Trauma tourism – but I’m holding those in power to account!!

I was lay in bed last night with the intention of disputing the notion of depicting prisoners as customers. I was going to reflect on my experiences as a ‘customer’ at HMP to really break down how inaccurate this depiction is. However, I refuse to articulate a regurgitated account of another misery memoir to validate an argument constructed around the publication of trauma stories, because trauma stories sustain victimisation, oppression and exclusion. Trauma stories, as evidenced, are lifted from individuals, without consent, crafted to align with publication objectives and promoted publicly with attribution and profit in human capital, directed to the author, who more often than not, gained their stories from positions of power. Doing this is an abuse of that power, selling stories which don’t belong to you in the pursuit of recognition and success, enables and sustains the voicelessness and exclusion of those who own the stories. Here one might say, “but raising awareness is helping” and to that I say “bollocks”. If you have set out to create a damaged narrative of people in a landscape where they have no choice or control, without clear intentionality of exactly how your work will help to increase the human capital of those you are stealing data from, then simply raising awareness and benefitting in the process, is a very flawed foundation to begin. It highlights a lack of awareness in how oppression works, how oppressive practice manifests in professional roles and how oppression is sustained.

I have been labelled a ‘Karen’, ‘bitter’ and ‘a troll’ for explaining the harmful consequences of the popularisation of trauma tourism publications. Needless to say, I feel an in-depth breakdown of how these practices, the supporters and authors are all contributing to and sustaining the oppression of the people they are openly proclaiming to support.

Where shall we start? This isn’t going to be an academic paper but it may be useful here to use a quote to contextualise the basis of my argument:

“In this open letter, Eve Tuck calls on communities, researchers, and educators to reconsider the long-term impact of “damage-centered” research—research that intends to document peoples’ pain and brokenness to hold those in power accountable for their oppression. This kind of research operates with a flawed theory of change: it is often used to leverage reparations or resources for marginalized communities yet simultaneously reinforces and reinscribes a one-dimensional notion of these people as depleted, ruined, and hopeless”. (Tuck, 2009).

Let’s now apply this to former prison officers who leave the service and seek to become authors. Authors of publications which intend to capture people’s pain, misery and deprivation in prison, with a belief that their content will ignite change. The basis of this argument must already hold a belief that the pain, misery and deprivation experienced in prison is accidental and/or unknown. In reality, that pain, that misery and that deprivation, are well known, historic, regurgitated literature and intentional state and systemic tactics enforced in the name of punitive justice. The inflicting of shame, misery, damage and trauma on people through imprisonment, is the intentional purpose of systemically violent practice inherent in the prison system, eloquently captured by Tyler (2020):

“Much research on stigma, and social action around stigma, brackets off from consideration the ways in which stigma is purposefully crafted as a strategy of government, in ways that often deliberately seek to foment and accentuate inequalities and injustices”.

As such, documenting the pains of imprisonment with the intention of holding those in power to account, ignores the fact that those in power actually intentionally and purposefully embed and sustain pain, misery and deprivation as a form of punishment for those labelled and offenders/ex-offenders. Therefore, the texts which a formed from this basis of using damage to effect change, are actually a part of the systemic oppression which operationalises through the continued depictions of prisoners traumas and damage. Now, I appreciate that the content above may be new to people, they may not fully understand it and they may contribute to the systemic oppression subconsciously however, shutting people down, positioning them as bitter and as a troll, in absence of trying to understand and learn from those who feel the impact and consequence of other people’s harmful actions, is actually indicative of oppressive practice in action. Probably also indicative of a misogynistic positionality also, but that can wait.

I’ll take the next section to expand on the states intentional and purposeful use of stigmatising discourse which perpetuates systemically violent practice, sustaining the oppression of people in prison and people with convictions. For more on stigma as a socio-political tool for exclusion see Tyler 2020 – Stigma: The machinery of inequality.

The World Health Organisation (2002) define violence as:

“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation”.

When the state label people ‘drug users’ ‘mentally ill’ ‘vulnerable’ ‘offenders’ ‘ex-offenders’, in reports, publications, in the media and through the pop culture of ‘reality t.v’, that is their intentional use of power, against a group/community, that results in psychological harm and deprivation. Hence, violent practice. So, the state is responsible for perpetuating the damaging rhetoric of prisoners through damage centred labelling, in turn these labels are adopted in non-government publications, contributing to the same psychological harm and deprivation of groups and communities. To bring back Tuck’s (2009) critique, damage centred narratives do little to hold those in power to account, they simply perpetuation the oppression of said groups.

You may wonder, how does the perpetuation of stigmatising and damage based narrative contribute to the psychological harm and deprivation of groups and communities? Well, offender/ex-offender labels deprive people of access to housing, to the labour market, to education. They deprive people of the quality of life afforded to people without these labels. They harm people through marginalisation, exclusion and state inflicted oppression. They harm people financially through insurance premiums, the deprive people of visas and access to the hospitality trade. The experiences of deprivation and harm are endless. But the point is, the damaged based rhetoric and consequences of stigmatising labels, are state tactics to perpetuate inequality. And if you adopt said practices through damaged based narrative and stigmatising depictions of people and their traumas, you are a part of the cog that sustains oppressions and inequality, whether you know it or not.

To that end, my issues is not and never has been directed at individual people. My issue and critique of trauma tourism in the name of holding those in power to account, is political, is systemic and will only resolve through the resistance and activism of those who face and feel the consequences of such action. Usually not the authors or trauma tourism publication. In closing, now is the time to critically reflect on the harms you may be causing through a lack of education and understanding around the socio-political landscape of inequality and oppression. Now is a good time to consider ways in which prison officer publications which use unconsented damage centred stories, is violent and harmful practice. Now is a good time to think about the power dynamics at play when prisoners can pop up in damage centred publication without choice or consent. If you don’t want to do it, you are sustaining the very experiences you aim to ‘bring to light’ in the hope for ‘change’.

Some of us will do it properly, because we live with the consequences constructed through your actions.

To quote Lorde (1980):

“It is the members of the oppressed groups who are expected to stretch out and bridge the gap between the actualities of our lives and the consciousness of our oppressor. For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as American as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection. Whenever the need for some pretence of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressor their mistakes”.

Not because I am vulnerable

For those of you who don’t know me, or haven’t been following the blog or story for long, I’ll begin with a brief introduction to contextualise this reflective piece.

“Hi, I’m Michaela, 1st class criminology graduate, mum, work in user involvement across the prison estate, activist, resister, lived experience researcher and a former prisoner”.

