Every year more than 9,000 women find themselves in UK prisons. For many, it is their first time. Employment for women following short prison sentences is three times worse than for men, as fewer than one in ten women have a job to go to on release. The lack of childcare support, qualifications and low pay are all barriers for many women offenders to find work. While research suggests that challenges such as mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency, educational gaps, low self-esteem and lack of confidence disproportionately affect women in the prison system. The combination of two or more of these disadvantages can severely restrict a woman’s ability to stay the course and succeed in learning and training.
Lauren Cherry was about to find out just how hard life could be when she faced these same challenges during her 11 months in a prison cell. Her journey inside was a combination of being constantly moved around the system, presented with new situations, new cellmates and different people throughout her prison stay. Cherry says, “The only certainty was uncertainty. In ten months, I read 65 books, one of which was Nina Grunfeld’s, The Big Book of Me.” This book changed Cherry’s life. After her release, Cherry found herself working with Grunfeld and Life Clubs.
Grunfeld is a best-selling author, along with her successful, Life Clubs and her “Get A Life” column in The Daily Telegraph.
Through Life Clubs, Grunfeld has changed the lives of individuals and helped many FTSE 100 corporates, as well as the NHS. Life Clubs gave Cherry the tools to make a brighter future for herself and importantly, never to reoffend. Now Grunfeld runs Life Clubs at Work with the help of Cherry, who heads up the Prison and Community services, helping ex-offenders and those inside how to live in the present, understand that being happy is a choice rather than a result from external forces and giving them the tools to make better decisions.
If women have jobs that enable them to find and keep secure housing, look after their children and move away from abusive relationships, they are less likely to turn to crime or reoffend. But they need support. Inside, Cherry taught her fellow inmates about business and accounting, she studied hairdressing and trained as a Samaritan and a butcher. Close to her release, she began working with the award-winning UK charity, Working Chance, which supports women with criminal convictions and women care leavers to find quality work with mainstream employers.
This month, Cherry began co-presenting a weekly radio programme with National Prison Radio. The show Straightline, will be airing nationally and in prisons, so everyone can listen. Straightline wants to strengthen the bond between prisoners and their families and friends. It's proven that individuals are less likely to re-offend if they have strong connections on the outside.
Photo Credit: Women in Prison