.” My brother was a sports legend at school – first prize in the 800m, 1500m and cross country at County and National levels, including the RAF cadets. He had a golf handicap of eight at the local club, won every junior competition and was junior captain. Of course, I was jealous as hell when I didn’t get any attention!
The whole house was covered in cups, trophies and ####ing shields. But, I could still give him a wedgie that made his eyes water! (Section 18?)
Sickeningly talented, the signs for early intervention were flashing like blue lights. He started playing truant, getting into fights at school and lost all interest in golf and running. Early intervention in the eighties was a sympathetic look and a cuddle from a dinner lady. That was never going to stop anyone from joining the school to prison pipeline. Everyone I have ever known in prison or has been in prison was a victim of the school to prison pipeline. It stands to reason that if we can get this bit right the prison estate will become nothing more than a cluster of portacabins dotted around the country.
When my little brother was in prison, he should have been encouraged to continue his education, believe in himself, put the past behind him and focus on a crime-free future. I miss my brother. I miss having a brother to look out for me and share our childhood memories. My son misses his Uncle. He’s still around and he hasn’t been back to jail for twenty odd years, but he’s an alcoholic and sadly I haven’t been able to maintain a relationship with him. Yes, prison was partly to blame, as was school.
Now you understand why I am so passionate, determined and committed to everything David works so hard to achieve and why I want to do my bit. I understand what it’s like to be a loved one and how important it is for people in prison to have support from loved ones and outside agencies. People in prison need to be given every opportunity to change their lives or they will continue to return time and time again.
Inspired by David, I’m sharing my own lived experience of being a loved one and supporting long-term prisoners.
This side of the wall every time prison appears in the media the headline is about stabbings, suicide, spice and Screws’ screwing. Try sleeping at night knowing the article is about the jail where your loved one is sleeping tonight. Imagine how you would feel the next morning when the ‘phone call you were expecting is ten minutes late. It’s not easy. It’s one of the many ways that strength, faith, belief and love is tested to the absolute limit. It happens a lot.
This is why most of my blogs are focused on helping and supporting loved ones. I write about the funny side of being in prison, whilst addressing some of the fears and answering the questions. I want loved ones to know that they are not alone and their experiences are no different to thousands of other women, who can provide love, support, information, laughter and a safe place to rant.
I write about the good bits about being in prison that we never hear about, what prison is really like, what’s available and What Can Be and some of the way loved ones can provide support, I will be sharing the stories of people who have been in prison and turned their lives around. The ‘unsung heroes‘ who since leaving prison are no longer active and live a happy, settled and stable life. Look out for some amazing guest blogs coming soon!
There are always subliminal, undercover messages in my blogs promoting the power of education in keeping people this side of the wall. I strongly believe that when it comes to influencing people in prison and encouraging their rehabilitation, family are the key. You can put as many bums on seats of the offender manager courses as you like but you can’t beat the power of a nagging family! Education is the pathway to reform and who doesn’t want that for their loved ones?
If you want to keep them home – get them on edumacation!
When I’m not writing blogs, you’ll probably find me on social media – mainly showing off about David. Why shouldn’t I? He’s my old man, he’s doing some really good stuff and I’m really proud of him. I also share the successes of people who’ve been in prison and the incredible achievements by people in prison now.
You can follow me on Twitter @hecallsmekeef Missus of a Reformed Man.
Finally, I don’t take myself seriously and I joke about prison life. Always good to look for the funny side in life. You have my word, I take the lives of people in prison very seriously.