In Greek tradition, yesterday was my name day. Eleni. When I had my first business cards printed about four years ago I didn’t put my name on them. I put my business name but not my name. I was frightened. I was trying to get back on my feet after experience with the criminal justice system and finding it difficult to get work so I started Brazengrowth – both out of necessity and passion.
Some food for thought. I am wanting change. It can’t be achieved alone.
Three weeks ago I achieved something I have worked hard for over the last 9 years. I exited the Centrelink system. I got an ‘adult’ opal card. For anyone that knows me well, taking so long to exit the welfare system was NOT due to lack of trying, being transparent and working within limitations.
Consider these costs:
- Total net cost of imprisonment $391.18 per prisoner per day
- Total net cost of community corrections was estimated to be $18.30 per offender per day
- Lost productivity due to impact on employment while in prison
- Lost earnings due to impact on difficulty finding employment post release
- Government payments to prisoners post release (up to $529.80 per fortnight for Newstart)
- Increase in substance misuse post release
- Impact of prison on the mental and physical health of prisoners and their families
- Impact of prison on access to stable housing
I felt ashamed as a mum when my children paid my bills. My main priority was to pay my mortgage to keep my home.
Being able to contribute to the community has been a huge part of healing and rebuilding my life.
To deny people affected by the criminal justice system, opportunities to belong to society is a slap in the face for anyone who has rehabilitated and busted their guts to work & make a difference.
To deny reinforces stereotypes, stigma and can inhibit restoration.
To deny actually flies in the face of all organisations that work at reducing ‘risk’.
To deny has a devastating impact on people who are genuinely working to make a difference and contribute to the community in positive ways.
Shame is a barb wire fence. The “feel’ of it hurts and when we don’t know how to soothe the sting. We cover up the ’sores’ of life with anything that seems to offer a ‘balm’ that provides relief to a wounded spirit.
I learned about shame and low self worth the hard way. I had a ‘dark spot’ of mental illness and towards the end of my marriage had no support for treatment from my then husband. In fact I was stigmatised and made to feel more shame. I faced the shame of offending head on and paid the price. I am remorseful and if I could turn back the clock I would. However, if we have a system that is supposed to ‘correct’ then please acknowledge the hard work and effort that INDIVIDUALS have made to right their wrongs!
In reality this is not the case. We are told to pick up, dust ourselves off, get back on our feet, contribute to society and give back. Stigma, fear, exclusion and discrimination are alive when it comes to having a criminal record. I have been one of the luckier ones. I have had forensic psychological help before sentencing. This was brilliant and I so wish I was afforded the insight to the unhealthy emotions and false beliefs I lived with from my teenage years right back then! I had a home to come back to. I had a work history and I had lots of support. Yet despite this, I am unable to participate and contribute in a way that makes me feel like I am giving back.
Now I have this other ‘dark spot’. No matter how far you have come and people tell you to ‘move on’ you are unable to. The definition of mental health according to the World Health Organisation is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
The stigma and discrimination that exists arises from misperceptions, misunderstanding, and irrational fears that only serve to cause more shame, often the very thing that causes the problem for most people to start with! Please society, organisations and governments remove the spots in your vision that prevent seeing the cycle that this is causing for many people.
I still feel a disconnect despite my efforts. Two weeks ago, much of what I worked hard for the last 2 years, that had given me both a sense of purpose and an income, was unfairly taken away from me. Allow me and others, who have overcome these ‘spots’ to move on. I, and others who have tried and are trying so hard, would like to be treated fairly and justly as individuals not as labels. A great start would be to not to discount someone at the mere tick of a box ‘criminal history check’, when applying for work. Give the person the opportunity to talk to you so that you may conduct a personal risk assessment and consider the assessment done by experts in their field. Consider if your policies and processes are in fact lawful. Treat us as human beings not as a label of an offence or a problem. And please consider, just for a moment, the value and the positive impact of employing or being associated with someone who has rehabilitated, has actually achieved some cool things and is making a huge effort to ‘move on’.
I have done my unlearning and thankfully with support, was able to face the penalty. I no longer feel the shame that caused me to not like myself. I have a lot to offer both professionally and personally. I would like, and have the right to follow my passions, use the skills and experiences I have both professionally and personally, to be treated fairly & to be treated as an individual. I am not giving up. I have worked too bloody hard to let any organisation or system try to pull me down. It’s not rocket science. I refuse to be pulled down and be defined by my past. I hope that society, organisations, employers and the very systems that claim to be helping people can keep up, because many people that have had a brush with the law are busting their guts to feel like they belong and not be tainted with the ‘brush and stain’ that those with spots in their minds eye see. My name is Eleni. I am resilient and I am proud of all that I constantly overcome when the ‘dirt’ is continually thrown at me.
Written by Eleni Psillakis