James was referred directly to VACRO’s post-release program, ReConnect, without having first gone through the pre-release program ReLink. This meant he was shy and anxious at his first meeting with his case manager – but we reassured him, explaining he was in the driver’s seat, and that VACRO’s role was to support him with his goals. At his second and final pre-release meeting, James was organised. He told his case manager his brother, Liam, would pick him up on his day of release and take him home to Geelong.

On his release day, James and his case manager timed it so that the case manager arrived at Liam’s house at the same time as the brothers got home from the prison. We had vouchers for Coles and Kmart, and helped James make contact with Community Correctional Services. James settled in with his partner Nicole, his staffy puppy, and Liam – until things started going wrong.

Liam and James had a falling out, and Liam demanded James and Nicole leave the house, threatening them with violence. The couple were suddenly homeless, just a week after James’s release. James told his case manager, who organised a short stay at a motel, which was extended by Salvos Connect – until the motel’s owner realised James’s puppy was staying with the couple, and asked them to leave.

James and Nicole spent several weeks living between Nicole’s car and her sister’s two-bedroom unit, with Nicole’s nieces and nephews, where James slept on the floor. Friends had offered them a place to stay, but James knew they were all heavy drug users – he has a history of substance misuse and a long history of incarceration, and didn’t want to go back down that path.

James has spent almost his entire adult life in and out of prison, and saw himself as nothing more than a criminal. Many of his previous charges relate to driving without a license or driving an unregistered vehicle – the temptation to drive again, which would see him back in prison, was strong while he lived in Nicole’s car those first few weeks after release.

James told his case manager he was tempted to use drugs again to deal with the stress of homelessness and instability; to block everything out. But every time he felt the urge, he called his case manager. The case manager reassured James he was here for him, and wasn’t going anywhere. He encouraged James to focus his energy on the things he could control – and started seeing James’s self-belief start coming in. His attitude started to shift, and he started to believe he could really make changes in his life.

In addition to his VACRO support, James also had access to an NDIS support coordinator, who is an accredited social worker. The case manager met multiple times with the NDIS support coordinator, to identify what each support was funded to do, and how we could work together to cover any gaps.

Together, James, the case manager and the NDIS support coordinator started making progress towards his smaller goals. We organised a GP appointment to get James a mental health care plan, connected him with an alcohol and drugs support worker, and identified funding through James’ NDIS package for taxis, which he could use to get groceries and make appointments, without being tempted to use Nicole’s care when he felt anxious about the bus.

James started building momentum.

He realised he could get through these first few months without resorting back to offending, drugs, or anti-social behaviour. His next goal was to find stable, long-term housing for himself, Nicole and their puppy – James’ case manager helped him apply for a Corrections Victoria property, and when his application was successful, we were there when he signed the documents. It was James’ thirty-third birthday, and he told his case manager it was the best birthday present ever.

James now has a 12-month tenancy that permits pets and partners – he lives in the house with Nicole and their staffy. They’ve turned the house into a home – decorating it with framed photos, stocking the pantry with healthy food, and building a good relationship with their neighbours. James is proud of the life he’s built for himself, and is now looking for full-time work, with a goal of securing a private rental after the end of his current lease, and paying the rent with his wages.

James has occasional care team meetings with his multiple support workers – including the VACRO case manager, the NDIS support coordinator, the community corrections team, and the disability justice worker at the Department of Housing and Human Services. In a recent meeting, James expressed his joy at having stability for the first time: previously, he’d left prison and gone straight back to drug use and offending. The team asked him what was different this time. James replied immediately: VACRO’s belief in him made him believe in himself.

More information about VACRO's reintegration support