Loving daughter


Former shopping addict

Melissa’s story

School was an extremely difficult time for me. I was bullied the entire time and despite being desperate to be part of a crowd, left to feel like an outsider. I thought boys could give me the validation I wanted, but all three of the long-term partners I had growing up cheated on me – even my fiancée at the age of 18.

That’s how my spending habit started. I would buy material things in an effort to be accepted by the popular kids: clothes, shoes, handbags, make up, you name it. If someone else had a Mulberry handbag, then I had to have one too. It made me feel normal. But it was only ever a short-term fix: by the next week there’d be something else in fashion, something else I had to have. As soon as I was old enough to obtain credit cards, I maxed all of them out. There was just always something more.

I got married when I was 22 knowing it was not what I wanted.

When I was 19, my parents announced they were selling our family home and moving to Spain. Although I didn’t show it at the time, I was devastated – I was so close with my parents. At the same time, everyone around me was starting to settle down and live independent lives and it felt like something I should do too. But I longed to have someone who would love and look after me. I did have one partner who clearly cared for me very much, but in truth, I knew we weren’t right for each other. I got married when I was 22 knowing it wasn’t what I wanted.

Meanwhile, when my parents moved abroad, they left me in charge of their savings. I had a job as a financial advisor at the time, so they trusted me to act on their behalf for all financial matters. Having the money there felt like it was easier to get the life that I wanted. I started using their savings to substitute my ever-mounting pile of bills and lavish spending until, eventually, the money ran out.

I was called into the police station and arrested for theft and fraud.

I went to Spain to visit my parents with the intention of telling them what I’d done, but when I got over there I couldn’t do it – I couldn’t bear to disappoint them like that and I was too scared to admit that I had a problem.

When I returned home, I ignored their attempts to contact me until eventually I left them no choice. On 17th February 2009, I was called into the police station and arrested for theft and fraud. From then on, I was not allowed to contact my parents or anyone else involved in the case. Meanwhile, everyone in my extended family cut me off as soon as they found out what had happened. Later, I had to read in the paper that my Nan died and there was no mention of me in her obituary. I’d lost my whole family overnight.

For the next three years, I was on police bail without ever having to attend the station – for some reason, my appointments were always rolled over. In the end, I was actually released from bail without charge due to a change in the law that set a limit on the amount of time in which a decision could be made. My nightmare was over – or so I thought.

In 2017, after my dad made a complaint to the police, I was finally sentenced and sent to serve 12 months behind bars.

The following eight years of my life passed by in a blur. I was in and out of hospital with failed suicide attempts, put under a crisis team and subject to regular welfare checks from the police. During this time, I was diagnosed with various mental health conditions including severe anxiety, depression, and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). To make matters worse, I had a partner who was physically and mentally abusive towards me – he saw the state I was in and thought he could control me. Meanwhile, the longer this situation dragged on, the more difficult things became for my parents. They wanted answers and we both needed some sort of resolution.

In 2017, after my dad made a complaint to the police, I was finally sentenced and sent to serve 12 months behind bars. While the sentence came as a bit of a shock, I can honestly say that going to prison was the best thing that could have happened. Through Restorative Justice, the prison service helped me reconnect with my parents and ultimately turn my life around. When my parents first came to visit me, three months after I was sentenced, we had an emotional reunion and it would have been difficult to get through without the support of staff at HMP East Sutton Park – they helped us become a family again. I received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helped me understand my spending addiction and the reasons for it. Similarly, my parents grew to understand and forgive my actions, which in turn enabled me to overcome my guilt.

While I was at HMP East Sutton Park, I also used the time to study and better myself for release. I secured a position with Runway Training as a Functional Skills Tutor (teaching core maths and English skills to young people) and was released from prison to go to work every day. Having worked voluntarily for 6 months, I was offered a full-time position upon my release and sent to university to study for two years at the same time, where I later received a Level 5 Diploma in Teaching and Education. I have nothing but gratitude to Runway Training for seeing potential in me and taking me on, despite some of the struggles we’ve had during COVID-19. In the two years since my release from prison, I have continued my studies and used every opportunity further my prospects in the teaching field.

So long as you’re honest and upfront about your past, it doesn’t have to hold you back.

I honestly cannot thank the prison service enough for everything they did for me and my parents, both personally and professionally. Without them, I have no doubt that I would have gone back to my old life, my toxic relationship and spiraling mental health issues, and in hindsight I think I probably wouldn’t be here today.

The material things don’t matter to me anymore, and I no longer feel the need to please everyone. If someone doesn’t like me, that’s fine. I’ve got a partner who loves me and has accepted my past, and I’m just grateful to be living a happy life with my loved ones around me.

My message to others would be: don’t hide behind your past, and don’t be ashamed of it. The things that have happened are just a blip in our lives – one that hopefully can teach us and make us stronger, but shouldn’t define us. Speak to others and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are people out there, including employers, who will understand. So long as you’re honest and upfront about your past, it doesn’t have to hold you back.

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