Virginia Lewis-Hill is a graduate from the WSDTP RAPt programme at HMP Send where she met HRH the Duchess of Cambridge when she visited in September last year. This is her account of the day.

Duchess Visit to RAPt

My name is Virginia, I’m 42 and currently at HMP Send. I’ve not long completed the RAPt programme which is a drug and alcohol treatment of the 12 Steps. I found the course very hard at times but also rewarding, as it gave me a chance to really look at myself and what I’d done with my life leading up to today.

I came from HMP Foston Hall having received a sentence of 30 months is for various fraudulent crimes and a theft. It wasn’t my first sentence but I truly wanted it to be my last, I’d been an addict for 20 years and thought I really can’t do this anymore, so at Foston Hall I got this job on recycling alongside a girl from Send who got a job to do a care programme at Foston Hall. After talking to her one day, she told me about Send and the RAPt unit 12 Step Programme.

I thought about it and decided to write a letter to the then manager Jane. I ain’t gonna lie, I was surprised to get a letter back, she told me she would take care of the arrangements and on 9th April 2015, I found myself in HMP Send on the RAPt unit. At first I didn’t really settle in but after a while I started to see changes, not only In my behaviours but in my attitude. I was kind of amazed because I felt that counsellors don’t work, they can’t help me, I’ve been doing drugs forever. I admit I was wrong, my counsellor Donna was great, really supportive, they helped me every step of the way. At times it was challenging but I got through my treatment and I’m really proud to say I’m now a Peer Supporter and giving back to others is what RAPt gave me, which was hope for the future and that I mattered. We have a new manager now, as sadly Jane has gone, she is really great at her job, in fact all of the counsellors have a way about them.

On the 25th of September the RAPt unit had a rather important visitor here at HMP Send and if anybody had said we would meet royalty in prison, I’d say ‘rubbish’. Well, HRH the Duchess of Cambridge came to see our RAPt unit and talk about our treatment and what it means to us. I have never felt so honoured in all my life, to be asked by our RAPt manager Amanda to take part in not only meeting the Duchess but have a sit down and chat. You cannot imagine what a privilege it was to be one of the five girls chosen to represent RAPt, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The Duchess was very interested in us here, she was warm and friendly and really was interested in our welfare and experiences and our lives inside and outside of prison. We spoke for about 30 minutes as the Duchess had other engagements to attend, she shook our hands and wished us all the best. The unit was still buzzing way after she left. This programme, the 12 steps, is so important and obviously the Duchess felt the same. I’ll never forget that day and it’s made me even more determined to be a better person, and to help those who are still in active addiction.

Coming to Send, being a part of it all and graduating and supporting others on their journeys is an amazing feeling. RAPt has changed so many lives before me and will continue to do so after I have left, and if I can be a part of that also, then that’s what I’m going to do. RAPt has changed me in so many ways and no matter how grateful I am, It could never be enough. Anybody who is somebody should be given this chance, in doing this programme.

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