Time passes and no one says a word, until I see why he apologised. He stands and produces some handcuffs from his belt. My memory goes back to when I was brought into the room in front of all of those other shoppers. It’s going to be a million times worse this time with handcuffs on. I start to cry now. I wipe away the tears and I plead with him. I plead for him not to put the cuffs on me, but it doesn’t do any good. He repeats that he is sorry and I resign myself to the cuffs and we walk out of the little office room.
The manager has a smug look on his face and I hate him. I don’t think he realises what he has done. I know he doesn’t care.
The door of the police car slams shut. I don’t remember what happened to get me here. I think I had my eyes closed as I made the return trip back to the sunshine. There’s a police officer on either side of me, holding my arm between my shoulder and elbow. I keep my eyes down, not wanting eye contact with anyone. I won’t feel embarrassed and I won’t feel humiliated if I can’t see what’s going on. If I close my eyes, nobody can see me.
In the car I look out of the window and see the shops I go into all the time, see the pavement that I walk on, and wish I was walking up there now and not in this car.
I know that I’ve done wrong, but I needed to do it. They have to understand that I don’t deserve all this. All I wanted was some food to eat that wouldn’t make me poorly. I don’t recall much of the ride in the car. I’m lost in my own thoughts wondering what’s going to happen. I’ve never been inside a police station before and I don’t know what to expect.
I’m at a counter and a different police officer who is drinking a cup of coffee takes charge. His coffee smells strong and makes me feel sick. I don’t like him. He doesn’t seem to like his job. He seems annoyed because I’ve disturbed his peace. I feel scared that he is going to shout at me. He asks me my name and I ask him if my parents need to be called. I won’t tell him where my parents are; they don’t want me anymore. The man behind the desk says that I don’t have to tell him and I feel relieved.
I’m tired. It’s getting dark outside. The lady police officer, the one with the nice smile, leads me down a corridor to a cell with a funny smell. I feel nervous and uncomfortable. I ask her when I can go home. I’m wondering how long I’m going to have to stop there. Am I going to be there an hour, a day, or longer? I realise that I have no idea what they are going to do with me. There’s a shiny blue mattress in the corner. It’s like the ones babies have in case they wet themselves and it doesn’t look comfy. The window is made of opaque plastic bricks that I can’t see through, no matter how hard I try. They just let the light in. There’s a loud bang behind me, I turn around quickly, and realise that the door’s been shut. The policewoman has gone and I don’t know what to do now. I’m alone.
I know that I can’t escape this room, that the door’s locked and I’m stuck here until someone comes back and lets me out. I feel relieved to be here. Although I can’t get out, no one else can get in for now and I’m safe. I’m tired enough to try the blue mattress, expecting it to be sticky, but it’s not. It feels warm and I lie down on it and curl into a ball. I hear strange sounds of other doors opening and closing and people’s footsteps in the background. None of that matters to me right now. I just need to sleep.
Sometime later, I’m woken by the door opening. A voice tells me to come on. I feel disorientated, but it doesn’t take me long to remember. I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep. I just want to be left alone. I resist getting up at first, but the voice repeats itself and tells me that they need to talk to me now. I feel nervous. What do I say? I remember how I felt back in that room when I mentioned my parents kicking me out. That was my plan, to seek sympathy, and the thought that a plan exists settles me down. I’ve no idea if it will work.
I’m led into a room and the nice policewoman gives me a smile and I feel comforted that she’s there. She invites me to sit down and I feel better, until they ask me if I want a solicitor. Why do I want a solicitor? I’ve not done anything wrong that they don’t know about. I’ve heard people talk about solicitors, but I don’t know what they do or how the presence of one can help me. Everyone’s seen what I’ve done on that monitor. They’ve got me in a corner, banged to rights. That smirking manager will see to that.
I sit down, too tired to cry. They asked me some questions and I tell them the truth, forgetting all about my plan to seek sympathy. I’m too tired to play games. I tell them again that I’m sorry. I just want to go home. I want to be left alone. The questions are asked and I answer them honestly.
