At 19 I did something stupid for love – and paid the price

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Women In Prison

Jenna Hughes at Broadbeach: ‘I have broken free from the shame. Now I want to inspire people and help the forgotten women inside prison.’ Photograph: Russell Shakespeare

I was a serving officer when I accessed a police database to help my love interest who had underworld connections

by Jenna Hughes –  The Guardian

Growing up I dreamed of being a police officer. I joined martial arts classes and read everything I could on the subject and then when I turned 19 I joined the force.

It was the best decision I had ever made, until I started to discover that the tools I had to cope with being a police officer weren’t enough. I saw dead bodies, murders, violence. And then I fell in love with the wrong man.

At 19 I didn’t have the wisdom I do today and when he asked me to do a favour for him I thought nothing of it.

The favour landed me in jail four years later. The headlines read “Ex-policewoman turned bikini model jailed”.

The moment the judge told me that I was not getting community service and I was actually spending 12 months in a maximum security prison, my heart sank.

I just remember thinking: this is it, how am I going to cope? Am I strong enough to embark on this journey? Where were they going to take me? I was a serving police officer, was I safe? In that moment I had never felt so alone.

After four hours of working out where to send me they finally decided to take me to Silverwater Correctional Complex. Due to being all over the 6pm news I was not even safe in protection. The prison officers had no choice but to put me in segregation. I was walked to my cell, which had no window, no door, no access to a light switch and two cameras watching my every move.

I spent almost three months like this, with only one hour of sunlight a day. This was the only safe place for me.

I wanted to give up. I even cracked my head open on the wall just to get some form of human interaction. Some nights the guards would forget to turn off my light and I wouldn’t sleep. Other days I would be forgotten and not given my anxiety medication.

This was by far the hardest three months of my life. I struggled every day to get out of bed. I am such a people person and to have no human interaction day in, day out was hard.

When I was finally moved to the protection wing, I had mixed emotions. I was going to be around people, I was going to have more than one hour of sunlight a day, but then the fear set in. Most of the women there were either child murderers or paedophiles. Was I safe?

My first week in there was challenging. I felt like I didn’t belong. These women would talk about their crimes, trying to justify why they did it or claim that they were innocent. One lady told me how she held down her nine-year-old daughter while her partner raped her and tried to convince me that it wasn’t her fault, that she loved him. It got me thinking as to why I was in there – I was in there because I did something stupid for love. Why do we as women allow ourselves to be manipulated by men and, in this lady’s case, to such an horrific extent?

Once I put my judgment of these women aside, I got to know them and their stories. It broke my heart: many of them have had no support, no education. They were set up for failure and prison was only a matter of time. Unfortunately prison isn’t the best place for rehabilitation for these women as so many of them would be released and back in weeks later so they would have a safe place to sleep and three meals a day.

Once I got out it took me ages to cope with being out in the world. My anxiety was through the roof, I was so dosed up on Seroquel that I felt like a zombie most of the time. I was so skinny and malnourished from not eating. I was just blank, shut off.

I was so lucky I had the support of my family, that I had people to help me snap out of this feeling and push through the pain. I was seeing a psych regularly and not only was I working through the trauma of prison but also childhood trauma.

Five years on I still struggle, I still have anxiety and I think about prison every day. But every day gets easier. I have now been in a stable job for three years and have managed to work my way up the ladder in the industry. I am studying community services at Tafe and have found love with someone who supports me rather than brings me down. I have also broken free from the shame and continue to work on myself. Now I want to inspire people and help the forgotten women inside prison.

I often say to myself: this all cannot be for nothing, you have to make good with this.

So that is what I am going to do.

 

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