‘I

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went to prison in a Reiss jump­suit. You’re al­lowed to wear what­ever you want when you’re locked up in the UK, but there I was in HMP Hol­loway, wear­ing a jump­suit any­way. Ev­ery night, I’d wash it in the sink and hang it up to dry in my cell. Then the next day, I’d pull it over my preg­nant stomach and go to work in the kitchen, mi­crowav­ing out-of-date food and stir­ring huge pans of gloopy stew with Shel­lacked nails. It wasn’t that I wanted to look amaz­ing. It’s just that I’d never ex­pected to be in jail in the first place, so I didn’t have any­thing else to wear.

Grow­ing up, I was al­ways in­cred­i­bly am­bi­tious but I never knew what I ac­tu­ally wanted to do. I ended up leav­ing school at 16 and work­ing in fi­nan­cial ser­vices while study­ing IT in the evenings. It wasn’t a ca­reer I’d ever thought about pur­su­ing, but I was good at it. Within three months, I’d been pro­moted. When the com­pany went bust a year later, I was dev­as­tated, but was quickly head­hunted. Then that com­pany col­lapsed too. By the time I’d been made re­dun­dant for a third time, I didn’t know what to do.

It was around then that I fell in love. He was older – he said he was 25, but it later turned out he was 37 – and he seemed to have his life to­gether: he drove a new Range Rover and went on hol­i­days all the time. When he said he was in­ter­ested in me too, I felt spe­cial, and he bought me ev­ery­thing I asked for. A few months into the re­la­tion­ship, I dis­cov­ered he was com­mit­ting fraud – steal­ing money by cloning strangers’ cards or as­sum­ing their iden­ti­ties. I felt like I’d been let down by the sys­tem so many times al­ready that I just went along with it. Then, when he said he could help me launch my own busi­ness, I went along with that, too – rent­ing an of­fice and sign­ing the pa­pers. It was only when he was ar­rested six months later that I re­alised I was in over my head.

I knew I was guilty – and that I had to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the crime I’d com­mit­ted – so I turned my­self in to the po­lice. Re­leased af­ter days of in­ter­views, I re­alised I had to turn my life around. I got a new job in PR and moved back in with my fam­ily. I felt like I was back at square one, but I stuck at it. Slowly, I started dat­ing again, and last year I fell preg­nant by a man I loved and trusted. I fi­nally thought my life was on track – un­til the po­lice knocked on my door and ex­plained that they were pur­su­ing my case again. Stand­ing in the court­room at eight months preg­nant, I watched my mum cry­ing as I was sen­tenced to 12 weeks be­hind bars.

When you’re preg­nant in prison, giv­ing birth is the most ter­ri­fy­ing thing you can think of. No­body tells you what’s go­ing to hap­pen – if they’re go­ing to take your baby away from you; if your waters will break in your cell. Thank­fully, nei­ther of those things hap­pened to me. Af­ter four weeks of stir­ring soup at Hol­loway, the stress made me start bleed­ing. I was taken to the lo­cal hos­pi­tal for a check-up and the mid­wife de­cided to keep me there un­til I went into labour. My fam­ily was al­lowed to visit and I stayed there for a week with my daugh­ter be­fore we were sent to a Mother and Baby Unit in the grounds of the main prison.

With my daugh­ter in my arms, I started think­ing about what I needed to do when I was re­leased. For the first time in my life, I had ac­cess to all of th­ese dif­fer­ent sup­port groups, but I felt sad that I’d had to wait un­til I was in prison to ac­cess that kind of guid­ance. It dawned on me that when I was freed I could merge all of my pas­sions and set up some­thing to help young women avoid mak­ing the same mis­takes as me. I wanted to pair girls in need of ex­per­tise with women who’d been through it all be­fore. I sat for hours list­ing names of peo­ple who I wanted

Mariam hosts and speaks at a va­ri­ety of events

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