Kim works for PLIAS resettlement. She helps people who have experienced the criminal justice system. They don’t have to have been to prison, maybe they have just been arrested, but they now have barriers to employment and education. She previously volunteered.
The first time I went to Holloway it was very daunting. You would go in your cell and you would feel so alone because nobody is going through what you’re going through: no hope, fear, what’s going to happen to me, who’s going to want to employ me once I get out of prison?
I knew I had to progress through my sentence to get anywhere and its all about being recognised by the things you have done to prove to the powers that be that you can change.
I got on a counselling course at a local college on ROTL. First day I went in to the college and it was all women and I remember the lady next to me when I said to her “I’m a serving prisoner, I’m doing a 14 year sentence”, her mouth hit the floor and I could see that she had to sort of compose herself. I ended up becoming everyone’s friend because everybody wants to know your story but it gets to a point where you say well this isn’t about my story this is about my life and how I want to move on.
After moving to an open prison, Sova offered me full-time voluntary position in their offices in Sheffield, they paid for my travel, I went there everyday and worked in their office. They put me in touch with Stoneham Housing who were doing a project with supported housing which was something I wanted to be involved in so I ended up working with them on their development team. When I was released from prison in 2007 they offered me a full time job with them in their head office in London.
You think being in an open prison this prepares you for the day when you are released. You’re used to going out and seeing people everyday, you’re used to travelling like everybody else does but you always go back to prison at the end of the day. I remember when I was finally released and the first day I went to work from home and it hit me; I don’t have to go back to prison, I can go home. It was quite emotional on the way home I remember thinking I don’t have to go back.
When I was released even though yes, I had a job and yes, I managed to keep my home and I still had friends and family that supported me all the way through my sentence, there was days when I would come home and shut my front door and people would come round and I didn’t want to see them I didn’t want to speak to anybody. They would say to me “oh we know how you must feel”…
No, you don’t know how I feel you haven’t seen the horrors I have seen. You haven’t felt the feelings of fear, what’s going to happen to me. That was very very lonely where I think I went through a good few months of trying to readjust to the outside.
I have women and men that come through the door and they walk through the door with their head bowed, their shoulders up and you can see in there eyes… “I don’t know what I’m going to do, it’s just hopeless…” By the end of speaking to me I give them a little bit of a snippet of my story and you can see them listening and they perk up. I say well look, this is what we can do and we will put a plan together. I don’t want them to go backwards, I don’t want them to go back to prison. I want to show them and try and give them tools that they to can succeed and move forward like I have.
They think oh, I can’t do that I’m not well educated, neither was I, we learn these things as we go along and with the right support and guidance, it can be done.