A Family Affair: Life after a life of crime

UNTIL HIS MID-30S, BOB TURNEY WAS A "CAREER PRISONER," DRIFTING IN AND OUT OF JAIL. TODAY, HE IS A PROBATION OFFICER AND A MINISTER. BUT GOING STRAIGHT HAS NOT ALWAYS BEEN EASY FOR BOB, 54, HIS WIFE SUE, 42, OR THEIR CHILDREN
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Bob

When I was growing up, I would do anything for attention. I came from a very dysfunctional family. My mother was deaf, my father was a manic depressive. He committed suicide when I was 10. I failed miserably at school. No one talked about dyslexia then, everyone just thought I was thick. The only way I could achieve the attention I craved was by behaving badly. I was 17 when I was first sent to a young offenders' institution and I spent the next 18 years in and out of jail.

I became a career prisoner rather than a career criminal. Prison offered me security, boundaries which I never had in the outside world.

But prison couldn't change me because it didn't make me take responsibility for my life. I finished my last sentence in May, 1979. Two years later, I had reached rock bottom. After stopping drinking for six months, I drank for four days solid, lost my job, made a weak attempt at slashing my wrists and came round from a blackout in a public toilet.

I was admitted to a rehabilitation clinic in 1981 after finally acknowledging I had a drink and drugs problem. The psychiatrist said I was institutionalised and now using hospitals instead of prisons to hide in and unless I changed I would end my life as a long-term inmate somewhere. I have not had a drink since.

I first met Sue when I was in the clinic. I had nothing to offer anybody. People like me don't form relationships, they take hostages. I sucked everything I could out of the people I met and when they couldn't take it anymore, I felt crushed. My first marriage had broken up, I no longer saw my two sons, I was in a half-way house after leaving the clinic, I couldn't read or write.

Sue was 13 years younger than me, middle class, a prolific reader and I was besotted with her. I thought I have to tell her that I can't read and write. I thought she would dismiss me but she said "I love you for the person you are, not for what you can do."

It has been hard learning to be a parent, to avoid repeating the mistakes of my parents. Being so close to the children makes me sad to think of what I have missed with my two sons but I can't walk back into their lives unless they want to contact me. It would be too arrogant of me after all that happened.

I have to live with the consequences of the past but I believe in repentance and restitution. I believe if I can move on and strive to be a better person, I can be forgiven. As a probation officer, if I can start turning people away from crime and saving future victims, it is my way of paying society back for the nasty things I did.

People ask me if there is anything I miss from my former life. I miss the irresponsibility of it all. Deep down inside me, there is still a part of me that longs to be looked after.

Sue

I sometimes think I should sue under the Trades Descriptions Act - I married an illiterate van driver and now I am married to a probation officer who is working on his third book, who is renowned in dyslexic circles and gives talks in public schools.

I first met when he was in the rehab clinic. He was totally different to me. I was 24, an only child from a fairly privileged middle class background. I was close to my parents, went to a private school - crime and violence had never touched my life.

I knew about his background from the beginning. It was always part of the package with . I thought he was rather mouthy but I felt drawn to him - even though I didn't think for a minute "that's my future husband."

It sounds naive but I was never worried about his past. It never occurred to me that he might go back into crime or to drinking because I knew he had changed. I had total faith in him and that has probably been a factor in helping him keep straight. He had never had anyone who believed in him like that before.

I was brought up in the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints but was distanced from it when we met. Then 's mother died and my step- brother died and was very impressed with how my stepmother's faith helped her cope with her loss. Gradually we became involved with the Church again.

The children know everything about their father. It has been tough. When wanted to do his degree, we had to sell our home and move into a council house and live on a pounds 6,000 a year grant for three or four years so we didn't have a lot of things. He has been a very good role model for them, showing it is possible for someone to change.

I went back to Wandsworth Prison with him once and I could imagine what he was like when he was in there as a prisoner, how he fitted into the life. outside is incredible responsibility, his job, myself and the children, his talks, the Church. Life is hard work. Sometimes I think he has a sneaking, wistful feeling about being back in a cell with a spam sandwich.

`Going Straight: After Crime and Punishment', compiled by Turney and Angela Devlin (Waterside Press, Winchester pounds 18) is published next week. (May 11)

Comments