Interview with Josie Bevan, blogger at prisonbag.com

Josie Bevan’s husband Rob was imprisoned last June for nine years for conspiracy to defraud HMRC. She blogs at Prison Bag about her experience as a wife and a mother. Follow her on Twitter.

While researching Injustice I came across Penelope Gibbs’s article about the multiple punishments that follow conviction. In particular there is the impact on the family of the convicted person. How did it feel for you when you heard the guilty verdict?

My husband’s trial was so long – 9 months… And the jury were out for 5 weeks deliberating and so I wasn’t at court when the verdict was delivered. My husband had to call me and tell me. I remember every second of that call. The tone of his voice as he prepared to tell me the awful news. We knew that the tariff for his alleged offence was 10 – 16 so a guilty verdict was almost unthinkable… But it came none the less. I was almost impossible to take in. A bit like a bereavement where you think that there must have been some sort of mistake, and that someone is going to give you a reprieve. I literally went into shock. I was shaking so much that I couldn’t keep what had happened from my daughter who was only 9 and didn’t know anything about the trial. I had to tell her without my husband what was happening because I looked so upset that that she thought that he was dead. It was like watching her skin being flayed off to tell her that her dad would be going to prison for the next decade. She was absolutely hysterical. I remember thinking. “This is it… This is the thing that is going to break my beautiful little girl. She is broken now… Smashed”.
A bit like a bereavement where you think that there must have been some sort of mistake, and that someone is going to give you a reprieve

Your husband seems to have been given a very severe punishment for an alleged crime that made him a danger to nobody. How do your children feel about the justice system now?

When you have experienced British justice functioning as, well, basically injustice you suddenly realise that everything you read in the papers is only half of any story. You stop believing that our system is just and that our institutions are fair. It is like being in the film “The Matrix.” Suddenly you are awake and the world looks very different. Immediately I started to feel more at home outside of “polite society” on the edges of existence. I cast myself into the role of an outcast and I still feel more at home at the prison than anywhere else, even though we have never been involved in crime in any shape or form…

You wrote elsewhere about your daughter’s upset at losing her father during her formative years. Are there ways you think families, and especially children, can be better supported when parents are imprisoned?

When a family member goes to prison it is devastating. I thought perhaps someone “official” might get in contact and check that we were coping, but they didn’t and don’t. There are charities that you can access, but often when your life is falling apart it is hard reach out and get help. I didn’t even realise that I wasn’t coping until I lost so much weight that people started to worry about me. Luckily I have a lot of support and was able to tell people in my life what was happening, but many people don’t have that luxury and live in fear of judgement and discrimination, so they suffer in silence. The way to support families better would be to give everyone as much contact time as possible – Phone calls are expensive from prison and visits hard to get and difficult to access. Visits need to be longer, freer and more frequent. Prisoners should have subsidised phone calls to their family, and not be charged extra as is currently the case.

You definitely find out who your friends are when you become a prison family

How have your relationships with friends and Rob’s former colleagues been affected by his conviction?

You definitely find out who your friends are when you become a prison family. I have been very lucky and been incredibly well supported by almost everyone in my life. My daughter’s school were amazing, as were my family and friends… But again, this was helped by the fact that his “crime” was non violent and the conviction clearly dubious.

As anyone who’s been convicted knows, once that happens, you’re fair game to be smeared and caricatured in the media. How has Rob fared in this respect, and how do you feel about the children seeing him reconstructed as a “crook”?

I was very angry when I read the first press on Rob’s case. Everything written about it was based on a single HMRC press release containing allegations that were never even presented at court, far less evidenced. It was a crock of lies and misdirection and literally made my blood boil. That is why I originally started my blog – I felt desperate that our story had never been told and wanted people to be able to access our side of the story if they chose to do so. Our children have never given a damn about what the media say as they understand how it works. They also know exactly what and who their father is. Having grown up with him they correctly assume that they know him better than anyone else!

There seems to be a recent trend of support for mothers in prison, who are separated from their children. Yet it seems to be forgotten that many male prisoners are fathers. What sort of support is there for children without fathers?

There is next to none. Prisons don’t even collect data on whether men have children. After a certain age children aren’t allowed to sit on their fathers laps at visiting. It’s very sad. Letters go undelivered: My daughter no longer sends her dad cards as so many of the things she has spent hours making and drawing for him are not delivered and are retained in his prop. He’ll get them in 2021 I guess! There are some good charitable schemes that try to keep contact between fathers and children, like “Story Book Dads” a charity which make recordings of Dads reading books so that children can have a bedtime story read by their Dad, but not every prison runs this scheme so we haven’t had anything like this. And the longer the sentence, the worse it gets. 2/3 of the male children of prisoners go on to become prisoners themselves one day – it’s not hard to see why. Prison makes them semi-orphans and causes so much damage. My youngest is now 11 and sleeps with me every night because her nightmares about her dad became so bad. If I ever go out she calls me every 20 minutes or so to check that I am OK. Her life feels unstable and precarious with only me looking out for her.

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