Mothers would do almost anything for their children, but for this mum-of-two, her determination to create a perfect world for her daughters resulted in her spending more than four years out of their lives – instead living with some of Australia’s worst criminals in maximum security prison.
Struggling with mounting bills and a crumbling marriage at home, Kerry Tucker, 55, resorted to stealing almost $2 million over a six-and-a-half year period from the saw mill she was working at in an effort to fund the comfortable lifestyle her family had grown used to.
However, she was eventually caught out and sentenced to seven years with a non-parole period of four-and-a-half years in Deer Park’s notorious Dame Phyllis Frost maximum security prison in 2004. She pleaded guilty to four counts of theft and one court of obtaining property totalling $1,962,602 by deception at the time.
The mum, who stars on the ABC’s TV show Compass: Upside of Shame on Saturday night, has now recalled the difficult time in an exclusive chat with Starts 60, and revealed it wasn’t prison life that she found the hardest, but the distance it created between her and her daughters.
Kerry managed to survive her time behind bars by befriending the other inmates and acting as a go-between, diffusing tense stand-offs and acting as a sort of agony aunt by helping the other women with everything from difficult down days to their parole bids.
“To block out everything that was going on emotionally with me, I’d throw myself into other people’s devastation to try and help them,” she explained.
She actually found it was easier not to think about her own home life and her daughters Shannyn and Sarah, adding: “If I’d sat down and thought ‘I need to cry about my daughters’, I don’t think I’d have ever stopped. That sat on my chest like a brick.
“I had to make sure I didn’t touch those feelings so I kept myself very busy.”
Revealing how her crime first spiralled out of control years earlier, Kerry said it began with her stealing small amounts of money to pay the bills – but it soon became easy and a solution to continue her daughters’ comfortable lifestyle.
“My husband had no idea because I knew he wouldn’t have approved, but I just wanted to make everything perfect so I wouldn’t have bills or fights about money,” she said. “But then it became habitual, it became a way of life.”
So much so, she admitted: “The thought of being away from my daughters was never a consideration.”
In the end that’s exactly what happened and Kerry, who was just turning 40 at the time she was jailed, said she eventually took her punishment without complaint and embraced it from word go, feeling shame and remorse almost instantly over what she had done. So much so, she took on extra duties in prison and cut herself off from the outside world to ensure she did “50 times her sentence” and made her girls proud of her again.
“I knew I would need to overcome the shame in myself to rebuild, especially for my daughters when I got out,” she said.
While the other inmates began relying on Kerry for her advice and shoulder to cry on, she said they also understood that she had her own down days – and learned when to leave her alone.
“On the days that I couldn’t cope, there was a little bit of grass on the front of our unit, and I’d sunbake,” she explained. “Everybody knew when I was doing it. I was sorting out people’s issues every day, but when I sunbaked no-one came near me because they knew I needed that time.
“And I read Harry Potter. I couldn’t get enough because it was such a magical world, I love it.”
The difficult period didn’t end when Kerry eventually left prison and she said: “I came out and I felt like ‘Aunty Mum’. It took enormous patience to sit back and think ‘actually, they’ve got every right to feel this way, I’ve got no authority in their life whatsoever’.
“They loved mum, but they didn’t know me anymore. It took about five years for me and the girls to form a tight threesome again.”
Asked if she can now see prison as a beneficial period of her life, amazingly Kerry said: “Yes, absolutely. I was wandering through life trying to work out where I fit, Because of my unstable mindset. I was just wandering through life.
“Taking my children out of it, I wouldn’t take back my experience in there in a heartbeat. Knowing those women and helping them has blessed my life.”
Meanwhile, Kerry said the reality of what she’d done really hit her when she first appeared in court for her trial, 18 months after she was jailed for the first time.
“Shame is a reflective thing and something you need an audience for it, I believe. It needs an audience in the sense that you don’t feel it unless someone is looking at you knowing you’ve done something shameful,” she said.
She insisted that there’s no place for shame in prison as everyone is so grief-stricken and intent on seeing their families more than focusing on the shame.
“In prison no-one judges you, you literally can’t judge because everyone is guilty of a crime,” she added.
Recalling filming the ABC show, Kerry added: “I remember when we talked about the girls I got very emotional, and that’s the first time that’s happened. It must have been Jane [Caro, the host of the show] that brought it out.”
Kerry appears on Compass: Upside of Shame with presenter Jane Caro on Saturday September 22 at 6pm on ABC.