Kat was interviewed by Success Works Board members Dr Prudence Black and Professor Diane van den Broek
“Success Works is unique. I have not worked or known of any other service that does the work that Success Works does and how it does this work. It is fundamental in changing women affected by the criminal justice system.“
Success Works Partners has recently welcomed Kat Armstrong as the Business Manager Kat is a woman with lived experience of the justice system and originally volunteered for Success Works in July 2022 and helped establish it as a social enterprise. She worked closely with the Board and was able to use her long-term experience in the not-for-profit sector.
Kat comes with considerable experience having helped establish two other NGOs but says that ‘where Success Works has got to in 16 months is extraordinary’. Part of this success has been due to good governance and regulation at an operational level and a board that goes above and beyond. She is impressed by the accountability and transparency of the organisation, two factors that are essential to help an organisation succeed.
For an organisation in the growing and development stage, there has been an outstanding level of commitment by all of the current staff as well as board members. As Kat notes, there is no doubt that it is a service that is needed and even though there have been services set up within Corrective Services such as the Employers Pathway program, Success Works has the edge as it is staffed by women with lived experience. This lived experience is fundamental to the success of Success Works as candidates trust and understand the staff and the staff trust and understand the clients. As Kat said:
“For every woman I’ve onboarded or spoken to (into the Success Works Program) when they learn that I’m just like them, and I’ve been where they have been, and when they talk to Eleni, Juanita, Gemma -all of us- you can hear the relief in their voice and see the change in their body language, their shoulders just relax.“
Remember these are women who have faced a world of constant judgement:
“…. some of these women have been trying to get a job for one, two or three years. How can you become a contributing member of the community, feed your children and yourself, pay your bills, and live? People in everyday society who have not had any involvement with the criminal justice system have no awareness or understanding of the hurdles and obstacles that women face when they are affected by the criminal justice system. Your record is held against you for the rest of your life. And I know that because I’ve been out of prison for 21 years and it is still held against me on a regular basis even given all that I have achieved.”
Disclosure of a criminal record is something that Kat feels strongly about. She thinks most women only declare a criminal record because they have a fear of being found out. But also, the women:
“They want changed behaviour, they want to be honest, they want to be transparent but most of all they want to be accepted for who they are today, not three years ago, or five years ago, or twenty years or however long ago. Why should you have to talk about a mistake you made however long ago? Why?“
Kat’s experience and first-hand knowledge of the not-for-profit sector combined with her lived experience of the criminal justice system makes her an important person in the Success Works organisation. A long-term passion for helping women and recognising the importance of creating positive employment opportunities is key to her commitment to her new role.
“I cannot overstate how important and life-changing it is for this targeted group of women to have a service that does what Success Works does. When I was released, nobody would give me a job, nobody and I applied for hundreds, and I went for many interviews and always it was my criminal record that prevented me from getting a job. I could do the job, I had the merits and qualifications for the job and so training, supporting guiding, empowering, educating, and mentoring women to become job-ready and then to actually get a job is life-changing.”
The rapid growth of Success Works in 16 months bodes well for the future and Kat has visions in the future for expansion which includes a greater focus on policy and advocacy work that looks at the Humans Rights and employer and discrimination legislation to help advocate for issues that can improve the employment opportunities of women affected by the criminal justice system. To finish with Kat’s words:
“This [policy and advocacy] work would mean advocating for this specific target group of women because until the awareness gets out there, and until the positive case studies of so many of us that have succeeded in our lives… until that gets out there into the world and people are educated about this, nothing is going to change. You shouldn’t hold something against someone for the rest of their lives. I’m about change!“
At Success Works, we unlock the potential of women with a criminal record through our mentoring program, one-to-one support, and job readiness workshops. We also work with employers to help them address structural issues that create barriers to these women finding employment. Through this model, we provide opportunities for women with a criminal record to access sustainable employment, rebuild their lives, and not re-offend.
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