I didn’t need to end that short introductory paragraph by dropping in I’m a former prisoner, but I chose to, and the reason should become clear as your read on. Now, before you read on, I want to just take you back to that word ‘chose’ because, choosing, when, where and how I share my lived experience, is and always will be, entirely at my own discretion. However, that doesn’t mean that other people won’t take my experiences and appropriate them, alter them, diminish them or dramatize them for reasons often outside of my control.

As an undergrad studying Criminology and as a former prisoner with years of lived experience, both personal from my own imprisonment and experiences of being a child deprived of her own mother due to state sanction, my position as a student was somewhat different to my peers. This reflection isn’t to throw stones, it isn’t to push individual blame onto anybody and it isn’t any criticism of my experience as a student, anyone who knows me knows that the last three years of my life in higher ed, has been the making me. However, seldom do we hear the stories of working class experience in university life, and rarer still do we hear and unpick the experiences of criminalised women studying, what came to be three years of their own oppression, disadvantage and the harms inflicted on them through structural and systemic violence.

We don’t hear these stories for many reasons, for me personally I held a strong fear of discriminatory treatment whenever a situation arose which caused any upset. Just to be clear here, I am not saying that I actually faced discrimination. I am saying that at times, the fear of discriminatory treatment did impact on my actions and words. I knew I had academic ability from early on in the degree, I knew I had the motivation and dedication to succeed, what I didn’t have, and never have had, in trust in a system to treat me fairly. I had to be better, I had to work harder, I had to read more, stay up later and start earlier. I had every essay draft read, I had every tutorial I could, I asked for reading lists and more resources, I used every grading grid and always aimed for a first. I was never happy with anything less than being the best, and that is something to do with the internal consequences of oppression, social exclusion and criminalisation. My good friends who are women with similar life experiences to mine, call this the ‘bigger, better, stronger, faster’ by-product of lives. We have internalised, often to our detriment that our practice, our thinking, our voices, our work, has to be bigger, better, stronger, faster….because history tells us, we’re replaceable, we’re added value but we aren’t valuable. We’re called vulnerable and we see people sympathise over us with their capes on, categorising us under their ‘widening participation’ umbrella, already indicative of the disadvantage we try so fiercely to overcome, resist and eradicate.

Moving on, I have the utmost respect for my tutors who have helped me over the three years and my days of writing without purpose just to slag something off are gone, so I am going to try to capture a reflection of some experiences with respect. And, I must also note that while I am going to critique some of these experiences and peoples actions toward me, they were not actions through malice. That said, actions not through malice but due to a lapse in thinking, a lack of knowledge and not foreseeing the consequences, often end up with people like me going to prison, so that’s one to think about isn’t it. (just a side note here if any of my lectures read this from third year, none of these happened in my final year and all the staff involved are elsewhere).

Through various aspects of my degree, we had external visitors come in who worked in different criminal justice fields, magistrates, solicitors, prison officers and the like. In fact, we have a semester dedicated to external visitors on a weekly basis to talk to us about applying theory to practice and what working lives looked like in the criminal justice sector. I has attended roughly 4 sessions during this specific module and listened to and engaged with 4 external speakers. On week 5 I entered the seminar room at around 9.15am with my coffee and sat down at a table with my friends. There were roughly 30 students in the room. After I sat down, the lecturer said “Oh Michaela can I just have a word with you outside before this begins”. I thought that was weird as I have no idea why they would want to talk to me. Anyway I said of course, and followed them outside the classroom. They proceeded to inform me that “Today we have a prison officer coming in, and I know your personal views and experiences mean a lot to you but don’t take it out them”……

I was absolutely astounded…. ‘Don’t take it out on them’. Let’s just be very clear here, I never gave any indication that I would ever take anything out on anyone, I had never engaged in anything other than academic discussion and debate, appropriate to the topic, and I have never given any indication that I had any damaging or harmful views or thoughts on individual prison officers, especially ones I would be happy or willing to air in front of a whole class. In addition, I had never personally told this person anything about my personal views or lived experience. Ever. So, what happened here? There was no conversation or concern and private chat around “this guest will talk about prisons and life working with prisoners etc so if you feel uncomfortable let’s have a chat or feel free to leave” etc. It was simply a well worded warning to not challenge the guest on anything. Exactly what I went, and paid to go to University to do.

No one else was warned into silence. Only me. I wasn’t warned into silence because of my vulnerability was I? So, the ones who are happy to depict as us vulnerable, as damaged, who talk of our lack of education, our oppression, and lack of opportunity. In that instance, recognised I wasn’t vulnerable, excluded me from debate and took away my right and opportunity to have a voice. Not because I was vulnerable, but because at that point in time, I was probably the most powerful student in the room to engage in discussion. I was shut down, because that person knew I had been prison. And that was the only reason. So, a place at uni under their widening participation agenda, does not mean equality of treatment or equality of opportunity and only goes to highlight that no matter where we are, we continue to face the societal consequences of criminalisation. Even from people who understand and teach the desistance literature. As I have said before, there is massive difference in understanding oppression, and feeling oppression.

Anyway, to put the cherry on the cake, the external guest to put it nicely, could have done with one or two challenges, when they reeled off a 20 minute speech on women in prison, and had only ever worked in male prisons! LOL.

We celebrate survival

Today has been hard, I’ve ignored calls from friends. Called back and cried. I’ve tried to make sense of my feelings and to remind myself that this too shall pass. I am currently sat on my bed with the world shut out by the curtains, accompanied only by the Cadbury Dairy Milk at my side.

Yesterday I submitted my dissertation, although I had never go to the stage of planning anything to mark the occasion,  lockdown and social restrictions subsequently made that impossible. Yesterday was something I have envisioned for three years. Within an hour of submitting work which took me to some very dark places over three years, I was in bed asleep. I felt so relieved to get it over with. I woke up this morning and felt sad, the analytical characteristics which have been ingrained into my thinking have stirred up some tough recognitions.  The only praise and recognition I received yesterday was from social media. Now, don’t get me wrong, most of you I really like, and most of you have really supported me over the years, which I think you all know, I appreciate and care deeply about. But what has struck me is the realisation that this space, for people with lived experience, is lonely. It’s lonely and it’s hard.

Over three years I have worked within a discipline that studies the very systems which create and sustain oppression. Systems which misattribute success and displace failure. Systems which encourage and accept our invisibility and voicelessness. I’ve worked hard over three years to not let anger indulge me and impact on my ability to advocate and work towards equality. The subtle anger has always been there, it is the underpinning concept of my endurance.  This anger and endurance belongs only to me. I don’t know what I was expecting yesterday, or today, or this weekend, to mark one of the biggest milestones in my life. But, it certainly wasn’t tears of sadness, feelings of isolation and the need to withdraw. But this is the reality of the lives of criminalised women who give up their anonymity in the pursuit of social justice.

