Yes I am! Scoff if you want to, but Justin Bieber singing “Love Yourself” is hot – end of story. Okha, the barometer of all things cool and also my effortlessly groovy niece Lucca agree. I rest my case. There is something surprisingly beautiful about his cocktail of youth and overexposure, something unique and inimitable, which when coupled with the tats and that bod, is like catnip to me at this stage of life. Yes sisters, our peri-menopausal surges can be pretty much on a level with a 17 year old boy’s, (not that I’m suggesting finding one…). It is as if the remaining eggs are jumping from the ovaries into the pre-fallopian void screaming “Come on love, there are precious few of us left down here…lets make this one count…!”
There are a lot of things that I am discovering about myself now without my beloved wingman. It turns out for example that I don’t really like cooking as much as we all thought I did, and actually, it is vastly less time consuming to just eat children’s left overs or live on avocado, salmon and cherry tomatoes.
Also, I quite like eschewing the virtues of Radio 4 and listening to Grimmy on Radio 1 in the mornings (his irreverence just makes me laugh), and I really really like going out again – it’s fun! After years of being endlessly content to watch box sets snuggled up on the couch with Tala asleep upstairs and Okha being badly behaved enough for all of us, a new era of sociability is dawning.
Conversely I also realise that it is super useful to have someone around to do tall jobs…but fortunately Okha ensures a generous flow of DIY fodder through the house and we manage. People are so good to us and we want for nothing socially or practically. I am truly blessed.
Any doubts about the fact that I was embarking upon a full scale midlife crisis were dispelled when my deliciously stylish French friend Sophie handed me down a pair of leather trousers worth more than the entire contents of my wardrobe and I have not been able to take them off since. If someone would just give me a Ferrari… The jury is no longer out (on at least two levels!). I’m forty three, my husband is in the slammer: I am ‘aving a crisis and I’m going to blooming well enjoy it.
I feel sassy and “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” about the whole thing. I didn’t choose this, in fact there is probably nothing on earth that would have entreated me to get back into the world again and leave my contented bubble of domestic bliss and marital harmony, other than the precise situation that did occur, but here I am, in full breakdown, supervised only by a ten year old.
Viewed less derisively, some tentative trusting part of myself knows that it is invigorating to break down, and that change is good, or at least inevitable, but at the moment I feel like a landscape after a forest fire, charred and smouldering and devoid of the structures that hitherto dominated it, waiting to see what will grow.
It’s not a comfortable thing for a man to watch his family survive and change between the brief snatches of connection in the visiting hall. Worse is to see them not surviving and sinking under the weight of the bills and the single parenting and the shame. When you sit in your cell at night wondering if you are any use to your family anymore, or whether you will have any point for them when you get out, it must be like pulling at a loose thread in a piece of cloth and watching in morbid fascination as the life you dream of returning to unravels.
We talk about these fears in so far as we can in the fleeting 10 minute calls that are always interrupted too soon by the beeps indicating that we are about to be disconnected. There is no other way through than to trust and to hope and to pray and to love each other. These will be long years.
I learn that there will be no release on a tag for Rob. Only those serving sentences of four years or less are eligible, so there is no hope for us with his nine year stretch. Eventually he will get to a cat D and there will be day release but when or where and if and how are all unanswerable questions.
Prison is already a terrible punishment. There is more deprivation than you can imagine if you have not experienced it first hand. It is disempowering and dehumanising. The only thing that could possibly save these men from what they could become in this environment is connection with their families. For the families, having a father or husband or son or brother inside is like a constant gaping wound. It serves no-one to increase the collateral pain by making visiting and communication so hard.
Why does it have to be so inefficient? I write Rob an email every day, not because I have anything meaningful to say, (in fact my mails are mostly senseless drivel by the time I have finished cleaning up after the day and have crawled bedwards), but I want him to have a daily snippet of kindness and love. No one processes the emails until boredom has reached some kind of zenith in the staff room however, or the doughnuts have run out and someone cracks and delivers the week long backlog, so that suddenly there are four or five missives awaiting him after work in his cell, and then a dearth of humanity until the next sporadic delivery. Ditto with his letters to me. Four at a time drop onto my doormat, then nothing. Books take roughly 5 weeks to clear security. Does the prison actually read them in their entirety before green lighting them?
If we have any aspiration at all towards rehabilitation we need more humanising influences, more love and more meaning in these mens lives, and even if we are utterly intent on punishing them to the point where they are entirely broken into some kind of utopian submission, could we at least improve family access for the children? Supposedly there are family visits at Highpoint roughly every month – a 5 hour session that has the potential to actually facilitate some kind of half normal interaction. Rob applied in August. The next one that might have spaces is in February. Maybe. If you are a believer.