To the girl in the corner,
It always amazed me that you had taken my performing arts class. You would always sit in the back, in your prison issue, pale blue slightly dirty, sweatshirt. You never really said much. I look back now and I really hope you were listening.
We were putting on a play. The main parts had been given out to the ones who wanted them. You were in the stage hand team if I remember. We rehearsed in a dump of a workshop. It was next to a loud and bustling recycling workshop and that is what he was in charge of.
I am going to call him Mr B. I don’t want to write his name. Not because I am scared to, not because I don’t want to upset him, but mainly because I just don’t want to. You will know who I mean, I am guessing as will every other woman who was there that day.
Prison is a funny place, I can’t imagine what is was like for you as a prisoner but as a teacher it was surreal. You women were inmates, but you were people too and I will admit it was really hard to not build friendships with some of you. Because that’s what I think we do as women we come together. We look for allies and confidantes. Mainly because are all the same or because we carried children, or we share the same experiences. Good and bad.
Prison is filled with banter, Jesus I hate that word it is just a get out clause isn’t it, an excuse, a mask and an open invitation to say what you like,then back track when you realise you might have taken it a bit far. Like the day you were sat in the corner and I asked you to pop next door and ask if we could borrow a broom. One of the loudest and most confident women in the group took it upon herself to go with you.
Mr B decided to reply ‘ tell her she can have it if she sucks my cock’
I am so fucking sorry that you all had to hear that.
You didn’t have to tell me, the other woman told me loud and clear and made sure everyone else knew too. You just stood there.
Everything seemed to happen so quickly then. One minute I was telling you all to get in line as you had to go back to your cells, fielding off questions and comments like ‘ miss are you gonna take that?’ ‘Miss, I would slap him if I was you’ ‘Miss, bet he was joking’ ‘Miss, can you believe it’ ‘Miss. it is because he is an officer and your just a teacher’
We put on our performance, the drama course ended and you all changed activity. But you all kept on asking me ‘ What are you going to do about it’ ‘Have you spoken to Mr B’ ‘Don’t let him get away with it’
So I want to let you know, the girl in the corner, and all the other girls there. I didn’t let him get away with it. Because what he said that day was sexual harassment. It wasn’t banter, it wasn’t just how he is, and it wasn’t ok. I felt sick and vulnerable and he made me think that I was someone who wasn’t respected. But do you know what he made me feel more than anything else. Anger, pure and gut twisting to the bone anger. Because I had read your files, I knew that some of you had been in situations that I can’t even bring myself to type because they are so horrendous. I had listened to you all taking about the domestic abuse you had suffered when we got to a part of the play that made some of you remember things you hoped you had forgotten. Anger because here you were in a prison for what ever reason and you were still witnessing a man think it is ok to say and imply anything he wants to a woman because he didn’t mean it.
I fought for you all. I took it to my union. An investigation was launched. I had to see him everyday, telling people ‘ It was just banter’ ‘You all know what I am like’
I watched as people whispered about me ‘ How can she do this to him ‘ Mr B is such a nice bloke’ ‘What a stuck up cow she is, she flaunts all around here but can’t take a bit of banter’. And probably the most hurtful of all from a group of female officers’ She is such a twat, its not like he touched her tits!’
I had to have meetings were I was repeatedly asked why it bothered me so much, did I realise this could have serious consequences for him. Did I know what I was doing?
I knew exactly what I was doing. I was setting you all an example. We as women do not have to put up with this bull shit. We do not have to be touched to be abused. We do not have to have physical contact for it to be harassment and we most certainly do not have to accept it as banter. I won’t lie to you. The whole situation very nearly brought me to my knees. I lost people who I thought were not only my colleagues but my friends. People looked at me differently. Or they didn’t even look at me at all.
I was signed off with stress and in the end I gave up a career I loved because I could not give one more minute of my time to a place that didn’t show some of the most vulnerable women in our society that we all deserve respect and we all have a right to demand respect. About five people came to my leaving lunch and my bosses didn’t even sign my leaving card.
As the media fills with stories about how women are being brave and coming forward about their situations I often think of you in that corner. You were supposed to be in a place that protected you from that behavior. In a place that was staffed by people who were to help you, rehabilitate you and most importantly show you that there are decent people out there.
You women were the reason I acted, for you and for me and although it was a dark time in my life I want you and my daughter and my sister and my mother and all my female pupils to know I would do it all again in a heartbeat. And I will do it all over again if the situation arises.
I want you to know that there are women out there who are willing to make a stand and willing to fight for the respect and safety that we are entitled to.
Maybe a new day is on the horizon. x