A light in the North – a woman’s story supported by mentoring

This week’s guest blog comes thanks to Turning Point Scotland’s Karen Watson, Service Manager, Mentoring Services North, helping to deliver the Shine mentoring service in the Northern CJA.

It is told by a support worker for the justice team in HMP Grampian.

When Sally was referred to me, she was seven months pregnant and was in prison for using false immigration documents. She had come to this country from Nigeria in some years previously but her Visa had expired in 2009.  She had worked in the escort and massage business but on falling pregnant, she had to give up this work and, consequently could no longer afford housing. She had gone to London to procure false documentation and then returned to Scotland and presented at the council housing office as homeless. The false papers were recognised here, the police called and Sally was arrested and remanded. She entered an early guilty plea, had no previous convictions or other charges to answer so she was given a short sentence. The prison system, however, showed that she was to be detained after the liberation date and there seemed to be a perception that she was going to be deported. In view of the advanced stages of her pregnancy, however, this was unlikely.

My meetings with Sally highlighted the complexity of her case and her reluctance to be forthcoming with truthful accounts somewhat exacerbated this. In view of what she had been living through, it would be fair to say that this reaction was understandable and it was important for me to do what I could to encourage honesty and quell her fears about deportation and having her baby taken away from her.

I had called down to the women’s wing of the prison one afternoon for a different reason but asked the officers if I could see Sally whilst I was there. I was told that she had just been released – which was totally unexpected and very worrying. Apparently someone from the Home Office had called to the prison. As it transpired, she was still in the prison as the health centre staff were unwilling to release her maternity papers if she were to be reporting as homeless. I knew that Sally had an aunt in the city and, although the relationship between these two was somewhat tenuous at this point, I got Sally’s permission to call her aunt and, given the assurance that she was going to go to her aunt’s house, Sally was liberated and I drove her to her aunt’s house.

At the aunt’s house, I found out that prison SW had had brief intervention and so I made contact from the aunt’s house. I was given another contact for a family centre in the city and the pre birth team there.  My contact with this agency was very positive. Non-judgemental help was offered and I liaised with this organisation to do what we could to support Sally. A meeting with Sally, her aunt and I at the family centre proved very positive and Sally’s fears have been greatly allayed as a result.

My contact with Sally is ongoing. Her engagement is constant. Her preferred method is text message with face to face visits taken place weekly. Her baby is due soon.