Voices for Change has been thinking about the work the group has done over the past 18 months. We wanted to remind ourselves of all the work we have done. Here are some highlights from Voices for Change members’ public speaking and self-advocacy since the start of 2021.
Public speaking at the State Government Disability Justice Operational Forum.
Consultation on the Lawyers Empowering People project run by Fitzroy Legal Service, to improve the way lawyers work with clients.
Consultation on the Just Voices project with the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT, to help improve the prison system.
A submission to the Disability Royal Commission
Speaking at a seminar on solitary confinement hosted by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Being asked to speak at the Australian Progress Fellowship, and being called back for further speaking engagements with them, talking about self-advocacy
Speaking at events run by the Self-Advocacy Resource Unit e.g. Self-Advocacy Month
Making a presentation to the Fitzroy Legal Service Board
Speaking to Victoria Legal Aid about lived experience of working with lawyers and going to court
Meeting with Youth Justice staff to talk about the work of the group
Helping new members connect with the group and get support
Speaking to Magistrates’ Court staff via the Neighbourhood Justice Centre about our lived experience of the court system
Volunteering with Victoria Police to help train senior sergeants, inspectors and new recruits.
Organising social events e.g. Voices for Change members have organised and run a picnic in the park near the Melbourne Museum, and lunchtime catch ups near Fitzroy Legal Service
Getting experience with:
interviewing and hiring staff
online tools like Zoom and Teams
chairing group meetings
voting on group decisions
making some budget decisions e.g. buying equipment for the group
being interviewed by researchers as part of an evaluation of the Voices for Change project.
We are still a small group but we have done so much. We are looking forward to growing our membership and doing more exciting work in 2023!
Today we made a submission to the Disability Royal Commission focusing on prisons and the NDIS. You can listen to our submission here:
Read our submission
Or you can read our submission below, which includes a transcript.
Who are Voices for Change?
Voices for Change (VfC) is an independent self-advocacy and peer support group for people with acquired brain injury (ABI) and experience of the criminal justice system.
We work together to give people with ABI and justice system experience the confidence, skills, support and resources they need to speak up and have their voices heard.
We also speak to government and community groups to help:
Address the discrimination and poor treatment that people with ABI experience in the justice system; and
Educate the community about ABI and experiences in the justice system
We have submitted an audio recording to the Royal Commission. In the recording, we talk about issues involving the NDIS and prisons. Here is a transcript of the recording.
This is a recording of a conversation between a couple of members of Voices for Change. We made this recording to submit to the Royal Commission. My name is Ellen. I’m the project worker for the group. I’ve been hired by the group. One of the things that we started talking about is how NDIS has been helpful. This is John and Mike.
How the NDIS has been helpful
You know, I got this, I got that. You know, material things from, through NDIS. And I’m really, really grateful. Because I couldn’t do it, you know. My work, you know, this lawn mowing stuff that I used to do, just wouldn’t pay for it. It just helps me to survive. But there’s things I need, you know. And NDIS has helped me to live comfortably, a lot more comfortably without going to go out and do rorts …
… and to feel better within yourself. That’s right. Exactly.
And some people in our group have support workers as well, not everyone does. But those support workers are NDIS and they help the people come to our meetings and stuff like that, right? Yeah.
I look at it like, if you’ve got someone from NDIS, it’s like having a human diary. You understand what I’m saying? A human diary, because, you know, they ring you. They help you – the support workers – they remind you of things, they take you to places, they do things for you. It’s like a human diary.
Alright, like, I guess, you know, people have all kinds of skills, but then we all have the areas that we find more challenging. Yeah. And you know, with ABI that can often make it more challenging in certain areas, like with memory, things like that, or I don’t know, other things that you particularly find challenging, but it’s good to have support to just kind of level up in those in those areas right?
With my ABI, memory is for me is … and plus I had when I had me my head cut open. And with the tumours, like, my memory, sometimes I remember as clear as day, like I can remember things that happened 30, 40 years ago. You know what I mean? But sometimes I can’t remember what happened sometime this week.
Yeah, yeah. And so having technology like phones that can send you reminders and things like that …
Yes. Well, my phone, it tells me if I haven’t spelt the word properly, it comes up in a different colour. And bang, I click on that.
