Carla Trezise worked in disability support and training before joining the staff at Barwon Prison – where she first learned about Vacro’s programs supporting the transition back to community. Here, she tells us more about her passion for transition work, her approach to supporting participants, and why her show jumping days are long behind her.

Hi, Carla! Can you tell us a bit more about your background and experience?

I’ve been at Vacro for five or six years. Before that I was a prison officer at Barwon. I was working in programs, and there were Vacro staff working in the prison, and I got to know them. I liked the educational side of their work – I liked that that transition programs had an outcome. I could see from being inside the prison that the transition out was really hard if you didn’t have that much contact with the outside world. I contacted Vacro and said, ‘Hey, this process interests me, if you have a position available’.

You work as a case manager on our post-release program, ReConnect. Where do those skills come from?

I started in disability support. I did my training and assessment and then used to deliver the disability Certificate III and worked in Karingal, a big disability support organisation in Geelong. I did case management for people with intensive support needs – autism, complex needs, guys that were non-verbal, who were living in Department of Housing properties, etc. I did one-on-one support with them and case management for their families.

What motivated you to work in that area?

Just the support for people. It was kind of fun. Working with those guys, and getting really good outcomes for people, and being able to make a change. Understanding what might drive someone or what their triggers are – for example, if someone is quite violent, working out what was happening before they were triggered. Talking to families about a person’s presentation at home versus in public. Trying to work on things that enhance their lives and build their capacity and independence. I’m still doing that now.

I knew I was passionate about development and change. And I have rapport with people. No judgement. I don’t present people just as what they are on a piece of paper. In disability, a different worker can connect with people on such different levels. That drives me, and makes me ask myself: What about my approach is different?

That’s really interesting. What is your approach as a case manager?

It’s the ability to relate to people. Even though you don’t necessarily have that many things in common, you are relatable and open to hearing someone’s story. And basing that on their whole story, not just on this one little piece of information – that you’re incarcerated. I’m always wanting to know what the bigger picture is, and not telling someone’s story for them.

At Vacro you support people who have just been released from prison settle back into the community. What does a typical day involve?

Lots of calls! Meeting with clients. Supporting them to solve problems, organising referrals, linking them up to support services, providing reassurance. I spend a lot of time collaborating with other support services. It’s all about those stakeholders – having good relationships with prison staff, to get accurate information from them, and then with services in the community. It makes it easier pre-release.

I like to go and get the guys sorted before they get out. That’s how I like to work. Give them something to pick up and roll with. I’ll meet them and say, “Ok, you’ve got your GP appointment and your referral for your cultural journey” – it kickstarts the support they’ve mapped out in their transition plan. It’s a huge motivation to them, and it builds trust. That’s the biggest thing in prisons – for staff to do what they say they’ll do.

You worked in Vacro’s in-prison program, ReLink, before starting your current role on ReConnect. That must give you a good insight into how the programs work together?

They’re part of the same pathway. It’s a great relationship to hand over. We’re both here to provide a support role. ReLink is where a person puts their plan together, and then we follow those steps. Vacro running both of those programs in this area gives us a really good opportunity to communicate within the programs and understand what works best.

What’s something about you we wouldn’t see on your CV?

I spent six months living in Alice Springs, where I worked in a bar and managed a nightclub. I rode horses there, and once I took a stack on a horse in the Todd River – the river that’s dry most of the year, and then goes nuts when it’s filled. I stacked it off a horse in the river and ended up in hospital with a mild concussion!

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