Tracy, member of Nacro’s Justice ExChange
I was in HMP Styal, Cheshire and then Drake Hall in Staffordshire for a total of 18 months. I’d worked all my life so once I was over the initial shock of being in prison I said ‘get me a job’, anything. I just wanted to have something to do with my time. It was strange going from being busy everyday working to having nothing but my thoughts.
When I got to prison it was a very stressful experience. I had never had any dealings with the criminal justice system. I’d just worked, run pubs, raised my family. It was a horrible mistake, just that one moment and that was it, I was given a three-year sentence.
I was in shock when I first went to prison. The first six weeks were the hardest. They had me on a wing as they were worried I might harm myself, so they wanted to keep an eye on me. It was so overwhelming. I’d never been in an environment like that before. It was so noisy. But I was lucky I had a good room mate. She helped me through that time.
I got on ok with people in prison. I was a bit older and I think they saw me as a mum figure. They would look out for me. They would tell me their stories. It was so sad. A lot of them were in there because of some bloke. It just felt so pointless.
Quite quickly I started working. I got a job as a mentor in the education department, like a teachers aid. There were so many girls in there that couldn’t read or write, that just never got even a basic education. I’d help them.
I remember one of the girls who I had helped came up to me on the wing and was so proud that she’d managed to write a letter to her son. It must have taken her hours. She was so happy about it. That was a good motivator for me. To have helped her.
The problem with the education job was it was only for a few hours a day. I enjoyed it and liked helping people but wasn’t enough hours to get your teeth into anything, then you were back in your cell. I needed something to occupy myself. I did any training course I could.
The best job I had in prison was with DHL. It was packing and logistics for the prison’s canteen. It was like a proper job. You started early in the morning, had lunch, then did the afternoon. You felt like you’d do a real day at work. You were tired when you went back to your cell. The time flew by the six months I had that job. It made to feel like you could see yourself back outside and what your life might be like.