Bobbie – I want to share my experiences and give women the same hope that was given to me
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How Ex-Cell helped a prisoner with accommodation, finding a job and rebuilding family relationships.
Bobbie crashed her car and seriously injured her passenger while intoxicated. Ex-Cell visited Bobbie in prison and helped her with accommodation, finding a job and rebuilding family relationships.
Watch the video to hear Bobbie talk about her experience. The video also features Dave Nicholson, Director of Ex-Cell.
Bobbie turned to drink to help her cope with a violent boyfriend. She lost contact with her family due to arguments caused by the five-year-long abusive relationship, and she became increasingly reliant on alcohol.
Bobbie crashed her car while driving under the influence of alcohol, causing serious injuries to a passenger. She was sent to prison for the offence.
“Although being in prison meant I was able to end the violent relationship I was in, I knew I was coming out to nothing,” said Bobbie. “My family had disowned me, I seriously injured my friend in the crash, I lost my job, and I was homeless. I didn’t know where I was going to go or what I was going to do.”
Bobbie was visited in prison by Ex-Cell, a cooperative that works closely with the Prison Service, Probation, Manchester City Council, Lifeline, Addaction, and the Greater Manchester Community Chaplaincy to find accommodation and paid work placements for homeless ex-offenders upon their release.
My mentor gave me hope
“Ex-Cell came in and offered me a job. They also gave me a mentor who found somewhere for me to live. My mentor gave me hope and helped me focus on something to look forward to when I came out of prison,” said Bobbie.
Bobbie’s work placement fell through at the time of her release, so Dave Nicholson, Director of Ex-Cell, offered her a job doing admin in their office.
“I couldn’t believe how lucky I was,” said Bobbie. “I came out of prison on Friday, and in a weekend I’d been given a job and had somewhere to live. With ongoing support from Ex-Cell I got back in touch with my sister, sorted out my finances, and exactly one year after leaving prison I signed for my own flat.”
At the end of her six-month work placement, Ex-Cell offered Bobbie a permanent position as Office Manager and put her on an accountancy apprenticeship. Bobbie is now also working as a mentor for Ex-Cell, supporting other female ex-offenders.
We are like a big family
Bobbie adds: “I want to share my experiences and give those women the same hope that was given to me. That’s the key thing about Ex-Cell, we’re all there for each other like a big family. Because Ex-Cell is a cooperative, we all have a say in everything and we all support one another.”
Ex-Cell is not only a workers cooperative itself, but also provides intensive support for ex-offenders to establish and manage their own cooperatives.
Dave Nicholson explains: “There are two things that make Ex-Cell a success. Firstly, for ex-offenders who come to Ex-Cell and want to set up their own business, establishing a cooperative means they can work together to create their own jobs and co-operate out of crime.
“We are the only organisation in the country providing cooperative development services for ex-offenders, and we are accredited with Cooperatives UK as a Cooperative Development Body. A cooperative business is owned and run jointly by its members, and we’ve set up five of these to date, with more on the way. The cooperatives all employ homeless ex-offenders, leading to the creation of more permanent job opportunities as the business grows.
Everything we do is built around relationships
“Secondly, everything we do is built around relationships. We befriend people and treat them as colleagues, not service users. The mentor work is crucial, especially as many people who come to us have problems with drugs, alcohol or mental health. They need our support to sustain their job and accommodation, and to rebuild family relationships.
“Because we build everything around working together – whether it be the cooperatives we establish, the mentors who provide ongoing support, or our partnership working across Manchester – we see people successfully rebuild their lives every day.”
Before I went into prison about 5 years previously, I was in a violent relationship, I had some really bad experiences in that time and I was lucky to survive it really.
It caused me to get very depressed when I was trying to kind of get out of the relationship and I couldn’t get out of the relationship. I was drinking a lot. I was going out, I was doing stupid things. One night I decided to drink and drive where I caused a lot of damage. I had a car crash and really injured my friend quite badly who was in the back of the car. So that led me to have a jail sentence of three months.
While I was in prison a man called Ormond from Ex-Cell Solutions came to see me and he said he had a possible vacancy doing some accountancy because I’d done a bit of that in college previously, a few years before.
Well, on a Monday I went to see Ormond at Ex-Cell and he told me that the accounting job had fallen through. But he and Dave met; they wanted to offer me an admin position at Ex-Cell.
Ex-Cell provides one-to-one support and access to accommodation and employment for ex-prisoners and ex-offenders in the community.
The two areas where we are probably different from most agencies that work with ex-offenders are, number one, we take very much an individual one-to one approach. People we work with, we don’t see as clients or service users and us as a service provider. It’s a family Ex-Cell; it’s not a criminal justice agency. As I said, we’re all in it together. And then the second area where we’re different from most agencies working in the criminal justice system is that this cooperative approach that we take increasingly emphasising, encouraging ex-offenders to create their own employment through developing their own cooperative businesses.
We first met Bobbie about a year, 18 months ago, just before she was released from Style Women’s Prison. We appointed a volunteer support worker for her through the community chaplaincy, who made arrangements that she’d have somewhere to live when she was released. And we provided employment for her with ourselves.
And they took me on for six months. After the six months they offered me full time employment and since then I’ve not looked back. It’s been ongoing support; Ormond and Dave have been there every step of the way. They’ve offered me financial support like doing my budgeting and stuff like that. Exactly a year after I got out of prison on 25th of June, I signed for my flat, which I said it’s a sign, that wasn’t just a coincidence. I’m really buzzing with my flat, I love it to bits. And they’re still helping me now with support with the furniture and stuff like that.
I’m speaking to all of my sisters now. My main important one was my dad. My dad fell out with me. My dad brought me up so obviously when he fell out with me it absolutely crippled me. That was my main issue when I was in prison that I didn’t have my dad to go out to. Now we’re like best friends again, I love him to bits.
And like I said I’ve become a mentor now, so I’ll have a chat with some of the girls that come out and try and give them a bit of the hope and guidance that I was given when I got out of jail. You know you can never tell somebody that it’s going to be alright because it might not be. But you can try and give them hope that it will be.
I never thought I’d get to this point, it’s brilliant.
Ex-Cell is a cooperative that works closely with local agencies to find accommodation and paid work placements for homeless ex-offenders upon their release.
Ex-Cell also provides mentors who offer support with sustaining a job, accommodation and rebuilding family relationships.
“I want to share my experiences and give those women the same hope that was given to me. That’s the key thing about Ex-Cell, we’re all there for each other like a big family”.
Published: 16 April 2013