Tracey uses her lived experience of the criminal justice system to help other women who are going through what she once did, offering support, advice and hope.

Tracey’s story

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 would like to share with you my experiences and feelings about being in prison and how my life has changed for the better because of it.

I had stolen from my employer to fund a gambling addiction; I was sentenced to 4 years for fraud and thought my life had come to an end and that there was nothing left for me. I felt so low and worthless. How wrong was I?

After coming to terms with what had happened to me, there was no choice but to make the most of what prison life can offer. You can either choose a good way or bad way. I chose the good way. I was a ‘mother figure’ to some of the girls who, for whatever reason, seemed to confide in me. I also became a Connections Worker as helping others was what I found to be my calling. My ideas for support for my peers were welcomed by the prison staff and some of them were realised. This made my self-esteem rise and my feeling of worthlessness fall. I thoroughly enjoyed this which then led to me working at The Outside Links once I got my ROTL’s.

This was really the start of my ‘outside’ journey.

Seeing the different kinds of people who walked through the door each day was eye opening. Some were in an absolute state of desperation and needed our help. Seeing the looks on their faces and their whole demeanour change for the better once we were able to help them made this job so worthwhile. Every day gave different challenges but the feeling of self-worth was also overwhelming for me.

Having the trust from the prison to be able walk back after work was so refreshing and gave me a taste of freedom along with visiting my family on home ROTL’s.

After serving 2 years inside, I was released. What now?

My marriage had failed, which I struggled with, and had to live back with my parents. I found myself falling into a depression and had basically swapped my prison cell for another, my bedroom cell.

I did not know how the world would receive me. It was a bit like when you walk outside your prison cell on your first day and not knowing what to expect. I was scared. In prison, I knew what was expected of me, I had no clue now.

Thankfully I had the grit and determination to realise that no-one could change this but me.

I found work, with an agency, as I felt I could not (or did not want to) divulge my criminal record to many employers and be rejected because of it.

This led to me getting a contract with one of the agency’s clients. Perfect!

I was able to save and finally, after 6 months was able to rent my own house. Life plodded on for a while. I visited the Outside Links whenever I could to volunteer as I missed it and the people.

Unfortunately, I was made redundant due to the Covid pandemic. Now what? Me, along with thousands of others, are out of work. No-one will employ me because of my record. Or so I thought.

This is when I finally sat down and seriously thought about my future and what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people. I realised that.

I approached St Giles Trust as they were advertising for a Link Supporter. The job specification sounded perfect and more or less mirrored what I had loved doing at the Outside links. They saw my passion for helping others and I went into great detail about my time ‘inside’ and how I could support women in and out of the Criminal Justice System. I am so proud to say, offered me the job! All this because of my prison experiences!

I thoroughly enjoy working with ‘my ladies’ and offering support around many issues. Housing, debt, any form of abuse, substance misuse, employment, court appearances and wellbeing along with anything else that may come to light.

I have thrown myself fully into this role and have undertaken extra duties including East of England Expert Rep, I’m on the Grants Committee for the WREN project and many more.

I would like to say to anybody facing any adversities that life does not end. It changes, please make the most of what services are offered, they are offered for a reason. To help you change for the better. My life is better than before I was sentenced. Whoever would have thought that?

I am writing this to say to St Giles and staff ….Thank you. Thank you for giving me the chance to prove and improve myself.

Tracey Stevenson

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