When the police came to collect Paul that first time, I forgave him all his crimes against me when I saw him in handcuffs. His sister Claire and I were there to say goodbye, our faces aching from self-control. He lifted his cuffed wrists over my head, and looped his locked arms around me. For the first time in years, the heart that beat against mine felt like that of my son, and not some generic junkie. I wanted to hold him that way until the mountains became covered with barnacles. When we freed ourselves, he hugged Claire, and told her he loved her. We watched him walk down the stairs with a posse of policemen, and with the closing of the door my knees buckled. Claire put her arms around me and lifted me up, and we kept each other upright while we wept, afraid we would be suspended in this moment forever.
We had been warned that he could expect to serve six years in prison, but we had to wait a few weeks until his sentencing. I attended court when his case came up, and a combinationof good representation, childish behaviour by the victims friends, and a wise, sympathetic judge resulted in a sentence of only thirty months, and because he had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity it was reduced by fifty percent, dependant on good behaviour in prison. This should have pleased me, but it felt like a death knell.
My life was like the graph of a tachicardic heart. Time seemed to exist at two different speeds concurrently. While Paul was waiting for sentencing I’d given up my home and moved into a bell-tent two-hundred miles away, to run a holiday campsite through the summer season. As warden of the site my days raced by, but as the mother of a convict it felt as if my weeks were a shale-scattered cliff that had to be scaled on roller skates, and every time my hands lost their grip I slid a little way down the cliff-face.
The season ended and I returned to North Devon to live life like a puppet in a stage director’s winter tragedy, and the clock continued to eat my crazy days, while at the same time I kept slipping down the shale.
Paul was released early due to an error. The judge had recommended that he serve a minimum of fifteen months, but somebody missed the small print, and he was allowed out on license after only eleven months, then returned a few weeks later, to complete his time in prison.
When he was freed again I was overjoyed. He was clean from drugs, and I thought he was ready for life on the outside, but I was wrong. He started off well, but gradually fell into his old patterns of use and abuse. I knew he wanted to behave and be well, but it wasn’t happening. I wished he would return to prison, which was an option, because, his thirty months not being up, he was still on probation. I knew I should ring his probation officer, but every time I spoke of it his behaviour improved, so I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Then he met an angel who flapped her wings and changed his way of thinking, making him brave. Unaided, he made his way to the probation officer and asked to return to jail. In all her years in that profession she had never received that request, and at first she didn’t believe he was werious. She gave him a few days to reconsider, but he didn’t waver in his decision.
This time I was glad when the police came to take him away. I was happy to see him leave, and am trying to slow down the days of his incarceration, but they are speeding by. I want him to have plenty of time to think about the things he has done and the way his life could be.
I hope he has a successful future ahead of him when he is given his liberty. I don’t want him to return to prison where he’ll be unable to stretch his wings. I don’t want him to be a jailbird forever.
©Jane Paterson Basil