|Death of a parent can be traumatic|
Having elderly parents, or family members who have serious life-threatening or limiting illnesses, the prospect of a death when you are in custody can be a constant reminder of why the loss of liberty that comes with imprisonment is – and should be – the punishment handed down by the court. Not being able to hold the hand of someone you have loved, and who has loved you, often unconditionally, as they pass away can leave a very significant sense of loss that can take a very long time to come to terms with.
When I was a prisoner, I was always conscious of the risk that one or both of my own elderly parents might die while I was still incarcerated. Although prison chaplains and some wing staff can provide words of comfort in these difficult circumstances, it’s at times like those that you do feel most isolated and alone in the nick, despite – or perhaps because of – having so many strangers around you.
|Behind bars: very much alone|
Big ‘hard’ men on prison wings don’t often cry, even if they are full of grief and pain. While they might be able to shed tears after dark in their own single cell, having another bloke sleeping a couple of feet away can severely limit the opportunities to have a good cry. It all seems like weakness.
I used to arrange for them to come round to my pad (cell) at a time when my pad-mate was doing something else and shed a few tears. As I’ve written before on this blog, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve sat on a bunk with my arm around quite a few lads who were in deep distress, including one who had just lost his own infant son to a congenital condition. Just allowing these men the space to cry, to mourn and to speak about their loss in confidence was important.
Part of the practical impact of being imprisoned is all about powerlessness and I’ve seen the terrible grief and frustration that cons can feel when they desperately need to speak to a seriously ill parent, partner or relative, or even one of their own sick children, when there is no chance of getting access to either a wing payphone or to a phone in a staff office or the chaplaincy.
|The empty hospital bed|
My sister and I had been able to spend time beside his hospital bed for the last few days of his life, even when he had been unable to recognise us. It was important to us, both psychologically and emotionally, that we were able to see him in his final days and to assure him of our love. Our relationship hadn’t been without its ups and downs, but he was a good father and had always been there for us.
Although I am still very early in the grieving process, my father’s death has not come as a shock. We were mentally prepared for the worst and the doctors and nurses caring for him at the hospital had been tactfully and sensitively explaining his deteriorating condition. When death finally came, it wasn’t unexpected.
|Attending a funeral: on ROTL?|
Of course, since I was at a Cat-D (open prison) for the last year of my sentence, I suppose there was a chance that I’d have been given permission to at least attend the funeral without an officer as an escort. Turning up at a sombre family event of this type in handcuffs and chained to a screw – even a decent bloke I got on well with – is not something that I’d have really considered inflicting on my relatives.
Had I still been in a Cat-B or Cat-C, I suppose I’d have made the difficult decision not to have submitted an application to attend at all. I think that it’s a fair bet that current staff shortages in many establishments mean that scarce resources are making such escorted visits on compassionate grounds much more difficult to organise, even if the will is there from governors to make them happen.
|A final resting place|
I’m now also realising just how much paperwork, bureaucracy and arrangements are required, even when a person has died of natural causes in a hospital. Being able to take on most of this responsibility myself is proving to be quite therapeutic. Again, had I still been in prison, none of this would have been possible, including just picking up a phone to call relatives or council offices to notify them of the situation.
Anyway, this is the reason that regular readers will have to wait a short while before I have the chance to post again. I will be back soon. Thanks for waiting.