Case studies

Elaine's story

Since Elaine started in the Worcester Park shop in June 2009, she's become a valued member of the team and left prison as an employed member of Sue Ryder staff.

It was towards the end of Elaine's sentence in Downview Prison that she was accepted on to the Sue Ryder Prison Volunteer Programme.

Elaine remembers "I first approached a Sue Ryder shop to volunteer when I was on home leave in Kent. The shop manager there was great and told me about the Prison Volunteer Programme. When I went back to Downview I asked to go on the scheme and luckily I was accepted and placed in Worcester Park.

"There's a stigma to being in prison. As soon as people know you’re a prisoner some don’t want to know, but with others, when you tell them it doesn’t make a difference. Jane, shop manager at Worcester Park, was great. She didn’t mind and was so welcoming and friendly."

Learning new skills

Elaine hadn’t previously worked in retail. Volunteering enabled her to learn a number of new skills and take pride in her work.

"Working in the shop has given me confidence and self-worth. I believe in myself again. I'd never even thought about working in retail before. Now I've nicknamed myself the 'demon sorter'.

"I'm a good organiser and multi-tasker. I know it sounds funny but I love doing all the paperwork in the back office. It's great learning new skills and finding I can do things I didn't know I could do. I've been given a number of responsibilities, including sorting donations, taking money, Gift Aid, banking and putting figures on the computer.

"My computer skills have definitely improved. When I started I only really knew where the on button of a computer was. Everything I know Jane has taught me. I am so grateful. I love interacting with customers and helping them find an item they're looking for, or just having a good chat with them.

"The day I became a key holder of the shop as a volunteer was a real turning point for me. It was a great feeling knowing that people had put their trust in me."

Helping others

Whilst in prison, Elaine was diagnosed with BRCA2 gene default which put her at a high risk of getting breast cancer. She had previous experience with the disease and as a result, decided to undergo a double mastectomy with reconstruction. As well as facing her own issues, she had to come to terms with the death of her best friend from cancer.

During her time in prison, Elaine mentored other female prisoners as part of her role with the Patient Advisory Liaising Service and was an anti-bullying representative.

"Coming to the shop helped me to take my mind off things. After my operation, coming to work gave me a purpose and helped me to cope. I now mentor other female prisoners because I want to help fight their corner and I understand what they are going through.

"It's important for me to know that at the end of the day, the work I do and the money I have helped to raise goes back in to helping people and their families in the end of their life."

You're hired!

In November 2010 a vacancy for assistant manager came up in the shop. Elaine applied, was interviewed and got the job.

"I was really nervous - the last time I was interviewed was about 10-15 years ago. But I did it and I felt on top of the world. I knew I was going to be released in a couple of months and the thought of coming out of prison with no house and no job was daunting.

"Volunteering, and now being employed in the shop, has turned my life around. I like having the responsibility and having a purpose.

"The new prison volunteers come in and I can completely understand what they are going through and how the system works. I know what it is like to go out of that gate every morning and have to go back in that evening. You have to work really hard to get on the programme and have excellent behaviour and conduct yourself well.

"I now recruit the girls in prison and tell them about Sue Ryder and the volunteer programme. Other girls can see that it's possible to leave prison in a paid position. Very few people leave prison with either full or part time jobs. I give people all the encouragement they need to go on the programme, because it can give you such a good start."

A new start

"It's great to work in such a close team. Jane is like the big sister I never had and we have a family of volunteers. We all work really hard, but at the same time we’re all having a laugh and having fun. I get to work with a range of people, including volunteers who have physical and learning disabilities.

"I certainly wouldn’t go back to the way my life was before. I've got a good future now. I am not going to stay as assistant manager - I'm ambitious and one day I hope to reach to manager or even business support manager. This is a great stepping stone to better things.

"I think things may have been very different if I had not had the opportunity of volunteering at the shop. Working here makes me look forward to getting up everyday. It shows me there is life during and after prison.

"My family are proud of me and I am proud of myself. More than anything, my kids are proud of me and we are looking forward to the future."