‘A living hell’ – the untold story of the partner of a man on IPPPosted: July 7, 2016
It is not just the prisoners who suffer under indefinite sentences
“It’s been a living hell. I can’t even begin to tell you how much work it’s been,” says Jacquie Fahy, whose partner is serving an indefinite prison sentence.
“I’ve got paperwork of everybody I’ve written to like that -” she explains, holding one hand almost a foot above the other.
The imprisonment for public protection, or IPP, sentences, hit the headlines last month, when new figures revealed that the rate of self-harm for those serving under them in England and Wales had risen by almost 50 per cent.
The announcement was covered extensively in the media, with many outlets writing about case studies of men languishing in jail under the now abolished sentences. But little was heard from the partners, mothers and loved ones of those men.
Jacquie Fahy’s partner was sentenced in 2005 to just over a year in prison. Now 11 years have passed, and he is still waiting for his release.
“I might as well have been in prison myself for what I’ve gone through with him,” she says. Fahy has spent years writing to MPs, the prison service, the parole board and whoever else she can track down to help her partner towards release. Last month she contacted Prison Watch UK to see if someone else would listen.
Every time their hopes are raised, they get set back again, she says. Either her partner has to enrol on a new course in the prison before being reconsidered for parole, or she gets sent the wrong paperwork.
She was interviewed by the probation service for 40 minutes about his character and their relationship. She claims she was asked things such as ‘if he saw a dog in the street, how would his reaction be towards it?’ Or whether she is frightened of him – whether he is caring and understanding. “It was really bad. It was all personal stuff. Yes, I was scared of saying the wrong thing. They came back and said my expectations were so high of him that he might let me down in life. Then it all went back again.”
The couple still don’t have a release date. “He’s still lost in the system. It makes me get upset.” Fahy, so far composed and smiling, begins to cry. She wipes tears from under her eyes and forces a brave smile.
“I’m trying my best. And I’m just a normal girl, at home. There’s not a day goes by I’m not at that computer searching for a way to get help.
“It’s so bad. I can’t give up. I’m all he’s got. I have just got to keep going.”
Her partner has told her there have been times he has been tempted to commit suicide.
“He said if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t live anymore. Just imagine all the other prisoners must feel like that too – that they’d rather die than serve more time. And they’ve already paid the price with their term in jail.
On the outside, Fahy does not betray signs she has spent years battling the system. She does not look her 46 years of age. She is carefully made up, with long eyelashes, manicured nails and an infectious, if timid smile.
But the fight has taken its toll on her health, she explains: “I’ve got really severely ill over it, I stopped eating because of the stress.” As a result, her bladder shrank and she suffered internal bleeding. She had an operation and still has ongoing treatment, visits her doctor regularly and receives counselling.
“I’ve sent all my medical records to the prison to try to get him moved nearer to me. But no one cares.
“I haven’t even done anything wrong. Yet I’ve been so badly affected.”
It has been a lonely experience too, she says. “When you enter this life, you have no support. Family and friends don’t support you.” Her friends have asked her “is he ever going to get out?”, “how do you know he’s going to behave?” and “why are you devoting your life?”.
“So you do become a loner, because nobody is interested. Just like nobody is interested in him. So it’s just the two of us and then I hide a lot from him to try and make him be good.”
She does not feel able to share a lot of her woes with her partner. She is worried it will upset him and he will misbehave – by shouting, or by being tempted to walk out of the category D prison – and then his parole will be set back even further.
“It’s just horrific. And I just feel that it’s getting worse. He’s in there trying to get out and I’ve got to deal with all this trying to keep it all a secret to protect him. When I haven’t even got a criminal record.”
Even when her partner is released, he will be on a 10 year licence. Meaning if he so much gets drawn into an argument in MacDonalds, she says, he could be recalled to prison.
“The probation lady said to me: ‘you’ve got to make sure he stays on the straight and narrow for the rest of his life.’ Which is quite hard. That commits me.
“But how do you make someone behave for ten years?”
That is why Fahy feels they have no choice but to move out to the countryside, so as to avoid any bad influences or temptations. “For the rest of our lives we cant be near anyone. So I feel like a prisoner myself.”
When asked why she keeps going, in a broken voice Fahy tells me: “Because I love him so much. I am so devoted to him.” She pauses while she wipes away fresh tears from under he eyes. “It upsets me.
“I can’t give up on him. But inside I’m killing myself. Nobody listens to him. I’m trying to do my best. I go to all these things, write letter after letter, speak to all these MPs and high people in the prison. It just goes round and round and round.”
Every new time she reaches out, she hopes someone will listen. But so far, nothing has changed.
What is an IPP sentence?
IPP sentences were introduced in 2005 under Labour. They were designed for serious violent and sexual offenders but ended up being used far more widely than expected.
Offenders sentenced to an IPP have to serve a minimum term (tariff) in prison.
After they had completed their tariff they can apply to the Parole Board for release.
The sentence was abolished in 2012 by then Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who said it was impossible for prisoners to prove that they were no longer a risk, and called IPPs a “stain” on the criminal justice system.
However, roughly 4,000 people who were sentenced under IPP remain in prison.
Have you been affected by IPP? If so we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org