So what has the Criminal Justice System taught me? I have now spent 100 nights away from my husband and he’s not yet halfway through his custodial sentence. I suppose it’s not me who’s supposed to have been taught anything, but I consider it a lesson in life. I have learned that morals do not enter into our courts. Just facts. You either do wrong, or you do not. You might speed in a car = wrong. You might be rushing to attend an emergency = morally right, but criminally wrong. You might steal money to fund something you believe is essential = wrong. Funding by theft a foster child after they have turned 18 and your benefits have been cut = morally right, but criminally wrong. I have learned to dig deeper into stories, not accept at face value what I am being told, not to jump to conclusions – there is ALWAYS another side to a story. You don’t have to agree with it, but it’s there.
I have learned that not everyone lives to my moral and ethical standards, but that the criminal justice system is there hopefully to prevent a complete breakdown of law and order. I might not agree with some things, but I have a vote, I have a choice.
I have discovered that there is a whole new world out there, one that I was totally unaware of before. Where women queue up to see their loved ones every Saturday, where they carry on life temporarily alone and tick off the days. There are women that have done this many times before and who am I to judge – you could be wondering why I stuck with my husband after he did what he did. There are kids out there jumping for joy when daddy comes through the open door of the visiting room. I’ve seen streetwise “yoofs” looking rather more sheepish in front of visiting parents, about to embark on a life with a criminal record now attached to their cv. I’ve come to know people with nothing, because they have had to pay for what they did, pay financially as well as custodially. How do they start again?
I’ve learned that it’s difficult and more expensive to get home and vehicle insurance – not just for the ex-offender, but for anyone who shelters them and mortgages for fraudsters are excluded. That crimes with sentences of 3 years or more are never spent and must be disclosed upon request. That far from a temporary blip in a person’s life, it is a sentence that will travel with them for many, many years – 20, 30, a lifetime. Jobs will be difficult to come by, therefore money will be in short supply, housing will be almost an impossibility.
Friends will be lost, but real friends gained. Families will rally round and food parcels arrive unexpectedly, just as they are needed. Most scarily, I discovered the best way to fight a solicitor is through a solicitor, and if you don’t have one yourself, well, you’re done for. I’ve learned that some people love, just love, to take the moral high ground, imagining themselves to be totally without guilt, selectively airbrushing the times they have transgressed and others take you at face value, are not interested in your past, only concerned as you are now. Most interestingly, I have discovered that there are many, many people out there who have had a brush with the law either directly or indirectly and once this is teased out there are some sad stories to be heard in the most unexpected of places.
But I think, most of all, I have learned how lucky I am. Lucky to have found a person that I continue to love. Lucky that he stuck with me during my most annoying episodes. Lucky I have a roof over my head and money to buy food. In fact, as far as Maslow goes, I’ve got my bases covered.
I heard an interview the other day with Aung San Suu Kyi. She was asked something like “do you feel sorry for all the years you lost to imprisonment?” Her answer was revealing and inspirational. Given all the deprivations she had endured, she answered in suprise saying she felt luckier than those who had died in the cause of fighting for freedom. She is alive, she has her future in front of her, those no longer living do not have that luxury.