Across Scotland, 27,000 children are affected by a family member’s imprisonment. We welcome our latest ‘Living it! Children, young people and justice’ blogger Amie, who spoke at the event about her journey since her brother was imprisoned. Here, she explains why support for these children and their families is so vitally important.
A week ago, I stood up in Scottish Parliament in front of 100 of the most powerful people within the criminal justice system today and shared my story. For me, this has been one of my biggest achievements in life, but it would have never happened without the incredible support of some very important people; so this is my thank you. Essentially, a love letter to them.
When I was 13, my life changed forever. At the time, my entire mind set became ‘survival’. In a world where I now couldn’t escape the stigmatism of criminality, I changed who I was, I lashed out at who said otherwise, and trapped within my own mind, the most important thing about my existence became about proving I wasn’t a ‘bad person’. It’s a lot of pressure for a child to take on. Not every one of the 27,000 children across Scotland affected by a family member’s imprisonment are lucky enough to then find friends who take you in like family. In the summer of 2007, only a few months after my brother’s sentence and with my heart still fresh with the scars of my new reality, I can honestly tell you my family extended. That the people who stood beside me in those high school corridors became my way of navigating through this new frightening life path. Nearly ten years on, they still stand beside me today, proof if there ever was one of true friendship.
However, two years ago, some of my closest friends, the people I spent so much of my life with, still did not know about my past, and what my family had gone through. Two years ago, I still felt the weight of my brother’s imprisonment as some dirty secret I had to be ashamed of, a secret that surely would leave me abandoned if anyone ever found out.
This is what I internalised growing up. This wall of guilt is what led me to the loneliest, darkest times in my life and is what I have spent the past two years of my life fighting to break down. But the most shocking thing I have learnt on this journey, is that when I finally told people that my brother was in prison, they didn’t leave me. That when I broke down from the weight of the past eight years of my life, people didn’t look away. In fact, it was within those times, when I managed to peer from behind the wall and share my story, that people opened up their homes to me, offered me their (almond) milk, shared me their love and encouraged me to take my story further. These people know who they are and I will be eternally grateful to have known them in life.
Being ashamed of my past led me to trying to run away from it, trying to run away from who I really was and led me to giving my family a horrible side of me for many years of my life. When I speak about my story today, people often ask how I have been able to work through so many emotions, especially considering that families affected by imprisonment are three times more likely to develop serious mental health issues.
My family are the strongest people I have ever met in my life. Their compassion, and collective experiences are what have shaped me as a person and continue to fuel my desire to be a better person. It’s because of them I have been able to heal so many emotions. When I spent so long trying to run away, they were always there trying to pull me back, reminding me of who I really was. (Yes, that is a shout out to you Mum).
However, this is something no family should have to fight for so many years with such little support. Within my speech I wrote about my brother’s son, and how now, it is for him I refuse to be afraid to speak about my past. I refuse to sit back and watch him grow up in the same conditions that I and my brother battled through. He is only one year old, and is so beautiful and good and full of promise. Children like him should not have their life determined by what their parents did 10 years before their birth. Support for families of prisoners needs immediate attention if we are going to break the damage that imprisonment causes.
One of my all-time favourite quotes came into my mind the night of the parliament event. “Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend through mending each other.” Every time I speak about my past, I begin to accept what my family went through. Every story I heard from the brave speakers, I was filled with more courage to continue our fight for true ‘justice’ within our system.
One of the inspirational speakers, Kim, was wearing a ‘hope’ necklace, to remind her that having hope saved her life. I share her emotion with a Phoenix on my back. Last summer, when I was about to finally physically and mentally come home, I carved a permanent reminder onto my body that I was never broken. That although there were times that I felt my fire had went out and all around me turned to ash, that this is what I needed to go through to rise into the person I am now.
A metaphorical Phoenix. A family member of a former prisoner. A student. A friend. A daughter. A sister. Someone who cannot be defined by her past but made stronger by it. It is because of the people I have met on my journey that my fire has returned. So in this I wanted to give you all my eternal thanks. Most of all I want to say thanks to my brother. This is something I haven’t said before, and I wonder when I will get the courage to speak to him about it in person. But I have never been more proud to call him my brother, and one day, I hope I can make him as proud of me.
If you are moved by Amie’s story please pledge support to Mary Fee MSP’s recently published consultation document for a Member’s Bill which proposes better support and assessment for children with a parent in prison. Access it here.
‘Living it! Children, young people and justice’ took place at the Scottish Parliament on February 17th, 2015. It brought together Ministers, MSPS, practitioners and young people to address questions raised in the Scottish Justice Matters magazine issue of the same title. Find out more.