I once wrote about being a kid, and going to another kids who, who had one of those big American style freezers which have an ice dispenser at the front. My dad was late picking me up and I was so embarrassed of my own house and knew I’d never be inviting that kid over to my house, after that night I just didn’t talk to her any more. We were different, we had different lives and I couldn’t make friends with people like that. Now, I wonder for those kids, who follow the footsteps of their families, and their peers into university, what they did to mark their educational milestones. I wonder who supported them, guided them and helped them. I wonder who was telling them they were proud of them. I wonder if those kids wrote their dissertations without speaking a word about it within their homes. I wonder if they submitted their work and then went home to bed without talking about it to their loved ones.

The stark reality of where I come from really hit me, when I considered the biggest endurance tests of my life so far. Prison and university. Ironically, my release from prison was marked by a welcome home cake, a big surprise family meal, flowers, cards and the like. So, despite my academic success and the utilisation of my lived experiences into a meaningful career. My personal life is still in a place where we celebrate releases from prison but have no ritual for actual achievement. What we do is celebrate survival. We celebrate survival because survival is all we have ever known. So, although I am feeling quite deflated, I need to mark this occasion. Reflection is so important, and while a part of me feels hurt that this milestone is somewhat neglected at home. I need to remember that we haven’t had any practice in this. People like me rarely get here. The odds are still stacked against us.

Perhaps I am lacking clarity in thought and in my writing, what am I saying here? Not for a minute should this be taken that I wish for a different response at home. Had I have not had my life experiences, I would never have even got here. Those gave and give me purpose, drive and ambition. I guess my point is, for the marginalised, our successes are not validated through academic achievement. Our successes are validated through the school of life. Through surviving trauma and just keeping on with it.

What does ‘resting’ and ‘celebrating’ mean for us, when our celebrations are of prison release dates and abstinence birthdays? Perhaps I succumbed to middle class thinking when fantasising about celebration of completing higher ed, only to be confronted with the harsh realities of my underclass position as the council estate, school excluded, naughty girl. The girl who survives and just keeps on, because that is all she has ever known.

Is there a point to this blog, not really. I just wanted to create something that captures this feeling, as best as I can in this moment.  I was thinking about the concept of celebrating, and then I thought about what I would be celebrating, when the conclusion of my work over three years ended with a recognition of structural and societal dominance over criminalised women’s lives. The inequalities, oppression and systemic violence which often leads us to prison in the first place. This is the shit that keeps us in places of prison release dates and abstinence birthdays as validation of our success. Maybe the celebratory discourse for me is harmful, and it led to me recognising why it hasn’t happened. We just keep on, keeping on. Surviving.

Comes to you by an ex-offender

 

If you are working to influence change, understanding how and why things happen is a fundamental component of ensuring future work leads to improvements, the improvements you say you want to see.  I’ve been doing various assignments lately and the research has led to some important discoveries.  So, I’ve decided to raise some important issues in regards to the stigmatising langue ‘we’ use in pursuit of our ‘positive change’ work. Let’s be clear from the start, for as long as you continue to use stigmatising language , you will never accomplish your positive change. You may do, on a minimal scale, for individuals and for your own self-worth, but for most of you reading this, I am sure your aims are to see this change on a social and political level.

So, let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room – this blog, and this call to action, comes to you from an ex-offender and the child of drug addicts. Now, how many people have you experienced within a work environment that would completely dismiss the whole blog, as soon as they read the statement about the author? In that same thought, how many people have you encountered within a work environment, that have attempted to explain equality, diversity and inclusion to you, from their privileged status and zero experience of ever being oppressed? Similarly, have you ever heard someone at work say ‘they don’t like being called ex-offenders, buts that’s what they are’?  Or, have you ever justified your own use of stigmatising language because some people self-identify as that? If so, you have a personal and professional responsibility to learn how you are complicit in the oppression of those you stigmatise, and what you can do to stop this behaviour. You know, just how we coach and mentor those ‘offenders’ out of offending. We can mentor ourselves out of oppressing those who we pretend to fight for equality for!

I imagine that most of you reading this blog either work in, or have a keen interest in the criminal justice system. On the same note, I assume that most readers will have an idea of labelling theory, the self-fulfilling prophesy and stigma. I would also think that many of you will have idea of desistance theories and how personal identify impacts on reaching a place of desistance.

Do you also keep up-to-date with government policy, criminal justice news and current prison debate? Have you read the Female Offender Strategy, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act? Have you been to conferences where the ‘lived experience’ speaker is introduced as an ex-prisoner or read a report where ‘the lived experience’ team are thanked, rather than their names? Have you ever considered how all of these examples perpetuate exclusion?

Does your work have underpinning values of equal citizenship, of equal rights and inclusion for all?

Historically, stigma(ta) was a punitive practice of branding cattle or making the body of slaves and criminals, for means of identifying ‘the other’, a visible mark of ‘deviance’.  Today, we use labels to stigmatise, although calling someone an ‘ex-offender’ doesn’t visibly mark them, it invisibly contributes to their exclusion within society by associating them with deviance.  This of course, is not by accident.  We are wrapped up in a false idea of systems believing in rehabilitation, the very same systems that continue to stigmatise us with the langue they use in their policies, strategies and speeches.  The very same system which claims a belief in people’s ability to chance, but place requirements on some to forever disclose a past conviction. The very same system that uses the desistance evidence base to produce it’s strategies, but ignores the fundamental aspect of macro-recognition of identity change.

To make sense of this, let’s consider stigma as a political and social tool of exclusion. The language that we use to describe people impacts upon their social capital, when we identity people using stigmatising language we are limiting their social capital and increasing their risk of discrimination. On a personal level, when we use ‘ex-offender’ we are linking the ‘current’ to the ‘past’ thus not recognising a change in identify, apart from saying ‘they used to be an offender but they aren’t anymore’. Before you use the term ‘ex-offender’ do you ask if the person identifies as such? Even so, do you understand the broader social and political consequences of using the term and do you question why someone may self-identify as an ex-offender?

Stigma is a form of ‘marking’ to exclude, stigma functions through labelling, so when you use stigmatising language you are ‘marking’ someone, those marks will contribute to their exclusion… get it?

Now let’s consider who creates labels, if we return back to the punitive practice of stigma(ta), branding and marking of slaves, cattle and criminals, this was done to identify ‘ownership’ by those in power. Historically, people who committed crimes had the crime tattooed on their forehead, ‘thief’  – every time that person looked in the mirror they are reminded that they are a ‘thief’ and reminded that someone else had the power to mark their face with the intention of ensuring a life of exclusion.

The power to mark a person with the intention of ensuring a life of exclusion.

