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When I was seventeen, both of my parents were arrested and went to prison.

Thyme Café is Kerry’s first full length play that explores her teenage experiences of having parents in prison. Last year, she successfully secured a Bradford Producing Hub Make Work Grant. This is the first blog of a series that will explore her research, experiences, the R&D process and everything in between! 

When I was seventeen, both of my parents were arrested and went to prison. My dad got just under six years and my mum three. I ended up dropping out of school and had to leave the family home.

At first, I stayed with other family but that didn’t work out. For a while, I crashed with friends, with anyone who would let me stay. I never let on quite how desperate I was. I remember asking one friend if I could stay and her mum took the phone from her. “Sorry Kerry, we don’t want to get involved especially with everything that’s going on with your parents”. I remember thinking then – what the actual fuck is going on?! It was the first time I had come face to face with the social stigma of having parents in prison. It definitely was not my last.

It wasn’t long until places I could  stay wore thin, I mean you can only invite yourself so many time. I stayed with my best friend and her family who really took me under their wing. I remember her mum saying to me “Let’s get you sorted – you can’t live like this anymore”. So off I went down the council. It was clear as soon as I sat down in the office there was not much help for me.  I remember literally begging the woman to put me in care, at least it would be a home of some sort. The woman apologised and said because I was over sixteen, I was too old for the care system. They also said they were unable to help me find somewhere to live as I was staying at my friends and technically not homeless. I remember sitting there confused. If I wasn’t eligible for help… then who was?

I am twenty-five years old now and that feeling of hopelessness in that council office still sits in the pit of my stomach. I can still feel the scratching fabric of the chair, the stuffiness of the office, the lump in my throat. Even after everything I have achieved, and with my parents out of prison I often still feel like that lost seventeen-year-old girl. But, I was one of the lucky ones. I had someone who cared for me. My best friend’s mum took it upon herself to help me. She found me room to rent, helped me sign on and eventually helped me get a job. I owe it all to her, she was there for me when most people were not. I then joined the local college to retake my A levels. 

Years later, when my MA tutor encouraged us to write about our lived experiences, I knew I needed to write about having parents in prison. I sat on the idea for a long time. Nah I’ll do it later. It only resurfaced again during the first lockdown last year. Despite working five days a week at a supermarket, I had more time on my hands and thought, fuck it why not? And that’s how Thyme Café came about.

In May 2020, I successfully secured my first arts funding, a Leeds Inspired small Grant (Leeds Council), a Live Theatre Bursary and a Bradford Producing Hub Make Work Grant. As part of the BPH Make Work Grant, I had the opportunity to carry out the initial research for Thyme Café.

I naively assumed that my experiences were unique, but the statistics shocked me to the core: an estimated 310,000 children every year have a parent in prison in England and Wales. I knew there were some kids as I often saw them on visits, but I never realised the scale of the problem. I became plagued with so many questions:

Why was this not being spoken about more?

If that’s the figure right now, how many people have lived experiences of parents in prison?

Why have I never met anyone with similar experiences to me?

Where are these young people? And more importantly, are they ok?

The research created a whole new level of motivation for writing and developing a play that explored these experiences. My lived experience might not be unique as I initially thought, but it’s a story that needs to be written.

I hope Thyme Café creates a conversation, and I hope to give a voice to young people who are often forgotten.

In this series of blogs I will share my research including interviews, the R&D phases of Thyme Café, my experiences and everything in between. 

I hope you stick around. I have another blog coming up soon.

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