Sandy, a dear friend, condemned by harmful systems

From the March 2017 edition of Parity Magazine: I Shall Be Released: Post-Release and Homelessness

By Dr Megan Williams

I’ve known my dear friend Sandy for several years. He’s been like an angel in my life – kind, supportive and trustworthy.

But his life has been punctuated with prison sentences and justice system nightmares, showing how remarkably easily he has been caught in the cycle of re-incarceration and poverty, over and over again.

Last year showed the most promise for Sandy. After being in and out of prison for two decades, desperation led him to again try long-term residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

He hated his case worker and other residents, but he persevered because couldn’t see any other option for escaping the violence he’d experienced in prison, the risks he’d experienced with drugs, or the deep sense of failure that he carried around.

Little by little, Sandy’s resistance to being helped shifted, ironically only because of the actual experience of being helped. There was no one magic solution. Several different types of support worked together for him – Sandy connected with older Aboriginal men, who talked with him openly about forgiveness, self-acceptance, and his value to other people. Psychology and counselling helped him better understand the anger and grief at his family situation, and the way their trauma conditioned his own beliefs and actions.

Sandy was supported to enrol in a TAFE course, earned his driver’s licence and rented his own low-cost housing as part of a prison after-care program. He kept connected to an Aboriginal men’s group, 12-Step programs and a relapse prevention program. With some new and old friends he went to social events, spent time in nature and keeping active, and enjoyed being a much-loved uncle.

By all accounts Sandy finally started living a ‘normal’, ‘reintegrated’ life.

Life changes in a moment

One unexpected knock at the door changed all that in an instant. He was issued with yet another summons to appear in court, for charges which preceded his last period in prison, and which had breached his good behaviour bond. He, his caseworker and legal representation all believed these matters had been dealt with by his last prison sentence…

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