For those who don’t know, following my blog post on November 5th, I had a heart attack. I was admitted to hospital as an emergency because my bottom artery was blocked by a blood clot. The clot was cleared and a stent installed to keep it open. Apparently my other arteries were unaffected. Whilst I was released home a few days later, the clot affected one of the valves in my heart, causing blood to flow back into my lungs, resulting in a fluid build up there. This caused serious breathing difficulties which meant I needed to be readmitted to hospital for further treatment. This problem has been successfully treated with diuretics and I am presently at home again. For the record, I think there may be further problems that need tending to, given how I am feeling, but I don’t yet know what they are. I’ll be discussing these with the cardiac nurses during my hospital appointment next Tuesday as well as taking things very carefully between now and then.
The amount of personal support I’ve received during this time has completely blown me away. On a practical level, my immediate neighbours have enabled me to traverse this new environment without harm to my home. They’ve fed (and cleared up after) my cats, helped me with shopping and visited me in hospital – all volunteered freely and with good humour. Given that my criminal offence, nearly ten years ago, involved hostile neighbours I am fully aware of how my recent experiences could have resulted in a very different outcome. To say I am grateful for all these kindnesses and help is to put it very mildly, especially as my current neighbours are fully aware of my past. They tell me this no longer concerns them – their assessment is based upon their direct experience of me now. Whilst it may not seem much to them, their attitudes mean a very great deal to me. On one level, it means that I have finally come home after a long period of homelessness. Yet now, from my perspective, this is going to have to be a different kind of home at all levels.
Firstly, the ‘home’ of my own body needs to be transformed – I cannot live the way I was living before my heart attack. This is now a life-and-death issue. I need to take all the meds the doctors have prescribed to keep my heart functioning and my lungs clear. I need to stop smoking (not as easy as it first appears). I need to take exercise (and already have a delightful volunteer neighbour stepping forward to help me with this) and I need the time to do all this before I can return to work. I doubt any of the doctors involved with this form of rehabilitation would disagree with me. Yet this needs to be set in a social context.
At a social level, I can count myself extremely lucky that my heart attack occurred when it did. If I were living in Iran, I would be being sent home to die due to the lack of available medication to treat heart problems. Given the current situation of the NHS and the UK government’s insistence upon privatisation, the services I received may not be there in the future. For example, there seems to be a suggestion that free prescriptions for those on benefit are likely to become a thing of the past. Those sickness benefits available in the past are not going to be there in the future. My housing benefit is being reduced next month – were it not for the compassion of both my landlady and her agent, I might have been facing a house move now (another reason for me to be deeply grateful). At a governmental level, it would seem that there is far less interest in my recovery. In fact, I find it easy to believe that my government would prefer me dead, such is their determination to reduce the ‘costs’ of my living. So whilst my immediate community supports me to live, my country apparently wants me dead – and I am a minor case compared with those whose own ill-health is far worse than mine. Therefore, I am deeply grateful to learn that there are those who are enquiring whether UK government policies towards people like me are criminal or not. Even if my own ‘value’ fails to meet the ‘life’ criteria, I think these questions need asking if we are to retain any vestiges of being a civilised society.
One of the problems I have in trying to bring everyone up to date with how I am is the fragmented quality of my awareness now. I experience what happened to my heart on 5th November as the equivalent of a mega-earthquake that is continuing to produce aftershocks in my physical, emotional and psychological landscapes. The structures of my past have yet to be tested for safety. I am no longer certain of where I am going or who I am capable of becoming now, in this new landscape. Any moves I make at present have to be tentative because nothing is certain anymore.
What I can be certain of, however, is that the epicentre of my personal mega-quake occurred deep in the subject of women’s desistance. I have not gone back to read the blogs leading up to 5th November because I know they will be filled – both accurately and inaccurately – with the pain and distress of trying to find a way through the social walls of a systemic resistance to listening. These are old, familiar and well-trodden paths that I had to follow many times in prison. Then it wasn’t heart attacks that cut through the barriers to common humanity but my blood-pressure which could register 240/130 during such crises. My BP would keep on rising until I encountered someone who thought I might be worthy of life. By the time such encounters occurred, I had normally been transferred to Healthcare. My heartful mega-quake was no different.
