Starting over

Family Works staff support women released from New Zealand prisons to settle back into the community.  For the Otago region, Christchurch Women’s is the predominant release prison, but there are other women from around New Zealand who choose to come to Otago to make a new start.  The Out of Gate programme is designed for women who have served a short sentence (under two years) and who believe, with the right support, they are very likely to remain out of prison. 

The first few months following a short prison sentence can be very difficult for women.  With no job, often damaged or broken family relationships and frequently no place to live, a return to old ways, or an unsafe relationship is a risk.  The Out of Gate programme, funded by the Department of Corrections, aims to reduce the risk of re-offending by supporting women at this critical time. 

In Otago, the Family Works team is currently working with 11 Out of Gate clients, one in Oamaru and 10 in Dunedin. 

One of the women we are supporting is Jodi (29), a young mum from Gore.  Jodi left school and home at 15, and had her first child, a baby girl, at 16.  She was a hard working young woman, juggling three part-time jobs and a growing family.  Her first job was as a dish hand in a popular café in Gore.  Proving herself a hard worker and quick learner, by the age of 20 she was the bar manager and sous chef.  A job she loved.

Jodi’s world fell apart in 2012.  In a volatile relationship she describes as involving “a lot of yelling”, and interactions with Child Youth and Family, resulted in her children being removed from her care.  At only 24 she felt as though her life had ended.  It was a heartbreak that seemed too much to bear.  Feeling angry, deeply sad, let down by her community, and completely alone, she attempted to take her own life.  Then she turned to drugs.

Drug dealers prey on vulnerable women like Jodi.  The first “hit” is often a gift, to secure a new “customer”.

“My dealer would take me shopping” says Jodi.  By this she means her dealer would take her to a department store, where she would shoplift goods, handing them all to the dealer in exchange for drugs.

The shoplifting lead to a prison sentence in 2014.  And another in 2015 after refusing any help following her first release.  Jodi didn’t make the mistake of refusing help twice.  Prior to release in September 2015, she registered for the Out of Gate programme and was put in touch with Elsie Freeman at our Family Works’ Dunedin office.

“When I left prison all I had was what I could carry in one bag”, says Jodi.  “Elsie met me at the bus stop in Dunedin.  She gave me a big hug and took me to my new home.  There was some food in the cupboard, shampoo and conditioner in the shower and fresh sheets on the bed.  She made it real nice for me.  It was 9PM and she sat on the back step with me, had a cup of tea, and told me that if I needed anything, at any time, I could call her”, she said. 

“If it weren’t for Family Works and Elsie, I would probably be on the couch of some drug user falling back into my old life”

Jodi feels positive about the future.  She attends weekly rehabilitation sessions, is enrolled in Open Polytechic’s “Get Ahead” skills programme, and has two close friends to support her. 

She would like to train to become a social worker one day.

“I’d like to set up a programme for teenage mums and dads to help them stay in school and learn life skills too.  There’s not enough help for young parents, especially in rural areas,” she says.

“I’d like my life to be good enough for my kids to live with me again” she concludes.

Elsie and the Family Works team are very proud of Jodi’s progress and commitment to changing her life’s course. Jodi sees sharing her story as part of that change.  It’s not easy starting over and Family Works will support her for as long as it takes. 

You can help us support young women like Jodi by donating now.