I’m proud to be given this opportunity to support Prison Network by sharing my story and how this organisation helped me not only turn my life around, but saved it.

My name is Rebekah and I’m a 36-year-old single mum who three years ago was on a bad trajectory and at a point of no return.

I’ll start my story by saying my early childhood was one of love and a happy family. When I was 8 years old I was in a car accident with my mother that changed my life in the blink of an eye. My family was torn apart. My mother was once a highly functioning member of society, she worked, she was a wife and mother to four girls Kate (12), myself (8), Amy (2) and Chloe (1). We were always immaculately dressed, and the house was kept in pristine condition.

After the car accident our lives were altered dramatically. My mother suffered complications after surgery and developed gangrene, followed by a stroke. She lost the use of the right side of her body and later developed lupus. My mother was in and out of hospital and was heavily medicated and bedridden up until her death. After the accident my father left, later taking my sister Kelly to live with him and I took on the care of my younger sisters. We had a Carer who would come and look after my mother and they began a relationship.

At the age of 13 I was physically assaulted by my mum’s Carer and partner. It was not safe at home. My father would not take me in, and my younger sisters were placed in the care of my grandparents. I left home. With nowhere to go I lived on the streets, I slept in parks or went from house to house.

My grandparents wanted to help me but there was not enough room for me and my younger sisters. They helped me get youth allowance and I went on the waiting list for a Wayss Youth House. I moved into my own house at the age of 13. I was working one job and catching the train to school to try and get an education all whilst supporting myself. With determination I completed year 12 despite the challenges and obstacles I faced, that the average teenager didn’t.

This lifestyle of no parental supervision afforded me ‘freedom’ but there was a void in my life without family. I missed the guidance, nurturing and exposure to healthy relationships and grew up with trauma that compounded over the years. Having no one to turn to I turned to drugs and used them from the age of 13 to escape the difficulty of my life.

I felt alone and unwanted and struggled with the feeling like I was never enough. This followed me all through my life and into my relationships.

My mother passed away when I was 17, I finished school and started working at Telstra. I built a house when I was 21 and my younger sisters who were now teenagers came to live with me When I was 24 I began a relationship that continued for eight years and started much like my early childhood. We were happy and life was good, our daughter was born in 2012 and we planned our
wedding for the following year.

Shortly after her birth my father-in-law was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and much like my mother I watched someone I loved deteriorate very rapidly. He lost his speech, his movement and within 8 months he passed away.

My partner changed after this. He was deeply affected by the loss of his father. Not knowing how to emotionally deal with the grief and trauma we both turned to drugs. It was a spiral that feed into his gambling addiction and anger issues.

After my father-in-law passed away I lost first my grandmother and then my grandfather. The month before our wedding my partner lost his job and then gambled our $12,000 wedding funds and our wedding was cancelled.

After all the trauma and loss our relationship changed into a domestically violent and psychologically damaging relationship. At the time I was unaware that this is what it was, until it was too late. My self-worth was non-existent.

We found out that we were expecting another child and things seemed like they were finally turning around, when I went to have my scan I was told that I had a complete molar pregnancy. Instead of a baby I had a tumour and I was diagnosed with Gestational Trophoblastic Disease which begins as a tumour that mimics cancer which spreads rapidly and then develops into real cancer.

Not knowing how to deal with another of life’s hurdles our drug use escalated and so did the violence. The day of my surgery I was dropped off to the hospital with a broken nose and two black eyes to have my tumour removed, after this I was told I would not be able to have children and would need to commence cancer treatment with methotrexate.

At this point I lost my job and my partner left and returned to his family in New Zealand. As my health declined I stopped going to my medical appointments. In my mind the only way to survive was using drugs because I couldn’t handle the reality.

Not being able to work and unable to pay for my house and food for my daughter I started selling drugs and turned to crime.

Fast forward to 2017 when I’m 33 years of age and I have just been arrested for serious criminal charges relating to drugs and remanded to Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and I find out that I am pregnant, something that I thought could not happen.

I was released onto a Drug Treatment Order and my second daughter was born, during her birth my spine was punctured and I was bedridden for several weeks. I suffered headaches and my ear rang for four months. I couldn’t sleep with insomnia and was hearing voices from the effects of my ear ringing, my mental health declines and I relapsed.

My children were removed from my care and I became suicidal. I was arrested a second time for breaching my drug treatment order and had further new criminal charges. This is when I became incarcerated at Dame Phyllis and started my 2 – 3 year prison sentence. I lost my children and my house. This is when I was at the lowest point in my life.

During my prison sentence I started going to the Discussion Group and found that I could relate to other stories, shared experiences and talk to people who cared, and showed empathy. This was the first time in my life that I had sought out or been given the opportunity to seek help. I volunteered to engage with Prison Network whilst incarcerated to seek additional support for
myself and I’m grateful I made this decision.

This was a real turning point for me. I can say without the services that Prison Network provided I would categorically not be where I am today. It started with the Discussion Group, then I was able to have visits with my eldest daughter through the Fun with Mum program. I know I would have never had those visits without their assistance. For that I am forever grateful. It was a passage that opened for me to start gaining contact with my children and in the process start to build myself.

The Prison Network as a whole has changed my life – I can’t stress that enough.

When I became eligible for parole I had no accommodation. Prison Network amazingly offered me transitional housing. I had worked so hard, engaging in programs and reform, whilst in prison. Without transitional housing that would have all come undone. Let me explain why. I would have had to serve a longer incarceration period, I then would have been released into an environment that put me at extreme risk. I would have been put on the public housing waitlist which would have exceeded my parole wait period. Accommodation and housing options are extremely limited. Once released I would have been provided emergency accommodation for four days in a hotel and then the only available accommodation option would be emergency temporary accommodation hostels that house tenants who suffer mental health and substance misuse issues. This is not a long-term sustainable option, furthermore, if this was not available I would have been forced to be accommodated with previous associates who are substance users putting me at extreme risk of relapse and or worse I would have become homeless and potentially back in prison. This was not my story as I was provided transitional housing through the Prison Network. Because of that I was able to complete my parole, start working and have a stable environment for my children to visit me. Part of the process of reintegration was to undergo supervised visits with my youngest daughter through a family contact service. This was also partially funded by Prison Network. Without their help I would not have been able to afford the supervision contact fees. I am still working on the process of developing relationships with my children. I now have unsupervised contact and have my daughter two days a week. Such a long process, but incredible journey for me.

The support Prison Network provides, both in prison and out of prison, has been instrumental in my rehabilitation. I must also mention it has not been an easy journey personally, but I have had the guidance and support that I have lacked all my life. They have shown me how my life can be within a different network and community.

I hope my story can assist and advocate for other women to have the opportunity to have a similar outcome as myself and not being transitioned out of prison into extreme risk and cycle though the prison system.

*names changed