NDIS and the transition out of prison
Then the conversation turned to the transition out of prison. And how people experience that and how the NDIS might be able to help with that. Just a note for people listening at the five to six minute mark and seven to eight minute mark, there are two brief references to drug use. So if that’s a topic that’s sensitive for you, you can make an informed choice about whether you listen. So that’s the five to six minute mark and a seven to eight minute mark. This is John and Mike again.
When I get out I didn’t know how to do all those things. I didn’t even know how to cook. So how I felt in myself was hopeless and worthless. I didn’t go and ask someone: “how do I cook?” … I should know! I’m an adult. I’m a man. You know. And I didn’t even know how to make mashed potatoes or cook sausages – you put holes in sausages so they … you know … and I didn’t know nothing. I didn’t know that you don’t wash your jeans and white t-shirts you got to separate them … or towels with jumpers. Because everything’s done for you in prison. You don’t do that stuff. Never had to do it. I was institutionalised. I felt like shit because I didn’t know how.
And Ellen, believe it or not, there are some people in jails. Like as John said, we put on this front and all that in jail and all that sort of stuff. But there’s some people, when it comes to getting out. Like I know, I’ve been stressed or worried when I’m when I’m due to get out like in the next couple of days. Because you think: “what am I going to do? Where am I going to stay?” Well, you get stressed out about it, mate. And there’s no-one you can go and talk to you about it because they all want – in jail – the staff there – they promise you the world give you an atlas. They promise you yeah we’ll do this we’ll do that. And the day before you’re getting out there’s things have got to be done. Like, it’s happened to me before and (they say): “Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Um um. Hang on. Give me half an hour and get back, come back to me.” You know what I mean? Like. Yeah.
So how would it be different? Like if you, if the NDIS had been around back then, like, you know, how would it have been different? Like, what what would have been different if you’d got on the NDIS while you were in prison, do you reckon?
Well, they would’ve, they would’ve organised people for you like, the programme that I had … what was the name? I’ll think of the name in a minute. NDIS, you have people like – Link Out it was – like, they come and pick me up from jail. You know, like, brought me to where I was living and all that. But like, that goes back to me saying, you know how I said, you need three things when you get out of jail. You need somewhere to live and you need a friend and you need a job. In that order, not, most people say you need somewhere to live, a job and a friend. Well, to me, it’s somewhere to live, a friend, then a job. Because that friend can help you go to job interviews, go to the dole office, drive you here, take you there. That’s, that’s more important, because a lot of people think: “Ohh, I don’t know where that is. Where is it? Ohhh, oh don’t worry. I’m gonna use some drugs”, you know, and stress out about it. You know what I mean? Like, and go and use. Back to their old habits. So that’s why it’s important to me that I will never say anything different. You need somewhere to live, a friend, then work, you know what I mean?
You know, my mother used to say to me, she said, as long as you’ve got a roof over your head, everything else will be taken care of. And I’ve never forgotten that. She’s right.
Whereas my sister used to say, she used to say if you’re in jail, I know you’re eating properly, you know what I mean?
My mom used to say the same. She says – or similar – she’d say, John, when you’re in jail, I have a good night’s sleep because I know where you are. And you’re not dead.
Mmm, mmm. Yeah, so we used to have someone in the group. We won’t say his name. But, you know, the NDIS paid for him to have somewhere supported where he could live, right? So that’s one example of when you get NDIS in prison, and then and then it helps you get that roof over your head. But so John, you were saying something good before we started recording. You were saying that, you know, when you get out of prison, you know, some people they have, like, high ego but low self esteem. And that makes it really hard to ask for help. That was – I thought that was – a really good insight. So and then you were saying, well, if you had NDIS, it might be different. Do you want to say more about that?
