Trigger warning: mentions of suicide, self-harm, violence and emotional abuse
Originally published by The View: a magazine which showcases the art, prose and poetry of women prisoners and women on license in the community. Their report, ‘We Are Invisible: on abused BAME women in the criminal justice system’, is out now.
I am 26 years young, a woman and I live in London. I have been seeking freedom for the last 10 years. This search began as a search for emotional liberation as I have always been a sensitive individual that absorbed and sunk into every wave of feeling felt by anyone in my surroundings. I remember being very young and being carried out of cinemas when heartbreaks in Disney films were too upsetting for me. But it was when I was arrested that I levelled up. I started finding safety in change; in the realisation that it would be better for my health and wellbeing to change my life circumstances.
One thing you should know about me is that I don’t believe in creating labels for people or events. I refuse to describe myself or others using adjectives from a dictionary, like good or bad, right or wrong, as I believe that who we are, what we feel, and what we’re capable of is far more than what can be encapsulated into words.
The moment I realised this was in early 2015, when I landed in a police holding cell for assaulting another woman outside a nightclub. I had let my aggression spiral out of control through a life-long series of reactions to external circumstances that I believed were sabotaging me.
A domestic argument with my ex-boyfriend was “rudely” interrupted by another woman who, from her perspective, saw me as a very aggravated individual who needed to “calm down”. She thought that threatening me by making me aware that her sister was about to come out of the club to give her a hand with me and holding my arms would be a great idea. Little did she know that I had literally just been pulled away from my friends by my boyfriend, who couldn’t bear to see me having fun with anyone but him.
The deeply repressed anger, emotional control and mental imprisonment I had been experiencing because of my boyfriend’s behaviour was about to be unleashed on her.
My defences and rage fired up, my eyes saw nothing but red and sadly she became the outlet for all of my fury – a temporary punching bag. This woman was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I started attacking her viciously. Now, there was no way I was going to stop until I saw the fear in her eyes, saw her on the floor, or maybe saw her try to run away. A team of three bouncers and two of my friends could not hold me back. Meanwhile, my ex-boyfriend was watching from a safe distance, confused and uninterested in intervening.
“There was no way I was going to stop until I saw the fear in her eyes, saw her on the floor, or maybe saw her try to run”
A group of people formed a wall between us and I finally stopped. As my rage began to subside I suddenly I felt someone grab both my arms and hold them behind me. I heard the sound of metal fastening. “Click.” I had been handcuffed.
For the first time in my life, I realised my fiery personality was no longer safe for myself or anyone else to be around. All the complements I had received in the past, being told that it was “sexy” or that I was a “hot spice” meant fuck all if I was locked away. Entering the police station, I had to give away my fingerprints and get my mugshot taken – the shit I thought I’d only ever witness in movies or documentaries. I was sadly informed that the woman I’d attacked was heading to hospital to get stitches in her skull.
Did I really use the phone in my hand as a weapon? I looked up and saw my cracked phone screen in the basket of valuables.
She could be dying?! Could I be locked away for this?!
Rational thoughts started flooding my awareness for the first time since the incident.
Where was all this reasoning when I needed it?!
I was taken to my holding cell and walked past a lot of men who seemed quite scary from my perspective, licking their lips at me with their eyes wide open like they’d probably jump me if there wasn’t a locked door between us.
I felt far from delicious at this point.
“The criminal justice system and its agencies must see the individuals they are holding as emotional beings rather than dehumanising us”
I was introduced to my cold cell that had no clock and one white light that never turned off. I had lost all concept of time and had no idea when I would be allowed back out. There was definitely no escaping the internal wakeup call I was about to receive. I felt exposed and humiliated, sitting in this room in the short dress that I’d gone out in, having to use the toilet in front of a camera. My level of shame was at an all-time high.
How could I be one of these people?
During my time at the police station, before my details were taken and I was assigned a holding cell, an officer pushed my head tightly against a wall while I was already in handcuffs and seated. I was defenceless. The officer was a man and quite strong so when he did this, I felt lots of pressure on my skull and thought it was going to break. In self-defence I pushed him away with my legs and was arrested again and charged with “assaulting a police officer”. This felt like an unnecessary second charge on my record which would then have a potential effect on my career just for trying to stand up for myself when I felt unsafe.
