emotional health

Victoria’s story – Finding the wahine toa within

Jun 17, 2022

Heartbreakingly, childhood for many Kiwi kids is far removed from a fairy tale. Here, Victoria shares her story of the journey that led her to Te Pā and a bright future.

Now 31, Victoria is frank when talking about her childhood. Growing up with a mum who had meth and alcohol addictions was never destined to be easy, and Victoria never knew her dad – a wound she feels to this day that will never really heal as he passed away many years ago. Home-life was transient for her and her four siblings, constantly relocating from one city to another, with no stability and no chance to put down roots and call anywhere home.

Victoria’s childhood, such as it was, was cut short when she was removed from her mother’s care around 11 years of age. By 12, she had given birth to her first child. The baby was taken from her, and at 13, she was pregnant again. Life became a cycle of addiction, crime, pregnancy, and “doing jail time”. Over the following years, each of her seven children was taken from her.

Although young and lacking positive role models, Victoria didn’t waste the opportunities she was offered in prison. She’s articulate and well-educated, having attained qualifications and several certificates during her time inside. She also gained work experience and worked her way up to being a team leader in the kitchen where she earned a reputation as a fair and supportive supervisor.

In 2021, being declined parole ironically proved to be a positive turning point in Victoria’s life. She was ordered by the court to attend counselling for six months, and in her psychologist she found the first male she’d ever felt she could truly trust. With intensive counselling, Victoria discovered her innate inner strength and had the realisation that she was being given a chance at another kind of life. She chose to take it, and facing that she had missed many of her kids’ life milestones – precious moments in time that are lost to her forever – was her biggest driver.

She reached out to some agencies a couple of months before her release and Te Pā was the only one to follow up with her. Victoria says that connecting with them is one of the best things that’s ever happened to her. From their first contact, her kaiārahi (support worker) phoned her every day to check on how she was doing and to offer encouragement. By the time she was released, their relationship was well established, and to know that the service is formally available to her for a year offers her a never before experienced sense of security. Crucial to building Victoria’s trust and confidence was that her kaiārahi was (and remains) easily accessible and always available to talk. At last, she feels genuinely heard and cared about.

Not one usually given to flowery sentiment, Victoria says having someone dedicated to helping her get set up for a life outside the wire has been “the best thing since sliced bread”. Not having to navigate the system alone has been a huge help, and she relays a long list of the ways in which she’s been helped – from organising formalities such an IR number, a birth certificate and a bank account, to being taken shopping for food and clothes, to being gifted a phone and bag of bedding and other necessities, and arranging a roof over her head. Within a couple of weeks of her release, Victoria had secured a job and has been working ever since. She is now chef for a company that she also does volunteer work for, starting well before her shift each day so she can make lunches for kids in need across Auckland. Her kaiārahi is proud that from the get-go Victoria was highly engaged with the service, and she’s beyond excited for the promising future Victoria is creating for herself.

Victoria says she’s been touched by the support she’s received from Te Pā and her kaiārahi, and she doesn’t know how she can ever truly express the depth of her gratitude. She’s determined that her history won’t hold her back, and she’s comfortable telling the story of her past because she knows it no longer defines her. In its place, she’s found a passion and drive that she’s never known before, and a resolve to always be positive in the face of adversity.