“I was serving in HMP Send and doing the Level 3 Advice and Guidance course, working as a Peer Advisor offering housing advice,” she says. “The opportunity came up to do it at Level 4 and I took it.”
This progression meant helping facilitate training sessions and supporting new Peer Advisors embarking on the Level 3 qualification. “Ali (Ali Beach – Team Leader on our Footsteps project page X) visited,” Charlotte says. “We held meetings about a new women’s service supporting female prison leavers. This service became Footsteps – I helped come up with the project name and advised on the branding and design of the publicity.”
Things progressed further when Charlotte become eligible for ROTL (release on temporary licence) and she was able to come out into the community during the day to further build her skills and experience. She volunteered on Peer Assist at the St Giles Trust Camberwell-based Head Office, offering over the phone and online advice to people in need of support.
“I volunteered with Peer Assist three days a week whilst still doing Level 4. I did this for eight months and then moved over to volunteer in Footsteps.”
Although still in prison herself, Charlotte was offering vital support to women on their first day out of prison – a very vulnerable time. The experience of prison is traumatising for most women. Leaving without someone trustworthy to give a helping hand can mean many of them fall back into the predatory hands of pimps and dealers. Caseworkers like Charlotte steer the women on the right path and the work is full on.
“It was very exciting and a good experience – I really enjoyed it. I had the opportunity to become a proper caseworker, meeting women at the gate on their release from prison. It involved helping women with housing, doctors, benefits… the women are so emotional and it was hard but it got me ready for my own release. I kind of knew what was I was going to face.”
That day came in November 20107 and, after her release, Charlotte continued to volunteer in Footsteps until she successfully applied for Caseworker job in Peer Circles.
“They are still the same client base – vulnerable, homeless, facing addiction and mental health issues. Everything I learned from Peer Assist and Footsteps went hand in hand and I had the experience from both projects.”
She is in no doubt that having had personal experience of the criminal justice system has a positive impact on the way she supports her clients. “You’ve been through the same thing as the individual. You know the best way to get through because you’ve done it yourself. I know how they feel and can sympathise – you were in that position at some point in time and know how it feels to be there.”
Charlotte is now focussed on continuing her professional development whilst helping others to progress their lives. “I’m hoping to stay in Peer Circles, get as much experience and knowledge as I can and build my network. Then I’m aiming to into a supervisor role –either within St Giles Trust or another organisation.”