My First Christmas.
My name is Katie, and my partner is currently serving 10 years in Prison. As I write later on , we were only together a few months before he was sent to Prison and it was the most scariest time of my life. I met him in March last year soon after he had committed his crime, and whilst most people would have run a mile, I saw something special in him, and his honesty about what had happened I found admirable. We had clicked so well when we first met, and he could have kept it all from me, yet he chose to open his inner most vulnerability up to me.
If someone had told me the Christmas of 2018 that I would be with a person next Christmas that had a committed a serious crime, opened myself up to family judgement and arguments, social services, work colleagues judging me, I would have laughed and told them not to be stupid! Each day you live with the fear of not being in control of how someone you love is treated, not fully knowing what the future will be like, what control the system will have on what you can do, when you will be able to live together etc. however I would not change my situation for anything. I love him and he loves me, I try my best to keep his spirits up, and he does the same with me.
A lot of my thoughts are spent trying to understand why the system is so flawed and how a prison goes on about rehabilitation, helping a person make better decisions in life, be a better person in society, yet there is no system in place to change societies views and it angers me that the majority of society has the attitude ‘once an criminal, always a criminal’. We are setting them up to fail! What is the point in a sentence plan if they will never be able to shake that label?
I have worked in education for most of my working life and have a passion for supporting young people become the best people they can in their chosen career path, but since my journey in the prison world started I have looked closer at the Education there. So many pointless boxes, so many wasted courses! Someone has got to want to make those changes and family ties help change that, but a fundamental thing is missing from the rehabilitation program. Dealing with the route causes behind why someone is inside. Be it education, upbringing, gang life or pure survival (ACEs), no sentence plan will make a blind bit of difference if they aren’t supported to deal with the past!
There is a famous saying that ‘a leopard can’t change its spots’ well that’s bull***t!! Everyone can change if they are given the time, compassion, love and support to process, what has the potential to be quite traumatic, life experiences that got them to be where they are now!
Our First Christmas
When he first went inside I wasn’t even thinking about Christmas, but it soon came around quick enough! I met him a few months before he was sentenced, where he was honest about being everything and that he was on bail, and because we clicked, I just thought we would just have something lighthearted until we knew the outcome at court. It started out being a bit of fun, but wasn’t long before I knew I was going to be with him through thick and thin.
But boy was the tough, tough!
2019 was not only his first Christmas inside, but it was also our first Christmas together. There were many days spent wishing that we had met before, thinking ‘if only we had met sooner’, but while we do still have a few thoughts like this, we have found the ‘if only’s’ don’t really help! We have learnt that it is best to accept the situation we are in and find ways to make the best of how it is.
When I finally allowed myself to start processing our first Christmas ‘together, but apart’ it was a very emotional time. I had visited him a few times at this point, and while I had always shaken like a leaf with nerves every time I queued up the stairs, waiting to enter the visit hall, I had never been tearful. But it was a weekend in November, if I remember correctly, when I was visiting with his dad and one of his sisters, that it suddenly slapped me in the face! That realization that Christmas this year was going to be very different!
I had finally met someone who loved me for me, who clicked amazingly with my son, and accepted all the baggage that I brought with me. He didn’t run, but neither did I run from him! I should have been happy, and in some strange way, knowing he is in my life I am happy, but he wasn’t going to be spending that special day with me!
I have grown up with Christmas being a really special day. My family are very close, but in a distant way, as we are never in each others laps throughout the year. We speak occasionally, text a little more often, but focus on our own day to day lives. Yet at Christmas (and birthdays) we all make that extra effort to be together, opening presents, eating everything in sight, with the typical family fallout of course, but we make it special.
2019 however felt so different! I felt lost! My son was going to spend Christmas Day with his dad, and my partner was going to spend it with a bunch of strangers, it wasn’t fair!! Why can’t we be together?
Leading up to Christmas last year, if I’m honest was stressful! He was from a large family and I had to try and organize the visits that he had had allocated to him, making sure that everyone was able to visit him as close to Christmas as possible. I sat down with his mum and made a plan that suited
everyone. (I didn’t want to upset his family (who I was still getting to know), but yet all I wanted to do was focus on me and him, it was really hard!)
I kept myself busy with work, raising my son, writing a letter or email to him every day, as well as speaking to him on the phone twice a day. We both craved that contact and we both looked forward to the post arriving, and for the times of the day when he could call. I jumped with nerves and excitement every time the phone rang, knowing I was going to hear his voice. We talked and wrote about everything, the good things and the not so good. Our honesty with each other has definitely been a strength throughout this journey.
Leading up to Christmas day he talked about the plans he had made with a few of the guys in there. Each of them were ordering things from their canteen sheets and storing them in their cells. They had all planned to lay all the goodies out on the pool table and have a feast together after lunch on Christmas Day. It was nice to hear that he was going to be ok and have a special (if not somewhat distorted) day.
It was hard to know what we could/couldn’t send to him for Christmas, but I had seen a few suggestions on posts over Facebook and decided to order a calendar. I set up a WhatsApp group with his family and asked them to send over photos of them all that they had taken throughout the year and set about finding a website that made calendars without the spirals. I eventually found one that made desk calendars and arranged all the photos carefully, if their birthday was in January then there was a photo of them, February was valentines day, so there was a photo of me etc. this was partly to help him remember to send out birthday cards as he was a bit useless on that front!!
Whilst he had asked me to take responsibility to organize all the visits, I wanted to make sure that I was trying my best to include everyone. Making the calendar was one way, but I also worked with my partner to organize some gifts for his niece’s and nephews. With a little help from his mum, I found special teddy’s and he wrote a small note for each of them and posted them out to me. I added these to the presents ready for Christmas day. It was a very emotional surprise for them.
Another thing I sent in to him was a Christmas card. The cards in the shops are lovely, but never relate to our situation, always saying something about being together, and yes we are together, we were never going to be spending our first Christmas physically together. I found a company that specialized in cards that had more meaningful messages, added a photo or 2 and pressed send. In one of my letters I posted in a book of stamps too so that he could send his family cards out (luckily his prison at the time accepted this, but now he has to order them). For some reason the prison canteen likes to choose the cards with the most glitter possible, so he was complaining for ages about finding glitter everywhere, even after cleaning thoroughly. It did make us laugh though!
I had managed to organize a visit on Christmas Eve with his parents. It was so good to see him and give him the biggest hug and kiss, neither of us wanted to let each other go! I had arranged to spend Christmas eve night at a friends and have a few glasses of bubbly as post-visit blues definitely exist in my world. He called me to say goodnight and I had a few tears with him, but then was so excited to hear his voice when he called me early Christmas day morning. We talked about our plans for the day, wished each other Happy Christmas and arranged a good time for him to call me that evening. I had had my refuel of strength and was ready to survive the day! I was also on countdown as I had a visit booked for the day after Boxing Day, which was going to be my first ever visit by myself. It was something to look forward to and get me through the next few days!
Well we both survived and it wasn’t as bad as we thought. 2020 will be tough too, more so that we haven’t got the visits, or hugs to give us the strength, but we have learnt to adapt, look at the positives and not focus on everything else. We have got this! It is one more Christmas to cross off, and one more closer to him coming home!
No one finds this part of the journey easy, this year especially! However we do survive it! 2021 is around the corner, and hopefully brings with it a year of visits, hugs and kisses! In the meantime, letters, cards, emails and phone calls keep us going.