What it means to be home for good
Many of our newly-released Longford Scholars are beginning – or continuing – their university studies at the same time as adjusting to being out, being back at home, being with their families, and with everything that goes with that. For Longford Blog, current scholar Mark reflects on the good things and the challenges he has faced since his recent release.
I want to try to give others an understanding of the challenges and difficulties those who have left custody face around adjusting back into family life while, at the same time, studying and trying to become a rehabilitated, functioning member of society.
Firstly, we all have a past, and I know there’ll be other people out there in my position who feel alone in their desire to change while still battling old habits so as to become a better person. Since release, some of the things I have noticed are stigmas and pre-judgements from those who don’t know what we have been through.
Change isn’t easy at any time
There is little understanding of how difficult it is redefining yourself when you have your past behaviours, the lack of self-belief you can feel, the lack of confidence and/or lack of education that gets in the way of taking the step to embark on a university degree. Change isn’t easy at any time especially when facing how others may view you and the impact this can have.
When I look back to my old impulsive choices – negative choices – that I made without thinking, now I believe that these actions grew out of the rejection I faced as a child from my family, the people who were meant to love me. The lack of support I received contributed to behaviours in me that led at times to people getting hurt, often through what I would say. It was, I now see, ‘people-pleasing’ and trying to fit in. The negative opinions that people throw at you can be a huge hinderance when you’ve actively tried to change your life and be better.
How day-release helps
It was good to have the opportunity to come home on ROTL before coming home full-time. I could start to plan for release and to think about what a new routine might look like. Being home meant I was able to do work around the house that was certainly required and overdue – like decorating the wear and tear in the children’s bedrooms and other areas of the home that have come with their additional needs around behaviour.
And it has allowed me to spend time with my partner and children, rebuilding those ties and bonds. I could take them to school and be part of their education and be visible to their teachers. I attended their hospital appointments and, thereby, took some of the pressure off my partner. There were fun family activities too. I began get to know them again as they have grown up a lot in the time I was away.
Most of the time, then, it was a positive exercise. But it was also very hard for the children to see me come and then go. They couldn’t understand why Dad couldn’t stay at home. One thing I will never forget was when I came home and decorated and changed their bedrooms. They didn’t believe I would do it before I had to go back to prison. But I did.
It’s not as simple as it sounds: you are always worrying about when you must be back at the prison and therefore spend a lot of time clock-watching. If you are late, even by five minutes, you can be stopped from doing ROTL again.
Home for good
Now that I am home full-time, those time pressures have gone. Yet, there are new challenges – living with four children whilst working and studying. A few months in, I am pleased to say that I have managed to keep up with my university work and fully intend to keep going. But it is not easy. I am at work four days on and then have four days off. I try to spend one full day in the local library but this doesn’t always happen as anything can come up with four children.
When I am not at work, I tend to do the cooking as my partner does everything the rest of the time. The huge hike in the cost of living has had its impact too. I am now fully responsible for my four children, my partner and the household finances. At times that is scary. How to make ends meet causes me to lose sleep. Unexpected bills like school trips can be a huge burden. When I came home I needed a car to get to work but, due to my criminal past, the insurance was much higher than I had expected.
In prison time was never an issue with my studies. Now it’s hard to find. To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for what the change would mean or look like. There have been obstacles to climb.
Another challenge facing those like me who haven’t had a regular education is finding the continuing motivation and support required to study at university level. But I’m living proof – having almost completed my BA Hons in Psychology with the Open University – that with the right people like The Longford Trust behind you, it is possible and achievable. If I can do it, others can too.
My advice would be to be honest with those who are working with you, not to feel it’s wrong to be struggling or finding things hard as you almost certainly will at points. When the journey feels lonely and challenging have faith in what you can achieve, take it in small steps, and always make your goals SMART – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related.
If you are in prison or newly-released and want to study for a degree but worry about managing the challenges that will present, go to The Longford Trust’s website to find out what support is available. Or email our Scholarship Manager, Clare Lewis.