Stigma as a political and social tool to perpetuate exclusion, this is where we begin to see how government policy such as the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act has the power to mark a person with the intention of ensuring a life of exclusion. This again can be seen in news reports, which love a good ‘name and shame’ crime story, who have the power to mark a person with the intention of ensuring a life of exclusion.

Here may be a good opportunity to address the definition of violence

“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation” (World Health Organisation)

Key in understanding how stigma is a form of violence – The intentional use of power, against a person or group, that results in psychological harm or deprivation.

The stigmatising language used in political speech, news reports, conferences, criminal justice reports and so on, can be defined as the intention use of power, against a person or group, that results in psychological harm or deprivation.

Have you ever acknowledged contributions to work by thanking the ex-offenders, have you ever identified some-one at a conference either in person or on the speakers list as an ‘ex-offender’ – have you contributed evidence to policy and strategy which uses ‘offender’ in the title? Have you ever considered that you are complicit in systemic violence again a group of people? Have you ever considered that you are abusing your power, while suggesting you work towards power balance? Have you ever considered that the langue you use to identify people is a political and social tool used to keep the oppressed ‘controlled’ and ‘in their place’?

Have you ever considered eradicating stigmatising language from your professional vocabulary and requesting others to do the same?

Mum, why do you sound so posh?

Mum, why do you sound so posh?

A resounding question every time my daughter hears me on any type of work phone call, a question that we both laugh hysterically about and often becomes quite embarrassing when she attempts her impressions of my ‘phone voice’ in front of others! A common whatsapp theme is of voice notes sent from my 12year old in my ‘phone voice’, answering my own questions to her. Similarly, I can reflect on my child self, who used to ask the exact same question to my dad – who will also laugh hysterically about this, when he reads this piece.  Moreover, a common theme for entertainment as a child with my two sisters, was mimicking this exact same ‘poshness’ that my dad presented.

Although addicted to heroin, and heavily involved in supply, to feed not only his addiction, but that of my unemployed, mentally-ill, also addicted, mothers. My dad’s presentation of ‘posh’ came not from work calls but in the form of school meetings with the headmaster, as a result of my multiple suspensions, that finally led to full exclusion in my final year of high school. The reasons for my suspension and exclusion are important here, possibly because at that stage in my life, I hadn’t mastered the art of language, aside from the ‘I fucking hate school’ sentence that was heard daily from Monday to Friday in the house we lived in.

Why did I hate school? More importantly, why did school hate me?

My childhood exposed me to what exclusion and marginalisation really mean, despite being of an age and lack of lived experience, which meant I didn’t really know and couldn’t really describe what was happening to me. That is not to say, that I haven’t internalised the consequences of such experience. Actually, I did know what was happening to me, and I knew it wasn’t fair – I just didn’t know the extent to which institutions, services and professionals work in ways to further exclude the voices and experiences of oppressed groups. And, I certainly didn’t know what Labelling Theory was, and how I would come to relate to so much of it in my adult life, as an activitist and professional within the arena user involvement and inclusion.

My childhood days were mostly spent ‘getting up to mischief’ – whose weren’t? Although, my mischief was unsupervised, it was mostly illegal and often dangerous. I wasn’t wondering off from my mums direct eye line at the park. I was drinking myself into a hospital bed with spirits I nicked from the co-op, at 13 years old. I was ‘going out’ with 20 year old blokes, as a 14 year old. I was going out on week nights to pubs, clubs and house parties and keeping in contact with my parents via phone calls was not even an option! With the exception of using the BT call back service on a phone box, when my sisters and I were stuck outside a nightclub at 3am and we needed picking up.

I have two vivid memories of being ‘excluded’ at primary school – although I didn’t know that I was being excluded – I just felt horrible and the experience felt horrible. The first one was when I was in year 5, around 10 years old. My elder sister was 12 and younger sister was 8. We were all at the same primary school, waiting to be collected at the end of the school day by our mum. She was late, so after waiting outside, watching all of the other children go home, we were cold so decided to go back into school and wait in the corridor. Other children also hadn’t been collected, so they were taken back in by two teachers. These teachers led the other children down the corridor, to the lunch hall for some after-school activities. In passing, one of them suggested that my sisters and I should follow them to the hall. The other teacher proceeded to announce ‘their fine, their mum is always late’. Instantly, this told us that we were not welcome in the hall, with the other children. Simply because, our mum was always late! Presumably, the other children were being collected by late ‘working mums’ and our exclusion was due to our late mum being addicted to heroin. This tells us that, an acceptable reason to be late to collect your children from school, is being at work. Therefore, if this is the case, we will ensure your children can purposefully spend their time waiting. If however, you a drug addict and we don’t recognise your condition as a health problem, and we don’t recognise your children as suffering, then your children can just wait in the corridor.

On their own.

Away from the teachers and other children.

The second time was in year six, a year later. A fellow year six pupil had flown to Disney Land in Florida. Upon her return to school, she gifted every year 6 kid with a Disney souvenir.

Every other year six kid.

Apart from me.

Secondary school became even more toxic, and I became even more excluded. This was due to who ‘I’ was, which fed from the perception of who my parents ‘were’. My reaction to this, as a teenager was not to educate myself around inclusion and diversity, or to question the systems and structures that perpetuated my exclusion. It was to rebel against it. Being bullied, led me to bully. Being excluded, led me to isolate. Being punished, led me to believe I was naughty. I was victimised by teachers and institutional systems, that somehow always managed to position me as the perpetrator. My response was to simply not give a shit. I stopped going to school. At times when I did attend, I had a very quick fuse, which blew at the very slightest provocation. If I was asked to go and remove my make-up, despite a few more hundred girls in the school covered in slap – I would just go home.

I remember my mum once giving me some money to go to the hairdressers and get some braids. For me, this was a big thing. I wasn’t a child that had hair-dresser appointments. The braids in my hair were tied up with coloured bobbles. When I went to school, I was called into the head of year office and told to take the braids out, because coloured bobbles were against the school rules. Take my braids out, no way. I went on to explain, with tears in my eyes, that I only had my braids done yesterday, and they will last a few weeks and I really don’t want to take them out because I like them and my mum actually gave me the money to go to the hair-dressers and get something I wanted done to my hair! They weren’t having it, and gave me a choice of removing my braids or leaving school. Of course, I just walked out and told them to fuck off. When I arrived home, after catching the bus, the school had already phoned home and informed my dad that I had been suspended for a week! Result, I thought!

