This evening I watched a new BBC drama (?), comedy (?), comedy drama (?) called Hope Springs. It starred Alex Kingston (posh curly haired bird) and…erm…some other people as ex-cons who rip off Kingston’s husband to the tune of several million quid, go on the run and end up in deepest Scotland. There are a few reasons why this was less than a televisual feast, not least Alex Kingston’s dodgy cock-er-nee accent, presumably to make her more convincing as a con. It seems these women made friends in the big house and hatched their plan in the dining room, over a batch of illicitly brewed hooch or while mopping the landing floors or something.
What a load of old bollocks. Naturally such a premise will appeal to the Daily Mail readers out there whose expectation of offenders is such that the second they leave prison they’re at it again. Although this is a supposedly light-hearted comedy/drama/whatever it is I find this “criminals reverting to type” malarkey to be incredibly damaging. In fact, it plays right into the hands of said Daily Mail readers who wake up every morning mumbling “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” so unless Hope Springs make their characters ones that the public can sympathise with it will just add more fuel to that mentality.
Why, you may ask, am I so incensed by this? Well I guess that makes this confession time. My name is Fiona and I’m an ex-offender. I’ve been to prison and everything. Now, before you go closing the window in horror and rush back to the sofa congratulating yourself on your lucky escape, just take a minute to allow me to explain. I’m not a burglar, nor a drug addict, neither am I a prostitute, how rude of you to have thought so. Some might say I was a victim of circumstance but, in a nutshell, I was an unhappy mother of 2 in a difficult relationship, had a fight with my then boyfriend and in a moment of abject stupidity/unthinking madness, call it what you will, I grabbed the nearest thing to hand and hit him with it. Unfortunately the nearest thing was a long-bladed Sabatier knife covered in cheese from the pizza my sons had eaten for dinner and the action was more stabbing than hitting. In his upper back. Thankfully there was no damage to his internal organs or threat to his life and the resultant cut was small in size and only needed a few stitches. There were also 2 other small puncture wounds that didn’t need stitches. The fact that it could have been so much worse doesn’t bear thinking about. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to play down what I did, far from it. I know I overreacted badly and did the wrong thing, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. 999 was called, and, while my sons slept upstairs 8 of Hampshire Constabulary’s finest came into my house, handcuffed me, arrested me for attempted murder and carted me off in their meat wagon. I was wearing a pink strapless party dress, a favourite among the criminal fraternity I believe.
With one ridiculously imbecilic action my whole life turned upside down. I wasn’t allowed to my home, I had to move in with my parents and sister. I didn’t get to see my children for two weeks, two incredibly long and miserable weeks and when I did finally see them, I wasn’t allowed near their house or school. Contact agreements were made through a solicitor and, given the circumstances, I think I was actually lucky that we didn’t have to endure supervised visits. Over the six months until my trial I did get to see them more, and pick them up from school, but the initial blow of going from living with them and being a “normal” mother to being a part-time parent was very hard to take. I think I’ve blocked out a lot of what I was feeling as I tried to come to terms with what was hanging over me and trying to stay positive for the kids, while at the same time preparing them for the inevitable. My trial has to be the single worst experience of my life, even compared to the unfortunate cycling accident I had while on holiday in France once (and the operation I had to have as a result) and a c-section under general anaesthetic (I really don’t like operations). It was beyond hideous, I felt on the verge of tears the whole time but managed to keep my composure, something I think made the jury feel unsympathetic towards me. And they found me guilty of Section 18, wounding with intent to cause GBH (I had never been charged with attempted murder but that was what I was initially arrested for). This was my first experience of the criminal justice system and it will certainly be my last. My God but it was awful and I still relive it occasionally and all the feelings come rushing back. But anyway. Bygones.
On November 18th 2005, a mere 10 days before my 30th birthday, I found myself in the unenviable position of being carted off to prison for 3 years for wounding with intent to cause GBH. With a stonking hangover.
So quite frankly I think this gives me licence to be annoyed about the depiction of prisons and prisoners in fictional and some non-fiction programmes. I had mentally prepared myself for prison and was determined to only get good things out of it. I did just that but will leave the details for a later post. Suffice to say I was a model prisoner and worked hard to be. So am I a stereotypical ex-offender? Of course not. I wasn’t a stereotypical offender either with my private education and clear diction. But in truth there’s no such thing because all sorts of people are there for all sorts of reasons. One thing I can state categorically is that it’s nothing like Bad Girls. Neither did I notice any heists being organised while I was there… I will persevere with Hope Springs, if only so that I can complain to the BBC and demand immediate repayment of my licence fee for the negative publicity they’ve given people like me.