20 Dec Sheena’s Story
A journey with the RAW Incubation Model:
I first heard of RAW through a Seven Sharp Documentary. I was interested in finding out more about them. This happened when RAW came to speak at Wiri Women’s Prison.
It was June 2014 when I first started meeting with Rebecca (RAW’s Operational Manager) on a weekly basis. My first Parole eligibility date was August 2014. I was expecting to be stood down and on the day was given a 12 month stand down date. I meet weekly with Rebecca and became comfortable sharing anything and everything that was going on for me. I wasn’t sure about what RAW was offering but it was good to have a mentor I could share things with. I felt Rebecca had genuine intentions and a passion for her work. I liked that she heard and understood what was shared and that she believed the RAW Incubator Program could help myself and others.
I applied under Section 26 to be seen earlier by the Parole Board, asking for direction to allow me to move forward in my sentence. When this was accepted I became anxious that I now had to prepare a release plan which was going to be solid enough for the Parole Board to consider. I knew what I needed but had no way of getting together a plan that I felt confident about. I didn’t want to be in the same position I’d been in when released on Parole in 2009.
Released on Parole in 2009 my conditions looked something like this
- 24 hour Residential Restrictions (on a bracelet) – 10mths
- 7am – 7pm Residential Restrictions – 8mths
- 7pm Curfew – 8mths
- To reside back at my family home address, in an area I had always lived – It wasn’t long before old associates were stopping in.
- Not to be employed – I had presented an employment opportunity at our local Barber Shop to the Parole Board.
- My only support was my Mother and my Stepfather, who were both alcoholics and for this reason unable to offer me any form of support.
- The home environment was so hard to live in as I carried a lot of guilt and shame for the time I’d spent away from my sons and could see the effects this had on them in their own behaviour.
Life seemed harder on the outside than it did in prison. I had very little purpose, so many restrictions and no plan at all for my future. There were times I just felt like going back to prison. After being stuck at home for so long I had no motivation to find employment, the negativity in my life reflected in my lack of confidence. There was no re-integration process – I was just expected to get on with it. Those close to me questioned my every move and I felt people were holding me in my past actions.
So strangely, (NOT!) when I soon returned to criminal activity no one said a word. No one asked how I got from $0 –to having excessive amounts of cash, $20,000 cars, and a lifestyle way out of control. No one questioned it and that just made it easier. I became anxious about what to do and although your case manager presents you with a sentence plan none of it is really focused on your release. My first sentence I just wanted out of gaol, this time I wanted more. But there’s nothing. I even considered resorting to a residential Rehab with the thought that eventually I would reach a phase and they would support me with what I needed to establish myself back into the community. It seemed a huge step backwards but I wasn’t sure there was any other option.
It was at this time that Rebecca said she may be able to find me suitable accommodation. She asked if I would be prepared to relocate, she asked for reassurance of the changes I wanted and if I would be prepared to commit myself for a year to make this possible. Our next conversation was about what I needed to feel comfortable with to present to the Parole Board. And also what RAW needed from me. At my Parole Hearing Rebecca spoke as my support person and I was reassured by the results on the day that RAW will be there to support me and help me to get my life to a place I can feel good about.
Week One 6th March 2015 My Release Date
My release conditions this time still require Parole meetings on a weekly basis but otherwise I will live by the terms of an agreement I was part of developing. There are strict but fair ‘RAW House Rules’ that I will now support and keep. While I wait for Rebecca to pick me up I wonder what lies ahead. I’m excited but not worried because I have come to trust Rebecca and I can feel the passion she has for her work. If she believes RAW can help me and I’m prepared to help myself, then there’s nothing to be concerned about. When Rebecca arrives she’s really excited, it’s like she’s being released.
First stop is probation for a quick introduction which feels positive. We open a bank account on the way, it’s obvious that conversations have taken place prior to me arriving and the RAW support machine starts to become obvious to me. I am treated with respect and dignity and we are out of there in no time. When we arrive at the Incubator house, Kate (Member of the RAW Advisory Board) is busy setting up essentials. A welcoming has been organized for us and we get to meet these wonderful people who have supported our release. Everyone is so happy we are here and they have also brought dinner. Among the many support people are Annah and Rebecca’s daughters, as well as Annah’s husband Tony. I love that family means a lot to them, it feels comforting knowing this.
We are left to get comfortable and we know that the house was blessed earlier in the day by the local Kaumatua. I feel I have also been blessed on my first day of release. The rest of the week is organised around a list of what we need to get sorted. Our WINZ appointment is again organized prior to our arrival -which is great because I know how painful this process can be. I know of others like myself who just walk out because it feels too hard at this time. It’s a two week stand down and I’m just grateful that I don’t have to be concerned about how I’m going to manage till then. I’ve seen probation three times this week because they also came to our welcoming. I thought Rebecca was only joking when she said probation will be my new friends. It feels much better than the anxiety I’ve experienced in the past.
I help out at Annah’s Head Office and their Café because they are short staffed. Feels good to return a little something. I get to see the business that Annah has worked so hard to create and also what makes my opportunity possible. Everyone makes me feel welcome and it’s a great space to be in. I’m picked up by Annah’s husband Tony or by her daughter Sam. It feels routine and they are happy to have us around. They carry on dropping dogs to doggie day care and doing what they do. I get my driver’s license re-instated and this feels good, chances are high that I would have carried on driving without it if I had no funds. Every day has a plan and Annah and Rebecca are hands on. We have meaningful conversations and we have text messages from them… “What’s for dinner?”
My first weekend my Mum and my stepfather come to Hamilton and take me for lunch. (Mum is now in recovery 4yrs). Feels great that they have made the time to support me and respect the choices I am now making. I feel great about where I am at, I am extremely grateful of this RAW Incubation opportunity. I am also very aware how hard this transition can be, having tried it alone and failed. I’m excited to share my journey with other women and give them some hope also. I know there are many women just like me who get caught up in the system and you can’t see a way out of it alone, it’s just not possible without the right support.
I have had the opportunity to go back into the prison and share with others. This was made possible through RAW and the support of the Prison Manager. Feels amazing knowing that so many significant others believe in us and encourage us to believe in ourselves.