This was a continued pattern. Injustice of any kind through-out high school resulted in me leaving, subsequently being suspended and then returning. The cycle of injustice and suspension continued. As did the meetings with head teachers and my dad, who was always ‘welcomed’ to discussions regarding my return to school. These meetings always consisted of conversations about my wrong-doing and negative reaction, which always provided a space for their justification of my exclusion. What these meetings failed to do, was examine whether their school policy suited my needs, as a child in need of nurture and support, not punishment and exclusion. As a teen, filled with anger and frustration, I didn’t know the language to call this out, although I knew that these conversations failed to get to the root causes of my feelings and actions.

I’ll always remember those drives back to school, dad in his only suit that was too big for him, with some very weird purple tie.

Always the same suit.

Always the same tie.

The greetings in the school waiting area, beginning with a formal hand shake of my dad and the head teacher. Then being led into his office and asked to take a seat. Dad would always put on a different voice and have a completely different persona and opinion when in company of the head. That used to piss me off even more. I would stare at him as he was talking, thinking to myself ‘what the hell are you going on about? ‘and ‘why are you in a suit?’. He never wore a suit, he didn’t have a job. That suit must have been for court appearances and the obligatory back to school meeting for Michaela. Perhaps he thought that presenting this way would enhance other peoples view of ‘us’ – if we could become more like ‘them’ the chance of my school life may become less of a fuck up!? I knew we weren’t ‘like them’ and I knew that I couldn’t pretend to ‘be like them’.  I didn’t know what class inequality was, and I didn’t know what oppression was. I didn’t know we were less than working class in a meeting with a middle-class head master. And, I don’t think my dad did either. What I did know was, this man making decisions about my school life and explaining my behaviour to us, had no idea what he was talking about. He had no idea about my life at home, he had no idea about my life at school. And here he was, attempting to tell me about my own life, with my dad there, unintentionally colluding with him by his presentation in a suit, with a false perception of our lives, and a voice that didn’t belong to him.

My sisters and I still laugh about dad in that suit, and all the times he wore it to my school meetings.

Fast forward 13 years, and my own child is now doing the same thing to me. ‘Mum, why do you sound so posh?’

Rebelling against unjust systems as a teen, didn’t result in any positive changes in my life. Effing and blinding all the time and leaving situations due to lack of ability to explain things, didn’t help change things. Educating myself, learning the language of the ‘others’ and mastering the art of expression and vocabulary was what enabled me to position myself within the firing line, and remain there with confidence, in speaking up for myself and others when faced with injustice of any kind.

Anger at the victimisation of the marginalised, gave me the passion to learn how to speak. Determination to ensure I wasn’t ignored encouraged people to listen. But, people only listened after I had learnt the language. After my own instant reactions that were indicative of someone who needed help, were ignored.

What do I say to my child when she asks me, ‘mum, why do you sound so posh?’

 Well, I certainly don’t tell her that in life, we have to pretend to be someone different and present as something ‘better’. I don’t tell her that as a kid I was mistreated and reacted negatively because I lacked the skills to express what I was going through. I also don’t tell her that she will probably grow up to have a ‘phone voice’. Although, she probably will!

Kid, I ‘sound so posh’ because I grew up in silence, even when I was screaming, because that was the only sound I knew. I ‘sound so posh’ because no-one listened to me, when I spoke. I ‘sound so posh’ because it provides me with opportunities that wouldn’t come my way if I didn’t. I ‘sound so posh’ because space for ‘me’ is limited. I ‘sound so posh’ so I at least, have a sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She didn’t know about the gas card

That sacred kitchen draw.
The bills were piled in there. I say bills, I mean debt collectors demands. The provident loans.
That sacred kitchen draw.
The gas card was in safe in there. What do you know about the gas card?
I remember starting high school and making a couple of new mates in year 7. I’ll never forget when I was invited around for dinner by Bekki. I left school with her one day and went to her house. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was the first time I saw a tiled kitchen floor and not a ripped, poor fitting tile print lino. It was also the first time I ever saw a fridge freezer combo with an ice dispenser at the front. I’ll never forget that fridge.
I left Bekki’s that evening. Dad was late picking me up and I spent about half an hour using their house phone trying to find him and arrange to be collected. I was embarrassed, ashamed and jealous.
I never went to Bekki’s. I was used to going in that kitchen draw and walking up the garage to put a tenner on the gas and leccy card. In fact, I was used to being in the shower when the electric ran out and having to wait for someone to lend mum a tenner, with shampoo spilling all over my face. Bekki didn’t know about the gas card. From then, I stuck to selling fags and bits of weed I nicked from my dad on the back playground, to get some lunch money. Bekki’s house was everything I’d never have, there was no point being friends with someone who had the means to live and do way more than I ever could. I wanted to stick with people who had the gas card.
15 years later I’m leading change through lived experience.
Since the beginning of my blog some 18 months ago, I have been invited to various conferences, universities and schools to ‘share my story’. I have been contacted by various forms of media outlet to ‘share my story’. What does it actually mean for a person with lived experience to share their story? For me it means giving up my anonymity and any chance of living my life without the shadow of a conviction and prison sentence. It means fear for my family who also face the consequences of continued stigmatisation through no fault of their own. It means for ever reflecting on my parenting ability and recognising potential further risk of harm to my daughter, who will forever be cared for and viewed through the lens of a mother who went to prison. It means I enter an online space and receive abuse. It means I enter a classroom and see fear. It means I am vulnerable to judgement and face discrimination and micro aggression often.
It also means I may be seen as an ad hoc, as a political statement or the token expert by experience. I have seen, read and experienced first had the positives and negatives of leading change. It has taken me a while to adjust to a position of leadership however, I am there and finally recognise why I often feel imposter syndrome. It is because society juxtaposes leaders with people who have the gas key. I mean, how many leaders have been stood in a shower when it’s gone off at the same time as the lights, and someone is lighting a candle to dash to the kitchen draw to then walk up the garage with a tenner? Sometimes, all in change?

Experiencing societal oppression and inequality, the prison system, drug use and mental health issues has not lead to an ‘expert by experience’ and we need to reframe the way we view those with lived experience. We hear all the time about ‘managing expectation’ or ‘changing perception’ with groups we may work with. I always use my uni assignments to identify and challenge perception of the prisoner population as I think it is a point of view that is lacking in undergrad work. With this being said, I also think that for anyone who is supporting, sharing and advocating ‘lived experience’ there is a need for managing expectation and perception change within organisation structure and culture.

