Our Call Centre in HMP Send is the first of its kind in the UK. It offers confidential, over the phone advice to women in prisons connected to the centre - all provided by fellow female prisoners who are either training or have already qualified as professional advice workers. Suzanne works as a Peer Advisor at the centre. Here she describes her experiences:
"Hi – I’m Suzanne and I’m part of a team of prisoners who work with St Giles Trust inside HMP Send.
We provide an all-round advice and guidance service to prisoners face to face at HMP Send and also through our unique Call Centre where prisoners from other female prisons can speak to us on the telephone in confidence.
You name it – we can signpost you to it! From housing issues, queries about sentencing, legal aid, where to go if you are being bullied, contacting external agencies if there are debts or money worries. We don’t claim to be experts but we have all obtained an NVQ Level 3 in Advice and Guidance which gives us the basic skills of listening and building empathy with clients so that they come to trust us and talk to us so we can build up a picture of their lives and issues in order to point them in the right direction both inside and outside prison. I find my job empowering and satisfying and women are so grateful when they can sort out problems which can seem overwhelming.
Sometimes I find it hard when I listen to women’s life stories. So many of them have led chaotic, unsettled lives where they just exist instead of living. They struggle to live a day at a time and often find themselves back in prison over and over again as they have no fixed address, no job, no family support, no-one to help them get out of the hell hole they live in. Some women tell me that they commit crime to get back to the safety of prison as they would otherwise be sleeping on the streets, selling their bodies for drug money or being beaten and raped. All they want is someone to help them, to show them kindness and understanding and to see some hope for the future.
I am always pleased to listen to them. Being let out of prison with nowhere to live must be one of the scariest prospects ever. As a prisoner myself, I can understand and empathise with the emotions and feeling associated with being away from your children, family and friends. I try to give women as much information as I can when they telephone or call into the centre and do my best to help them put in place as many sources of assistance, including contact numbers of other organisations for when they leave.
The government always say they want to stop re-offending. St Giles Trust is an amazing charity which helps vulnerable men and women on release to start a positive new life. They believe –as I do – that everyone deserves a second chance. I am so proud to be part of that team."