This story is part of the Peer Power series – a photographic collaboration between professional photographer Jeff Hubbard and Peer Advisors. Earlier this year (2022) they worked together to portray their stories in photographic and written form. Each one is unique but all highlight the true value of harnessing people’s lived experience of adversity to become a force for good.
I’m Danielle from Cardiff and I’m a Senior Caseworker with St Giles. I wasn’t always an employee, my journey started with St Giles as a person referred to them by probation.
I was once in and out of prison, shoplifting charges and breaches of the many orders the court put on me, and I ignored. Except for the last time I left prison in 2017.
I had a huge crack/cocaine habit, and that was the only thing that entered my mind. It controlled my thoughts, my feelings, my environment, it took over me, until there was no trace of me left.
I shoplifted day after day, shop after shop, I became a slave to my addiction.
I had a chaotic, physically and emotionally abusive childhood, and a chaotic and abusive early adulthood due to drugs. A cycle I thought I couldn’t break.
That is until I came out of prison in 2017. It took a few months but I had had enough. One day I was going into town to shoplift to get money and I thought to myself I can’t do it no more. I rang my mum and she told me to stay with her. So I jumped off the bus in town and went to my mums. And I stayed there for a year.
I started engaging more with my probation officer and she referred me to a project with homelessness charity The Wallich and then the Peer Advisor Programme with St Giles. She helped me see how valuable my life experience is with helping others. Whilst doing the Peer Advisor Programme I was working as a Peer Mentor with the Wallich. The Peer Advisor Programme helped me become the Caseworker I am today.
St Giles gave me the confidence and skills to believe I had a future. They gave me opportunities that not many other companies would offer someone with my background, and they made me realise that I can accomplish something with my life.
Because of the help and support I received, I’m 4 years off drugs, I have a full time job doing something I have a passion for and I’m in my second year of university studying Forensic Psychology. I have a good life, something I never thought I’d have.
I now see my lived experience as a strength, something that actually gives me an edge. Not only can I do what everyone else can do, but I have lived it, felt it and conquered it which gives me a step ahead. I’m hoping that with educating myself and working hard, I can help shape policy and create more opportunities out there for people with a past.
My grandad used to say to me, “Use what took you down to take you back up” and it took me a long time to realise what he meant. But now I do. And that’s thanks to St Giles for giving me the skills and knowledge I needed to turn my life around.