Great Expectations : 3 : In Court

This is part three of a three-part story. Ruth is in a secure unit. If you wish to read the first two episodes, click here.

The next big event was a planning meeting. Mum and Dad, the social worker, who now knew Mum because of her new job and several of the Secure Unit staff and a couple of police officers and me. One of the staff had talked to me before the meeting to make sure I understood what would be happening and ‘to get my views’. What views? I ran off with Baz because everyone was pushing me at home and at school with their expectations. Parts of being on the run with Baz were awful, but it felt better than being at home for the most part. It still did. Especially now that I was beginning to get fed up with being restricted.

At the planning meeting the bomb dropped. They said that Baz had done an armed robbery on a post office while we were together this last time. Although I hadn’t been seen with him it seemed that everybody thought I knew about it and had ‘aided and abetted’. I think they could all see that I was in shock. I knew nothing about this.

Baz had gone off on his own some times and I dared not ask where he had been. What I did know was that he never seemed to have any money. In fact he made me lift things plenty of times, so that we could eat, or have clean clothes. We also broke into beach huts for somewhere to sleep or if the weather was really bad. So if he had done a robbery why did we have to live like that? Where was the money? Where was the gun? The police were keen to know this, but the social worker told them that they had to interview me formally if they wanted me to give evidence, especially if it was likely to incriminate me.

My mother was crying and Dad was as white as a sheet. “ What have you done, Ruthie?” Mum whispered, as if saying it out loud might make it real.

“I don’t know, Mum. I never knew nothing about stick ups.” Without realising it I was using Baz’s language. He often talked about stick ups that his friends had done, or he had heard about when he was in the young offenders’ place. But he never mentioned doing any himself. I nearly let slip that he had sent me shoplifting, but drew breath and then shut my mouth. “Keep buttoned, Doll.” Baz was with me in my head telling me what to do. Pity I didn’t sort it all out then. It might have saved me a lot of problems later.

Anyway here was the next shock. The police said Baz had done a string of robberies, some of them which had landed him in trouble before and some of which he had done when he was with me. “No, not Baz,” I said. “You’ve made a mistake.”

“No mistake, lovey,” the policemen insisted. “For sure, the people he has robbed and put in hospital might want it to be a mistake. But some of them will always have the scars to prove it.” Clearly they didn’t believe that I knew nothing about any of this. Baz had talked tough some times. And sometimes he gave me a slap if I didn’t do what he wanted fast enough. But really my Baz was lovely and he couldn’t have all these secrets from me.

The meeting decided that I would have a full assessment before being formally charged and sent to court.

When everybody had gone, the staff let me go in to my room to be on my own. Usually in the day the rooms were locked and we all had to be together, in the living area, in the classroom, or in the gym. It was much easier for staff to supervise us like that. But sometimes if someone had caused trouble they were locked in on their own for a bit. Or if, like me, you were upset, staff could let you be on your own for a bit. They didn’t lock the door, but they did keep checking on you. Nothing left to chance. No real privacy.

I just sat there on the bed looking at the wall. I had run away and upset my parents. If my school found out too much about what I’d done I knew they would want me out, before it all came out in public. That way their reputation would not be questioned.

I had gone because Baz told me it was the only way to be free. Free. No not free at all. Locked up. Going to Court. What then? Would I go to prison? Would I stay here for long? I had already found out that some of the girls had been here for months. What had I run away to? I had run away from people who cared about me. They cared so much I had felt under pressure to please all the time.

But I had run away to cold, hunger, slaps and worse from Baz, thieving, worrying about getting caught, lying, cheating, pretending. I had to pretend to Baz that I always enjoyed what we were doing. I had to pretend that the buzz was still great. I had to pretend that I liked the excitement, living rough, always wary, always on the look out, always covering our tracks, never making even eye contact with anybody, never calling home. I had to pretend I thought it was OK to steal from ordinary people, not just from the big shops.

We broke into the little huts that sold sweets and ice-cream on the promenade. We broke into beach huts. Sometimes people left clothes and towels and blankets and even kettles and food. That was great. But really I thought about Gran and her caravan and how she sometimes rented a beach hut, to make our holidays more fun. What if people broke in and took her stuff? She wasn’t rich and I didn’t think some of the people we robbed were rich either. They were just trying to have a nice time on holiday. Now I was pretending to the staff and Mum and Dad that none of this had happened.

At least I wasn’t pretending about not knowing Baz had a record, or that he had done armed robbery while I was with him. But who was going to believe me?

Life went on in secure. The psychologist, the psychiatrist, the teachers, the staff, all talking to me. All trying to find out stuff, without actually asking questions. “ Come for a chat.” “Have some tea and biscuits, Shirley. Whatever you tell me is in strict confidence.” Did I really look stupid? It was their job to get as much information as possible. Why oh why did I not tell them about the things Baz had made me do? ‘Cos Baz had told me what he thought about ‘grassing’ on friends. I also sensed that if I told them he had made me do stuff it would make it bad for him. I was so loyal to Baz that I trusted him to look out for me as well. If only.

All I would do, even when the solicitor came, was to look away. I kept a conversation with myself running in my head to block out what they were saying. One time she got so furious she shouted at me to listen. She shouted that I was likely to be locked up for a long time. She yelled that Baz had implicated me in all sorts he had done while we had been on the run together. He said it was me. That it was my ideas. That he had stayed with me to try to look after me. That I was planning to run away and got him to go too. That I had got the gun in a pub. That I “turned tricks” to get the money.

“ What tricks, Miss?” I asked, really not knowing what she meant.

“Prostitution, Shirley, prostitution”, she yelled. “For heaven’s sake give me something to work with.” But I just looked away.

Perhaps it was my fault. I had had great expectations of Baz. That he was different. That he cared about me. That he wanted me for what I was, not for what he wanted me to achieve.

When I got to court I soon found out that ‘not grassing on friends’ had meant nothing to Baz. I stood there in shock while I heard that the next several years of my life were going to be taken away in secure until I was old enough to be transferred to a women’s prison. I found myself sliding down on to the floor. I closed my eyes and covered my ears. I had to block it out. Perhaps that would stop it. Perhaps I would wake up in my own bed at home, with my own things. Perhaps it had all been a dream.

Sadly not. Mum and Dad looking stricken. My brother and sister crying. The police woman with a pinching grip on my arm and a smirk on her face when she was turned away from my family. Off back to secure in the pig van. I would be ‘somebody’ now. Somehow the girls always got to hear what had gone on in court. Now they would know that I had done some heavy duty stuff and would be going to real prison soon. So now they would have great expectations. I would be expected to be tough, to bad mouth the staff, to slap other weaker girls on the quiet. To have some attitude and put up a front.

What on earth had I done?

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