Women’s Breakout were invited to attend the APPG on the role of the Magistracy on 1 December. We invited our members to suggest a suitable woman who would be able to attend the event and share their experience of being in a Magistrates Court. We chose one woman from Together Women to attend the meeting with Jackie.
Cath spoke well and really enjoyed the experience. She says the following:
“The experience of Westminister was really interesting and valuable, however I did feel rather intimidated by the venue, the boardroom and the ‘audience’. I talked about my court experience and how on release the Together Women Projects (TWP) has been an invaluable resource, educationally, socially and emotionally. TWP has offered me support and information and I have really appreciated the help and opportunities available to me. I have met a lot of other women who value TWP and who see it in various degrees as an invaluable resource. Please be aware that we have fun aswell as learn in the TWP Centres, which is what makes us return time after time. I wish I could have conveyed just how important TWP is and how it could be a an much more effective alternative than sending women to prison”.
And this is Cath’s story:
“My experience of court was very traumatic I had been held in the cells for 2 days and nothing had been explained to me about what was going to happen. Being handcuffed and taken into court was terrifying. I had only seen courts on television as I didn’t know anyone who had been through the court system and this was my first time. I only remember 1 of the 3 magistrates, an Asian lady, the same age as me. They were all dressed in black and looking down on me. When I heard my charge it floored me! I realised it was just the first step in a very long process and that made me beside myself and the last piece of self-esteem ebbed away making me feel like a criminal rather than a person.
I pleaded guilty to section 18 and received 5 years custody with 5 years extended licence. I was on remand for 14 and a half months before being sentence so during that time I was in limbo and received no offender focused support.
On release I had an emotional breakdown and was recalled back to prison from a mental health ward. It was only then that I was diagnosed with personality disorder and I received 1:1 intensive psychological support through the PIPE project (psychological interventions in a planned environment). I also accessed trauma recovery and emotional wellbeing groups. This gave me a full understanding of why I am how I am and I recognised the effects of my upbringing and personal circumstances, which explained, but didn’t excuse my behaviour. Labelling can affect everyone differently but for me it made me feel more empowered to assess my choices and make different ones in the future. The support in the Community from TWP and Compass has been invaluable and made me realise that I am ok and that I do have the right to move on and be happy.”