They tell me that they are going to caution me, but I don’t understand what that means. I nod “okay,” but I can’t be bothered now. I’ve got no control over what happens to me now. It’s all been taken away. I go to a room with a senior police officer so he can caution me. He explains what it all means. I won’t have a criminal conviction, but if I get into trouble again in the next year then I may have to go to court because of what’s happened today.
A policeman gives me my belongings and shows me to the door. It’s dark. He tells me that it is 10.30 at night. I have no idea where I am. I don’t recognise anything and don’t care. I’m too tired. I see a roundabout in front of me and walk around it to find a signpost. I follow the directions to the City Centre. I walk for ages before I see anything familiar.
It’s dark and cold and a slight breeze in the air makes me shiver. After a while, I find myself outside the supermarket. It’s been closed for hours and no one is looking at me now, although I still feel like crying. I’m not allowed to go back in that shop again.
I slowly walk down the road, not thinking of anything in particular. When I’m home and in my bedroom I don’t take off my shoes or coat. I fall asleep dressed and don’t wake up until late the next morning.
I had no idea about going on the dole, the benefit system, or how to pay rent. After I’d paid my initial rent and bond I’d spent all of the money I had, apart from 40 pounds. I had nothing else coming in. My Mum occasionally gave me a few quid, but I couldn’t talk to her about the problems I was having. She had absolutely no idea how things were for me. Nobody did.
It was the best thing that could have happened, getting caught, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. I got signposts from thereon about where I could get help. After I was arrested I never stole food again. Instead of throwing the book at me, the police were really kind. They told me that I could get money through housing benefit to pay my rent and things improved for me after that. I’d found a way forward and within a few weeks I was getting my income support payments weekly because I was a student. I was still going to college every day, walking the hour from Holton to the centre of Leeds. I was going in every day unlike everyone else because it was better than being stuck in the house with nothing to do.
Sometimes I caught the bus to avoid the summer sun. That long walk without anything to drink in the searing heat could be cruel. I’d often get to college or back home and find myself nearly passing out. The bus would cost money and it’s hard to steal a bus ride. That was an incredibly tough time without money, but not the only time in my life when I’ve had nothing.
My Dad and I have never spoken since I left home. That first Christmas, I stayed with my maternal Gran and on the late afternoon of Christmas Day there were a lot of people there. My Mum had a lot of brothers and sisters and they all had a lot of kids and they all piled into Gran’s. My Dad was there too, choosing to stay in the kitchen while I sat in the living room. The rest of the family were divided between the two rooms.
The house was a little two up two down brick terraced house, so the rooms we were in were not huge. My Dad may have popped his head inside the living room and I went into the kitchen just to get some food, but we didn’t talk or acknowledge each other. We were just two strangers.
Over the intervening years, it seems that the power base in our relationship has shifted full circle. It’s gone from him making the choice to cut me out of his life to me not wanting him in my life.
I have two sisters, Helen who is a year older than me and Steph who is eight years younger. I’ve always been close to them, especially my little sister who has been one of my best friends since she was about 13.
About five years ago in the run up to Christmas my sisters were acting a little strangely. It didn’t click immediately; it was just something that I gradually started being aware of. They were both asking me the same things in different ways: if I was to be invited to Mum and Dad’s for Christmas dinner would I go? I’d say no and ask why and they would shrug it off and say that they were just wondering. The question would get asked again, but no one explicitly asked me to go home for Christmas and my Mum never said a word about it. It seemed to me that my Mum or possibly even my Dad wanted me to join them for Christmas dinner to make amends, for me to go around on Christmas Day and play happy family, but he wasn’t a part of my family any more.
That was a nice feeling for me because it was good to say no although I never received an official invitation. I imagined my sisters feeding back my negative response to my parents and that made me feel good. For a long time after they’d chucked me out I was angry. I really wanted to hurt my Dad. I’d fantasise about beating him up or I’d think about going to the police to report him for the way he’d treated me. He hit me for as long as I can remember, from maybe a couple of years old until he finally abandoned me. That’s not something a Christmas lunch and a few crackers were ever going to make me forget.