Speaking up for women with complex needs

At a National Offender Management Service (NOMS) event on March 12th Maria McNicholl, Head of Prison Projects at St Giles Trust, read out a powerful poem about the women in the criminal justice system with complex health needs who she believes have historically ‘slipped through the net’.

Aiming to fill this gap and ensure women with such needs do receive appropriate and personalised support with anything from managing debt to accessing education or training, Maria (pictured right) has overseen a new project funded by NOMS Grant Programme 2014-15. The WIRE (Women’s Information and Resettlement for Ex-Offenders) ASD project, delivered jointly with healthcare providers, the Ansel Group, offers a package of tailored support services, focusing on women leaving HMP Holloway who have personality disorder and autistic traits.

For Women’s History Month this March, Maria McNicholl has agreed PET to publish her poem, inspired by the ‘Wallpaper Women’ she has been working with. She said: “This poem is dedicated to Ali and Marion who worked unceasingly to support the most marginalised women being released from Holloway prison. And thanks, Alan, for letting me nick his phrase.”

Wallpaper Women

They are there,

Just no one to really care.

They’re Wallpaper women,

The ones we like to keep hidden.

 

Oh you see her on the bus.

“Please God don’t sit next to us!”

Or on the street laying her weary head,

For all we know she may be dead.

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden.

 

And when she’s nothing left,

She resorts to petty theft.

It’s the sorrowful, cyclical tale

Back and forth from street to jail.

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden.

 

While the professionals all dither on a label,

She stays top of the multiple needs table!

Identifying her priority need,

Rather than practical help is their creed.

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden.

 

She knows us all very well

And how helping her makes our heart swell.

But all we can offer is piecemeal

Prison, hospital, street that’s the real deal.

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden.

 

If only she was grateful and nice,

But she’s calculating, cold as ice.

Her personal hygiene isn’t great

And she’s never there or always late.

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden

 

How do we even begin?

With a woman dumped in society’s bin

Damage so deep and for so long

On the journey to make her strong.

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden

 

So do we just abandon her?

I’ve already said there’s none to care.

Leave her to her inevitable fate

42 is her predicated death date.

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden.

 

No, what we need to do

Is increase the dedicated few

Who support beyond sporadic, daily care

And through the chaos and turmoil stick with her

 

They’re Wallpaper Women,

The ones we like to keep hidden.

 

By Maria McNicholl, February 2015