Shelley wouldn’t have seen herself as ‘gang involved’ but concedes that other people had a different view.
“It was just people that I know… people that I’ve seen round my area for years… and then you start hanging out when you get a bit older… then you become close… ‘If you’ve got one pound, I’ve got one pound’… that was the relationship.”
Shelley was committing crime from the age of 11 but got caught at 14. She was selling drugs for an older associate and owed him £200. He threatened to shoot her if she failed to deliver his money. In order to find the money quickly, she stole mobile phones which could be sold on. Shelley was arrested and found herself the subject of electronic monitoring – ‘on tag’.
“I was young, dumb, hanging round with friends… ‘I’m cool, I’m bigger than you’… and then you get arrested and I’m, like, ‘wait, hold on’… and then I stopped committing crimes.”
Whilst under YOT supervision, Shelley didn’t breach her tag and lived within the law for a couple of years. Then ‘things started happening’ to her. Her family life became volatile, her home was no longer a safe place, and she left. Now homeless and unable to return to her parents’ house, Shelley had no income or security. She turned to the people she called friends for support. Together, they survived. “When you have no food …and no one really wants to help you… what are you gonna do? If you’re not thinking correctly or if you’re really, really desperate… I dunno how to explain it… ‘I don’t know where I’m sleeping tonight’… it’s, like, ‘I’m so sorry, I have to eat’… to be honest, like, ‘It’s your ‘phone, it’s not the end of the world’.”
After a year of making ends meet via crime, Shelley was arrested. At 17, she was placed into the care of social services. She was housed alone and miles away from home; the only place available. Shelley found the situation difficult to manage. People she then considered to be her friends were abusing her and she had nowhere to turn.
“I tried to turn to social services, I didn’t have any family… all I’m doing is committing crimes… ‘You owe money, go and commit some crimes’… I knew I was going to go to jail… there was a time before I went in, that I wanted to go to jail… it needed to happen, basically.”
After robbing someone at knife point, Shelley found herself in prison just shy of her eighteenth birthday.
“I’m sitting in jail… and then I was, like, ‘You know what, this isn’t me’… I needed to improve my life, and I needed to make a step forward.”
Once released, Shelley was keen to make up for lost time. She was referred to the project by probation staff in the summer of 2014. Despite feeling let down by services providers in the past, Shelley’s case worker found her keen to engage – ‘She wanted to turn her life around’.
During initial meetings with Shelley, her case worker drew out what needed to be achieved: primarily housing and a job. After undertaking assessments in literacy, numeracy and IT, Shelley and her case worker planned a course of action.
The first step was basic but pivotal, practical but emotionally fraught. As a care leaver, social services were responsible for Shelley’s housing, but she lacked the confidence to contact them. She listened intently as her case worker made the first call. She was shown how to ask for what she needed. The second call was made by Shelley while her case worker sat beside her.
Shelley receives practical support, such as assistance with CV writing and disclosure letters, but her determination to succeed is undermined by self-esteem and life skills deficits. She found it hard to cope when people on the bus stared at her. Shelley caught a bus with her case worker who modelled an appropriate response: ‘People stare, ignore it, it’s not your problem’. Shelley appreciates the practical and emotional support; her case worker calls it an holistic and personalised approach.
“We’ve all, pretty much, just come out of jail, so we’re all trying to sort out our lives… so it’s… nice to know that there’s people helping you out… [they] know that that’s the situation that you’re in, and it’s useful.”
Shelley’s found that applying for jobs can be demoralising. “As soon as you put in you’ve got a criminal conviction, you can’t even finish the application… and then go back, you refresh it, and you [click]… you say, ‘No I haven’t got one’, and then it lets you carry on… you can’t even get past that one initial stage… sometimes it’s a bit hard. You feel like it’s hard to progress, but then there’s opportunities, because the project show you that there’s opportunities, and they show you that there’s things, and you will get the interview… it boosts your confidence.”
She found her own job using the skills that she’d been taught. Shelley recognises that she made bad choices, and is determined not to reoffend:
“Sometimes you don’t make the best choice, because you think it’s your only choice… then you have to pay the price… that’s what you have to do, and then you try and come out and better yourself, because you don’t wanna go back there.” Shelley is waiting for social services to find her a home.
Tagged with the theme: Family