Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Freedom never tasted so good

The Congolese taxi driver warns me not to gaze at the full moon, it will drive me insane. But I'm already a shimmering lunatic tell him. She might make me quite sane again.

Sometimes I have to get lost a little, in order to find my space again.
Back from Paris, restored  I don't think I have ever walked so much, a deluge of culture,  four and five museums and monuments a day. Did you know the Arc de Triomphe has 284 steps? My thighs do.

Tonight, dinner with a friend who was released from 5 and a half years of an 8 year IPP sentence which basically means they throw away the key and forget about you and release you when you admit you are a murdering sociopathic murderer. She was convicted of manslaughter after she killed her then ex partner having suffered nearly a decade of domestic violence at his hands, I have seen the knife and bite marks on this woman's body. They make me cry inside. My friend, who I met in HMP Holloway in 2005 was my rock and my anchor through a lot of the pain in my own life, and I knew she had sat her Parole Board hearing with the old bastard retired Judge, HHJ John Samuels QC my sentencing judge at Blackfriars Crown Court in 2005. I didn't think she would get it. Not in a million years, he is a hanging judge who hates women and has  made a name for himself as a reformer and an advocate for change for women in the criminal justice system. Yet uniformly, his sentences for women were much harsher than those he served to men who had committed identical crimes.

 Although he is the trustee of Unlock,  and I salute my good friends Chris and Chris for suffering the old con, and the Prison Education Trust he's old school, gallows humor and a really nasty  piece of work. I had the misfortune  of running into him at a talk I gave to the good and the great for Action for Prisoners families  at the Grosvenor Estate offices in 2007 but I didn't recognize him bereft of wig and gowns. I was there to speak about what my  incarceration had done to my children  He kept staring at me and after I had spoken told my friend Imtiaz  Amin, uncle of the murdered Zahed Mubarek (Gladiator Games at HMP YOI Feltham) ,

"I know that woman, I sentenced her," but what did he think he knew of me?

If I had known he had been there I would probably have left because back then I didn't  believe I was entitled to speak or to have a voice and I would have felt too much shame.

When my friend told me he was presiding over her second parole hearing my heart really sank.  I didn't  have  a lot of faith in her brief either, a smooth American who gives a good impression of being an airhead and not  paying attention.  I didn't mention these doubts to my friend because she is my family and you stand by and support your family, when they have stood by and supported  me the way she has done for the last 7 years.

When I came through Chunnel yesterday the first message I got was hers, telling me she had been successful in her application for release. If I tell you my heart soared, it would be an underestimation of what I felt  I thought I would burst with joy and gratitude. She was being released on Wednesday.

Today was crappy, I don't know why I woke up in a vile mood and wanted to dish it out so anyone who annoyed me was suitably ranted upon.  Poor Christoph of the Open Cinema was told to back off and go work in the city where he could exploit his skills for exploiting people,  or I would not have a cup of coffee with him, I would pour it over his head.  I felt enraged. A woman we are working with has just undergone a mastectomy and we were looking at properties we can house her in, in London and with the squeeze on benefits and the cuts, the choices are slim. I felt angry at the system for failing her and the safety net with gaping holes which would set her up to fail again.

I decided to stop it after a while, this outpouring of bile and went sale shopping. New shoes generally tend to clear my head. Then I met my recently released friend for dinner in the west end. If I tell you she looks like  a Nubian  goddess and wears her freedom with honor and pride and that the feeling of compassion in me reached out to her so that our hearts embraced, you might understand how I felt.

It turns out that Bastard Judge Samuels QC had told her that while she should definitely get parole,  and he certainly couldn't tell her what friends she could maintain and not, he would just like her to know that he knew  the notorious Miss Damji. My friend's offender manager piped up in my defense that I had supported  my friend throughout her prison sentence and that we had a close friendship. The Honorable Judge made it very clear that he did not approve and that he hoped my friend would handle her relationships carefully.

Tonight as we ate steaks frites (Paris has come home with me) and laughed and gossiped and I felt  the joy and the gratitude in her eyes melt away my own hardness and weariness from the day's battles. I thought  to myself , how fantastic that the retired crown court judges still hate me. How brilliant that they still disapprove of me and think I am dangerous and a threat to their sick little status quo of punishing women with retribution and without compassion. Let that never change. You are a silly little man, John Samuels,  who doesn't understand justice and although you may be the patron of two charities working and campaigning for the rights of serving prisoners and ex offenders I still think you are a small, petty and  ignorant little man. And you don't scare me.

Women like me and my friend, when we lost our voices because we were criminalised or felt so ashamed we felt we don't have the right to speak anymore, when we find that voice again, we whisper, we scream and we talk loudly  non stop because  we have found our power in experience , the authentic power of being a woman who can change her corner of the world and that is something you can never take away from us again. Only a woman can grasp the awe-some-ness of the creative force and can be the conduit  for change when it grips us, it's primal, like giving birth, unstoppable, earthly,  comes from the womb and a dark warm place where we know intuitively what is right. Trying to keep that quiet feels like mutilation  You trying to force me to keep it under control feels like being raped. Again.

Lock me up, chain me down, turn my children against me, break my heart a thousand times with failed love affairs and disappointments, Google me,  ignore and vilify me. I don't care. You'll never shut me up or control me. You can't have that part of me, in fact you can't get near it.

Tonight I tasted freedom again, with my friend who had forgotten what it felt like and together we savored her new life and the opportunities  and challenges she will face in the resettlement process. She'll get through it, she's a tough old bird and has the best years of her life ahead of her.

"Farah, this life is about me," she confided. " I want to go out and do it all and have it all."
"And you can." I answered, awed by her , again.

And to Sam, the airhead American lawyer, you are brilliant. Play it again Sam.