Pausing to reflect on how far I’ve come
For many this is a time of year to take stock, looking back on the year behind us. 2021 has, perhaps, invited more reflection than ever.
As a charity promoting second chances for people in and after prison, we too have reflected that supporting Longford scholars into career opportunities is something we have a part to play in. For almost a year, a pilot employability programme has been running alongside our scholarship programme.
Molly took on a new role through the employability pilot. Here, for Longford Blog she reflects on what she’s learnt….
The circumstances that led me to spend a year in prison are undoubtedly the worst thing to have happened to me and my family. With my mind and body in survival mode, I don’t have clear memories of my time inside. However, in my last days there, I remember vividly one of my closest friends saying, ‘Molly, when you leave don’t look back.’ She wasn’t being metaphoric, she was deadly serious. ‘Walk out of the gates and do not turn around.’
I followed her instructions to the T. I was released in the April and, with Longford’s support, hurried straight to Cardiff Metropolitan University in the September. I joined the equestrian team and swiftly took over as president, I worked as a student ambassador, became a student representative, completed 100 hours of work experience as part of the Cardiff Met Award, coached gymnastics, athletics, rugby and cricket, and started the CoppaFeel!: Uni Boob Team society… The aim was to place as much distance between myself and HMP Eastwood Park as possible with the hope of making my CV look good despite my conviction.
Focusing on proving myself outside of academic study by cramming distracting activities into my schedule was overwhelming. Balancing these commitments, alongside the mental health issues and trauma of being fresh out of prison led me to overlook my degree. Nevertheless, I managed to scrape a 2:1 in 2019!
Back on track
After graduating, I found a good job with good people who didn’t care about my past. Over the next couple years, I made Cardiff my home and settled into a comfortable position. More recently, I started my own freelance venture. Life is back on track. Except this summer, two years post-graduation, having worked tirelessly to put distance between my new life and my experiences, I found myself carrying around an unbearable guilt. Guilt for succeeding and leaving the people in prison behind.
If I wanted to make the feeling go away, I had to do something about it. I got back in touch with Longford in October and explained the situation….
‘I want to give back.’
When they offered to put me in touch with StandOut, who happened to be recruiting, ultimately I knew, despite the fear, that I couldn’t turn this opportunity down. Luckily, the role suited me perfectly; working part time meant I can confidently develop my freelance social media management services with the comfort of a stable income. Not to mention, resolving my desire to give back.
It all happened so quickly, I’m still confused by it. I spent the best part of 6 years trying to move on from prison and now I’m working in an organisation that challenges me to confront a lot of underlying emotions and internalised stigma about prisons every day. Whilst inside, I was aware of a handful of organisations who visited people in prison, but I never understood how dedicated such organisations are to supporting people to create a better life upon release. Whilst it’s frustrating that the current system requires organisations like StandOut to exist in the first place, it’s fascinating to learn more about the sector as a whole.
Now here I am, just over a month into my role at StandOut, feeling so grateful for the opportunity to work with a first class and committed team who work together to put people first. With their support, day- to- day I plan communications and support fundraising. Feedback from my new colleagues has assured me that I’m doing a good job! As a team, we have just completed a massive campaign for The Big Give Christmas Challenge where we smashed our initial target by 50% and raised over £90,000.
How far I’ve come
Whilst building my way up towards a wonderful job, growing a freelance venture, new home and beautiful family, not stopping to look back felt right. However, now knowing that I want to and can give back, a period of reflection is necessary. Although it’s not always easy, pausing to look back has allowed me to see how far I’ve come.
If you want to apply to become a Longford scholar to study a university degree in prison or after prison, you can apply here.