Donna King

Eight years ago Donna King was serving time in jail. Today she is helping women from the other side of the prison bars.

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"I certainly do think it's amazing," she said. "Not many people make it. Lots of women who go through system spend the rest of their lives in prison, or they die. It's hard to break the cycle."

But through perseverance, determination and support Donna King, 44, of Moonee Ponds, has turned her life around. She now educates the community about women prisoners, and former prisoners, and helps the women themselves.

"It is an achievement being here and doing what I am doing," she said. "I am not hurting people who I used to hurt, and I am giving back to the community and to other women. Those women do not have a voice and it makes me feel special that I can talk on their behalf."

Donna said a real incentive to make changes was her son, whom she had not seen since he was seven. "I had a child who I had not seen for many years and I thought when he came looking for me, I didn't want him to find me back in prison or dead," she said. Her resolve and determined effort was rewarded when he contacted her in October 2005. "He is 17 now. That was huge - it's made this journey worthwhile."

Donna said she is particularly proud of the work she was doing with Turning Point and its Bridging the Gap program - helping women pre and post release assimilate into the community. She also worked with the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders' mentoring program. "Last July I was fortunate to go to Italy and give a paper to the International Women in Justice Conference on what works with women offenders," she said. But her greatest achievement is living outside a cell and she says "It's great to be free."