One night in 2012, I was packing my family's belongings for our holiday when I heard a pounding on my front door. My husband Patrick wasn't home—he'd gone to his archery and camping store to tie up some work things. When I opened the door, I was faced with an entire task force of police officers.
"Mrs. Jacob...We have a warrant to search the premises...It is in relation to your husband, Patrick. He has been detained," one officer said.
I panicked and spun around to see if my two kids heard. They were glued to the TV. I frantically called the police station and got through a solicitor but to no avail. I was so emotional as, at this point, I had no idea what the charges were.
On that day, my ordinary, happy, and comfortable life, as I knew it, came to a screeching halt. One minute I'd been preparing to relax with my family on vacation on Australia's central coast. And the next, I was dealing with lawyers to speak to my husband, who I wouldn't see again outside of a courtroom or prison walls for four years.
Patrick and I met at a New Year's Eve party 21 years ago through mutual friends who attended the same church. We've been married since 1998 and we had a young son, seven, and a five-year-old daughter. I had a successful writing job, and we'd moved from the inner city of Sydney and set up a home in the suburbs.
Patrick was a very hands-on dad. We'd made a commitment to do the whole parenting thing together. He would play games with the kids, changed their diapers, fed them, bathed them, read them bedtime stories, and would take them to the park. As a husband, he was a great provider, very faithful, plus funny and smart. I had been with him for 14 years; I knew every single thing about him.
I know it sounds naïve now, but I never thought twice about Patrick getting into trouble—he was a goody-two shoes. He had always done everything completely above board.
On that night in 2012, the police weren't able to tell me what Patrick had been charged with. He was locked up overnight, and I next saw him in court the morning after he was released on bail.
Patrick was charged with possession of a slingshot, two crossbows, one unregistered rifle, and three metallic objects. He also had agreed to sell the unregistered rifle to an undercover police officer in his shop and had assembled the crossbow for the officer—both crimes in New South Wales, where we live.
I didn't get the chance to speak to Patrick until he was released on bail, before that, I only saw him through a glass box in the court room. When we did get a chance to speak, I was confused and angry. He was very apologetic.
He told me he didn't realize what he had done could lead to an arrest: He didn't know the slingshot was illegal nor assembling the crossbow. Patrick thought it wasn't a big deal and wanted to get rid of the customer even though he knew it was the wrong thing to do.
In total, the time between his arrest and prison dragged on for two years. I sat in a courtroom while Patrick stood trial while I tried to keep things as normal as possible for the kids at home. Those days are blurry. In the first court, months after his arrest, Patrick plead guilty to some of the offenses (possession of the unregistered rifle and selling the unassembled crossbow) but for the other charges, he plead non-guilty.
Despite being found not guilty in local court, the case went to a district court one year later after police appealed. In September 2012, he was heard in front of a judge and found guilty. When I heard the verdict, I felt confused more than anything else. For months, the lawyers had been suggesting it wouldn't come to this.
Three months later, Patrick was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. It took some time to process; it all seemed to happen so quickly. He was taken out of the courtroom by two corrective officers, I couldn't speak to him, they took him into custody and I had to wait days for a phone call. It seemed to just go on forever, I was so worried about him getting hurt in prison. He's not that big a guy, some of the people I'd seen at the court house were quite scary-looking.
The children had never attended court, I didn't think it was a great place for them. When I sat down with them and told them where their Dad would be going, they seemed to accept it easily and didn't react how I'd imagined they would. My daughter was most concerned about whether she could have a cookie. However, as time went on, the pain of living without their Dad became very hard for them.
I was extremely angry with Patrick—furious—this seemed to contradict everything I thought I knew about him. How could he do something so stupid?
My life changed enormously. I was a single mom, even if I wasn't technically. I had to take the reins of Patrick's business, so we could have an income and let my freelance writing slide.
Those months after the sentencing were so lonely. The children would go to bed early and suddenly I would be on my own. Normally, that's the time Patrick and I would talk or watch TV together, which made me miss him.
In the end, Patrick was away for two years and was released in January 2015. We celebrated but it was a very hard time, Patrick was in the grips of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Having Patrick home was difficult. His PTSD manifested in either being completely withdrawn or really angry. Even though he mainly resided in a minimum security prison, he saw violent things. He was on his guard all the time and couldn't relax. He would jump at loud noises or when he was touched.
Patrick and I are together today and we are working on our relationship but it has been very hard. We both went to counseling about how to tackle the transition period, the strategies have helped him to adapt but he's still not the same person who went in. We've both been through a trauma, but in really different ways, and both of us have had trouble understanding each other's experience. We are trying to take each day as it comes.
A big lesson for me has been forgiveness. If I held on to my resentment, it could have made me bitter, so I'm choosing to move forward. And I learned that we can cope with more than we think we can. You never know what life is going to throw at you.
In Sickness, In Health... and In Jail: What Happened When My Husband Unexpectedly Went to Prison for Two Years by Mel Jacob is published by Allen & Unwin, ($20)