For 16-year-old Darcey Hartley, having a father in prison is all she’s ever known.
Ian Hartley was sentenced to two years and 11 months in 2005 after committing robbery to fund his drug habit.
Fourteen years later, the father-of-three is languising in HMP Humber, a Category C Resettlement Prison in Brough, Cumbria – almost 122 miles and a four-hour round trip from his family home in Sunderland.
Ian is one of 2,500 prisoners in the UK currently serving a now banned Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence, dubbed ‘forever’ sentences.
These were created in 2005 to safeguard the public from criminals whose crimes did not merit a life sentence but were still considered dangerous should they be released.
However, far more were handed out than anticipated, swamping the parole board and leaving convicts ‘trapped in the system’, despite IPPs being scrapped in 2012.
Darcey is one of the 200,000 children in England and Wales affected by parents being imprisoned – while 30,000 in Scotland face parental imprisonment every year.
She shares her story in Carl Cattermole’s book Prison – A Survival Guide, which features illustrations from Private Eye cartoonist Jeremy Banx.
The 32-year-old ex-convict from south London, who writes under a pseudonym, served a year in jail in 2011 at both Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth Prison after being sentenced to two years for a non-violent crime.
‘Growing up with a dad in prison has been one of the hardest things you could ever imagine,’ Darcey explains.
‘My dad has addiction issues but he is not a bad person. I’ve never met anyone as kind and caring, and he would do anything to help anybody.
‘He’s so loving, warm-hearted and affectionate. He’s my idol; he made mistakes like we all do, but he has changed.
‘Dad has taught me so much and for that, I’m so grateful. Right now, in 2019, he should be at home with us.’
Speaking to FEMAIL, Darcey says she and her dad have the ‘best relationship’ they possibly can from where he is, adding: ‘Even though he’s been in prison for the majority of my life, he’s still the best dad.’
She admits she struggled at events like Parent’s Evening at school – her father has never been able to attend – where her peers were joined by their mums and dads.
Her father has only ever taken her to school twice and to the doctor’s once in 16 years.
Being in prison makes it difficult for Ian to overcome his drug addiction. Darcey tells how two paroles ago, her father was clean and expected to be released into rehab.
But when parole day came, his hearing was adjourned and he relapsed on spice as he felt the rug had been ‘pulled from under his feet’.
He was then put on basic privileges for being under the influence, which involved having his visits and phone credit taken away.
‘They don’t only punish Dad, they punish us,’ Darcey says.
‘When Dad was released to rehab he progressed so much – he was doing amazingly and every Saturday, we could spend five hours with him.
‘We would laugh, take photos, go on walks and Dad even cooked for us – he made chicken kebabs. I remember we sat outside the rehab altogether, we were so happy.
‘We went into the supermarket to do some shopping once and Dad was buying a new frying pan, and on the counters they have the Age 25 signs for buying alcohol.
‘Dad thought that meant because his pan was under £25 he couldn’t pay there, it was really funny. He hadn’t been out for a while so we had to help him with little things like that.
‘But after rehab he was recalled to prison, even though he had been doing so well.
‘He hadn’t committed a crime or taken any drugs, it was because the man who owned the rehab was one of Dad’s old criminal associates from nearly 25 years ago.
‘Upon finding this out he was treated differently to other residents. Dad voiced his concerns and it was looked on as a negative.
‘So probation withdrew the bed and found him another rehab in Blackburn, but Dad’s crime was committed in Blackburn so he’s not allowed back there and he was recalled to prison.’
Darcey tells FEMAIL her father going back to prison affected her ‘massively’.
‘I suffer with panic attacks and the majority of the time I feel down,’ she admits.
‘Even if Mum is calling the probation officer I struggle to stay in the car without panicking and getting myself upset. I just want them to say my dad can come home now, but I know they won’t.’
It’s also taken a toll on her parents’ relationship; Ian and Darcey’s mother Joanne separated for a number of years, but have since reunited – and are now stronger than ever.
‘Dad being where he is has had a major impact on their relationship as they cannot do what normal families do,’ Darcey says.
‘But their relationship is one of the strongest I know – the love between them is unconditional and it’s the sort of relationship I want to have when I’m older. They stay strong for each other and know that one day they will be reunited.’
Currently Darcey sees her dad twice a month for two hours at a time, and is sometimes only able to speak to him on the phone twice a week for 10 minutes at a time as it’s expensive.
‘If Dad puts all of his canteen sheet on the phone, which is what he usually does, then we speak near enough every day for a few minutes,’ she explains.
‘But if Dad’s not got a lot on his canteen sheet and only a few pounds on the phone, maybe twice in the week.
‘Calling after 6:00pm is cheaper than calling any other time during the day. Calls are about 30p a minute during the day and that’s to our house phone, which is cheaper.’
She adds: ‘On days we don’t receive calls we automatically worry, because anything can happen in an environment like prison. It’s scary.’
Darcey, who suffers with juvenile arthritis in her joints, a leg discrepancy and blindness in her left eye, has struggled on recent prison visits as the stairlift has been broken.
‘On some visits I’ve sat and cried because I’ve been in pain and sitting on the floor is better than on the hard chairs in the visit room,’ she recalls.
When it comes to leaving her dad, Darcey says: ‘Even after 14 years, as soon as the doors close behind me, my heart breaks and I want to cry.’
Darcey claims her father has applied for numerous courses, such as Victim Awareness and Thinking Skills, but has yet to be accepted onto any of them. Despite his efforts to get work in the prison kitchens to harness his love of cooking, he’s only been given work in a brew bag workshop, putting sugar, tea and coffee into bags.
Ian can only be released by the parole board, as IPPs are a 99-year life sentence with no release date.
Darcey and her family campaign against IPP sentences and she has set up a Facebook page – IPP Prisoners campaign Free Ian Hartley – offering support to HMP children.
‘I can’t explain the pain you feel in your heart when you know someone you love more than anything is in a place like prison,’ Darcey says.
‘But we’re lucky because we do have each other. Some IPPs don’t have a family that supports them.’