Course turned lives around


L-R: Emily (surname withheld), Eileen Dennison and programme director Belinda Skinner.


Anger and violence are issues often swept under the rug, but two local women from very different backgrounds have come together to share their stories in the hope of empowering others to seek resolution, just as they have.

Eileen Dennison and Emily (surname withheld) met through Positive Change Programme Charitable Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that opened two years ago and runs workshops for Alternative to Violence [AVP] conflict resolution and anger management programmes.

Both Eileen and Emily have attended several of the courses and although their personal journeys are different, the outcome has been the same – a complete life change.

Eileen, 41, has five children and two grandchildren in Dunedin and has been in and out of prison for violent crimes since she was 11 as a result of trauma.

“I was brought up in the military by a solo father, never witnessed violence as a child in my home, but I’ve spent nearly all my life in jail. I was a straight A student, good at sport, did modelling, but I got taken from my home when I was 11 and that was it for me. Started fighting, was good at it, and loved it. Jail became my life. It was empowering. I used intimidation, every kind of violence that you can think of. Wasn’t scared of drug dealers – I would just kick their door in and take their drugs off them. I robbed chemists. There’s a definite power and control, and fear thing. I fed on fear. I’ve been sentenced to over 25 years in jail. This is the first time since I was 16 that I’ve spent over a year out of jail. I got out on August the eighth, 2010,” she said.

“I hated it out here. In jail there’s no disloyalty. You know where everybody stands. People lie to your face out here, but you can’t do that in jail. I was institutionalised from very young. I was quite dead inside, I had no emotions, I didn’t know how to laugh. I didn’t know how to function as a person. And I didn’t even realise until I started doing these courses. I wasn’t given the tools. My violence was too extreme and I was past the point that they [prison services] didn’t want to help anymore.”

Emily also has five children, but is the child of domestic violence and has continued in the same pattern as an adult, living with conflict and violence in her home.

“Things were going on at home and I didn’t like the person I was at the time and I thought I needed to get some help for myself so I can be a good mum and a good person. I was in an abusive relationship and I got quite depressed for a few stages there, until I came and did these courses. It’s affected me my whole life, but when I came to this programme and met Belinda she made a real difference in my life,” she said.

“I had anger issues, but the programme has given me so many tools to manage my inner self and doing these courses has made me realise where my anger has come from. I have more control. I have a lot more motivation. You go home and you feel strong, like yeah I can do this, you feel very confident, really empowered as a woman.”

Programme director Belinda Skinner has seen it all working as a prison officer for several years before moving into the field of domestic violence. She believes everyone would benefit from the courses on offer.

“It’s about taking responsibility and being empowered. Knowing where it all comes from. The biggest thing in the group is that you can trust people, you’re with like minded people and we’re talking people from all walks of life, not just down and out people, we’re talking highly educated people, people you would look at and go, no way, you don’t have an anger problem. We have an open door policy, just because they’re finished on the programme, doesn’t mean we loose contact with them,” she said.

Eileen has seen such an improvement in her life through AVP that she is actively campaigning for this service to be recognised throughout the wider community.

“I fell in love with this. I’m passionate about this course and getting funding for it. It’s AVP that’s kept me out [of prison], nothing else. This is the only model that I’ve taken on board, and I know, speaking from experience, that if this service could do an AVP course in jails out here, it’s going to change lives. This is the only thing that has given me the tools I need.”

See the original article at Hamilton News.


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