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Maintaining a law-abiding life – a personal story

Forty-five-year-old Suzanne* was a persistent Meet Suanne A London Probation Trust Case Studyoffender who’d been out of trouble with the police for five years when she lapsed back into her old habits.

Her Probation Officer recommended Structured Supervision for Women instead of a custodial sentence.

Here Suzanne explains how it’s made her realise the consequences of her actions – and that she never wants to offend again.

*Name changed to protect identity

Background

“I am so very grateful to my Probation Officer…the programme changed my life”

Suzanne first got into trouble at the age of 17 for minor offences, such as shoplifting, due to peer pressure.  She kept doing it for ‘the buzz’ and because it was ‘easy money’.  Shortly afterwards, she fell pregnant and left school to care for her son.

“I ended up having a string of abusive partners and was running from refuge to refuge.  I spent twenty years like that.”

During this period, Suzanne endured three abusive relationships and in her early 20s a partner introduced her to fraud.  During her thirties, Suzanne also battled with alcohol and drug addiction.  After coming out of prison, Suzanne admits that, for a while, she was living a ‘double life’.

“Things just spiralled after I got out from prison.  I got bigger and better at the game.

“I’d always worked.  I was holding down a full time job during the week and at the weekend was doing fraud to fund my drug habit.”

After a further arrest, Suzanne was determined to put a stop to her offending.  “I realised that being in prison for over a year had meant I’d missed out on a massive chunk of my children’s lives.”

Whilst in prison, Suzanne completed Open University course in Social Science.  “I did really well and was interested in becoming a social worker.  But when I looked into it further I realised it would be difficult with a criminal record.”

For five years, Suzanne stayed away from crime.  However, stressed out by pressure at work, she returned to her old ways and started committing credit card fraud.  She was later arrested for these offences and it was at this point that her Probation Officer recommended the intensive Structured Supervision for Women as an alternative to custody.

On Probation

“That last spell in prison had made me so determined to change my life.

“I’d had a breakdown after being so stressed at work and had turned back to the credit card fraud in a moment of weakness. “It was like a form of relief for me…self harm.  I needed to be in control of something.  And this was my release.  It became an addiction, one that I couldn’t stop. Luckily, I was given this order and community service.”

“When I first started on the programme, I was pleasantly surprised at how much input there was from me.  What made me change my behaviour was the course and the way it was constructed. “It’s not just about your feelings, but about how your crime and your actions affect other people – those around you, your victims, and your family. “It’s very intense. There are 16 modules and you discuss your finances, your past relationships, what led you to crime in the first place.  Why you went back after being out for so long.  You need to understand everything about you.”

She explains that what she has learnt during that time has helped her to look at things differently and understand her behaviour, as well as the potential consequences of her actions, better.

“It’s not just something you do while you’re on the course but it’s also something you can use in your everyday life.  When you think about doing something you think about how it affects you, people around you, your children and your family. It’s also about being 100 per cent honest with yourself.  I am very, very grateful to my Probation Officer, who wrote my Pre Sentence Report and recommended this course.  Because this course has made me look at things differently.”

The Probation Officer’s View

Probation Officer knew about Suzanne’s previous convictions and patterns of behaviour.

The Probation Officer said, “Suzanne had tried to stop before – and been pretty successful. That was why it was disappointing to see her back again. “I really felt that she needed to understand what her triggers were; what led her to offending in the first place and why, after spending so long away from crime, she had gone back to it.  Without understanding all of this, she would find it hard to stop offending for good.”

“The Structured Supervision for Women is very intense and it helps offenders to examine every relevant part of their life in detail; their relationships, problem solving skills; the way they deal with stress and so on. “Suzanne realised that for her it was something she resorted to when she felt under pressure.  There were times when it was external pressure from a partner, but even when she was on her own it was something familiar that she kept going back to. Helping her to understand the effect she was having not just on her own life, but that of her children, the rest of her family and her victims really put things into perspective for her.”

Where Are They Now

One of Suzanne’s biggest concerns – something she still thinks is a major issue for other ex-offenders – was employment.

Suzanne says: “When I left prison, I thought ‘I’ll never get a job.”  I owe my recruitment agency everything, to be quite honest.

“The woman there told me: “It’s not about your criminal record; it’s about what you can offer.  There are employers that will look at you for your skills. I’m now working full time and I have a fantastic employer.  I work for an agency which has overlooked my criminal record in favour of the skills that I have accumulated whilst working over the years.”

However, Suzanne maintains that it is not always that easy to get a job when you have a criminal record.  She knows she is one of the lucky ones.  “You are discriminated against and there is still a lot of discrimination out there.  A lot of work still needs to be done around it,” she says.

The Last Word

Suzanne denies the course is a ‘soft’ option

“It’s not like you see your Probation Officer for an hour and then you go home and forget about it.  I truly believe putting people on this 16 week offending behaviour programme will change their lives. Prison doesn’t solve the problems you had before you went in.  Women who commit crimes might have abusive partners; they might have lost their children.  And when they come out of prison, their problems are worse.”

“Probation can’t do everything.  Once your order is over, probation can put you in touch with people who can help you and increase your chance of survival. I don’t think I’ll ever commit a crime again.  But I don’t think I could have done it on my own.”

“I’m at a very good place in my life.”

 

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