Jules replied to my 5/11 blog. In her reply (which I will post here at some point), she met me as one human being to another, following what I had experienced as a prolonged, terrible and abandoning silence in the face of what I was saying. Reading her email sent me into shock. I suspect that it was the impact of this shock that caused the crack in my artery which, coupled with my blood’s attempt to heal the crack through clotting, led to my heart attack. It might sound as though I am blaming her but, believe me, I am not. The compassion contained in her reply meant, in my opinion, that I survived this breaking of my heart. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have lived to write this.
Nevertheless, what is clear to me now is that I cannot survive my own desistance without kindness, compassion and a mutual willingness to engage another’s point of view from their perspective. None of our perspectives are going to be perfect but without a conscious capacity for humanity and compassion, we are likely to be unintentionally murderous, regardless of whether it arises from an individual offender; from those engaged within the Criminal Justice system; or as commenters/observers. I’m probably not explaining myself very well here but this might help. As you will see, my post elicited one response which required moderation because it was a personal attack towards me. The respondent had problems understanding that not every offender is a thief, mugger or murderer; that if I have paid the full price society has demanded for my transgression, then I am no longer ‘fair-game’ to blame for all crime; and that, as a desister, I have a continuing social responsibility to contribute to the lawful betterment of my community. As an illustration of the point I was attempting to make, the comment itself was ‘perfect’; so, too, the moderation which implies that there comes a point where such prejudice and hate must cease if a society is to retain its claim to humanity.
I support my own viewpoint with the evidence of my willingness to die in order to bring this message home to those who are capable of hearing it. It is a form of experiential teaching/learning like no other for it shows us all how much suffering we demand or require, both of ourselves and in others, before we empower ourselves to say ‘Enough’. What is interesting here is that when we realise and act upon our ‘Enough’, we find ourselves behaving lawfully. Sometimes we may also realise that, in all possibility, our previous failures to act may render us liable, or vicariously liable, to the charge of crimes against humanity.
I don’t teach this lesson to make people feel bad about themselves – those who need that lesson cannot hear me at all. No – my lesson is to help those who can hear me to feel good about themselves instead. Yes, these are terrible tales we are relating – they are enough to break a woman’s heart – but if we can hear them, we can change them as we change ourselves. It’s not about apportioning blame – there is too much of it now to even begin to know how to share it out. It’s about saying ‘Enough’! It’s about saying we will not add to this appalling situation through ignorance, denial or refusal to acknowledge reality but will find other, better, healthier, humane ways to be with each other. It’s about gently removing the weapons of attrition from the hands of the wilfully ignorant and placing that responsibility into the power of wiser, legal and socially responsible minds and hearts so we stop treating each other this way. This is how we learn to feel good about ourselves and what we do. Ultimately, it’s about discovering that, no matter what we may have done in the past, we can all be forgiven… but only when we learn to stop sinning. This is the primal message of desistance and it belongs to us all, offender and non-offender alike.
The impression I am getting, in the aftermath of my mega-quake heart-break, is that I am not required to teach this death-centred experiential lesson again. The message I am receiving, from my neighbours and my immediate community, is that I am valuable alive and living amongst them. This blog – as fragmented and perhaps confused as it may be – is an opportunity for me to say thank you to my neighbours and those amazing friends I have made within my social media. If my neighbours overwhelmed me with their kindness when I needed them the most, my astonishing friends have been sending tsunamis of love that render me without words and what feels like an inability to respond. Yet, love demands response.
Until my body feels aligned to whatever life-force I must now dwell within to live, I can make no wise decisions about which pathways I need to be following. So I contemplate the aftermath of my mega-heart-break in order to see what needs to be allowed to die back and what can be cultivated to grow in healthier ways.
From this immediate perspective, what I can be certain of is that social attrition, cruelty, an absence of mercy and increasing austerity will grow nothing of any worth and is more than likely to destroy any remaining personal creativity any of us might be able to access. Whilst my neighbours and friends offer me the realistic possibility of a continuing life worth living for the benefit of my community, I cannot ignore that my government appears to want me – and all those like me – dead.
How am I supposed to respond to such a requirement?
Indeed, how is any law-abiding citizen supposed to respond?
And, finally, my apologies if this is hard to follow – it is, nevertheless, a true reflection of what is occurring within as I wander through the post heart-attack landscape I find myself in.