Meeting your idol: one scholar’s experience
What is it like meeting your idol who inspired a major life change?
Longford scholar Emma read Helena Kennedy QC’s “Eve was Framed” whilst in prison. It sparked her decision to study law. Five years on Emma works at JUSTICE, a legal charity where human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy is President.
Longford Blog caught up with Emma during a busy working week…..
Recently you met your idol. What was that like?
Really overwhelming. After looking up to her for so many years I was ridiculously nervous, so many people say don’t meet your heroes but she couldn’t have been nicer. She talked about her love of Longford and all it stands for. Then I told her that my personal officer in prison had given me her book “Eve was Framed” to read and about the huge impact it’s had on my life ever since. It felt as if she’d written it about me, I could relate to every word of it. Which made me cry. And that made her cry!
What struck you most about the book “Eve was Framed,” published more than 25 years ago, to highlight evidence of unequal treatment of women in the courts?
It made me realise I wasn’t on my own. At the time of my arrest there were very few refuge places left in the county I lived in. The fact that I worked full time and didn’t have children meant I wasn’t a priority for what little there was. I felt I had nowhere to go. The treatment I received from the police was incredibly poor, constantly being doubted about how bad things had been — being told multiple times, “If it was that bad, you’d just leave him”. Then finally on the day of my sentencing my barrister said to me, “You’ll be going to prison today, this judge doesn’t like women.” That’s not OK. I’ve always felt I was treated much harsher just for being female, I’ve always taken responsibility for what I did and I’ve paid the price tenfold. There are so many women in prison, just like me, with similar experiences, women who have lost their homes, their jobs and sometimes their children, just adding to the cycle of abuse and criminality. All over one mistake. We’re not immoral, or trouble makers we just need to be supported and believed. And to think it can all come down to one day, one Friday morning and a judge who doesn’t like women.
That’s not OK, I’m still really angry.
Why did that lead you to turn to education?
Really, it was down to that one book. I decided to study Law to learn about how it works, why it’s made, how it can be changed. My undergraduate degree is in Law & Criminal Justice and when I first started, I did want to become a lawyer but the more I learnt the more I realised I could have a bigger impact working in policy. Then I studied for my MSc in Clinical Criminology which is based much more on social science and the ways in which policy and law affect wider society.
And now you’re doing a six-month paid internship with JUSTICE, how is that?
I love it! It’s amazing to be taken seriously. I’ve tried to get a job for years and really struggled, so doing something I really care about with a charity doing such influential work is amazing. Everyone there has been so welcoming and supportive, I couldn’t ask for more. I’m currently assisting on the research for a project on Racial Disparity in the Youth Criminal Justice System, which is fascinating. This is definitely the place to be to change the world!
I’d love to stay on past my six months but I know it’s not that simple. So, for now I’m working hard and make the most of it. Moving has been a huge change for me but I know it was the right thing to do. I’m becoming more and more aware of the many incredible charities doing such such important work. The opportunities are endless.
What would you say to your teenage self about reaching this point?
That’s a long time ago, and the last time I was this happy. I don’t even recognise the person I was 5 years ago… but I’m proud of myself, for the first time in my life. My confidence is growing every day. I really like the person I’m becoming.