I lost all dignity in jail


As told to Samantha Selinger-Morris

"In the long-term, it's hard to maintain your sense of self-worth and an understanding of who you are. You sort of get lost."

"In the long-term, it's hard to maintain your sense of self-worth and an understanding of who you are. You sort of get lost." Photo: Getty (posed by model)

I had a really nice childhood in many ways, both parents (at home), my summers on the beach. I was no different to anybody else. I wanted a job, to have a really successful career, to get married and have kids. A million things I wanted to do. But I just kept throwing it away instead of following through.

I didn't go to university. I didn't prioritise myself. I made the classic mistake: I got involved with a guy and threw everything away. I went straight to work [in an office] after high school.

I've always been somebody who has tried to solve other people's problems. I was totally unable to say no if somebody needed something or wanted something. I'd come up with it [a solution].

I was trying to fix everybody's problems with someone else's money and I just couldn't solve the problem and it got worse and worse. I was borrowing one to pay the other and trying to put it back and it spiralled.


I was absolutely relieved [when I was caught]. I knew it was coming, and I was just exhausted trying to fix things.

Everyone asks if it's frightening to be in jail, but I didn't find it so.

You do lose all dignity there, though. There's no privacy whatsoever. The first stage when you go in is a complete strip search, then you're put into clothes that everybody else is in - ill-fitting bras, bad-fitting shoes, clothes that don't fit - so all the outward trappings of your personality are just removed. The structure is to beat anything out of you that is resistant or self-reliant - I don't know, any sort of personality, almost.

In the long-term, it's hard to maintain your sense of self-worth and an understanding of who you are. You sort of get lost.

It's very isolating. It's exactly like high school. A lot of the jail runs on rumours, there's a lot of ''she said this'' and ''she said that''. People suddenly don't talk to you or they're whispering about you; it gets nasty. You sort of discover that you'd (supposedly) done something that you didn't, and it just makes life miserable. You don't know what can be done with a simple comment, and you think, ''That's not what I said.''

So you shut yourself down. You learn to be careful not to express emotions or feelings. In some ways, the ability to think for yourself becomes drummed out of you. Because you don't have any control over the smallest aspects of your life, after a while you give up.

What surprised me when I came out [12 months ago] was that I was absolutely deskilled. I mean, I'm still struggling to cook a meal. You are completely shut away from that, so logical things like shopping and prices and looking after yourself - basic things - suddenly become difficult.

Every single thing has to be renewed or relearnt because things move on, too. Everything changes so quickly. Even the transport system. It makes me feel dumb. I've got to go right back to square one with things that have been changing. Suddenly, you're learning what a child knows. So I'm still struggling to feel confident and comfortable at work [in a call centre].

I realised that [before going in] I couldn't distinguish between when I was being asked for help by someone and when I was just being told something. I learnt that from a chaplain there. She laid it on the line; she said, ''You have to stop solving other people's problems. You've got to stop finishing their sentences. Step out and let them sort their own selves out.''

If I could tell my younger self something, I definitely wouldn't say to follow your heart. I'd say, ''Have a plan. And try to figure out what's really important to you.''

Hopefully, I'm going to be able to do something good. I can't undo what I've done, and I can't make up for what I've done, but at least I can do better.

* Name has been changed.