• "If my husband is found guilty, it’s likely that he’ll be in jail for up to four years." (E+/Getty (note: photo is a stock image- not a photo of the author))
When Martine Burke* got married almost a decade ago, she didn’t count on her husband’s prison sentence being part of the deal. Now, a single parent to three young children, Burke faces the next three years loving him from the other side of the bars.
By
Martine Burke, Presented by
Jo Hartley

4 Aug 2017 - 3:57 PM  UPDATED 4 Aug 2017 - 4:00 PM

It was the weekend in September last year when investigators called my husband. I wasn’t there when the call happened, but when I got home my husband sat me down and told me the situation.

He said he’d been implicated in a group physical assault. He told me there was no physical or hard evidence, but there was the accusation of the victim. My husband proclaimed his innocence to me, but said that police were going to arrest him regardless, so a week later he turned himself in.

Handing himself in had nothing to do with being guilty or not guilty. As he told me, it was a matter of him choosing to keep what little dignity he had left. There was no way he was going to be arrested in public or in front of me or the kids.

When the whole thing happened, I was so shocked and really stressed out. Neither of us has ever been in this situation before and we don’t know of anyone else who has.

As soon as he was arrested he went to jail and for the first two to three days we had no contact. That was in October last year and he’s still on remand, waiting for a sentencing date. The date keeps getting adjourned because the prosecution can’t decide exactly what they’re charging him with.

If my husband is found guilty, it’s likely that he’ll be in jail for up to four years.  

How do I cope?

When the whole thing happened, I was so shocked and really stressed out. Neither of us has ever been in this situation before and we don’t know of anyone else who has.

I was heavily pregnant at the time and had to pack up our home pretty much immediately. I moved into two spare bedrooms at a friend’s house, and because I was downsizing significantly I had to get rid of 90 per cent of our stuff.

I also made him promise that every day he’d take a scripture from the bible and tell me what it meant. I felt it would help both of us and keep him focused. 

Staying in our family home wasn’t an option as I couldn’t afford to maintain the rent by myself without his wage, even though I was still working as a full-time office job.

The first time I spoke to my husband was two weeks after his arrest. We both cried, but I was happy he was okay. We talked about where he was, what his prison number was and setting up an account for him so I could send money for things such as blankets and jumpers.

I also made him promise that every day he’d take a scripture from the bible and tell me what it meant. I felt it would help both of us and keep him focused. He’s honoured that promise since, and every day when he calls he tells me about the scripture he’s read and what he’s learnt from it.

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How are the kids taking it?

We’re located a short drive to the low security prison, where my husband is, and we get two weekly visits. I go myself with our youngest, who is under a year old, for one hour in the week and then our other two kids, both who are aged under 10, visit with me for one hour on the weekend.

The kids were initially unaware of where their dad was, and it was six months before they could see him. I didn’t know what to say to them, but eventually I explained that adults do things wrong sometimes and going to prison can be the consequence. 

I didn’t go into detail about what their dad is in prison for as they’re too young to know or understand. Plus, I want to protect them as much as possible, particularly because only close family knows of our situation.  

I do feel resentment towards my husband that I’m doing the whole parenting thing alone. Single parenting was my worst nightmare. It’s not what I signed up for, but here I am.

When we all visit I try to make the whole process fun. The kids love seeing their dad, and they have their traditions, like playing one up and having a treat from the vending machine. 

They tell their dad all about their day and what they’ve been up to. It’s about keeping it light and not focusing on any negatives. It’s so important for me that they maintain that relationship with their dad because they’re suffering and he was, and still is, an amazing father.

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Other than that, me and him maintain contact through letters and phone calls. I receive letters three times a week and send three back.

We write about everything and treat it like we would a conversation. We write about day-to-day stuff, our relationship, the things that need to be healed, the apologies, and the children.

We talk about the future and all the things we’ll do differently when he’s out, and we’ve created a ‘bucket list of freedom’. Before we were working like slaves, but we now realise that time is so precious, that some things we need to reevaluate.

The whole thing has been a real eye-opener of just how isolating it can be to be the wife of an inmate. There’s very little support for us and 90 per cent of people look down on you.

Other than his family, I don’t have much support and my relationship with my own family has crumbled since his arrest. They don’t support my decision to stand by him and don’t understand that it’s my priority that my children know their dad.

I do feel resentment towards my husband that I’m doing the whole parenting thing alone. Single parenting was my worst nightmare. It’s not what I signed up for, but here I am. I also feel sad that my husband’s missing out on seeing the joys of the children and sharing their milestones.

The whole thing has been a real eye-opener of just how isolating it can be to be the wife of an inmate. There’s very little support for us and 90 per cent of people look down on you.

I think that’s why most partners of inmates are just too scared to come out, because of the judgment and condemnation.

I’ve always vowed to support my husband and, guilty or not, I still love him. In terms of our relationship in the future, I can’t guarantee anything. We just have to take one day at a time.

Note: *Real name withheld for privacy reasons.

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