I was alone in a ‘legal visits’ room for over an hour. Sharing the tiny space were a table and two chairs on which the high rectangular window did its best not to shed any light. For company I had the pain and joy of families all too briefly reunited in the main hall echoing against the door.
Rebecca* burst in: all apologies and damp hair. She’d rushed from her house, with conditioner still in, the moment she’d heard I was here.
I thought: that’s a great start.
We’d met days before at an introductory group for women who would be in ‘for a while’. Hence my surprise when Rebecca said she might be released in weeks. This is why I was stuck in prison on a warm Sunday afternoon, instead of cycling with the unusually glorious March sunshine on my back.
As we began talking about relationships and accommodation on release it was clear things weren’t quite right, as Rebecca had hidden part of her life relating to her offence from her partner. However, rather than delving into this, I made the tiniest of pencil notes and let her lead where she wanted.
When we met again four days later I asked if she wanted to explore that issue at all. She completely stunned me by saying she’d written to confess everything the very next day and he’d replied immediately to say he already knew.
“It lifted a great weight off my shoulders… the hiding caused me loads of depression and stress.”
“I had a broken down relationship. It was because I couldn’t be honest… Thinking back, it’s weird. It took all these years and it took me one session and I wrote a letter.”
This was CIAO’s very first experience of coaching in Styal and it’s never ceased to amaze us since. I still wonder where Rebecca found the courage to take such a huge step. My not judging or not looking appalled when she shared the secret may have helped, but I’ll never know.
Rebecca and I met for four sessions in less than four weeks and she happily admitted she was highly doubtful coaching could achieve anything:
“At first I thought: ‘How’s anything going to change?’ But I started to feel better about myself and I don’t know why.”
“The prison is giving me a second chance… I don’t want to be in a rut anymore, but it’s hard…” like riding a bike, where starting off is the wobbliest (and scariest) part. “If anyone’s gonna change anything it’s gotta be me. I’m so glad I started on these sessions.”
“You ask all the right questions and get me thinking.”
Coaching did more than just get her thinking. Rebecca proudly told me she had three Green Tickets (for good behaviour) in just two weeks, whereas she’d “had loads of Red Tickets in the past”. More importantly, she was assessed and approved for early release on a Tag (the electronic ankle cuff offenders wear during Home Detention Curfew), so she was with her children again within weeks of meeting me. She also decided to volunteer with families of women in prison once she was out. I’ve no idea if this happened, but I do hope so.
I owe so much to Rebecca, not least that I learnt early on not to get too cocky in Styal.
In a session when we were talking about role models I asked Rebecca if she admired anyone. She went silent for a while before looking at me and saying: “I admire you.”
I’d just started to puff myself up a little and wipe a small tear from my eye when she coolly added: “I wish I were dead full of myself.”
* Our MD, Clare McGregor, who wrote this, promised Rebecca her story would be anonymous when she gave her permission to share it, so this isn’t her real name.