What do you have left, when it’s all gone?

They say, you don’t know what you have until its gone, maybe that is true but maybe what you have isn’t good for you, maybe its not enough for you, maybe its not pushing you, driving you or enabling you to grow… maybe what you lost was a job or a home, a family or a partner. Maybe you lost love or a friend. What if you lost it all?


I want to take myself back to a dark place, a cold late November evening in 2011. I was only 21. I arrived at HMP Eastwood Park with nothing but the white shirt, black trousers and heels I stood in. Blood shot eyes, tear soaked hair tied up on my head and a heart beating so hard it caused me physical pain. I was being processed into prison for a crime committed over two years before this date. Prison was going to be my home for the next two years. The memory of this evening isn’t clear, I recall a resounding thought in my head that kept repeating, years…..years……..years. I kept taking deep breaths and telling myself I didn’t get weeks, I didn’t get months, I got years. Still to this day, I struggle to come to terms with that. Even though I have completed my sentence, my license and moved on considerably with my life.
I lost my daughter, I lost my home, I lost my sisters. I lost my friends, I lost my job and in turn I lost myself.
What do you have left when it’s all gone?
‘Born alone, Die alone’ is a phrase often heard in the inside of a prison. It’s a tattoo you often seen on many a girl’s body. A message or reminder that we came into this world alone and we leave this world alone. These words probably ring in my head at least once a day, every day. When I am driving in my car and nobody knows where I am, when I am walking to uni with my headphones in, mentally planning my week, when I look at my phone at 8pm and realise nobody has text me today to see how I am, when I wake up alone at 6am for the tenth month of the year. This alone thing is real to me.
That is what prison gave me, when it took everything else. Time to be alone, to understand myself, to learn to be ok with feeling lonely, because like every good feeling in my life quickly passes, so do the bad ones. Being alone so long meant I overcame the feeling of loneliness and instead being alone turned into being safe, being powerful and in control of my thoughts, actions and intentions.
For two years I lived with no wifi, no internet access at all. No mobile phone, no sky TV or Netflix, no Spotify, no laptop, no ipod, no tablet. I lived with no family, no cuddles, no affection, no love. I lived without my nickname id been called since birth, I lived without hearing the words ‘mummy’ every day. I lived without happiness, without support, without encouragement. I lived without possessions, without money and for a period of time I even lived without hope.
What did I live with? I lived with sleepless nights, cold nights, noisy nights. I got to sleep to the sound of women crying, I got woken up by women screaming and I lived with women broken. My ears and heart got used to hearing stories of trauma, neglect and systematic failure.
It wasn’t for a few days I heard this, it wasn’t for just a few months I heard this. It was for years. It has been my whole life. Take away my freedom, take away my possessions, my family, my money, my home, my job, my name, my clothes…….take it all away, what did I have left when it was all gone? When I lost myself, when I was already damaged, broken and vulnerable and then I lost everything in the world that I owned and everyone in the world that I loved, what did I have left?
I had a fire in my soul. Losing myself and then having so much time alone, helped me to define, shape and develop and new me. New beliefs, new dreams, new ambition and a whole set of new life guidelines, developed in a prison cell that are still a major factor in my day to day life 4 years later.
Who am I with no money, no car, no home, no job, no family, no possessions? I am a bright, happy, feisty, 27 year old woman, who cares about people. I have morals, empathy for people who struggle with life, passion for change in a system I have witnessed failed and a great deal of gratitude for the small things in life. The people who smile at me when I pass, even if I don’t smile back. The people who start a conversation with me, because I often don’t start talking to people I don’t know. The people who stop their car in rush hour, to let me pass, even though they are probably late.
When prison took all I had, it taught me to be happy with nothing. I wasn’t going to be miserable for two years. Now I am able to find happiness in humanity, rather than with possessions. I find happiness in my home, with my child, lay in bed colouring in, rather than spending money taking her out. I find happiness in being able to not fit in, to not want to spend loads of money on shit that I really can’t afford to impress people who probably wouldn’t even give me the time of day anyway. I find happiness in my ability to embrace being alone, rather than feeling lonely, or needy, or that I want something more.
I have life, I have freedom and I have a daughter who tells me every day that she loves me and that she is proud of me. Maybe one day I will have more than what I have now, maybe one day I’ll have less than what I have now but my life and happiness will never again be defined by possessions, material things or anything that could be taken away from me.
What do you have left when it’s all gone?


One thought on “What do you have left, when it’s all gone?

  1. Dear Michaela, gosh lady, you do move me. So much of what you say resonates with me, with my son whom we have talked about already.

    He too has found that the solitude (locked in his cell for a month for 23.5 hours a day) he given him time to think, to think for himself and to start finding himself.

    Despite the mental pain and physical trauma of what you guys go through inside, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and eventually can lead on to wonderful things, and freedom. Not fir everyone – many fail on the outside. But you have risen above your circumstances and it has made you stronger.

    I love your recount of time with your daughter. Such precious time.

    I’m sending you a metaphorical hug right now! Keep the faith – in yourself – girl!


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