Hello, my name is Carolyn Crawford. In 2016 at the age of 64 ½, I was sentenced to 18 months in prison for taking money from my place of employment to play the Pokies. I had never even had a parking fine before that. Nothing I am about to say is an excuse for breaking the law but will explain how I turned to the pokies in the first instance.
Over the years I have had a lot of turmoil in my life. When I was 18, my mother passed away and I had a lot of emotional trouble dealing with this. I worked, looked after the family home living with my father and grandfather until I got married at the age of 22.
When my first marriage broke down, my husband was awarded custody of my children. I was devastated and heartbroken, I had to explain to my boys, aged five and seven, that they needed to live with their father and that I would only be able to see them every 2nd weekend. I found myself in a very dark place emotionally but thanks to my friends and family I was able to survive and made the times with my boys as special as possible. Three years later he returned them to me because he could no longer look after them. This was one of the best days of my life.
I remarried and I thought my marriage was good until, after a romantic weekend away for our 10th anniversary, my husband suddenly left. While I was at work and the children were at school, he took most of the furniture, and money out of our account. He left me with a second-hand car we had just purchased, saying in a letter that he would pay for the car. He did not keep his promise and the car was repossessed a couple of months later.
I worked hard and rebuilt a life with my boys. They finished school and both got themselves good jobs. Another low point in my life was when my boys moved out of home with their partners. You know as a parent that this is going to happen eventually but nothing prepares you for the loneliness you feel when they are gone.
I saw them frequently but there was still a very empty hole in my heart. Even now, many years later and them with their own children, I still wish they had never grown up. I guess that’s life and what every parent must accept. For me, it was a nightmare.
Work was the thing that filled the void. I am skilled in managing an office and was working for an Electrical Company. I was the only person in the office and my role was as a PA, Accounts Manager and Client Liaison. When I started this job, the only time I had been to the pokies was if I went up to NSW or Queensland. (I live in Victoria) The manager of the company was a single older man (2 years older than me). We had a good friendship and if he didn’t have anything on at night, we would go out after work for dinner and to the pokies.
One of the reasons I went to the pokies with him was that I fell in love with this man, but he only thought of me as a friend. I would spend hours at the pokies with him and if he was busy, I found myself going to the pokies by myself with the excuse of needing to relax. I would play for hours there by myself and very rarely speak to other people. I would sit at the machines telling myself; ‘I can stop this any time I want’, and that ‘really you never win on these’. I would even tell other people that you will never be ahead if you play these things.
I knew this was getting out of hand as I was now taking money from the company every week to go to the pokies or to cover some bills I had. All my wages would be spent by the time I got paid. I would make sure I paid all my bills and tell myself this was coming out of my wages and the money I was taking was only going into the machines. It is amazing how you can convince yourself that you are alright and you become very good at telling lies to other people. If my children or my father rang me I would make excuses that I was out for dinner with some friends or just up at the supermarket.
Over the weekends when I felt stressed or lonely I would take myself off to a venue and sit and play all day. If you win over $1,000 you had to take the winnings in a cheque. I didn’t want to do that, so I would play it down to under the $1,000, but then I kept playing, telling myself I will just stay for a short time this would turn into hours with me ending up walking out with nothing.
I have now learnt that these machines are extremely addictive and every time I thought I could stop I was just kidding myself.
I was dismissed from work in August of 2015 after 13 years running the office. I was charged by the police in early October. At the same time, my father was dying and he passed away late October. I was devastated about my father, angry that I had got myself into this position of stealing money to gamble with and having no money in the bank to live on.
The worst part of going to prison was that I missed my family, my two sons and six grandchildren and my close friends. I spent most of my prison time at a prison farm in country Victoria. This was better for my health than being in an enclosed prison in Melbourne but the distance made it hard for my family and friends to visit, and over the 18 months, I only had about six visits.
The best part of going to prison was that I received help through counselling sessions with a Gamblers Help Counsellor. He helped me to realise that the machines are as addictive as taking drugs or alcohol and I met many other ladies that have the same addiction as me.
I worked on the reasons why I went to the pokies on my own and started doing exposure therapy. This is where you gauge your reaction to movies and pictures about pokies after being gambling free for twelve months. At one stage just looking at a photo of pokies would make me feel physically sick. It is hard work to work through all the issues these dreaded machines cause but I am happy to say that now I can go into a venue, sit and have a meal with friends and not have any feelings of wanting to play these dreaded machines. It is so empowering to have the control back and to have my self-esteem back.
I now find one of my strengths is that I am not afraid to speak to my family and friends about my emotions. They are my extra strength if I feel down. I used to be ashamed to speak to them but I am now open and honest with them and feel I am closer to them now because I am no longer hiding my gambling from them.
It is important to have a good network of people to help you recover from a Gambling Addiction. My family and friends give me extra strength when I need a bit of support.
I recognise that I am a person that was addicted to pokies, that I lied and deceived my family and friends. But I am proud to say I no longer gamble, lie or deceive.
I owe no money, as I paid the company back all the money I took. I may not have much, but I now have my self-esteem back. Life is looking much better.
It is very important that you get help with any type of addiction, as I know I would not be where I am now without the help of others.