Within the space of 6 months this year, more than 5 years post release from prison, I have been discriminated against because of my past. I can list many other previous times. Most of these instances over the past 7 years, including the 2 most recent have been the result of 1 – 3 phone calls, mainly anonymous, made to organisations, where the caller discloses the offence. As a result, I lose my livelihood and recognition for the contributions I have since made to my community. I have proven myself as capable, passionate and rehabilitated. I was withdrawn from a major community award on October 11, 2019 after being voted in by the community and announced publicly as a result of the calls. My nomination in the first instance included that I had been to prison.
Initially I think “What is the point in trying? What is the point in living when I am not able to live freely? What is the point of ‘correction’ and rehabilitation?” But if I stay in these thoughts, I know the potential slippery slope to dark thoughts – so I fight on.
How can we expect individuals to be recover, contribute and feel like they belong when society does not recognise rehabilitation? I am a woman that has suffered anxiety, depression, anorexia and has been affected by the criminal justice system. The last ‘label’ often being the end of the road for many people who have poor coping strategies for the many risk factors that lead to mental illness. And it is this label that is the hardest for others to see past.
Fear of not being enough to be loved never made me feel worthy. It was the cause of anxiety, depression & anorexia. It was ultimately the false belief that drove unacceptable behaviour that landed me in prison. I post this to stand by anyone that has ever felt they are not enough. To those that have ever made poor decisions out of the fear ‘if I don’t .. I won’t be worthy’.
This was the voice of anorexia. This was the voice before I offended. This voice of fear I defeat by standing for the woman I have become.
The banner of ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ flies high amongst many government bodies, corporate organisations and smaller businesses. But there are no laws to back a person that has a criminal record. The discrimination act covers age, disability, race, sex, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation. How inclusive is this?
People suffering mental ill health can isolate themselves. The behaviours have underlying causes that are often not treated. The person tries using the only means they know to ‘cope’. My lightbulb moment was when my psychologist helped me see the thoughts of myself during anorexia and right before offending were one and the same; “You are not enough. You are not worthy.” I have since done a lot of unlearning, plead guilty, paid the price set by the law and told to ‘move on with my life.’
I have damn well tried. I am trying. We tell people with mental health problems to reach out for support – support from a system that is broken. My forensic psychologist and all the research and literature would deem me rehabilitated and no longer a ‘risk’. I would now like laws that support my rehabilitation. I would now to be treated as a woman who has overcome and not be continually judged on her past. I would like to live freely and not be harassed or bullied.
The irony is that all this exclusion flies in the face of any individuals, organisations, systems and society that give lip service to tick boxes and not have a backbone to stand by their words. These attitudes only keep a person in a cycle of hopelessness. These attitudes are disempowering and not person-centred. They are fear centred. Fear does not lead to love and acceptance for anyone. It’s no use telling people to rehabilitate if individuals, organisations and society as a whole do not support & recognise this by constantly stirring the fear that was the problem to start with.
I am more resilient now than ever. Can we please support and celebrate rehabilitation in people and give them the dignity to live their lives truly free of judgement? I can only hope and dream.