Bill took part in our Personal Wellbeing service which supports people under the supervision of probation to enhance their wellbeing, for example through increasing social inclusion and supporting relationships with family and significant others. This Father’s Day, Bill talks about his experience as a dad in prison and the importance of contact with family and friends.
I have two sons and my youngest was 13 when I went into prison.
When I went inside, Covid restrictions were still in place, so I had to do a ten-day stretch in isolation. No contact, on your own, no calls to family for the initial days. That initial period was so hard in ways you can’t imagine, but the impact it had on my family was devastating.
I lost my wife and my children lost their mum two years before when my youngest was 11. My youngest really struggled with me going inside, especially as he had suffered so much loss. I was really lucky, my older son was able to step in and take care of my youngest and keep that contact and security in his life. Not everyone who has a child when they go in to prison has that.
Once I was out of Covid isolation and my phone numbers had been cleared, I could talk to my sons again which was really important to me. Being a parent in prison was really hard. You almost feel like your roles are reversed, and just not being there is the hardest part. I could talk to my sons, but I only got information they wanted to share. So my youngest was having such a hard time, but it was harder to pick up on things because I wasn’t around to witness his behaviour. It makes things difficult.
Having contact with family or friends is the most important thing in prison. You need those positive relationships. It’s really important for children to know their dad is ok and that they are loved. And it’s the only thing that stops you from going mad inside. But it’s not made easy. I was lucky, I worked in prison and had people sending me money so I could afford the calls. But not everyone in prison can. I’ve seen the effect not having family or support from the outside makes.
I’ve seen men around me so desperate to escape their thoughts, with no one to talk to who has any type of normality. Nobody to ground them. It’s no wonder people turn to drugs just to get some respite. Then they end up in a worse position than when they came into prison.
There is no way to explain the danger of where your mind can take you. In the masculine environment of prison as well, men don’t want to show how they are feeling, or show weakness. That’s really hard. It’s why you need those people you trust on the outside to talk to, you need to stay connected to the outside world.
There are things which could help make maintaining those relationships easier. We need to make it easier to visit prisons, give longer visiting times, more family days. Prison is terrifying, we need to create spaces where families feel safe to visit. Phone calls to family should be cheaper as so many people can’t afford them. These relationships are key to helping people rehabilitate themselves, which is what prison is supposed to be about.