Stories from women

The best way to understand the impact of the work Prison Network does is to hear the stories of some of the women we work with.

Quotes from the women themselves:

“If it wasn’t for PNM I wouldn’t be able to see my kids at all”

“I spent every Tuesday at craft group which is run by PNM staff & volunteers. They’re a great group of women. They don’t judge you, which is a great feeling because so many other people in prison do. ”

“The women from PNM have shown me gentle interaction, through sport and fitness; patience with the Art and Craft program; bringing children in to the prison for visits and sharing bible stories and introducing faith into those lives that are so damaged and empty. I could only wish that if I give half as much love, kindness and acceptance of others as they have shown me, I would be on the road to recovery and to becoming a better person”

“Jesus used the PNM team to reflect his character to me and draw me into a relationship with him.”

“Christian discussion group has taught me patience and respect (for myself and for other people). I have learned to have faith and a hope in God for a better life.”

“Game On Days are fantastic. It’s the only time that us women get together and put our differences aside and play sport together.”

and a few case studies:

 LINH: Linh is the mother of a nine-month-old baby boy.  She has custody of her son in the Mother & Baby Unit.  Linh’s husband is also on remand and is expecting a significant sentence.  As a foreign national, this young mother has no family or friends on the outside and no financial help from the government so she is very grateful for PNM’s assistance in providing warm clothing for her son. 

 JAMIE: Jamie is an intelligent young woman who managed to maintain her position as a personal assistant for several years after completing her education.  Eventually she mustered enough strength and courage to face her stepfather and held him accountable for sexually abusing her from the age of three.  Her desperation and need to survive have led her to break the law and she continues to struggle personally to understand herself while in prison.

 KIRA – After 18 months in prison, “Kira” was determined to stay clean and sober, and rebuild her life. The only housing option available for her however was crisis accommodation which caused her significant anxiety. She stayed there for 6 weeks, and was then required to move to another crisis accommodation facility in the inner city which had a high percentage of male residents. Kira who also has Borderline Personality Disorder felt most unsafe and began to withdraw and stay in her room.

 Whilst in prison, Kira had attended several programs run by PNM and had built a strong rapport with staff members. Upon release PNM staff continued to support her and she found the ongoing connection helpful and reassuring.

 After 5 weeks at the second placement which was a time of significant anxiety and uncertainty about her future, PNM was able to offer her the opportunity to live in the PNM transitional unit (a two-bedroom unit in Box Hill). The security of the unit and consistent regular support offered to her by PNM workers has contributed to her successful reintegration. In the 6 months of residence, she has not used drugs or alcohol. Her relationship with her family has improved significantly and they are regular visitors to her home. Kira now has completed a public speaking course and volunteers with a local newspaper and conservation group. She does casual work with a charity organization and is very involved in a local church where she helps out with various community projects. In July, she will return to study at university to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree which she began in 2008.

 Kira believes connection with PNM staff prior to her release, ongoing through-care support post release and safe, stable accommodation have been keys to her rehabilitation.

 ALANNAH   Alannah is now 9 years of age and extroverted in personality.  She lives with her stepfather, his new partner and their 18-month old daughter and she is picked up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and transported into DPFC once a month for the Fun with Mum program.  Alannah delights in being the center of attention sharing her own experiences with anyone who takes the time to listen.  The level of violence she has experienced in her early years is shocking and her behavior leads one to believe she is older than her 9 years.

 This child seems to engage quickly and easily with her mum on arrival at the Visit Centre.  She generally comes inappropriately dressed for the colder months, refusing her father’s suggestions to wear something more.  After an initial time of just being with her mum, she quickly engages in the program connecting well with the volunteers who offer a variety of activities to be enjoyed.  A recent highlight was the making and eating of pikelets.

 One can only imagine how it feels to be 9 years of age and having to say goodbye to your mum for yet another month.  Alannah is always respectful and compliant and being transported into the jail by PNM enables her to maintain some level of contact during the 3-hour visit.

KATHLEEN     Kathleen’s father left when Kathleen was very young. Her mother did her best to raise her on her own, but chronic mental illness posed significant challenges. As a result, as a child, Kathleen went in and out of foster care. As an adult Kathleen has rebuilt a supportive relationship with her father and his family who live interstate. Kathleen’s mother seeks to be supportive of Kathleen but the challenges of her mental illness continue to affect how much support she can offer. The only housing she could secure was in country Victoria, a long way from Kathleen.

 Kathleen has struggled in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship with her children’s father since they were young teenagers at school together. He and the three children are all she believes she has in the world.

 Kathleen came to prison as a confused and frightened first timer. Her charges were serious and her future uncertain. During her initial incarceration at DPFC her children were removed from the care of extended family due to protective concerns and placed in two separate foster care placements. Kathleen was devastated and afraid of her own children experiencing the same negative experience of child protection that she did as a child. She experienced both court and child protection proceedings as difficult and confusing. Her sole concern during her time in prison was the welfare of her children and doing what she could to maintain the relationship.

