Second Chance

Leaving prison can be the hardest part of a sentence
March 11, 2019


Do you ever think about how wonderful it is to sneak to the fridge in the middle of the night and scoff whatever craving is niggling you in your sleep? The freedom it entails: to just open your eyes, slide out of bed, slip down the stairs and grab a spoon. Apparently, you would after prison.

A history of abuse

Sara describes the last 20 years as rough in what I come to understand is a characteristic understatement. She’s survived violent and abusive relationships, alcohol and drug addictions, then twelve and a half years of prison. But I’ve ever met anyone with such stoic positivity.

Sara was 26 when she started her sentence. It was not a happy time, but she kept her head down and worked hard in the hope of a future chapter.

“You imagine that day for many years. But when it’s a million miles away you’re better off forgetting. That’s a big thing for long-termers: don’t have a calendar, don’t count the days. Just get your head down, study, and get on with your sentence.”

It was about the time she learned to stop counting, that her day finally came around.

A taste of freedom

If only you could bottle up the feeling of walking out your prison’s gates. It hits you in an instant. That day – that day – is finally here. There’s no word to  describe it.”

The small things in life greet you warmly. Things like putting your key in your own front door, closing the door, and it all being yours. Things like silence. Oh and the fridge.

But it isn’t all midnight snacking.

Some people say “opening” is the hardest part of a sentence. You may be out of prison but you’re not quite in society. With curfews and parole rules you dip in and out, sitting around the board game but playing by different rules. There’s a long list of things you can’t do. This “freedom in doses,” Sara says, is another adjustment all together.

In the weeks after her release, Sara struggled to establish an identity without a passport or driving license or even a utility bill to show who she was.

“When you’re away, you don’t exist anymore. Society sets on its course without you, and there’s no obvious foothold to dig into.”

A job seemed a good place to start, putting Sara in the 4% of women lucky enough to secure one in the first couple of months after prison, but a place to store earnings continued to elude. Without requesting credit or any special perks, Sara was refused by multiple banks.

A second chance

Luckily for Sara, she found a helping hand. She’d read about the Hardman Trust in Inside Time – a magazine for people in prison – and heard some of her jailmates talking about beauty courses or gardening equipment the charity had awarded their predecessors. She applied in prison and won, but it wasn’t until six months after her release, once she’d worked through the immediate struggles of adjustment, that Sara’s probation officer gave her the push she needed to claim her award. She never looked back.

The Hardman Trust sponsored Sara on a Drug, Solvent and Alcohol Abuse counselling course that has shaped her career ever since. Today, she works for a homeless charity offering counselling and mentor support to sufferers of addiction, drawing on the lessons of her past. Through empathy and a feeling of social indebtedness, she has turned her traumas into others’ treasures.

“The prison system is stretched beyond belief. It’s the help of brilliant charities like the Hardman Trust that really give, in my opinion, the most positive outcomes. But charities can’t survive without the goodwill and donations of others. And they need keeping alive, these charities.”

Her Hardman award ceremony was nerve-racking, but warm and encouraging to the point of being overwhelming. Everyone there had more than an award – they’d been given a second chance.

“Don’t get me wrong, there is many a person I met in prison who I never want to see again. But sometimes good people do bad things. Some people make stupid mistakes, some people make catastrophic ones. Others are vulnerable and easily led. They’ve been used and abused.

It’s not the height of fashion to advocate for prisoners. I understand why, I see both sides of the story. But if people aren’t given the chance to prove themselves it makes a mockery of the entire justice system— of probation, the offending behaviour courses, all of it.”

Head held high

Sara hasn’t squashed her past. She owns it in every choice she makes, in the individuals she helps though the sickness of addiction, in her momentary elation over the little things in life. This is her message to prisoners:

“You can turn everything around. You can use your mistakes to prevent others from making the same ones.”

Through patience and hard work her life is steadily coming together. Re-acclimatising has not always been easy, nor has finding acceptance. But she was given confidence by the select people who chose to believe in her: the Hardman Trust, and her employer.

“If an employer takes that chance in you then you become very loyal. I know many ex-prisoners who have become their company’s best employees.”

Her vision for the future is to do whatever is required to help others in the way she has been helped, and most of all, to give people hope.

Sometimes people just need that second chance. And then the rest is up to them.”

Things you can do

The Hardman Trust works with long-sentence prisoners to cultivating their potential for society. They offer awards to carefully selected applicants, funding tools and training such as Sara’s Drug, Solvent and Alcohol Abuse counselling course. This investment repays the whole of society.

A tiny team runs the Hardman Trust (1.8 full-timers to be exact), whose efforts are made possible by voluntary assessors and loyal donors. Spending is stringent and minutely monitored: donations take a very smooth route to becoming awards.

How many people they help is directly down to how much money they receive. So we’re fundraising for a single award of £600, as a springboard to someone’s second chance..

Give something today to see another story like Sara’s tomorrow.



Thank you.


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