I grew up in a very stable, predictable, happy, loving home. Both my parents were present, no substance abuse issues, just average working-class family. I was a very happy child, who had a great childhood.

Early in my teens a traumatic event happened. I was raped by my best friend’s ‘much older’ boyfriend’s friend. My life from that point on changed dramatically. I went from being an extroverted, funny, happy, confident girl to the exact opposite; withdrawn and depressed. I didn’t go out much, I started experiencing bad anxiety, I was introduced to marijuana. I knew what it was, I tried it, I liked it. I felt it helped my anxiety and very quickly I was smoking it daily.

I quit school and started hanging around Frankston train station. I very quickly fell in with the wrong crowd. One day I tried heroin. I knew it was ‘bad’ but there wasn’t much drug education back then. So, wow! I felt this feeling of almost warmness running through my body. It just instantly took everything away, my sadness, low self-esteem. It gave me almost an arrogance, just so much confidence. Instantly I was using daily. It just took all the bad away.

I started stealing from my family, pawning anything and everything of value just to get my hit. I was soon kicked out of home and homeless at 17. I stayed on friends couches when I could, but I spent a lot of time in parks and stairwells of shopping centres. I was petrified, but all I cared about was where I was going to get money for my next hit. Though I was using drugs I was still very much an innocent child. I met an older guy who tricked me into giving this up. One morning while he was sleeping, I grabbed my backpack and left.

I rang my mum, who I hadn’t spoken to for months and begged her to let me come home. She asked me where and what I had been doing to survive. I told her I had been prostituting myself. I had never seen my mother cry so much. They let me back in on one condition, well two. 1 – get help! 2 – you steal you’re out!

I got a D&A worker, and all was going well for a few months. Then I met a guy. He was a user but I thought ‘I’ll be fine!’ Well, I started using again and moved in with him. It wasn’t long before the emotional abuse started and quickly escalated to physical violence. My parents didn’t like him, so I was isolated from my family. At 21 I had my first child and then soon a second. The violence stopped until my youngest was 8 months old and then it began again, worse than before, so we left.

We stayed with my parents. During the day I would drop my kids at kinder and go commit crimes to feed my habit. I went to pick my girls up from kinder one day and the lady on the desk handed me a card and said, ‘Child Protection have your children, they are at the police station’. I knew then and there if I went to the police station I would be arrested. I rang my mum and begged her to please look after the girls. ‘I am going to jail; I have been stealing to pay for my drugs’.

At 24, this was my first time at DPFC. I was petrified. I didn’t know what to expect. I was just so heartbroken, missing my babies. Over 10 years I was on a cycle of going in and out of prison. I grieved my daughters. I felt trapped in my dependence on drugs which meant crime and homelessness and lead me to another relationship with an addict. Three years in it got very violent very quickly. After a big beating he would be crying and saying ‘sorry, I’ll never do it again’. I think I chose to believe it. I was so lonely without my kids. I would rather have put up with that than being alone. My confidence and self-esteem were just non-existent.

When we found out I was pregnant we tried to clean ourselves up and live a good life. The violence stopped, but we were still using, and I was committing crime. I feel so embarrassed and disgusted now to say that. Sunny was born. DHS took him away as I soon as I was released from hospital. I ended up being arrested and sentenced to 18 months jail.

This time I thought ‘I want change, this has to stop’. I couldn’t put another child through the consequences of my actions. I put myself in the drug unit. We did three drug screens a week. People might think ‘but you are in jail’, trust me there are drugs in there. Through group and individual therapy, I started being honest and real, and dealing with things.

I started doing fitness classes every Tuesday and Thursday, run by Laurel Gore from Prison Network. It was great for my fitness and mental health. One day Laurel sat down beside me and asked when I was getting released and if I had a plan or support when I got out. Laurel offered to support me. I met up with ‘Loz’ a few times when I got out. I wasn’t using, well as much. I was committing crimes and was still with my son’s father and the domestic violence was just getting worse.

I finally found the courage to leave him. I didn’t want my son to see those behaviours and think it’s acceptable. I have now been clean for three years. I have my children in my life. My 7-year-old son lives with me, and my daughters (18 and 16) stay every weekend or when they want. I have my family back and most importantly I am reliable, and I am consistent.

I am now part of Prison Network’s Recovery Support Group. It is amazing. I absolutely look forward to Mondays and the support. It’s like a family. It is so important for me to have Prison Network and all they do to help and support women to achieve their goals. I just can’t explain how important it is for my recovery and my mental health. It’s my place to talk and feel safe to do so. Seriously, thank you Prison Network, Laurel and the ladies, I don’t think you even realise how special you are to so many women and people. Thank You!

*names changed