I wonder whether my invites to share my story have been due to a recognition of my ability to lead change or simply because I am an ex prisoner?
I have identified that there is a generic view of ex-prisoners who share their story as ‘motivational’ ‘inspirational’ ‘change-makers’ ‘brave’ …. But here we are missing all of the traits, attributes and skills that are built up by adversity and ultimately result in the ability to lead change. When we use these words as descriptors we are (maybe unconsciously, maybe not) underestimating, undermining and misrepresenting leaders with lived experience, potentially due to a power threat or an unrealistic perception of their abilities. How many organisations have ‘lived experience’ support worker roles? How many organisations have lived experience leadership roles? What message is this sending? We would love to use your story online…. Volunteer with us, apply for the support worker role…. But a leader of the organisation…. Oh no!
Are we only valued up to a certain point? Can we only make it to a certain level? Are we asking people who claim to be ‘a voice’ why we are not hearing from a lived experience leader’s voice?
We should be.
Leaders have the gas cards, and if they don’t anymore, they are lending the tenners!

‘Not so bright’

I guess reflection tends to happen at this time of year, as one year draws to a close and a new year is upon us. Lots has happened, so much so that my blogging has been somewhat lacking but I think now is an appropriate time to ponder some important questions.

Today happens to be my personal academic tutor’s last day before she moves into her new role at a different university. It would be hard for me to not start this piece reflecting on the impact that she has had on my educational, work and family life. I met with her on Monday for my final tutorial and she began by saying that I was very bright and that she had been thinking about my early years and life now and was wondering whether being ‘bright’ is an attribute that has carried me through life. I don’t know the answer to that, but it has made me think about life journeys a lot.
The conversation began by reviewing my grades and predicting my grades for the next two years. Now, I know she didn’t say I was ‘bright’ simply based on my academic results so far however it is important for me to identify how the conversation began. As a student, I research, I read, I plan essays, respond to feedback and ask for advice and help when needed. I can see why in the context of our conversation, I could be considered a ‘bright’ student. So, after ponding on this for a few days, after a few more conversations with other people, I can certainly confess that outside of my student persona and university life I am not that ‘bright’ and certainly have made decisions in my life that have not been ‘bright’. I’m sure everybody can say that about their own actions/choices at different parts of their life, but what is worth considering is the underlying reasons. I want to pick one to consider….
Past relationship – (lol, cigarette break as I consider how best to approach this one)……… This man, with his name is permanently scarred on my thigh (sorry dad) was my biggest lesson in love and life. I am so thankfully that I experienced ‘love’ at its worst but I can only say that now after being free from him and working on myself for the past two and half years after I was left inconsolable, heartbroken and an absolute mess. I blamed this man for everything when I kicked him out of my house one fateful Sunday Morning, with our dream holiday only months away and the contract phone he still had in his pocket, in my name and payment from my bank account! Still holding the ‘sexts’ from at least 4 other women and containing images of his child that he denied was his and was adamant he didn’t see.
Let’s add a bit on context here – this man lived with me, paid nothing to support me or the house and watched me go to work 6 days a week, come home, cook and clean while he got stoned in his car and then watched T.V (after being out all day ‘at work’ on the phone I paid for, sexting other women)! In addition, he had a secret family which I suspected at one point and when I asked him, absolutely insisted that what I was saying wasn’t true. His account was, he had slept with a girl who got pregnant and when the baby was born he asked for a DNA test and the girl disappeared and he never saw her or the baby again! Now, this is not a ‘white lie’ and the normality of his story made me think I was wrong because, who the hell would lie about that, right!!?? Well, I was right and subsequently, the day I kicked him out he ended up back at this girl’s house with her and the baby.
I had worked a 6 day week and Sunday was going to be our only day together. We had planned to take a walk up the Malvern Hills and then go for breakfast. Sunday morning came and we both got up, I went to make a cup of tea and when I went back upstairs I could see him in his car smoking weed. When he came back inside he said he was going back to sleep and couldn’t be bothered to do anything! I went alone and the walk was the best thing I ever did.

I made the decision while walking that this was not the life I wanted and it was going to be down to me to sort it out. Following the walk, I went to see my mum then went home where I found him still in bed, at 1pm, watching a film! I was downstairs washing my work clothes and he text me from bed asking “what’s for breakfast babe?!” LOL you can’t make this up! Anyway, that was it. He missed breakfast, packed his stuff and was out the door. Only to return 5 months ago, out of the blue, knocking on my door on a Monday afternoon to ask if we could ‘pick up where we left off’ (because his child’s mum had kicked him out too). I politely declined his offer!
What have a learnt from the most horrendous heartbreak? Yes, he was horrible but actually I was the one who allowed it, who somewhat accepted it and I turned a blind eye for ‘love’ even though it was only me who was giving love. I had nightmares about him cheating on me (which he was) and he used to call me mental, crazy etc and I used to think that I was so I stopped paying attention to my own intuition. I look back now and realise that I liked providing for a ‘family’ and being able to pay for everything myself and I still do, but what I also realise is how he manipulated me into to doing this, and made me feel bad and guilty whenever I suggested he pulled his weight a bit more. Also, it was my own choice to financially support him, the house etc and this is a result of me being afraid to ever be reliant on anyone else. My rational is, ‘when this is over, when he is gone, if I have my house, my car, my phone and I’m not reliant on split costs, then I will be ok’. It is only now I am realising that while this is a sensible rational, it is not actually a rational that is needed when two adults enter into a serious, committed relationship (on my way there!!)
Anyway, this is a ‘not so bright’ choice I made and did so knowingly. I did it because I feared being alone and wanted to have a ‘family’. I allowed it for too long and blamed him for too long instead of working on myself and my own issues (you have to have issues if you allow that). Thankfully, everything worked out ok and this is all a distant memory that doesn’t have me sobbing my heart out now, but it did. For years, and then I was left to deal with no only the damage that made me allow it in the first place, but the damage it created for my future relationships.
It’s an on-going process. This whole experience taught me that trauma from my early life has impacted on my relationships which then lead to a toxic relationship that damaged me even more. It taught me that I spent too much time wanting to blame someone and then I realised that the time I spent dwelling on the actions of another person was time I was wasting that could have been spent on myself and my own recovery. It taught me what love isn’t and it taught me that ‘not so bright’ choices for me are part and parcel of traumatic experiences.
I would love to hear some ‘not so bright’ choices and the learning that came from reflection so if you read this and feel at all comfortable to, then please share!
Here’s to a 2019 with one less ‘not so bright’ decision!

Addiction, Pain, Mothers and Shame

“Flicking through FB and it disgusts me how many put on their profile work as ‘proud mummy’ yes that’s right for most of us but the few that put it on there don’t even deserve to have pets to look after, it gets right up my nose that they had children removed just like the so called daughter of mine that has had nearly 5 years to change for her boys goes on to have another baby, to again do the same thing with the same scum, well I’ve had enough here’s the PROUD MUMMY’S that had their children removed because they chose DRUGS or MEN over their beautiful children and they are all oblivious that they have done wrong, feel free to share my post”

This post then included 6 young women’s photos, looking vulnerable, one only in her underwear and most, under the influence of drugs. Only one of the girls in the photos published was the author of the above quotes daughter.

