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It’s Normal To Us

Virginia Moffatt reflects on having a partner imprisoned

To all intents and purposes, last Wednesday was a normal day. I dropped my husband, Chris Cole, in Headington and watched him walk away in the darkness to the London bus, as I often do. Then I  headed back home for the usual morning routine of breakfast, sandwich making, and the school run.

But last Wednesday was different in one respect. For the second time in four years, Chris was returning to Westminster Magistrates to “wilfully refuse” to pay a fine he’d incurred during  an anti-arms trade protest. In September 2009, he’d taken a can of spray paint, and left messages of peace on the entrance to the opening conference of the Defence Services Export International Exhibition (DSEI). After a year of dodging bailiffs and arrest warrants, we knew this would inevitably lead to a prison sentence, and by lunchtime he’d been sentenced to 30 days (hopefully out in 15) and off to Wandsworth Prison. (Chris has written some excellent pre-prison reflections here)

Six days later, and although we’ve received a lovely chatty letter, he hasn’t managed to call.  This is the longest period of time that we haven’t spoken to each other since we’ve been together. I know from last time, that part of the frustration of having my partner inside is being at the mercy of the prison system. He’s probably written  several more letters, but they are buried somewhere in a postroom. He may not have received ours. It’s possible that he’s been locked up 24/7 and hasn’t been able to get to a phone, or he hasn’t got his pin number, or the queues have been too long. It’s best not to speculate, or sit around waiting for the phone to ring.  But I am so used to Chris being there throughout the day to share domestic tasks, silly jokes, work problems, that his absence is everywhere.

In the meantime, life has to go on. The children need feeding, taking to school, helping with homework. There is washing up to be done and  the toilet to unblock. We’ve had moments of sadness, particularly from our youngest, who at 8, is struggling to understand why his Dad is doing this. But we all hooted with laughter at Chris’s description climbing up the stairs to the top bunk bed (I couldn’t possibly comment on the suggestion that he bears a marked resemblance to one Ronnie Barker.)

We know that life would be much simpler if Chris had paid the fine and come home last Wednesday. It’s not as if the arms trade will be stopped by this one action and prison sentence.  And in two weeks time, our lives will return to normal, almost as if nothing has happened.

But I know that’s not true. I know that we owe it to the families whose lives are devastated by the weapons sold at DSEI and all around the globe, to do what little we can to stand up against the arms dealers and warmongers.  I know already from the  wonderful messages of solidarity we’ve received, this one tiny action will have inspired many more.  That when this sentence is over, the work will continue and we’ll be able to support those who are supporting us right now.

Last Thursday, when our son wailed, “Why can’t we be a normal family?”, his ten year old sister replied, “For us this is normal.”  She’s right of course. And perhaps when it’s become normal for every family to do this from time to time,  there’s a small chance that the arms trade will finally be defeated.

Topics: Reportage | Prison