‘What if’ – By Yvonne Garside

Last year we published an article named ‘Labels’ by Yvonne Garside, telling the story of a young client who had been neglected by society. Now, Yvonne tells another extraordinary story of her interaction with a client following a phone call from the British Red Cross asking if we could help.

Just take a moment to consider your surroundings.

Everything that is familiar to you. Your home, your furniture, your clothing, your family, your friends, even the pot-holed, slightly uneven pavement that you walk along to get to the shop that you visit everyday.

In your minds eye, picture everything around you that makes sense of your world.

The reason you get up in the morning. The landmarks that you plan each year. The school your children go to, the dreams and expectations that you hold for them. The job that you go to, the bills you have to pay. What you are going to have for tea because it’s a Wednesday.

All familiar things. Things which give us a safety-net. Things that stop the world from crashing in on us and makes certainty out of chaos.

Now think about being uprooted from your safety zone and dropped into a totally unknown place. One that you don’t understand, that you can’t apply your existing thought processes to and one in which everything you thought you knew no longer fits in.

How different would your world look then?

So here we are in the UK, with life relatively structured. With options open to us and freedom to make informed choices. Where voices can be heard and heed taken to whatever marginalised group you belong to, to shape and enrich the society in which we live.

We understand this. We live within it. We add to it on every occasion we make our choices.

What happens, however, when you are dropped into this world without being equipped for it.

Let me tell you a story. Not a bleeding heart story. Not a story written to pull at your heart strings and told to you in order to extract £3 a month or an additional “one off gift”, but a story of fact. This story happened to one individual and it is one that is faced every single day by many others.

This is a story about a woman who had a life in another country. Where everything she knew about herself, her culture, even her values, was taught to her from a very early stage. She had a husband and a family, and she was content with her lot.

Her husband left her to forge another life in the UK. He said he wanted a better life, with promises and opportunities. Who wouldn’t want that? Who doesn’t want a better standard of life, the chance of betterment for our children? And so her journey began. It began in excitement and hope and ended up, sat in a British Red Cross office amongst people she did not know and in the middle of court systems that she did not understand.

Nobody told her when her husband left her with 2 young children, that he was going to marry again in another country and have a second family that she was unaware of. Nobody told her that the next house she would be living in which she believed was hers, was in fact the home of her husband's second wife and second family and that a time would come when she would have to move to another home with people she did not know, with her young family and be at the beck and call of those people.

Why is this and how could this happen?

It was simply because a voice was not heard. Because everyone around her was shouting louder and louder until her voice was drowned out and eventually the value of her voice diminished into a near silent whisper.

Who told this woman that when she signed her name on a document that she would be committing a criminal offence? Who told her that she ran the risk of being sent to prison and being separated from her children? You might think a lot of people…

But What if?

  • The Television. What if you don’t speak English and your life has become enslaved to the whims and wants of other people and there isn’t one. When putting your feet up at the end of a long day to watch Emmerdale or Eastenders isn’t an option because your day doesn’t actually have an end. It starts and stops when somebody else tells you when it does. When Jeremy Kyle can’t reach you, an audience can’t hear what you have to say, and a Polygraph isn’t available to check whether what you have to say is True or Untrue.
  • The Newspapers - What if you never see one, and even if you do, the words and sentences are nothing more than squiggles on a page. When you don’t even know or realise that the horrific stories of human trafficking and slavery that are regularly published and described so graphically, may actually apply to you.
  • Other people - What if you don’t see anyone. Because you are locked in a house when the other occupants go out. When you don’t have a key or money, or a telephone or a stamp. When there is no-one to hear your cries and no one to see your tears. What if you don’t even see anybody at school because you don’t even know that your children ought to be going? When you fall through the safety net of the system because you have no idea there is a system in place. When all you know is what you are told by people that don’t know you, don’t care about you and use you.

The world looks very different now doesn’t it?

So what has happened when a vulnerable, displaced, disorientated woman like this is then potentially criminalised and sees the doorway of possibility being closed and a doorway into a prison cell begin to open? When the life she envisaged for her children in safety and stability ends in social services involvement and the dream becomes a nightmare of Immigration proceedings, Family court proceedings and Criminal proceedings. When a safety net turns into a drag net and there appears to be no way out?

Is our system such that it no longer hears or is it because it no longer cares?

Thank God that in the midst of turmoil like this someone was willing to be her Voice. To listen and believe, to hear and then act, to stand up for her and be heard when she was unable to speak for herself.

You see one voice is easy to miss but when many voices join together what starts as little more than a whisper meant for an audience of one can become a resounding roar that our systems cannot ignore. Perhaps it is time for a totally different way of looking at our court systems and for a deeper understanding of “people” before decisions that act like a wrecking ball in already fragile lives are released.

Am I pleased that we received a call from the British Red Cross?

Most definitely yes, not to see the rubble of a woman’s life, demolished by a system that she does not understand but rather to have the opportunity of being part of the first shoots of hope and part of the rebuilding process of her life.

Is she one of many? … Undoubtedly yes. Men and women, children and young people are yet a potentially silent throng until the next police raid, or the next horrific story that will headline in our newspapers that we’ll read for a day or a week and then forget.

What can a solicitor do?

A solicitor is also known as an advocate, one dictionary definition says this:

“To speak or write in favour of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly.

A person who speaks or writes in support or defence of a person, cause

A person who pleads for or on behalf of another; intercessor”

We are all Advocates as long as we raise our voice.

Perhaps what we need to do is consider raising them together!

To read more about Yvonne and the work she does, please read her profile