Now, I cannot judge anyone and I won’t. But as I think about this statement and the fact that it was published on social media literally ‘naming and shaming’ the most vulnerable women, who are in need of care. I feel I should offer my perspective, as the child of addicts and the woman who has witnessed recovery.

I’m not going to go in to detail because I simply do not have the energy, but just want to share a few important points, addiction is not a choice and women who are addicted to drugs rarely make any “choice”…. Addiction does not allow for any kind of rational choice!

The pain a mother feels when she has children and is suffering from addiction is like no other pain! I have seen that pain, and felt that pain. That pain is real and I am sure, dealing with that pain was too much in my own life experience which led to years and years more drug use! I have also experienced a drug addicted mother, close to my family, suicide because of her guilt of addiction and being a mother. I am almost certain that shame, stigma and societies responses to her also played a part in her ending her life, shortly after she was released from prison. I was about 10 years old and she left behind two daughters.

As a child of addicts, shame, embarrassment and victimisation were daily occurrences. I feel that the above quote which is very inappropriate has been written to highlight the fact that there are children who have ‘lost’ their mothers and that the children suffer. Let me tell you, posting images of women on facebook and calling them scum, druggies and a waste of space, is putting their children at even more risk of harm, victimisation and discrimination! Is really is not hard to realise that, is it? I know, I was one of them kids!

My sister contacted the mother of one of the girls whose image was posted on FB and shared our dad’s story of recovery with her. Hope, belief and support are key to change! Shaming those poor women’s photos on Facebook will do absolutely nothing to help them, nothing at all! Following the conversation I managed to speak to L who is homeless/sofa surfing and a mother suffering from addiction (I asked her if this was ok to share, and she gave me her consent). She is in her mid 20s with a whole life ahead of her, unsafe on the streets or being abused by an older man where she sometimes has to stay to get off the streets.

I met with her and have spoken to her daily over the past few days, and her mum and nan! She has called me twice just for a ‘chat’!

I simply cannot imagine how anyone thinks that shaming these young women is ok!

L is beautiful, hurt, sad, angry, vulnerable but young and able to recover. Recover with support, kindness and compassion.

I have created a just giving page to raise £500 to provide L with immediate support such as winter clothes, boots, a coat, sleeping bag, blankets, tent, toiletries and food supplies. I will personally buy the items and I know L needs them and will be delighted to see that not everybody thinks that she is ‘scum’ ‘a waste of space’ and should be ‘sterilised’

If you can, please consider using the link below to Support me in Supporting L over the winter

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/michaela-booth-1

They never even bloody asked for sympathy!

The funniest thing happened today. My dad collected me at 11.30 to go and visit the new addition to the family, who is currently in neonatal intensive care. On the way home we had a good chat about uni, work and my blog. Dad asked if I had written anything recently and I said no. He then said I should keep writing and I told him it’s not as easy as that. Something needs to happen to me. I didn’t think I would be writing today, tomorrow or even this month.

Here I am, a few hours later. Frantically arranging my thoughts and words to deliver a story that is only possible because of my dad. Infact, he is still at my home as I type and has no idea that I am feeling so fortunate to have him and his experience as a part of my life.

Let’s begin. I will put this blog into context hopefully in a few short sentences. We got home from the hospital and I had a quick browse on twitter, I came across a tweet that indicated addiction is a choice and not deserving of sympathy. That is ok. I know, there is so much wrong with so much of the world, and to be consumed by all of this, is impossible. We only have so many fucks to give about what we chose (I swore, forgive me J). As a child of addicts, a 17year period of living day in, day out with heroin users and 11years of being a close part of recovery…. I feel I am experienced in understanding addiction, being a part of addiction and overcoming addiction. This is not a blog to say that a person, who believes that a person who has lost their life to an overdose does not deserve sympathy, is wrong. This is to consider where I sit on the sympathy scale and to discuss my experiences and reasons that sit behind this.

Firstly, I have an issue with anybody who throws around “no sympathy” for people/addicts/prisoners etc when the people in question have never asked for sympathy. Everybody has sympathy for some kind of cause, one that is personal to you or I. That is fine. I have sympathy for some people/situations and other things, I don’t. I certainly wouldn’t be using a death of any kind to be saying “no sympathy for that” simply because it’s not a cause that I support. Also, the person who lost their life never even bloody asked for sympathy anyway.

So, I then considered this word “sympathy” and even though I can sympathise and empathise greatly due to my own life history, I know that I have never encountered a person addicted to drugs, who wants, likes or asks for sympathy. I’ve met many addicts throughout my life and I still know people, talk to people and engage with people often, who are addicted to drugs. The sympathy I have for people comes from personal experience and my interactions with people is not sympathetic, “I feel so sorry for you” but it is compassionate. You don’t have to sympathise, that is rightly so, your call however compassion should be used in every interaction, every conversation and every internal thought process. My own hope for this writing is that its read, absorbed and the word ‘sympathy’ and even the act or process of sympathising or not, is replaced with some compassionate thinking, talking and acting. I completely understand that for many, sympathising with a person who is a drug addict may be difficult or unachievable. Feeling sorry for a person who lost their life due to a drug over dose, also, for many people might be hard to do however if said person who sadly lost their life has never asked you to sympathise, you don’t bloody have too!!!!!!!!!

In my teenage years I was embarrassed of my parents. My life was horrendous. As a child I was living with family during rehab stays, separated from my sisters. Rehab was over and we were all back sofa surfing a living with other drug addicted families. Life was bleak. I’ve been put in danger, witnessed drug use, taken drugs accidently as a child and almost witnessed my own mother die of an over dose. If you had asked me at 17 years old to be compassionate or sympathise with my addicted parents, I would have laughed in your face and told you they chose to do what they do.

Fast forward to today. I have a much more appropriate response. Of course I can sympathise with anybody addicted to drugs. Becoming an addict is not a choice. Addiction does not allow for any kind of rational choice, that a person who isn’t suffering from addiction is afforded to make. Suffering, being the key work here. People who are addicted to drugs are suffering. Does anybody wiling chose to suffer? No, they do not.

No one has used drugs for the first time with the intention of being sucked into addiction. Surely everybody knows that don’t they? Sure, you can say “well don’t even try it in the first place”, you can also stick by that statement if you want to ignore or overlook the complexities of life, mistakes and regrets. You may not have turned to drugs when your life had hit rock bottom, great. Maybe your rock bottom isn’t on par with someone else’s. Maybe you had a better coping mechanism, maybe you had more support, maybe drugs just weren’t available to you. Maybe you didn’t have someone promising that this substance would ease the pain temporarily and before you know it, you can’t stop something you didn’t even mean to start. Maybe you haven’t woken up feeling like an awful parent and living with the guilt of drug use and addiction is too much to cope with, so you contemplate suicide and the only thing that is going to ease your pain is more drugs.

