“Doing suhoor alone, doing iftar alone, the whole of Ramadhan feeling isolated within my home. I was constantly wondering if he’s eaten or able to break his fast..”
Part II: Bullied and bereft: the painful consequences for our children
It affected my daughter the most because she what you call a “Daddy’s girl”. She was so used to having him there so she would always question, “Where is he? Where’s he gone?” Even on the day of the arrest, it was “Why isn’t Abu coming home?” I just told her Abu had gone to work somewhere, because what do you tell a 3 year-old where their father’s gone?
I had to keep reassuring her because she was extremely close to her father. She didn’t take it very well and the following summer when I took her to school for the first time, she came back running, shouting, “I want Abu”. I told her I can’t make him just appear out of nowhere, you know he’s not here. She got emotional and started crying. I knew she wanted her dad. I felt guilty because I couldn’t provide that for her.
She became very reserved, and just completely shut down. She did not want to speak to anyone. She realised that her dad’s not coming back. She became very afraid of the police after the raid, whenever she would see them she would say, “Mum, I don’t like them, why are they here?” Even if it was just a police car going past, or someone in uniform, she would hide behind me and I’d have to teach her that it’s okay, she doesn’t have to be afraid of them, they’re not here to do anything to you or to me. She became very sensitive to any loud noises at the time, so it affected her the most out of my children, because she was the most aware during the raid.
My youngest at the time was oblivious because he was a toddler. It’s affected their ability to make friend, to communicate what they’re feeling, because they were too afraid to say “my dad’s in prison”. Even the teachers will always say they are very quiet, and they don’t talk much. They were worried how their friends going to react or how people would judge them for that. They felt afraid to share it out of fear of judgement. My son started getting interrogated by other kids. My daughter experienced it at secondary school, when people started to refer to her as a ‘child of a prisoner’. Things were circulated on social media, and she experienced bullying. It took them a long time to come out their shell, before they actually felt comfortable enough to speak to their friends about their circumstances at home. I’ve had to deal with it as well, trying to go back into a work environment.
What affected my daughter more was seeing him on the news. As they get older, they try to look for themselves, what the media has said about their dad. That’s been an ongoing thing that they’ve been trying to overcome and trying to come to terms with that. My daughter started despising him, and she didn’t want to speak to him. This was going from someone who was always a daddy’s girl to not wanting to speak to her dad at all. It was a complete U-turn. My children struggled to understand why we had to go through the consequences as well, why do we have to get punished and suffer like that? That was very hard for them to accept and overcome that this is how life is.
It was a month or two after he had been arrested that we were able to first visit. It was a high security prison, so it took a while to clear security. I had to juggle three children and get them through the complete pat down search, removal of your hijab, everything. I was afraid they would be worried of the dogs because they had never been that close to them. What bothered me most was how they were checking the baby, taking every item of clothing off and they even checked his nappy. It was so invasive. It’s a one-month year old baby being strip searched by a prison guard. You are not allowed to bring in any food or liquid and only a baby bottle is allowed in. How are you meant to comfort the baby during that period knowing the baby has needs? If I need to change the baby or go to the toilet, I had to take all 3 children with me and then we would be searched again before going back in. So, it took a while to get used to that environment.
The heavy price of every prison visit
It was extremely emotional because it was the first time he was going to see his baby. Seeing the baby and then trying to contain his emotion in front of others was hard. He did not want to appear weak or emotional in that environment. It was extremely difficult to watch him go through that, as well as trying to contain myself for the sake of my children. The older two were just excited that they were finally getting to see their dad after a whole month. When we had to leave, my daughter asked him, “Abu, are you coming with us?” How do you then say to your child, “No, I’m not allowed to”? She then started to question why he can’t just come with us. I just had to interrupt and explain, “Abu needs to stay here because Abu has work.”
She then started referring to it as ‘Abu’s house’. It took her a while to understand that it’s actually a prison. It took her a good year or so to come to terms with it. It was extremely emotional and mentally draining having to experience that, and then having to watch her get upset at the end of every visit. You are already using all your energy trying to contain your own emotions and then seeing your child go through that, as a mother, your heart is breaking.
