There is no way to avoid anyone in a compound such as Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. This is where I spent 13 solid months of my life for armed robbery.

My solicitor told me I would get an Intensive Corrections Order at the most. Little did I know that my one impulsive mistake would end up with this outcome.

Within the first week, I went into full blown psychosis while going through withdrawal of benzodiazapines. I have borderline personality disorder which is basically a non psychotic mental illness that relates to my underdeveloped coping skills and conflict handling skills which in the past would lead to impulsive self harm behaviour and several suicide attempts.  At one point I thought all the prisoner’s were police and the remand prisoners were special operations cops!!! I was soon admitted to the Marrmak unit, DPFC’s “special needs” and psychiatric unit.

After about a month into my sentence, I started to pull myself together. I decided that I would change myself in such a way that I would never have to face those grey gates or the harsh reality of being seperated from my family again. I referred myself to as many programs as I could in order to change. I had a great  psychologist who remained consistent every week that I built a great rapport with. She could recognise that I was serious about this change so she taught me a whole new set of coping skills and strategies to help me through whatever life problems I may encounter.

It took a good 6 months for the benzodiazapines to get out of my system and my judgment was now clearer. I commenced full time education whilst in DPFC and managed to complete certificates in Hospitality, Printing and Graphic Arts and Information Technology.

I was then notified of programs available for post release reintegration support. I enlisted in as many programs as possible. I engaged support from the Women’s Integration Support Program via VACRO and Women 4 Work program via ACSO. I can remember the first time I met Honey, my mentor from VACRO. Honey gave me a renewed sense of hope and self respect that I hadn’t felt since the day I came to prison.

I was released on parole on Remembrance Day, the 11th of November. It will be 4 years next month that I have been free.

In that time I have managed to secure permanent housing. I made an agreement with my parents that I would stay with them for a maximum of 3 weeks. I moved out into shared accommodation within 2 weeks. I called my parents every day and I could clearly see that my positivity and motivation was rubbing off on them. They were laughing a lot more and we were closer than ever before.

I have managed to find a great GP. She used to work at the Melbourne Assessment Prison so she understands exactly where I am at. She is dedicated to looking after me and I am happy to give her my complete trust and honesty. I have also managed to find a fantastic psychologist. She was recommended by my Community Corrections Officer. She comes to my house for sessions as it is the most comfortable environment for me to talk about my issues. She has also taught me some great tactics for dealing with conflict and difficult situations that may arise.

My father passed away the week my parole finished. He had a heart attack while I was out mowing the lawns. Just a day prior to that, he was joking on the phone singing to me “Im free as a bird, I roam from tree to tree!” I really believe he wanted to see me through this time. My mother died 9 months later of cancer. She had been my father’s carer for over 10 years. I believe she died of a broken heart but I got to nurse her and know and understand her better.

“Both my parents said to me on numerous occasions “Stick around with ACSO and you could end up working there!!” They were surely right! I wish they got to share that moment.”

I first engaged with ACSO in 2008. After about 6 months as an outreach client, I attended an initial focus group on the concept of a Consumer Advisory Group. I started doing a little bit of “audio transposing typing” for ACSO and this gave me a sense of confidence. Whenever ACSO asked for my help, I said “Yes.” Over the next 2 years my confidence started to build as ACSO started asking me to have an input on different aspects of services to clients. As a natural progression from the focus groups, the Consumer Advisory Group was formed.

I was offered employment with ACSO as a trainee “Social Educator” in Rehabilitation and Recovery Services which provided me the opportunity to commence Certificate IV in Community Services Work. I started in the Life Skills Program following my experience with the Consumer Advisory Group. As the Life Skills Program grew, so did I. I have been able to contribute to the design and facilitation of weekly groups covering topics such as cooking, shopping and budgeting with a focus on building client skill sets and giving clients the right tools to get ahead in life. All of the Life Skills Programs are created with consultation with the clients. We regularly ask the clients what they would like to learn, so it’s actually their ideas that we try to make happen!! This has also included art sessions and the 2012 Art Show, the ‘All About Me’ Self Esteem program. The Art Show was an amazing success and all of ACSO, from client to CEO assisted to make the Art Show a success.

I am involved with our Peer Mentor Group focusing on transitional support to people moving out of our houses. This is an opportunity to assist clients to get into training, employment and acquire basic living and social skills. I was also invited to be involved in a committee to develop the last two strategic plans for ACSO. I interviewed clients, assisted with focus groups to find out what they liked and did not like about ACSO. ACSO has always had a strong commitment to fine-tuning the processes and information provided to the clients.

I love working at ACSO. To me, this is my passion, not my job!! From the moment I was a client here, I saw the passion in the staff and realised that ACSO was different to other organisations. They have given me a second chance! Not only am I now off Centrelink benefits, I’m now studying and can give an insight into “What it’s like from a client perspective” and use that in a positive light. Thanks ACSO, for “creating another chance” for me!!!