 My first contact with her was in her first days at DPFC.  She presented as frightened, confused and frustrated. Over time Kathleen had contact with several PNM staff and volunteers through various programs and she grew to value the support and relationships she built with them and other attendees at the groups. The groups provided her a safe environment in the prison at a time when she didn’t know who to trust. This was significant for her.

 During her incarceration I met frequently with Kathleen to offer emotional support and someone to talk with/listen. I was also able to reconnect her with a trusted counsellor, who she had seen in the past, prior to her time in prison. The counsellor had been a significant, genuine and rare advocate for Kathleen and was able to offer some important support to her while she was incarcerated and furthermore offered continuity of service post release.

I was with her in court which provided much needed support for her and helped calm her anxiety.

 Building on the trust developed with her at DPFC I was able to continue to provide support to her and to the elderly woman who had offered her accommodation. Her main focus since release has been to work through the child protection issues.  My role with her has been advocating for her throughout this process, attending legal appointments, Children’s Court and providing her with to someone to talk to and debrief with.

Kathleen has embraced the support of PNM. We intend to continue providing support as she navigates the future.

 VANESSA:   Vanessa has struggled since she was a teenager with mental illness including depression, anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder as well as drug addiction. Her mental illness has meant she has found it difficult to relate to people and have lasting relationships. At times it has taken her to the depths of despair and self-destruction.

 In order to fund her drug habit, she became involved in sex work. In a moment of deep despair and self-hatred and attempting to self-medicate with alcohol, she decided to take her own life and burnt down the house she was living in. The outcome was that she in fact survived without injury but was charged with arson and served 15 months of an 18-month sentence at DPFC.

 My first contact with Vanessa was at Christian Discussion Group. She attended the group consistently throughout her 15-month sentence. Although she presented initially as self-sufficient and wary, she was a self-reflective, articulate and intelligent contributor to the conversations, always offering a challenge with her insights on the topic. She describes discussion group as a place where she could let her guard down a little in the hostile environment of prison, and a place where there were people she knew she could trust and who cared about her.

 Despite being a very self-sufficient and independent young woman who mostly kept to herself, she says she would not have survived her incarceration at DPFC without the support of the PNM volunteers and the other participants of the discussion group.

 Vanessa indicated that she would value the support of PNM post-release. She made contact soon after saying “she was lonely and wanted someone to talk to who was ‘normal’, trusted” and knew some of what she had experienced. Determined to make this a new start, she sought whatever assistance she could to help her rebuild her life. Vanessa connected with 2 PNM workers and some PNM volunteers. Unfortunately, however, she was not released with permanent accommodation and had lived in two crisis accommodation placements in the first 8 weeks after her release. This was particularly unsettling for her and she felt anxious and afraid.

 She was then offered a rooming house in the outer northern suburbs that had all male residents. At this point, just prior to Christmas PNM had a vacancy arise in our accommodation unit and we were able to offer it to her. She is now thriving because of the stability and is going to complete a university course she started years ago.  She is very keen to get part time work and has the additional assistance of the Salvation Army.  She has been regularly attending a large local church and is seeking to be involved in social and creative arts activities there. She is feeling very positive about her future.

 MARY:  Mary presented as a calm, gentle and respectful woman.  She was slight in build, well-groomed and already working in the privileged role of billet in her unit.  She was remanded in custody to await her sentencing and responded warmly when invited to speak with the Remand Worker.  Relieved for the opportunity to share her story, it seems this woman has courageously endured her husband’s abuse for many years.

This woman came to Australia with her husband and children many years ago and has struggled with domestic violence for as long as she can remember.  While her husband worked full time, Mary was required to raise their children and care for the family without her husband’s financial assistance, hence her crimes of deception.

 As Mary’s day in court approached, she began spending more and more time in her cell alone. Carrying such a strong sense of shame, she chose to take responsibility for her crime and face court without the support of her family.

 Initially, after her incarceration, this woman’s 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son remained in the care of their father.  Believing he loved his children and would never harm them, she was distressed to hear they had fled their family home and reported their father’s physical abuse to the police.  They are currently in the care of their maternal grandmother who speaks little English and feels very isolated and lonely.  She is fearful of her son-in-law and is currently seeking an intervention order.   The offer to support her mother as she settles the children in a new school was gratefully accepted.

 Mary’s main concern is her children’s well-being and appreciates regular opportunities to share her struggles. She said she knows it seems strange but she is so happy to be in prison.  She feels safe enough to sleep and will work hard at her cleaning job in the jail for at least the next 4 years.

 KELLY: Kelly is a young mother who been remanded in prison for drug related charges.  She is pregnant with her third child and has twin 14-month-old babies currently in the care of her partner.  As the primary breadwinner, this young dad normally works long hours and seems unable to understand Kelly’s need for social contact.  She doesn’t drive and has turned to drugs to try and relieve the hopelessness she feels regarding her future.  Her positive reaction when invited to join a local church playgroup speaks of her courage to try again and find a better way.  Offering her this opportunity to find friendship and belonging without any strings attached may just be the lifeline God provides.