The first prison was nearly 2 hours distance and the visits were not the easiest because they were at 9:00am, so I would have to get the kids up at 5:00am. Then I’d have to make sure they were up, ready, fed and then accommodate for traffic. We travelled early hours in the morning to get there and then the visit itself was only 1.5 hours long. We had to go through all that 4-hour prep to get there only for 1.5 hour visit… I remember people would go an hour before visit time so that they can get in early to have the maximum time there. It’s hard to do that alone with 3 kids, trying to make sure they are ready on time, having to get them to go into a new environment.
The manner which the prison guards treat you is also humiliating. You just feel their eyes are on you and constantly watching everything you do, when you are just a normal family trying to stay in contact with a relative. You are made to feel you should be on the other side with them, as well. So, it’s a lot to go through. I wanted to make sure my children have contact with him as regularly as possible. It’s not always easy to do that especially when they have their lives out here in the real world. As much as the father wants to see them as often as possible, in reality it’s very difficult to accommodate.
I’m not someone that can drive that far and need to have someone come with me. Going on the journey yourself is one thing, but especially when you are going out of town you don’t want to travel without another adult, especially when you’ve got children with you. Accommodating that was always extremely draining, depending on what prison he had been moved to.
Initially, I tried my best to go at least once or twice a month, but now it’s as often as I can get someone to take them. Even if I took another adult with me, I had to make sure the adult was from my own address to go with me. They also limited the amount of people who could go with me, and contact was limited. This had a detrimental effect on their relationship.. Depending on different prisons, facilities and timings, every time they get moved, you then have to get used to what each prison’s requirements are in regards to a visit. You are constantly having to learn new things. Even booking the visit can be stressful experience within itself, because there is only x amount of slots available and it doesn’t matter how often you try or how early you ring them, those slots get filled up extremely quickly. Then you have a distressed member of the family on the other side saying, “No, I really want to see the kids” but it’s not in our hands, it’s whatever is available and whatever you can do at the time to accommodate it.
Ramadhan in Isolation
My husband was actually arrested during Ramadan, so that technically was the first Ramadan that we experienced without him home. Initially, I didn’t feel it because the shock of what had happened. I just had the baby, so it didn’t kind of hit home until the following Ramadan when I was in my own home by myself with the children. My kids were not old enough to be fasting with me. Doing suhoor alone, doing iftar alone, the whole of Ramadhan feeling isolated within my home. I was constantly wondering if he’s eaten or able to break his fast..
Ramadhan is time where we have a sense of community and belonging from the local Muslim community, but I was so afraid to even reach out to anyone. I just remember feeling so isolated I could not tell anyone I’m feeling so alone and would just stick to my mother’s house, and that was it.
I had no extended family that I could reach out to or go over to their house at the time. I could not even pray with them because people were still afraid to be around me, because they knew what happened. They wanted zero contact, so not only was I afraid to try and make new friends or try and build new relationships, I couldn’t even maintain the existing ones. People had just shut me out and didn’t want to see me. Nobody reached out to ask if I was ok, or if I needed anything. It was a very isolating experience and that’s when I realised it’s going to be like this for a very long time and I better get used to this being my Ramadhan for me and the kids.
It’s not a matter of coping, because if I breakdown, then who will look after the kids? You just learn to be strong, you have to be resilient and get through it. You don’t have an option to have respite from that situation. It’s there in your face day after day and you get through that, whether it’s Ramadan or not. It’s throughout the year and you are constantly the one who has to do everything. It becomes really overwhelming and I almost went into auto pilot and just was doing things because I knew I had to do them.
For me, the emotional side of things kicked in a few years after. I realised that I had been shutting out my emotions and I actually had a son. For the first 4 years of his life, he was my focus as he was a baby and it didn’t occur to me that I am raising these children by myself. I think the trauma of everything going on my mind meant I wasn’t able to process it at the time.