Elsie’s last sentence was only 3 months. I’d visited her weekly on the wings as she was self-harming quite badly and her mental health was poor. On her release, I met her at the gate with some toiletries and clothes so she could start off feeling clean and respectable.
We went to the initial probation appointment, got her methadone prescription sorted, met the council housing team and supported her through an assessment with them. Elsie was given accommodation that day so we went there for another assessment. And then we got her benefit claim reinstated. A long day! Meetings from 9 til 6 is really tough straight of prison – the last thing you want to do on release is sit in offices all day. Without support, many prisoners don’t get through it all.
A couple of weeks later she was experiencing domestic abuse so we got her moved. But the perpetrator found out where she was staying so we had to find her B&B type accommodation. She lost that, went back on the streets, came off her script and started using again.
It’s so easy for lives to be overrun by chaos and there’s the danger that missing a probation meeting can see offenders back in prison. But I’d built a good relationship with Elsie’s probation officer and could demonstrate that she was engaging with us. Understanding Elsie and her situation meant they could be more flexible around weekly appointments rather than just locking her up straight away for breach of conditions. Elsie said:
"I am so supported. One25 makes me feel like a better person, like I'm able to be strong."-
The value of One25 is often unquantifiable; most of the women haven’t ever had someone who cares unconditionally. We have to be always asking what’s next, how do we move things on? Knowing that a set-back doesn’t mean that all is lost – it might just mean that someone goes on a different path to what was expected, and keeping that in mind and looking forward. Feeling disappointed is the last thing women need with their own guilt and lack of self-esteem and sense of disappointing the people around them. The value of being alongside people is something that most of the women haven’t had in their lives – someone in their lives who gives unconditional care or support. The best part of this job is small victories.
It took a lot of work to get her to report domestic abuse but her experience of that was really good. It shifted her understanding of how the criminal justice system works and now she can accept that she’s been a survivor of abuse as well as an offender. She’s not been in any trouble with the police and amazingly her attitude to them has changed.
Elsie’s been out of prison for 5 months now and not been in breach which is probably the best she’s done in 5 years. We’ve supported her into new accommodation where she’s settled, she’s now reducing on her methadone, she’s engaged with sexual health services and keeping safe. But it’s not about thinking of things as outcomes and goals to be achieved. It’s meeting women where they are, every single time.
How we work with women on their release from prison
Why our CEO Anna Smith believes our society’s approach to women in prison needs to fundamentally change.