Opinion

See me, not my conviction – one woman's fight to move on

Kim McGuigan overcame a chaotic and violent youth to become a mother and a graduate. But more than a decade on she’s not allowed to break free from the shadows of her past.

EPA/Andy Rain

To the people who don’t see me, but see my convictions.

I am writing this because tonight I signed up with a recruitment agency. My interview was going well, until it got to disclosing my convictions. As always, I was open and honest about my past mistakes. It’s the only way I know how to be.

I handed over my most recent disclosure and – by the way – it clearly states that I am not barred from working with any type of person. That means that I pose no risk to the people that I would work with. The information that seems to have the biggest impact on employers, and others in authority, is from when I was 17 years old, more than a decade ago. It is a racial conviction, one that I am deeply ashamed by and of. It happened in 2004 – by the time I went to court and was convicted, it was 2005.

Anyway, back to tonight. I told the woman the circumstances around the conviction – which by no means excuses it – but I was living in homeless accommodation and I had been sofa-surfing since I was 14 years old after my family broke down.

I wanted to say that she didn’t know what I went through, but instead I sat there

That didn’t seem to be enough for this woman.

She wanted to know more about my life.

I froze, I wanted to get up and say “fuck this”. I wanted to say that she didn’t know what I went through, but instead I sat there and let her give me a lecture on risk and how I needed to be risk-assessed. I repeated: “But I was 17!” but it was like she didn’t hear me. She started to type up a report for my file that read:

I believe Kim will not be a risk to any service user and deserves an opportunity to turn her life around!

“Risk,” I thought to myself. “How am I a risk? I am a mother and a damn good one at that!” Sure, I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve learned from them. I have done the work on myself, I’ve spent the last five years healing and recovering from wounds and repairing the damage I’ve caused to others and myself.

I did that sentence 12 years ago, why am I still being punished?

Why do I still have to justify and explain events that take me back to the night of that conviction? Why do I have to revisit the trauma? When am I going to be free from my past?

Why am I not allowed to move on?

From high-flyer to construction work – how a prison stay changed my values

As soon as I get somewhere in life and try to better my future for me and my wee boy, this conviction haunts me and I’m right back there.

She then went on to ask me about my relationship with my parents and why I was homeless, to which I answered that I didn’t have any contact with them now.

I don’t understand why I am seen as a risk for something I did when I was a stupid wee girl

Did she want the truth? Would it have made a difference? Why do I have to continue to spill my experiences when I’ve worked so hard to turn my life around? I already have, by the way…

Kim-IMG_1471

Did she want to hear about when I was 14 and my dad had an affair with my mum’s pal who stayed upstairs from our flat? That my dad left and would walk by me going up the stairs to his new family? Did she want to hear that my mum tried to take her own life and I found her and had to resuscitate her? That the reason I became homeless was because I’d go home steaming drunk, so angry that she would do that while I was in the house sleeping, that I’d pick fights with her after she got out the hospital, so she kicked me out?

Did she want to know about all the horrible things I witnessed while staying in a hostel? The place where the authorities I went to for help put me, but which led me to be even more vulnerable. That I ended up in a violent relationship that nearly left me dead.

Did she want to know that when I found the strength to get out of that relationship, I went on a bender all weekend?  That eventually this ended up with me in a restaurant, in a fight, that led me to getting that conviction that has haunted me ever since.

That every time I think I’ve finally been able to prove that I have changed, someone questions me about that conviction and treats me like I am ‘a risk’ when all I want to do is work and help people.

Did she want to know that those experiences were only my teenage years – did I have to go into my childhood as well?

I am just a mother who is simply trying her best to give her son the life she never had

I think I’ve shared enough.

My point in writing this is I don’t understand why I am seen as a risk for something I did when I was a stupid wee girl.

I nearly had my education ripped away from me because of that conviction. I fought it and I’ve worked so hard the last four years to make life better for me and my son.

I am so tired of having to explain myself, to be sitting feeling that shame and embarrassment. I am not that person any more. I am just a mother who is simply trying her best to give her son the life she never had. And I am doing a good job. Why can’t I just be that person? When will the stigma and labels ever leave me? When will I finally complete this sentence and be free? I really don’t know what else I can do.

Why is the criminal justice system making women homeless?

So, I’m just going to keep doing what I have been doing. I’m going to keep getting better and work a little harder and just hope one day I can go for a job or go into education and not have to explain something I’ve tried to move on from.

You see, it’s not just the conviction, its everything that led up to that conviction I must relive over and over and over.

All I want to be is me. Just see me. Don’t judge me, don’t force me to spill my life story because you can’t understand that it was 13 years ago.

I’m not a risk to anyone, I’m just me.

Find out more about Community Justice Scotland on their website

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