A New Door

Our new women’s support worker, Mim, writes about how her experience in prisons led to her to come and work for us.

Three years ago, I started working in Durham’s prisons. Among the many new things I learnt were a couple of phrases that kept repeating themselves. The first is ‘the conveyor belt’ and the second, ‘the revolving door’.

The ‘conveyor belt’ is an image which describes people reaching the end of their prison sentence and falling off the end of the support plan. And unfortunately, the first often leads to the second. The revolving door: A spin-cycle which means you’re regularly in and out of prison. Stuck in a cycle. Life’s spin cycle is not just something that happens in the prison system. It’s also a familiar idea to those stuck in a cycle of addiction and violence.

Handcrafted, since it began, has provided people a helping hand off the conveyor belt and a path away from the revolving door. Working frequently in a women’s prison, I’ve often sought a female equivalent to Handcrafted: A safe space and a female-led supportive environment where we can sustain a community which, through positive activity and purpose, helps people step off the roundabout.

This year, Handcrafted are partnering with REfUSE to create a supportive space for women. Not just women on the conveyor belt, but also people in a rut, struggling to find work or in need of community.

I couldn’t be more excited to be heading the project up. After 2 months of linking up with referral partners at Job Centres, hostels and charities, and building relationships with women who will be part of the group, we’re almost ready to go.

In 3 weeks time, we’ll be getting together weekly on Thursday mornings, building handicrafts, building community, learning new skills and progressing on to training and volunteer roles.

If you’d like to know more, I’d love to chat to you, have you along to the group, or train you up to volunteer with us. We’ll take referrals from anyone, but group volunteering is restricted to women.

Editorial note:
In a speech, February 8 2016, The Prime Minister announced that “46% of all prisoners will re-offend within a year of release. 60% of short-sentenced prisoners will re-offend within the same period.”

“Transforming Rehabilitation: a summary of evidence on reducing reoffending”, published by the Ministry of Justice in 2013, concluded that family and relationships, sobriety, employment, hope and motivation, having something to give to others, having a place within a social group, not having a criminal identity, and ‘being believed in’ all help people to desist from crime. These are all at the heart of what we do, so it’s not surprising that last year, of the 41 people we supported who had an offending background, just 5 went on to reoffend (just over 12%).

While this cannot be like-for-like compared to the national statistic, it does strike a very positive note and suggests that we are proving how powerful these simple principles can be.

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