My name is Tracey and I was convicted of fraud in November 2011. My sentence, which was a custody possibility sentence was scaled down to 60 hours community service and a one year suspended sentence.
After a marriage breakdown, in 2003, and a subsequent residency battle for my two young children, I descended the slippery slope into alcoholism. That journey took me seven years of a slow decline into hell. The times between the drink were the hardest times to manage and the only balm for that terror in my mind was another drink. The times between drink became shorter and shorter and there was no road back. I never paid a bill, I lost my home, my children and every ounce of dignity and respect for myself. My love affair with drink and then ultimately, crime had begun. I drank the country and then some dry. I was 39 years old, in a foreign country, working in an international boarding school, a beautiful home, a car, all the trappings of a well earned existence, displayed so very well to the outside world. But, the drink got a hold of me, the torture over the loss of my children, the knowing I had run away from the UK to escape the pain, the hurt, the destruction of a man I was once married to. He stated he was determined to ruin me and he took away my home, and finally, standing on the doorstep of the home we shared with our two children, he told me “I am going to make sure I destroy you” and that he did.
Family Law courts allowed that to happen, CAFCASS allowed what was once, a happy, loving relationship between a mother and her two children, to be eroded by a man who was determined to see me lying in the gutter.
I returned to the UK in 2010, joined AA for a while, off the drink life seemed to be going well. In January 2011, letters began to appear from debt recovery companies, regarding my solicitor’s fees from the court case over my children. I was living with my father and my stepmother and to my horror, scared, and all those feelings of what had happened in 2004 – 2006, reared up again and I took out two credit cards in the name of my stepmother. Instead of dealing with the debt recovery agency in a sensible manner, panic took over me and I committed the fraud. This was brought to light in May 2011 and I pleaded guilty to the crimes which were brought to court in November 2011.
I was asked to attend the police station on a voluntary basis, which I did and I have served my sentence. I do have to state that I was treated fairly and with kindness by the police. The judge, (who I wrote to, regarding the name of my mother, who is a well known character in my home town and I didn’t want her name read out in court, as she has mental health issues, with the press being in the court room) was hard on me, but I had only put myself there, nobody else.
I was convinced that I was going to prison as I was informed by my solicitor on that day that the judge was considering all options in sentencing. I knew, with some research of similar cases, that I was at least looking at a term of 18 weeks. I took a bag with me to the court, prepared, but had instructed my solicitor that I would want an appeal were I to be given a custodial. My presentence report provided by probation was excellent, because I worked with probation rather than against them and I certainly listened at every opportunity to what was being said and asked questions. My mitigating circumstances were presented in an articulate way in that I had admitted guilt, whereby the credit card companies had not produced all of the evidence, but rather than waiting for the evidence to be fully submitted, I asked that the judge deal with me on the basis that I was guilty on the two counts.
Since sentencing, my life has changed immensely. In January 2012, I went to the doctors with an ache under my arm, my doctor sent me referred me to breast clinic and after diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound, a mass was found in my left breast. Biopsy followed and subsequently a diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, was confirmed. This is the earliest form of breast cancer, still in the ducts and does not metasise to any other parts of the body. I had a lumpectomy and a course of radiation and nine months later, I have been given the all clear. I have worked hard, am due to begin a degree course in February with the Open University and I am working for a friend translating her export documents. I have got married to a man who I met in AA and have a home that I love and cherish and my life is very different from the hell I was living.
Was committing a crime the best thing that ever happened to me? Absolutely not. I could never be a person who will advocate that a person sorts themselves out when faced with a prison sentence. That said, the experiences around my research, the women I came across serving my community service, being on the Unlock forums, as one of a very few women, has had such an impact on me. I was the only female on the health and safety course that is a requirement of all “clients” on probation have to take before community service commences. My probation officer was very aware that I would be a sole female on the community service so she moved me to a different office, where I could serve my community payback hours with other women offenders. This eased my worry on that score. Not because I wanted to be treated differently, but that I would have felt more productive with women and men than I would have, being a lone female in a van full of men. My probation officer, a woman herself, was very pro-women and their rehabilitation and I was lucky in that respect, having her assigned to my case. I do know that not all women are as blessed as I was.
Recovery from an addiction, is never easy. That tears you up inside, as my problems really didn’t begin until I put the alcohol down. Being without my children, is like being stabbed every single day. Never watching them grow up, wondering if they will ever want to see me again. Only time and me being sober and showing them that I am the mother they can rely on. The Family Law system let my children and I, down. I played my part in the breakdown of the marriage, but to be emotionally abused by my husband and to have my children taken and turned against me, by a man who once loved me, was my over the cliff point.
Recovery from committing an offence and accepting that one did wrong is also never easy, it takes a lot of soul searching, a lot of self honesty to come to terms with the guilt, the hurt I have felt at causing my father the worry and concern. My crimes are part of a life, that I no longer lead. But I am still the person that committed those crimes, always will be, I have come to terms with that. I simply had to. My husband, who when I met him, I hid the crimes I committed from him, but eventually he knew that something was eating away at me. I never told him until he could take it no longer and just before my case, we did split up. He came and found me, three weeks after my sentencing, having read the newspaper article. It has taken a lot for me to open up to him, full of fear, but with guidance from him, it all came pouring out.
My alcohol addiction?, I have not taken a drink now for over two years. My alcohol addiction was never to blame for my crimes. The only person to blame for those was me. I am a child of a schizophrenic mother, so from an early age, I was the parent, my mother was a dangerous parent in that I was neglected, never fed, my mother never paid a bill, to run deeper into this would have achieved little by way of explaining the crimes I committed. I committed them, I am almost at the end of my sentence and my life is moving forward.
With my children, it can only be time where I am stronger and they can see that I am no longer a drunk. The sadness I feel swamps me, but I have a life and the sadness runs concurrently alongside I have done work on my self, it has been a tough journey, but one that I am now beginning to enjoy. I face obstacles as they come along and am much less anxious than I have ever been, for years I had plenty to hide, now no longer and that feeling of peace is priceless. I lead a very simple life with my husband and our dog, enjoy my home, my garden and taking care of my mother, along with the work that is home based. I aim to write, nothing earth shattering, but short stories to put together for my children to perhaps read one day to their own children. I write to my children every week, with no response, but I somehow gain some peace from those letters.
Crime never pays. It hurts people, it destroys and erodes families, trust, love, all the basics that bring enjoyment and pleasure to life. I have hurt people immensely, making amends is not easy to face and the only way I can make amends is if I am allowed to. I, in making amends have to be strong enough to face my victim, my father’s wife, my stepmother. At the time of writing both of them want nothing to do with me, I can understand that, it was personal, it hurt them. Despite family feuds that have happened, my behaviour is what I have to live with. I am slowly coming to terms with this. I in committing the crimes, thought I was hurting a person who had done my family a lot of damage, but in throwing the hot coal, I was burned first.
Almost a year since my court appearance, life has calmed to a pleasant time for me. I have lost a lot, but gained something very different and with that, I shall move forward slowly and confidently and try not to look back too much and learn that guilt will only do me damage inwards and cause me pain. I have paid my price, far, far higher than the sentence and my belief is, sentencing is about change, about being able to live a life with a conviction and moving on from the punishment period to reformed.
Taken from Issue 18