Bennett 04 By Hayley Bennett
Bennett 04 Hayley Bennett’s photography explores subjects around social justice and cultural contexts. The themes for this project titled Bennett 04 focuses on ideas of absence and loss around the relationship with her absent father created by the conditions of incarceration. Hayley has personal experiences relating to the themes of the project and a profound understanding of the distress, trauma and pain experienced by families who are affected by the penal system. Specifically, documenting the spaces and items that belonged to her dad such as an assemblage which documents his past life through his everyday objects and the personal effects left behind from his military days, specifically capturing his former hobbies or objects from the attic or toolshed. In contrast, the project also documents his present circumstances and is co-created with her dad whose contributions of drawings, letters and conversations reflect the status of their relationship, revealing the impact of separation. This installation is a full scale recreation of her dad's cell including outlines of the furniture based on drawings her dad and other inmates made of the space. The work is on the back wall, where his notice board would have been. This is to represent his living space and prison life together with Hayley's own images. The installation also reflects his interests and his identity through his belongings together with family images which highlight the relationship revealing the experience of her family and others as we go through forced separation.
This is our story ...
My experience of the trauma my family went through with the penal system The experience of the loss of my dad and the prison system was the hardest thing me and my family have ever gone through. However, it was also the most traumatic and I want to share our story. The years leading up to and after my dad's trial and sentence were the most traumatic, painful years of my life. I was only fifteen at the time and it took years for me and my family to come to terms with what happened as well as to return to a sense of normality. During and after my Dad’s sentence in 2017, we had no community support, such as charitable help for our family to adjust and cope with the repercussions or having any conversations about expectations or coping strategies. Other types of crime victims receive a lot of support yet other crime victims are unrepresented. This really affected our family and we had no support in navigating this trauma or how to understand what was happening to us. In a sense we were left behind and forgotten about which was very damaging to my mental health. I struggled for years and it was very hard coming to terms with my Dad being there one minute, then gone in the blink of an eye. In death, one is able to grieve when one loses a loved one but we couldn’t grieve our huge loss. This experience was very isolating in that none of my friends or school teachers knew what we were trying to deal with. After a news article was released about my dad’s sentence, it brought a lot of hate and outrage targeted at us. People said he should be shot or hung, drawn and quartered. I was only seventeen at the time and seeing this online was very difficult. In 2021, I had to delete his social media account due to comments and horrible posts years after his sentence was handed down. It’s not something that ever goes away and because my Dad went to prison, I lost nearly all my friends. The other tough thing we had to deal with was local villagers staring and neighbours we had known for years became distant with the exception that some gave us support and asked if we needed anything.
Leading up to the trial my Dad became a different person. He became distant and not really present. He didn’t want to be involved or do things with the family and he started to fade away and shut down. During this time I tried to spend as much time with him as I could before he went away. The system can be harsh. You have to be eighteen to visit a loved one inside. In this case his prison was two hours away and the day before I turned eighteen, he was moved to another prison over four hours away.. Due to how expensive it was to visit, and the distance I have only seen him once in four years as the trip to the Isle of Wight cost us just over a thousand pounds. We stayed for four days and could only see him once in that time as visits and calls were strictly limited and restricted. No one prepares you for the aftermath of this, or the stigma you have to live with. It leaves a long lasting effect and is something you can never get over but one just learns to manage and live with it. The ongoing costs of the trials and solicitors for my Dad’s defence meant that, in order to afford a solicitor, he had to remortgage the house. It left us with money problems that we are still struggling with today. We have to deal with the negative perceptions aimed at us from people we don’t know or who don’t know the story. As soon as someone knows my Dad’s situation they treat or look at me differently. When I meet people and they ask about my Dad they assume he's at home. I just say he doesn't live with us and lives far away so I don't see him. This is the stigma of being judged based on a crime that someone else committed. I therefore have been hiding the truth to avoid the stigma for four years. Except I don’t want to hide it anymore. I’m afraid my work may cause people to judge or have negative opinions and perceptions of me, but I don’t want to hide it and because it’s a true story and this traumatic experience of the loss of my dad is also my reality that I want to share so people may understand what my family went through and not be forgotten about.
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Bennett 04 By Hayley Bennett