With the forthcoming launch of his Prison to Parenthood project, David explains how his own experiences with alcohol and the family court led him to set up this new pilot scheme.
2018 was the strangest year I’ve known. It began in a prison cell with all the usual, well intended resolutions that this year would be different and to be fair, it has certainly been that. The year ended with me assisting self-representing fathers in the family court and launching the Prison to Parenthood project in prisons. The journey has not just been emotional and full of ups and downs, it has been life changing. The past 12 months have changed me, changed how I see life.
I’m an alcoholic with the most adorable 3-year old child. The person I am in drink does not in any way resemble the person I am sober. As a drunk I am above the law. I’m smarter than everyone else, I believe in shortcuts and have no care nor thought for the consequences of my behaviour on the people I’m close to.
Whilst I was in prison I was detoxified and fortunate enough to be given a place on the drug and alcohol wing. It took 3 attempts but I’ve been sober for almost a year now. My marriage ended in 2017 and my relapse to alcohol was severe. Two bottles of brandy and ten pints of strong ale per day was the norm. I yearned to be sober again and have the relationship with my young son that I had been deprived of. I genuinely believed that if I could see him, I would stay sober. In prison I was repeatedly told that it was a priority to repair the damage I’d done to my mind and body, to recognise the effects of my actions on my family and only then could I embark upon a journey to be reunited with my son.
When I was released from prison, I started the family court process with an application for contact with my son. Legal aid is not available any longer for family court cases save for parties who are victims of domestic violence. This was a journey I had to travel alone, and I had to learn a lot of law if I was going to succeed. Before I sat down with books, papers, my computer and a printer, I remember thinking of the task ahead. I was an alcoholic father with a history of assault, and I expected a District Judge to give me safe contact with my son rather than siding with the opposing argument of my son’s mother who by now had moved on to a new partner and introduced my son to him as a new “daddy”.
I discussed the emotional issues I had with my key worker and to this day I have no idea where the clarity in my thinking had come from. What people said or thought, the social media assassinations, their opinions and their bitterness had previously served to initiate a relapse to alcohol. This time that didn’t happen. I learned that if I turned my life around and continued on the path to recovery then I would be the best version of myself and any judge in the land would surely be able to see that.
This was a whole new thought process for me. I completed many courses to help in my recovery and address my offending behaviour. I had a blind faith that if I did the right thing then my son and I would be reunited. It required patience, effort and thinking before I acted.
The journey through the family court and recovery ran parallel to each other. The more I recovered, the more confidence I gained in legal matters. Halfway through my court case friends and others asked me to help represent them in their cases. I duly obliged. Up until now I have assisted in over 10 cases and currently, I’m too busy to take on any more.
After 8 hearings and with a lot of tears and self-doubt, I “won” in the family court. There was a small moment of smug joy as I walked out of court. It was short-lived however because I was aware that my role was about to recommence and I needed to focus on that. At the end of October my dream which had seemed a million miles away happened. I made it happen. I did it the right way. Playing the long game has served me well and I now have regular contact with my lad and we have an amazing relationship again.
As I lay in bed one night it didn’t sit comfortably with me that there were other parents imprisoned who were in a similar position to the one I’d been in. People who are sadly addicted to a substance and, as a result have lost contact with their children and resorted to a life of crime because they could see no other way out. I tried to find the tenuous link in my head and then it hit me that addiction, reoffending and family ties are all big problem areas in the criminal justice system. I remembered blaming everyone else for the state my life was in but now recognised that only I could change that. Out of nowhere, the Prison to Parenthood project was born.
The purpose of Prison to Parenthood is to offer hope to parents in prison that if they can recognise the importance of addressing their own issues such as addiction and offending, show positive change and commit to it, then with help from people like myself and others who have trodden the same path into the family court they can have the family life they crave again. The right to family life is an article in its own right in the Human Rights Act. If a prisoner can show that desire to succeed in transforming themselves then we can help. We know that courts want evidence of rehabilitative programmes undertaken, proof of engagement with the probation service, attendance on courses and many other positive steps but we are living proof that addiction and reoffending can be reduced on the path to resuming contact with our kids. 30% of the people I have assisted in court are addicts. We are people who have made mistakes but not serious enough mistakes for our children to be deprived of a parent for life. Prison to Parenthood can assist in making court applications, advise on court finances, help file statements in a format that the court require and attend court on the day with an applicant when it is possible.
I’m excited about this project. The support from prison governors, mental health teams, drug and alcohol teams and the like has been overwhelming. The programme will be piloted in the new year and hopefully 2019 will be a great year.
The end of the year is when I reflect on things. I was in court recently for a full day trial with a father wanting more contact with his daughter. We won our case. I had just assisted a gentleman in beating a city barrister which meant that a young girl who will probably never meet me will see her dad and the dad who had hugged me outside court can now watch his daughter at ballet class. That feeling is priceless. There is no money in the world that can buy it. There is no drink or drug that can give me that feeling.
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