The Government responded by bringing in a new, more progressive management team at the jail. They came in and for the first time I’d ever experienced, treated us like human beings and treated us with respect. They set up committees of women to have a say on how the jail was run – there was a food committee, a visits committee, a medical committee etc. I was the convenor of the street kids committee, given my experience. The General Manager taught us how to negotiate with each other, and also taught us that education was key.
I had an interest in social work – given it was a social worker that took me away from family originally and I wanted to understand why. The staff at the jail negotiated with the local university to let me study while I was still in prison. They weren’t keen on the idea, but the staff talked them around and I started taking lectures while I was still in jail. I also worked on work release with young people at the Centre Education Program (an alternative schooling program), who offered me a job and employed me when I got parole.
When I left prison, I knew I wanted to change - but I didn’t know how. One day someone made it really simple for me – “Stop doing anything that has a negative consequence”. Like drugs! It seemed so simple and in the end, it can be.
When I left prison I also promised the women in there that “I’d be back”, in a good way. I started a not-for-profit organisation called Sisters Inside Inc., which helps women in the criminal justice system. I finished my social work degree and started my law degree. In 2007 I was the first Queensland woman to be admitted to practise law after being convicted of serious criminal offences, and I now have my own legal firm Kilroy & Callaghan as well as running Sisters Inside.
If I can turn my life around, anyone can.