Autism and criminal justice – Yenn’s story

There is a reason I am an author. In 2004 I was studying my honours degree in fine art. My work was very self referential and looked at my troubled past. Lots of people said I should write my life story. I ignored all of them thinking I couldn’t imagine anything worse than writing a tell all Yennski book. At the end of 2004 I met someone who would change my life, Polly Samuel. Polly was an amazing autistic author and advocate. We became friends and she did something nobody else had been able to. She convinced me to write my autobiography. Why did I agree to do it? Well Polly gave an example from her advocacy work. She told me that when she spoke to parent groups there was always a parent or couple sitting right up the back. They would leave before the end. These were the parents of autistic people who had committed crimes. When Polly said my book would be for these parents I realised I had to write it as those parents were also my parents. I wrote the book, it was published and I became the Yenn I am now, complete with books and talks and Yemes. Thank you Polly 🙂

People struggle to imagine this when they meet me now but for five years in my early twenties I was involved in the criminal justice system. My last offence was committed in 1999 so it is now ancient history but it was a hard time for all involved. I initially got involved in crime because I had a partner who was a very dangerous criminal. I was a naive twenty year old autist and it took me a very long time to figure out what he was doing. By the time I realised how dangerous he was I was in too deep. I knew if I left him he would track me down and probably kill me so I went along with his schemes, longing to be able to get free from him. We committed a robbery and both went to jail. It was the biggest culture shock of my life! I saw jail as being like school but a school where the bullies would actually maim or kill you. I set about masking like I had never masked before! I was so adept at masking that I fitted in perfectly and believed I was indeed a scary criminal. 

Being in jail resulted in trauma as I was afraid for my life every day. When I was released I self medicated with illicit drugs, I became homeless and got a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Life was very hard. I ended up moving in with my parents but that wasn’t ideal. After a year of me drinking heavily and using drugs when my parents were in bed I became very unwell with psychosis. I spent some months in hospital where I had a delusion that if I went to jail I would be cured of my depression. I committed crimes so I could go to jail. When I got there I became very institutionalised. I would be released and stay out for a week. I was terrified of how big and unpredictable the outside world was. 

When I finally said goodbye to the institutional life I was 25. I had a total attitude change and enrolled in university less than a year after being released. I have not committed any crimes since 1999 and consider myself to be highly ethical and decent. My criminal past has given me some challenges in terms of employment but other than that it is pretty much something from another life.

The reasons I had for being involved in crime can be seen as being related to my autism. I longed for social acceptance from my boyfriend, I found the outside world overwhelming and scary and I masked so much I believed the masked character of me was actually me. I will say that I take full responsibility  for what I did despite the causes and mitigation factors. While it is true that crime has a social element and causes, it is also a personal choice and I repeatedly made very negative and damaging choices which hurt others and that is not OK. I don’t walk through life constantly wracked with guilt and remorse but I am never OK with what I did because it hurt people.

Autistic people can commit crimes for a number of reason. Of course autistics can commit crimes for the same reasons that neurotypicals do – to support a drug habit, to settle a score or because they cannot manage their anger. But autistic people have a number of other reasons for committing or being convicted of crimes. Sometimes it relates to misunderstandings. I heard a story of an autistic young man who was on the bus ands touched a woman’s leg. She probably thought he was a creep and a predator but actually he just found her silver stocking stimmy. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations can be a big issue in this space. Autistic people can also be taken advantage of by criminals. We will end up carrying the blame while they get off without being charged. Institutionalisation can be an issue, as I found. Sometimes autistic people can end up in trouble and their manner during police interviews and courts make them seem guilty even if they aren’t. Differences in eye contact can be a big problem.

For me the biggest protective factor when I was in that life was my parents. They visited me every month and were always there for me. My mum since reported that the other middle class parents didn’t visit their prisoner children. I am eternally grateful to my parents for their support and I am glad I wrote the book. 

4 thoughts on “Autism and criminal justice – Yenn’s story

  1. Dear Yenn, thank you for your honesty, courage and transparency. your journey is essential to your being, and an integral component of the larger Autistic community. as i have said before i was only diagnosed 3 years ago, but i want to be part of an Autism communty that is inclusive and accepting of all of us. i dont want to be part of a sterile sanitised community. we learn fom each other. all our lives add shades and tints to the greater whole. i think i have said this very badly. so i hope you can hear my intent and not my clumsy words.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As an Asperger I can relate to a lot of your story as it has occured to me that our brains are wired so very differently to others in the ways in which we view and interact with the world. It took a lot of years (5 decades) for me to understand this as it simply never occured to me that I thought and viewed the world differently to others as I was undiagnosed until 2018 and then my life made sense to me. I see my Aspergers as a strength rather than anything else now.
    I learnt the hard way to not accept anything on face value as once people got to know me they would manipulate and use me. I was the one who always was on the losing side of that equation so the lessons learnt for me were painful as I had to accept my part in allowing this to happen time and again.
    I teach my son to think this way with people as he to is an Asperger and it hurts to see him struggle with this world we live in at times.

    Liked by 2 people

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