Supporting Women in Victoria Prisons – Meet Michelle

Here is a story from a woman who Prison Network met in-prison, and were honoured to walk alongside post release:

Meet Michelle
Not sure where to start here, so let’s go back to when I was sentenced to DPFC. I will paint a picture: I was 57, watched a lot of American prison shows and was very very very naive to what I was about to experience.

In my mind, I thought I would be in a cell with vertical iron bars and that officers would come along and drag their keys across it daily. I thought I would have to line up in a cafeteria and get ladles of slop dished on to a tray. And people said whatever you do, don’t tell anyone anything about you or even where you come from.

So, on the 25th of June 2021, I get sentenced to 22 months on the bottom and 36 months on the top. Even though my solicitor explained this to me, it was all a blur and then next minute, I was at the gates of DPFC.

After my quarantine period, I was put in a unit. One of the women I lived with was a clean freak and said she wanted to clean the unit and she did. I could have eaten off the floor, it was immaculate. My job was in the library. This was a great position as most of the girls in the compound would just come in to have a chat.

I then met a girl who said to me…’Ma (an affection term that I was called whilst I was there), if you only do one thing while you are here, you must get in contact with Prison Network.’ We spent quite a bit of time in lockdown due to covid, so programs were very hard to do. Then one day this same girl was leaving and as she was waving goodbye, she said to everyone, ‘make sure Ma gets on to Prison Network’.

Not long after that I was transferred to Tarrengower. It was easier to navigate programs due to numbers and I managed to get an appointment with a worker from Prison Network. Throughout my next 19 months I had regular contact with my support worker, and I attended the activities that this wonderful organisation provides to us women. These women every fortnight drove for miles to provide a safe place for us to talk and then to do activities that we didn’t have access to any other time. I am truly grateful to these wonderful people.

This also made me want to give back upon my release. I had no idea what ‘upon my release’ was going to look like except that I had changed. It had become about what’s right for me and even put myself first for the first time in over 50 years. I had become strong, and I had a whole new respect and understanding for women.

I never knew the justice system, how or why it worked. What a different world it is. I listened to, lived with, cried with, laughed with, ate with, did deep programs with such a variety of women for all different cultures, races, ages, and diversity. It opened my eyes to a new world, and I am so thankful that I was able to benefit in such a positive way for this experience.

When I mentioned to my support worker that I would love to give, she mentioned to me a group they have called a ‘Recovery Support Group’. Once again, my naivety set in, and I thought a support group…. but I don’t have a problem with drinking or drugs, but I do want to give back.

So, I was released on the Tuesday and attended my first online recovery support meeting on the following Monday. My goodness, what an amazing support. Not only to me, but to all the women in this group. Each fortnight, we have discussions that each of the women take turns to run. This is so valuable as it gives each of us some responsibility, we need to plan, we need to make sure it is suitable and each week we never fail to learn.

The support to one another is phenomenal. We have days when someone is down, and everyone gathers round and picks that person up. We all have our different opinions which is what makes the world go round, but it also helps for discussion amongst all of us. No one is better or worse than anyone else. We are all equal. The love that is shared with us all is something that I have never actually experienced before.

Every month we have a get together. This means so much to a lot of the girls in the group as a lot don’t have a social life, don’t have family, don’t have friends and the excitement about when and where a next outing is gives me such a big smile on my face. We are like family.

The support of Prison Network for us women is something that should never disappear. I don’t know what some of these women would do if they didn’t have the support of Prison Network and what it brings to us all. This group also helps us all not to reoffend as we are all accountable to one another. With their help and guidance, we all accept where we have been and where we are going.

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Prison Network is a Christian non-profit organisation which has been providing support to women in Victorian prisons, and their families, for nearly 80 years. Prison Network journeys with women in and beyond prison, providing the support and courage they need to navigate positive pathways and create change. For women who have often experienced significant hardship Prison Network aims to be a source of hope, dignity and purpose, and to ultimately reduce inter-generational cycles of incarceration and disadvantage.

Each year Prison Network facilitates in-prison programs which over 600 women attend (around half of the prison population); They support over 200 women in prison, 80 post-release, and 100 children.


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