The criminal justice system and its agencies must see the individuals they are holding as emotional beings rather than dehumanising us and applying additional punishments for simply existing. Our bodies are not to be abused by justice workers and they have absolutely no right to assault us, so why is this still happening?
My body was heavy and ridiculously tired from the emotions of sadness, guilt, disparity, and still rage. I was crying and shaking uncontrollably on the floor filled with so many “why me’s?” This shouldn’t be happening to me. I have such a huge heart and so much love to share. How can I be this crazy person who throws their life away in a prison? Could I really be throwing away my physical freedom – my ability to express myself fully on this planet? I felt how close this narrow reality was to being mine that night. I felt my rock bottom.
“I projected my aggression to those around me as it was easier than facing the separation from my ex”
At the time, I knew my aggression was a threat to those around me. I was arrested because I harmed a member of the public. But deep inside, I knew I wasn’t a bad person who deserved to be in a cell. I did care for other people’s safety, but I didn’t use my energy to address the root cause of my issues. Instead, I projected my aggression to those around me as it was easier than facing the separation from my ex.
I felt completely misunderstood. I felt like a victim of society. A victim of life-long bullying and suppression. A product of my highly-volatile and emotionally-disturbing childhood. I didn’t realise, but I was riddled with a low sense of self-esteem and self-worth. It was far too painful to feel this internal disparity and much easier to lash out and talk over anyone who threatened my sense of security.
I didn’t even realise I was in a highly manipulative and toxic relationship until this point – everyone saw the signs except for me. My relationship felt so normal and oddly comforting. It would have been nice to have healthy love lessons at school – but anyway, that’s a whole other story. Actually, I thought I loved myself very dearly. That’s why I’d go out drinking, partying, having heaps of fun and buying so many clothes from ASOS to treat myself and feel sexy.
But this level of self-love was not deep enough to heal my broken heart. I literally had heart ache. Regular chest pains, issues with my blood pressure. It had become normal for me to faint while going to the toilet or even doing slightly invigorating movement. The doctors at my local GP and even the hospital had no idea what was causing these heart issues – they told me they tested everything they could and that I was fine.
I later discovered that my body may have been warning me all along that something was out of balance.
Anyway, back to the cell.
Drowning in this empty room with nothing but my thoughts, I felt like I had two options: either I drastically change my life or I give up completely. In the past, I had even considered ending my life as it didn’t feel worth living at all. I sat and remembered all the times I’d slowly crossed the road, hoping that a fast car would quickly knock me out of my misery. All those times I’d hit my head on a wall or stabbed myself with a set of keys during arguments with my ex because it felt so excruciating to talk to him.
“I sat and remembered all the times I’d slowly crossed the road, hoping that a fast car would quickly knock me out of my misery”
I had a quiet voice inside me that kept whispering, “You deserve better than this.”
For the first time in my life, I decided to agree with that voice and believe it more than the other voices that told me I was broken. I chose change. I was no longer afraid of it because the fear was no match to the fear of death.
The first thing to go was my ex. I lost the fear of “what would happen if he leaked the naked photos of me to my family?” which he had threatened to do. I stopped caring if “no one would ever find me beautiful or want to date me again because of my crazy personality, my ugly acne, or my poor sense of style” that he’d frequently remind me of.
I thought I didn’t care about the things he would say and laughingly brushed them off, but something on a deeper level still believed him enough for me to stay in such an unhealthy place and allow him to speak to me this way. I was too afraid to even think of a life outside of our so-called romance.
My sense of self-worth had moved up an inch from that rock bottom and that was all I needed to stop looking towards him for my happiness. Maybe that crazy fight actually happened at the right place at the right time, for me to finally put myself first and let the fuck go of what wasn’t serving me.
The woman that I fought recovered completely. She did not press charges when she heard about how remorseful I felt. She didn’t want to get involved in a domestic issue I was having. Thankfully she had no lasting injuries.
I ended up asking the same police that I was so mad at to save me and help me get a restraining order against him – and they did – and I was free.
Since then, my physical, mental and social health has flourished. Did I mention my chest pains and blood pressure issues magically disappeared as soon as I ended my relationship?
To my surprise, I now have a healthy, supportive and uplifting relationship where compassionate communication and connection is the new normal. We have way more fun than disappointment and both feel empowered as individuals and share love from a wholesome place rather than out of expectations, obligations and fear.