Well … I’ve got a friend that rings me from prison … about NDIS, and I can’t remember exactly, you know, about applying for it. You know, but he’s not sure, like applying for it but he said “at least I’ll have something, something to do”. He goes “well how do they help you?” And I just spoke about my experience with NDIS and he goes “oh, that’s grouse!” Yeah … You’ve got to get a coordinator, you know. I just expressed that to him. And I could hear the sparkle in his voice, you know. Because he’s just got some hope. Yeah. Like, like, I’m really proud of this guy, because I’d never done that. Like when I was in prison. I was just talk, talk, talk. And I really, as John the human being, wanted to do something different. But I’d get out. Oh, this is too hard. And I’d put a syringe in my arm. You know, excuse the expression Ellen, and Michael, but you know …
John I’m the same. I’ve done it with you mate.
Yeah, that’s just how it was. Because it was hard. Yeah.
It was too hard, you know. And I’d feel judged by the community. I know now I was judging myself, you know. This is too hard. If I end up back in jail, well …
Yeah, but so how do you reckon NDIS would’ve changed that? Like, if you’d had NDIS first thing when you got out?
Oh, like that’s the start of asking for help.
And that’s the start of losing some of your stress.
Hopefully, like, powerless and stuff, but hopefully this guy will ask for help with NDIS regarding his living, a new way of living. Because NDIS is not going to pay for his drugs, NDIS is not going to pay for his hot car he wants to fix up, you know, that he wants to change over. NDIS is gonna help him with living. And that’s what life rehabilitation is about. And, you know, to live life in the community.
NDIS is a big stepping stone and he’s asking questions about it now.
Where did he hear about the NDIS? Was that from you?
I told him I was on NDIS a while ago and then months later, he just said what’s … I don’t know he must have heard about it in there too. Yeah. He was asking a lot of questions. Yeah.
NDIS while in prison
If you got NDIS in prison, like, do you reckon that would actually make it easier for the prison staff as well? Like, because then you’re getting supports?
Well, you know, it’s you know what I’d say, I mean, I wouldn’t make it a part of my parole conditions. But if you’re getting NDIS, and you want to do the right thing in your life, that’s going to show people, the powers to be, that you’re willing to do the right thing. It’s sort of like, like part of a condition where you know, if you’re getting NDIS and you want to start taking control your life and do the right thing and all that well, NDIS is there to help you take control of your life you know what I mean?
NDIS helps me to do good things. But it’s … I don’t know, correct me if I’m wrong. NDIS is about being in the community not being in prison.
Well, yeah, I think there’s some confusion about what happens when you go to prison if you have NDIS. Yeah.
I don’t know, for me when I’m on the dole, I go to prison and it gets cut off.
Yeah, but you don’t stop having a disability when you go to prison, right?
That’s right. That’s why they shouldn’t cut it. Yes.
And like, because, Mike, you were saying that you didn’t know … when you were in prison, you didn’t know that you had an ABI at that time, right?
Do you think that the staff who work in prison, do you think they should be telling people about the NDIS?
Oh, for sure.
Yeah but that’s the problem, Ellen, that’s the problem. That’s the main problem there. A lot of the staff there, for them to get up and run around and do paperwork for someone from NDIS, they’re not going to be 100% committed in that, you know what I mean? So you need a worker in there, like, say yourself you’re involved, you’d be in there going around to see these people. They need probably two people to go around to interview some person, you wouldn’t be one on one. Two on one and it’s all safe and you know nothing can be said…
All above board.
So you need two people to go around, NDIS workers, interview these people and all stuff like that. Because that way it’s gonna save a lot of headaches down the track.
Discrimination in prison
You know, like living in the prison environment, with all the other crims, you get put on the disability, the crims are going to judge you and put you on the nuff nuff, put you on the goose. Sorry, but that’s, that’s what happens.
So people, to ask about a disability, you know, they’re gonna think about … they’re not going to tell the other crims. Because they’re going to be judged.
What about, like, what about the staff though? Like, if you say you have a disability, like, the prison workers, would they treat you different?
Some of them will go out of their way to help you. You might get one out of 50 but the rest of them, like, when you, as soon as you walk away from the counter, they’ll say to another crim, “ha, what a goose, you know, NDIS.” Yeah and, the staff in jail, they, some of them like I said, you might get one or two out of 50 that will help you. But the rest will just make a mockery out of you, mate. And they’re other ones that, you know, like sometimes cause dramas.
You know, because we’ve got an acquired brain injury doesn’t mean that we’re idiots.