Maybe you think that accessing support for addiction is easy, maybe you even think that recovery is easy if somebody wants to do it. From experience, I am here to tell you that neither is easy. Life as a child of addicts was not easy nor a choice. My addicted parents lives were not easy, nor a choice. Recovery was and is not easy, and it was a choice, but it had been a choice time and time again and was not successful.

A message from the child of addicts, my parents do not want sympathy for suffering from addiction.

A message from the child of addicts, please show my parents some compassion for suffering from addiction.

What you don’t see.

I wanted to use this blog platform to offer some reflection on my first year at university. Sharing not just my educational and personal growth but to share my struggle and sacrifice along the way. As many of you who follow my twitter and blog know, my time at university so far has been amazing. I love it. I have been dedicated, enthusiastic and really put in the effort to achieve all I have in the past year. People would be forgiven for thinking that I have eased through this journey and had a lot of support along the way. This of course, is true. However, as with every social media account, you only see what I want you to. This is an honest account of what you don’t see.

The only reason I have managed to get through this last year is because of my life experience. My experience of education prior to university was poor to say the least. I never had support through SATs in year 6, aged 11. I never had support during my GCSEs, aged 15. My behaviour at school lead to me being put in top sets with strict teachers not because of my ability but because it was the punitive way the education system dealt with teenagers experiencing trauma. I was suspended from school just prior to sitting my last exams in year 11 to stop me from going to the end of year ball. I didn’t care at all. Looking back now, I somewhat envy the people I went to school with who are now close friends, 10 years later. I don’t speak to anybody I went to school with. I can see now that everything the teachers at school did, was to further exclude me from anything that may have led to positive experiences at school. How sad is it that I can honestly say, after really racking my brains to think… that not one teacher put any effort at all into ensuring I had equality of opportunity to succeed at school. Well, the proof is in the pudding. After failing miserably, or, being failed miserably at school. I have just finished my first year at university with no lesse grade than a B- . This is due to people showing that they believe in me, that they want me to succeed and that my traumatic early life experiences does not diminish my abilities to achieve. School wrote me off, my ‘trouble’ was too much trouble to deal with. My ‘trouble’ was not my fault as a child. My life at home was troubled; my behaviour at the time was ‘trouble’. I was not less worthy of help, I was not less worthy of support, I was not less worthy of achieving. I was however, made to feel as though I would never be accepted in school. The only way I was ‘dealt with’ at school was by means of exclusion and detention. That happened for 5 years. Let us just think about that. I was about 11 years old when I started high school, about 15-16 when I left school. From 11 years old to 15 years old, a school detained me and excluded me from education because I was ‘naughty’. For five years, they ignored my ‘troubles’ and made me think I was the trouble. AND punished me for it. Imagine, at 11 years old I forgot my PE kit. Because I was probably cooking my own dinner the night before, I was probably awake all night and then walked miles to school. Suffered physical and emotional harm at home and went to school bruised. And then, I got detention for having no PE kit. This didn’t happen once. It happened over five years and the professionals continued with their punishments. I would like to say that they didn’t understand the life I was living. They didn’t. Nobody can understand that life unless they have lived it however, they knew what was happening at home and chose to ignore it. They chose to punish a child of addicts. They chose to detain me rather than support me. They chose to exclude me rather that help me. Those teachers should be utterly ashamed of their practice. I feel sick just reliving the experience as I type it. I was written off by an educational system at 11 years old.

Fast word to my 27 year old self, a far cry from that 11 year old girl sat in detention writing lines, a far cry from that 21 year old girl crying in a prison cell. From my first phone call to my course leaded a year ago, she supported my application, the admin process and has continuously nurtured my own ability and growth. After my last lecture, I emailed her in tears thanking her for the dedication she shows me to ensure I succeed. I remember a conversation with her when I was feeling excluded from my placement. I know from an outsider looking in at my life, everything is great! For a girl to navigate through such a traumatic childhood, to leave a prison and then access a degree in Criminology and a job in health in justice, I am obviously doing well. What I am managing to do with my life now does not eliminate the young girl who was attention starved, abused and punished for things that were out of her control. I am still that young girl, in a 27 year old body. That traumatised child inside of me doesn’t leave, because the experience is no longer here. My lecturer offered me a safe space to talk about my feelings with my placement mentor and both said that my ability to articulate my feelings is great. Giving me the opportunity to talk about how I feel, because of what I have been through is miles apart from getting a detention at school for something that wasn’t even my fault.

This first year has seen me sit in a room with a mother in recovery from drugs, talking about her children. I left the room in tears and was sick in the toilet. I wiped my eyes and went back to the room.

This first year has seen me battle with the child inside me that says I’ll never do this. I couldn’t even finish school.

This first year has seen me sit in lectures about child abuse, about safeguarding and child protection. As is sat there and listed professional after professional who had neglected their duty to keep me safe. I left that lecture and cried, I then wrote a blog about safeguarding and went back to uni the next day.

I have only got through this year because of my life experience, but my life experience is what makes this journey so much harder for me. I post my grades on twitter and express my happiness, what you don’t see is the tears that I cry when I write about child abuse, when I write about maternal imprisonment, when I write about privilege and power and struggle to hold onto my own power and establish my position as a worthwhile student and employee.

Sometimes I try and lose touch with my own life and focus on academic work. Sometimes I feel like I want to move away from how I got to university and complete assignments using the reading list sources. I was struggling with my sociology work so much, I was in tears. I lost sight of real life and aimed to produce an ‘academic assignment’ because I ‘thought’ that was what my lecturer wanted to see. I called a good friend in a state of stress and Lee told me that my lit review was shit. I can take that, it was. I had never done a lit review before. After a 20 minute conversation Lee reminded me about my own life and to move away from being so academic I lose sight of real life. My real life. In the conversation, all Lee did was talk to me about my own life. Things I know, things I still feel and still see. Following that conversation I deleted my assignment and started again, having faith in my own ability to produce academic work, on my life. By far, this was the hardest assignment that I have written to date, and I was over the moon last week when I received my A- grade. I text Lee straight away to thank him for reminding me that my ability to succeed is already a part of who I am, what I have been through and not to let go of that in the face of ‘reading list’ pressures.

I have too many people to thank here by name, but for all of you who read this, offer me support, give me opportunity to move on with my life and help me along the way. I honestly cant thank you all enough. I am full of motivation, passion and determination but the path I am now on wouldn’t be walked if you guys hadn’t of given me the opportunities that you have.

Here is to year two!