Lockdown Love: 'My Partner Is In Prison. I Haven't Touched Him For Almost A Year'
Words by Rebecca Tidy, 33, from London
I walked across the grey concrete prison yard and looked back at the 12ft wall topped with barbed wire.
As it turned out, I was too ill to appreciate the Nordic sauna or waterfront hot tub as, over the following hours, I developed a sore throat, sickness and breathing difficulties, which I later learned was coronavirus.
I haven't seen Chris since that cold March day almost a year ago. And I'm glad I didn't realise how long it would be this at the time, as it was already hard enough to leave him in the visitors' hall.
We'd looked up after our lingering goodbye hug to find the vast room had emptied of visitors, and the prison officers were staring pointedly at us.
Chris has been held in Guernsey Prison since November 2019. He's awaiting trial - on drug importation charges - and we haven't been allowed to visit him since 23rd March 2020.
This is because I live on the UK mainland, and Guernsey insists on a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for all visitors to the island. Sadly, I've been unable to take a fortnight off work to isolate in the Channel Islands with our two toddlers.
In other words, our relationship has been purely virtual for the past year. While other couples have spent the pandemic bingeing Netflix or baking banana bread, we've had no other option than to spend hours talking, like teenage sweethearts.
While I yearn for his physical touch, we've learned instead to focus on our innermost thoughts and feelings - and strengthened our emotional bond in the process.
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We've spoken about our life experiences, from childhood through to our late twenties. We've discussed our hopes and dreams, while making plans for the future. With a shared passion for fitness, we hope to expand our health food shop and exercise studio. And we'd both like to have more kids, as a large family has always been our dream.
Of course, it hasn't been without drama - there have been loud arguments and seemingly-endless silences, bickering over silly things that get blown out of proportion without physical touch to heal the gap.
Chris has Asperger's, which means he voices his thoughts in a very abrupt way, while I'm more sensitive and like to communicate in a less confrontational manner.
His aggression is far more noticeable since entering the prison environment, and things can become rather tense at times, especially when I've become confronted with his newfound prison bravado. I miss his bear hugs and long, cosy mornings in bed.
Now, each of our phone calls begins with an automated reminder that our conversations are recorded. It's strange to think that someone is listening to your emotional exchanges during a time of such vulnerability.
I feel unbelievably sad that Chris is in this unpleasant environment. It's hard to understand how our society locks grown men into a confined space for decades at a time. I try my best to stay positive, but it really does feel as though our lives are on hold right now.
Before lockdown, I visited him once a month. I'd spend a long weekend in Guernsey, so we could squeeze three days' of visits into one trip. In reality, this meant we only spent three 45-minute sessions together, but it was better than the current situation where visits are banned.
Guernsey has no plans to make it easier for prison visits to go ahead, so it's unlikely that Chris and I will see one another anytime soon. For now, this means we need to make the best of this incredibly tricky situation. We both take comfort from our frequent phone calls, though it's hard work to maintain a relationship from afar.
But the things we have to work for are often the very things most worth having. Our time apart has shown us just how much we want to be together. It's made us even more committed to one another.
And if our relationship can survive a prison lockdown, it can survive most other things as well. The personal strengths, trust, and communication skills we've developed during this time will serve us well as a couple for many years after we have closed the physical gap.
Featured Image Credit: Rebecca Tidy
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