Sunday, 29 July 2007


It’s raining. Surprise! Surprise! And I’ve a case full of dirty washing. To wash or not to wash? I can’t peg it out in the garden, and my dryer is broken. The only solution is to drape the radiators with wet clothes and pray the sun will shine tomorrow. Problems with wet washing are mere condensation compared with the flooding, families in Yorkshire and the Midlands have had to endure. All their life long possessions swept away.

Dan and I got back from our holiday in Wales last night. It was fun, even though it rained quite a lot. If you holiday in the UK what can you expect, especially this year when rainfall has broken all records.

The cottage we stayed in was miles away from the nearest village and we had to drive along narrow overgrown lanes in order to access it. Gripping my seat, at every bend and corner, I prayed no one would be coming the other way. The accommodation was a converted granary, owned by a farmer, our only neighbour. It was a honey coloured, stone built cottage with wooden beams in the ceiling. Geese, chickens, cats, dogs, and a pony we discovered one evening eating grass in the backyard, were our only visitors. The panoramic view from our bedroom widow took in the Berwyn mountains which we spent a whole day climbing. Aranag Fawr which is nearly 3000 ft. kept us occupied on another day. Cool weather is more conducive to climbing. Sunshine makes it twice as hard. Bring on the rain!

The sun did shine on Tuesday and we visited Portmeirion, the village where the sixties series The Prisoner was filmed. It’s so pretty. The brightly coloured Italian style houses nestle into tree-covered hills sloping down to the beach along which Patrick McGoohan was chased by the balloon. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis the Welsh aristocrat and architect who designed the village in 1926, made it a charitable trust upon his death so it has to remain in tact. It can never be turned into a theme park with a Prisoner Roller Coaster or Dodge the Big White Ball game.

Dan and I like Wales. We think it’s under-rated. We’ve thought of selling up and moving there, but I don’t want to move too far away from family and friends. A compromise would be buying a caravan and spending weekends away, and one of the objectives of the holiday was to view caravan sites.

Shelagh, a friend of a friend owns a caravan in the Snowdonia National Park and we’d arranged to visit her and her husband. Although we’d never met before, we have something in common. Their son is also a prisoner, convicted of drugs offences. He’s in a UK prison. For the past year he’s been allowed out at weekends to see his wife and child. For the past six months he’s been allowed out to work during the week. Because of this gradual reintroduction to the outside world his rehabilitation should go smoothly. Unlike Jon who’ll be put on a plane, God knows when, or where. He’s fortunate, he’ll have us picking him up no matter what. Another person might not be so lucky. Although there are some gradual release programmes, Jon told us, most prisoners released from the Arizona prison system, are turfed out with $50.

Shelagh's husband, Paul, had gone fishing. Perhaps to avoid our visit. But she was happy to show us around her van and make us a cup of tea. As the visit was arranged by a friend, we’d only spoken on the phone, and although she sounded friendly, I’d warned Dan not to mention our mutual prisoners unless she did first. When the tea and pleasantries were over, she did. “It’s been our bolt hole, this place. I don’t know how we’d have coped with the past five years if we hadn’t been able to escape to here,” she said, with that sad expression which communicated more to me than her words.
“Yes, I suppose I buried myself in my work. It helped me not to dwell on things.”
“I gave up work straight away,” Shelagh admitted. “I couldn’t face telling anyone where I worked. They still don’t know that Phillip’s in prison.”
“I know the feeling,” I said, “but we found it better when we’d told everyone. But it was six months before I did, and I swore Dan and Kathryn to secrecy. I kept it all festering inside. Then one day I broke down in work, and spilled it all out to my manager. I’d imagined that everyone would turn against me. That I could even lose my job, which was ridiculous. I can’t believe how out of proportion I’d got it all, especially with my knowledge of psychology. I should have known better. I knew the damage that repressing things causes. But it's different when it's yourself you're dealing with. When I did start to tell people, I felt better and everyone was supportive.
“I suppose I was lucky in that respect,” Dan said. “Working for myself, I had no colleagues, so I didn’t need to tell anyone until I was ready to do so. With it happeneing in America it didn't make the papers over here for a long time, so it was easier to keep it secret. But you have to accept what’s happened. Don’t be blaming yourself, Shelagh. It’s not your fault.”
“I’ve not told anyone, even now,” Shelagh said. “I didn’t tell my husband for six months.”
I was shocked. “How could you keep it a secret from your husband? I asked.”
“It was me who opened the summons for Phillip’s arrest. I couldn’t tell Paul. I knew it would break his heart.” My heart ached for her; for them both. How could she carry that burden alone for six months, and not tell her husband. I would never have coped without Dan and Kathryn. We supported each other.
“I had to tell him eventually, of course, and it did break his heart. He’s never got over it. He gave up work too.
“It’s sad you’ve had to carry this burden yourselves. I found that people were surprised; shocked even, but generally sympathetic. Many who are parents themselves empathised with a situation that could happen to anyone.”
“Yes,” she said looking down at the wooden floor, “but, I’m too ashamed. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone. I still can’t accept what’s happened. I keep asking myself, why? I blame myself. My other two children are fine. I brought them all up the same. I don’t understand it.”
“I went through all the blame and shame,” I said. “I really believed I’d have bricks thrown through the windows or have ‘drug dealer’ daubed on the walls of our house. I realise now how irrational my thoughts were. As I told my family and friends it became easier somehow, everyone was kind. But it still doesn’t take away the pain of having your child in prison.”
“I just can’t do it," she said. "Don’t you feel ashamed?”
“No!” Dan said. “He’s our son and we love him. But we’ve committed no crime, even though it seems like we’ve served the sentence along with him. Both our sons were adults and responsible for their own behaviour. You’ve taken too much upon yourself. It’s not your fault.”
“I felt deeply ashamed at one time, but not now," I said. "I’ve came to terms with what’s happened. It’s been a hard slog, but I’ve accepted that it’s happened and nothing can change that. The thing that helped me most was a meditation course I did in the July after Jon’s arrest. The teacher there said to me, “The past is gone, nothing can change it. It’s a waste of energy ruminating about why it happened, blaming yourself and feeling regrets. No one knows what the future holds for any of us, so it’s a waste of energy being anxious about the future. And if you are not regretting the past or worrying about the future, you can live in the now, and you’ll have positive energy to cope with what’s happening now, and you’ll be able to do everything possible to help your son. Negative feelings sap your energy and lead to depression and anxiety.”
“He was right,” I said. “It’s a wonderful philosophy, but difficult to stick to. It has helped me to do what I can for Jon. We’ve both done everything possible to help him,” I said looking at Dan. “I can keep positive for a while, but then I start to slide back.”
“You’ve done well. I’ve read some of Jon’s blog.”
“Yes. I’m not proud of his crime, but I’m very proud of the way he’s coped with prison, and how he’s created something positive, the blog, out of such a negative situation. He has people writing to him from all over the world. And he’s given the other prisoners, some who’ll never be released, a window onto the outside they would never have had. 'He's shone a light into a dark place' someone commented on his blog."
“They’ll both be out soon, our sons.”
“Yes,” I said, I hope … … ...”
We heard the voices of children approaching. It was her granddaughter with her friend.
“Hush!” Shelagh whispered. “No one knows on the site. Jemma knows, but her friend doesn’t.”

“Hi Jemma,” I said. “Can you show us round the site?”

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

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