CAPTION: Sarah’s case manager Lisa Walwork together with P3’s Jackie Hampson
Once one of Merseyside’s most notorious shoplifters, Sarah* is now looking forward to becoming a mum thanks to overcoming addictions with support from a unique project.
The top 20 most prolific re-offenders at HMP Styal were targeted for support as part of a Through the Gate pilot launched at the prison last year. The initiative was formed by the Merseyside and Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Companies together with Shelter; P3, a social justice charity; and HMP Styal.
Sarah has been jailed more times that she can remember, and has spent most of her life addicted to crack cocaine, heroin and valium.
However, since she was released in May last year, Sarah is now in stable accommodation, on a decreasing methadone prescription, and has not re-offended since August. She has also just given birth to a baby boy.
When Sarah found out she was pregnant, she was living in a tent in her boyfriend’s dad’s back garden.
She said: “I was so well known across St Helens and Liverpool I had to get lifts to other towns in order to steal three times a day to feed my habit. I was known as Mrs Farm Food because they had the biggest bags and so that’s what I always had.
“I am so embarrassed to admit it now. I feel shame.”
The Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company (M CRC) commissions P3 to work with prolific offenders and commissions Shelter to deliver resettlement work at prisons across the region, including HMP Styal.
The organisations pooled resources to support the pilot, which is aimed at stopping people from re-offending. The women’s wrap-around support package continues whether or not they are in HMP Styal or the community, so that re-offending does not interrupt the provision. It has achieved considerable success, with most of the 20 either experiencing longer periods between offences, or – as is the case with Sarah – remaining offence free.
Jackie Hampson, P3 link worker, has provided intensive support to Sarah since March, 2017. Sarah is the first woman P3 has engaged with as part of the new pilot. Because of the risks Sarah initially posed, two P3 staff attended every GP, health and accommodation appointment Sarah had for the first six months of her release to support her.
Sarah said: “I was homeless. I never actually spent a night on the streets, but I didn’t have my own place. Styal provided me with a break from my chaotic life. I had four meals per day, a bed, the right medication, a telly – and I knew the system.
“At first I could tell Jackie was nice and that was refreshing, but being released didn’t feel different. I knew she didn’t work for probation or the prison, but I came into contact with an eclectic bunch of agencies and didn’t think anything else of it.
“Then finding out I was pregnant helped me change my mind set.
“Jackie was persistent. During every good part of my life in the last nine months, Jackie has been there. And if I’m about to mess up, it’s P3 who have been there. Every one of them, if you cut them in half, has P3 written inside of them.”
Jackie said: “Sarah was extremely chaotic when I met her at Styal and she didn’t want to engage. It wasn’t a quick fix, Sarah continued to re-offend.
“But she realised that P3 and probation would not give up on her. I turned up unannounced to see her to ensure she was doing okay, we gave her a mobile phone so she could keep in touch. We were patient.
“Over time it worked. We built a rapport. She knew she could ring me anytime. I helped link her in with her GP, mental health support and housing. Previously she missed appointments, so I attended with her and got things on a new footing.
“Sarah grew up in care and experienced things that no child should have to live through. The fact that she is now settled and has become a mum makes me feel very emotional. I will miss working with Sarah. She is an incredible person.”
P3 were instrumental in helping Sarah get stable accommodation. P3 and IOM funded a short stay in a B&B to keep her off the streets. After doors were shut by the council and housing associations; P3, Riverside and the partner agencies paid for a deposit with a private landlord – with support from the Vicar’s Relief Fund.
Sarah and her partner have now maintained the tenancy for several months. Both have also completed detox programmes. Sarah is supervised by M CRC’s probation case manager Lisa Walwork, who specialises in custodial cases and prolific offenders.
Lisa, who is based at the CRC’s St Helens’ office, said: “Sarah has been subject to recall after recall after recall and at one point was responsible for 20 per cent of the shop thefts in St Helens.
“By working closely with Jackie, we have created a support network that has given Sarah a platform to become drug free within nine months and to have made truly exceptional progress.
“The fact Sarah has a child protection order for her child, rather than the child being taken into care, is testament to an incredible transformation. I am so proud of Sarah and wish her all the best. Just like Jackie, I miss working with Sarah.”
Sarah said: “Without probation and P3 I would still be in trouble. But now I have too much to lose.
“Before I never felt I was treated like a human being. Now I cannot fault the support I’ve had and my parents have accepted me back into their lives.
“For the first time in my life I don’t see any point in doing crime, I don’t want the shame for the baby.”
*Sarah is not her real name.