This is what happens when you're released from prison


Every day behind bars is one day closer to when a prisoner hopes they may be released from jail. For some the thought of that moment they walk through the gates to become a free person once again, is the only thing that keeps them going. But how, after years of being mostly confined to the four walls of a cell, does a prisoner begin to even start again and reintegrate with society? We spoke to one former prisoner who spent nearly 11 years behind bars at HMP Styal about the harsh reality of being released from prison. She was handed a 20-year sentence for a conviction she is still fighting to this day and asked not to be named to protect her family's privacy. *For this article her name has been changed to Sally Lundon to protect her identity* READ MORE The brutal reality of life inside On the day she was to be released she said she was "up and ready" at 6am - to beat the queue of other prisoners who were also leaving. She said: "You say your goodbyes the night before because the morning of you just want to get up and go. "There are usually a few people going on the same day so you don't want to be at the back of the queue." Prisoners are then taken to reception where they will go through a discharge process, which includes having the items confiscated from them on arrival - returned. She said: "When you arrive at prison you get a property card so that when you leave they can check you have all your own property. "I wasn't strip searched, I was patted down and then a senior officer reads you your licence conditions which you then have to sign. "And then you walk out the gates and for a lot of prisoners no-one is there and you have no-where to go." Sally said she was lucky that on her release from prison she was able to stay with her daughter. However she said for many the reality of being back on the outside is a "big disappointment". She added: "I did a long time but I was lucky because I had family and when I came out I stayed with my daughter. "But really it is quite hard to come out of prison and that is why a lot of people re-offend. "If you come out and you have nowhere to live, that means you don't have an address, so then you can't get a bank account and you won't have any credit records, so you can't rent because a landlord won't take you. "It is a vicious cycle really. "I had chance to sort myself out - I was one of the lucky ones. "But if you don't have that support, you are basically on a one way street back to prison, because at least there you had a roof over your head." Sally said the first day on the outside is "a series of appointments" to arrange benefits and to meet a probation officer. Prisoners are given £46 prison discharge which is supposed to last until their benefits are paid. Sally said: "If you are a long timer you are usually sent out to a hostel and given three months stay there. "However if you are not, but you are in longer than three months, even one day over, you lose your benefits and surrender your tennancy. "If you are in three months or less your benefits will pay your rent while you are away. "But one day over and you potentially lose everything. "Because there is nowhere for all your possessions to be stored, so you are coming out basically with nothing and having to start all over again." Sally said some of the women she met in prison linked up with agencies on the outside, who came in to prison to visit, or church organisations, who helped them find accomodation. However she said for a lot of prisoners the harsh reality is they will potentially end up homeless. She said: "Probation can only help with so much, it is pretty much up to yourself to find a place to live. "If you don't have anywhere to go and you are homeless you can go to a hostel, however there used to be such a thing as being 'intentionally homeless' which is what you were classed as if you had been in prison, and then they didn't have to give you somewhere to stay "I don't know if that is the case anymore. "But there are problems with staying in a hostel anyway, because you may have been a drug user before going into prison and while in prison you became clean. "And then you come out and are sent to a hostel around drug users again - which is difficult." Sally said when she was behind bars getting out of prison was "all everyone talks about". She said: "You count down the days until you are free and until you can see your family again. "But then in some cases there is this big disappointment, you are free, but it is just not what they thought it would be. "Many people walk out the gates and there is no-one there and you have nowhere to go. "There isn't a taxi waiting to pick you up, you are given a travel warrant to get the train or bus." Sally said another huge shock after a stretch inside is how much the world on the outside has changed. She added: "The biggest change I found was technology. "When I went into prison there were no Iphones, it is like coming out to a totally new world. "You are not used to the traffic, you are not used to crowds, you are coming out and starting again. "You feel like a child again learning new things. "Some girls in there are doing 20 years and will come out and be like 'a contactless card - what is that?' It is just mad." Sally said while she does think the discharge process from prison is improving, she believes more should be done to help those reintegrating back into society. She added: "The bottom line is without support you are not going to be able to do it. "There needs to be more duty of care and the process of coming out of prison needs to be seamless. "There never used to be anything in place so it is improving but I still don't think it is perfect. "You almost need to be hand held through the gates. "If you don't have that support coming out of prison, it will just feel like a punishment after a punishment." A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Everyone leaving prison should have a safe and suitable home to go to on release, our reforms to probation are designed to encourage long-term rehabilitation and ultimately reduce offending. “We’re improving support for offenders leaving prison with a £22 million investment in through-the-gate services which will help strengthen ties with key partners, including the third sector, local authorities and the police. “At the same time we are investing £6m as part of the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy in pilot schemes bringing together prisons, local authorities, probation providers and others to plan, secure and sustain accommodation for offenders on their release.”

                                                           LIVERPOOL ECHO