real life

The painful truth about what happens to women when they get out of prison.

My sister was arrested for drug charges and sentenced to six years in prison. After one year, she was put on probation. Our step-father (who had remarried since our mother’s death) stood up in court and told them that she would be living with him until she was able to find employment and stable enough to live on her own. She was put on parole and went to live with him.

Three weeks later, his new wife demanded that she be kicked out. He agreed and they booted her to the curb. Our step-father paid the first months rent at a low income apartment complex and sent her on her way. Then proceeded to completely cut her off. Wouldn’t return phone calls, mail, or emails. She had no job, and nobody to help her out. I tried when I could, but I’m seven hours away. So two months later, not having any money, getting kicked out of her apartment, and having all her utilities shut off she cut her ankle monitor off and hopped in a friend’s car and tried to make a run for it. They were both caught and tossed back in the slammer and she served another two years before getting released on parole again. This time with the help of some people she had met while she was inside through the church program. With their help she successfully completed her parole with out any problems and while her life isn’t easy she has a stable job and a house. – Admlshake, via Reddit.

Re-entering the world after serving time in prison is not something we think about. It’s a corner of society hidden in the shadows, that we conveniently overlook.

Yes, these people have committed crimes – some heinous – and they were sent to prison for a reason. Maybe, you might argue, they don’t deserve our sympathy. But they certainly deserve our consideration.

On average, 31% of women released from jail in Australia will re-offend and do additional time within the ten years following their release. This figure is more than double for indigenous women, with 71% reoffending after release.

The hardest part is once you get out. You come out with nothing and if you don’t have anyone to help you get back on your feet, the cards are seriously stacked against you. – Diddlebutt, via Reddit.

At the weekend, I read the story about Samson. A Sydney man who spent 19 years in jail for murder and a kidnapping. The story followed his journey after his release. His fear of returning to jail – he refused to even jaywalk, for fear of being booked. And his struggles re-assimilating into society.

How to find work, when your last real job was 20 years ago, and your most recent employer was Goulburn Correctional Center?

It made me wonder about women in the same situation. Women who haven’t seen their kids in months or years. Women who have no home to return to, no job to go back to.

Women who are moving from the brutality of surviving in prison, to trying to survive in freedom. Transitioning between two different realities, that are worlds apart.

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From this:

I remember one time when I first got there a women attacked another lady at my table where we were eating. It happened so fast I was still sitting there when another girl had to pull me up and away from the fight. A different girl, who had nothing to do with it (like me), caught a fist right to the face and had a broken eye socket. She was rolling on the ground screaming and crying until she got taken away by the corrective officers to go to medical and then to segregation for fighting.

Every few days they passed out electric shavers, there was one for each bunk and there would be a line of girls using these old shavers to dry shave their legs and pubes in the bathroom. Some of them would flip them and use the non-cutting side as a vibrator/dildo on others. Fucking gross, I never even considered shaving. – Afakefox, via Reddit.

To this:

When I got out, I was so depressed I wasn’t functional. I would lay on the couch thinking of ways to commit suicide but was too depressed to actually get off the couch and do it. I finally picked up a temporary office job which allowed me to start being productive again and eventually I resolved the legal issues and went on with my life. That was 20 years ago and from that experience my perspective is that while jail sucks, the hardest part is once you get out. You come out with nothing and if you don’t have anyone to help you get back on your feet, the cards are seriously stacked against you. – Diddlebutt via Reddit.

The transition between the two scenarios – even not taking into account finances and employment and substance abuse – must seem overwhelming.

But then there are the issues of finances and employment and substance abuse.

“Housing continues to be the biggest problem for people leaving prison,” a Getting Started guide from non-profit organisation VACRO and published on the Victorian Government’s website said. “Waiting lists for public housing are longer than ever before and temporary housing is hard to come by. Moving back with family or friends might be your first option – or your only option. Keep in mind that it may not be ideal and may not last.”

For women at risk of drug and alcohol abuse, the treatment programs designed to prevent reliance and recidivism do not work as effectively for women as they do for men.

A 2014 report from Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan, that was presented in State Parliament, found the Department of Corrective Services was letting women down, particularly those who were at a high risk of substance abuse.

It found 40% of women who were at high risk of drug and alcohol abuse reoffended after their release between 2008 and 2010. This compared to 33% of men, who were also at risk of substance abuse.

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“While the recidivism rates for women are generally lower than for men, the real question is whether the distinct needs of women are being met,” Mr Morgan told the ABC. “The answer is they are not. This report found that the Department’s program interventions were not meeting the specific needs of women, particularly those at high risk of returning. Men deemed to be at high risk of substance use had a lower recidivism rate if they completed a treatment program while high risk women who had completed programs had a greatly increased rate of reoffending.”

In Samson’s case, he killed a man. Shot him in the chest during a robbery. But Samson also (arguably) never had a chance. He was shipped to Australia from Papua New Guinea (PNG) when he was 15. He had no support here. He lived on the streets. His mum, still in PNG, used to tie him up to a tree to try and make him behave.

Australian women who are sent to prison for crimes they’ve committed often have similar stories. The Australian Institute of Family Studies estimates 57 – 90% of women in prison have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. 87% of women in Victorian prisons have been victims of sexual, physical or emotional abuse prior to their incarceration.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 43% of female prison entrants report a history of mental health problems and 51% report a high level of psychological distress. This compares to 37% and 39% of male prison entrants respectively.

These women were born into worlds most of us can’t pretend to understand.

They are then sent to a place most of us are lucky enough or privileged enough or educated enough to avoid.

Jail is crazy. I still hate the smell of certain shampoos and foods, and I can’t use the little disposable toothbrushes you get at hotels because they remind me of time I spent in that place. Sometimes I have these dreams I’m still in there, and I wake up completely rigid because I’m afraid if I move I’ll fall off the top bunk I slept on. More than anything, it is just absolutely, crushingly lonely, just this big grey box where your ultimately locked up with yourself, and all of your mistakes and shitty choices, with nothing to distract you from the fact that you put yourself there. – Shoggothsdildo, via Reddit.

Then, after leaving prison after years, maybe decades, inside, these women are entering a different world again.

Are their chances of making it work any better than they were the first time round?

Or, are they just left to ‘survive’, always at risk of repeating the same patterns and same behaviour that landed them there in the first place?

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