Karl's Story


In Prison

I served 7 years, just under.  I was doing Fine Cell Work for 6 ½ years. I wanted something to do. I was bored sitting in my cell...when you got nothing it’s hard. And you just sit there thinking about outside, children, wife and what you’re missing.

 I thought people would laugh and then I thought, well you get paid for it and it helps with keeping in contact with the children. Saved a few pennies and was able to talk to the children. I could always send the children some money for Christmases and birthdays. You got a choice, you either sit there do 3 or 4 hours and earn a couple of quid at the end of the month, or sit there for 3 or 4 hours and earn nothing.

 The main thing in prison is to keep in contact with your family. It’s the most important thing... But you can’t afford to do it. You could write a letter but some people can’t write. And the sewing’s so easy to do, and that’s the best bit, because a lot of people in prison are illiterate. They can’t read and write and they can’t count. But you teach them to count to ten and they can do the sewing.

 That’s all I did...I sewed and sewed...cos you get upset and there’s not a lot you can do. You can’t show any weakness inside. So it just gets more and more built up and then you get angry. So with the sewing it just made me stop and think about how things could have been different...and what I could have done myself to be different. I calmed down and started thinking I could have done this when I was outside, going down the pub and things like that, I could have spent time with the family. Just silly little things come to mind, into your head whilst you’re sewing. And it surprises you.

 It helped me change the way I was...cos I use to be quite an angry fella when I went inside, I was quite moody and aggressive and people pointed out I was defensive. I never knew I was but when I was sewing I used to go back over my life and thought...perhaps I am.

 It gave me the space I needed. And that’s why people started to trust me more. When you’re in your cell with another person it gets a bit claustrophobic... they could stink or anything. So you’re always on edge. I used to use sewing to get into my own world. And where before if I’d be angry with someone I’d let you know, by that time I could, well, walk away and then go back and apologise if I was a bit rude to somebody. And it just went from there. Little steps. But you get there in the end. 

 The sewing helped me deal with the offending behaviour courses as well...because in some of the courses you hear lots of horrible things. I remember once this bloke did something just round the corner from where my children live, and it made me instantly angry and I went back to my old ways. But afterwards I went up to him and apologised. I said look I’m sorry but it’s just completely close to home. And maybe before I could never have done that. And so I calmed down...cos that’s what I used to do a lot, and it just calms you down.

 I done loads of courses...all the courses they offered me. When I went to prison I had no qualifications and I passed all qualifications at prison I could in my own time in my cell...didn’t go through the education department classes, I liked to do it on my own. Because I knew it all, I just left school when I was 14 and started work so never actually got qualifications. Yeah I done all the courses they offered, all the key skills. It got to the point where the prison service offered me to go onto Maths OU (Open University) and said they’d pay so I started doing that.

 Fine Cell Work made me think about the simple stuff I use to do when I drink and why I used to drink. See I had a lot of affairs before I went to prison and then I’d drink to deal with the affairs and forget them. My ex-wife and I were together 12 years but never really had a conversation. We’d be embarrassed to say certain things. I was 21 when we had our first kid.  I used to work 7 days a week. I had quite a big drink problem.

 After about 2 years in prison I realised that my life was leading me to prison. But before you could have asked me and I’ve have been no I’m in control of it... It all started when my wife had Post-Natal Depression and she’d stay at home and I’d go to work and I’d come back and she’d moved out. To get my own back I’d go down the pub... I never wanted to go home because I’d just get told off. Then with the children cos I wasn’t spending much time with them...I told them I’d buy them whatever they wanted, so I spoilt them. And when I went to prison my wife had to go onto income support and what she had to spend on herself a week she had to live on her and 3 children and pay all the bills.

Teaching and being taught

Ann and Marjorie (his FCW teachers) were like my mum. We’d just chat. It wasn’t like prisoner and staff, it was just two friends. Just talking. I made sure that they were safe, and Marjorie if she felt that she was unsafe with someone she’d say is he alright or can you just be close in case he did something? And I didn’t mind that.

Sometimes with the officers it was quite difficult. There’s just an instant dislike. But some of them they used to come in and they liked the work and they’d come talk to you a bit about it and say oh I’m doing this at home, I’m stuck with this could you help? Especially with the quilting, because they think oh I’ll go home and do that, that’s a good idea. It don’t take a lot of your time to show people what to do, after you’ve been doing it for such a long time.

A lot of people think it’s quite amusing though, my mum’s friends, and they say you must be able to sew anything. My mum does a patchwork class. They want me to go in and show them how to make quilts. They say it looks really hard but I say it’s not hard it’s quite easy...

Talking to the children

I talk to the children quite a lot. My youngest son nearly got into a fight the other day with 15 blokes. I tried to explain to him the consequences. When I came out the kids thought that it was big and clever that I’d been in prison. My son’s friends go in for a couple of months here couple of months there and they think it’s all clever and it’s not. Cos they don’t really do prison, they just do 2 months. They just go there and see their friends. I tried to explain to them it’s not as nice as people make out.

They see the big difference in me cos they still remember how I used to be. And they used to think it was big and clever. I could look after myself. But now I could explain to them that it’s not big and clever. It’s just stupid. Takes a bigger person to walk away. And I start explaining to them about all the silly things I used to do when I was sewing, they laugh at sewing.

Because I had things to do, I was not in prison in my head. And it all came from the sewing really. You can easily become part of the prison system. But through the sewing I could afford to have a half hour on the phone every evening and that gets me out that mindset I’m in prison. And then when that door’s shut I’m not on my own because I’m thinking about the children. But if you’ve got nothing then you’re just sitting there, eating and sleeping, and doing the rules you become institutionalised for the rest of your life.

But you can work through. All through one word, sorry. The only way I got to that was through sewing. That’s why I changed my life.

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(4) Comments

  • Sheree Charalampous
    05 January 2012, 09:52

    Karl's story is amazing! Sewing has transformed his attitude, his outlook and his ambitions, his life! He has grown as man and human being and been able to say sorry, even to a fellow inmate. That takes lots of courage.

  • Catherine
    12 January 2012, 18:02

    "Because I had things to do, I was not in prison in my head."
    Beautiful words for all to live by. Many on the outside (not in prison) imprison themselves in their heads...Karl found a way out of his old way of thinking....he freed himself by using his brain and his hands. Thank you for sharing these words.

  • Anonymous commenter
    17 March 2012, 09:18

    Karl's story of how finding the courage to sew helped him reflect on his life before and in prison ,gave him respite from prison life and enabled to find space in his head to think positively about his children ,educate himself and change his behaviour in small steps has humbled me . Thank you for spending time to share these thoughts on this long challenging emotional journey.

  • Laurie Cossar
    21 May 2012, 17:39

    Karl's story cuts right to the core of the soul. Years and years of traditional rehabilitation and/or therapy could not do what Karl was able to do himself by having the courage to look deeply inside. Sewing enables the mind to quit, like a form of meditation, and ultimately raises the level of consciousness. There you will find peace, forgiveness and redemption.

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