Using Lingerie to Support Women from the Prison Gate into Work

Through our work we get to meet and connect with many incredible individuals with powerful stories to tell. In this guest blog Barbara Burton shares her story, and her journey to creating her social enterprise BehindBras.

Standing in the dock all I heard was 30 months. I was not expecting that – I was told to be prepared but ignored that advice – it wasn’t going to happen to me.

Well it did.

Funnily enough, I didn’t cry in court. I did though cry for the first 3 nights in prison.  All I thought about was my family and that this was actually happening to me.  A terrible feeling of despair now became my reality. I had shown the judge my business plan, he laughed – I can only presume that he didn’t think it was a good idea. That snigger made me determined. Determined to make my initial idea for BehindBras to happen. Having that goal to set up a company to train women in fashion and lingerie skills and help them find meaningful work after prison helped me. It made my time behind bars in four different prisons more bearable.

And now here I am, determined to tell my story, writing my first blog; taking deep breaths, feeling nervous and anxious.  Sharing some of my experiences of serving a prison sentence of just over a year and my journey through the criminal justice system. I want to inspire others. There can be a future beyond bars.

I’m at a ‘proud’ moment, having been very reluctant to share this before now.  I have faced many challenges along the way and also created my own barriers.   I was a woman embarking on a prison sentence in my mid 50’s. For a long time I felt the need to protect my family who were already suffering enough from my imprisonment.  The shame I felt for myself and for them was like a physical pain.

On the Inside – as one of over three and half thousand women in prison – I was just a number, another woman who ends up in prison.  After putting on my first pair of prison knickers – almost 3 sizes too big for me- I knew I had lost all dignity. ‘Yes, Barbara’ I had to tell myself, ‘this is happening….. to me’.  My story is similar to most women in prison. Behind bars we all encountered the same smells, the same sense of unreality, doors being closed behind us; and the keys.

I still hear their jangle sometimes today.

Time and time again I found hope though. Women who like me, despite being punished for a wrong they had done, held onto the positive they had to give.

So many with hidden talents, yet inside became forgotten women.  Once you ticked the right boxes, there was little care and preparation for helping us pick up a meaningful, productive life after prison.

Since my release I’ve worked part-time in retail, attended university to learn the lingerie business. Not only that I’ve created a lingerie collection.  I am now studying social entrepreneurship with UnLtd, taking steps to apply to be a part of the School for Social Entrepreneurs whilst setting up the social enterprise. Towards the end of last year I made the decision to leave my retail job to concentrate on the business full time. Since then BehindBras has gone from strength to strength. It really is going to happen! The business model has changed about three times but it always goes back to my initial vision for BehindBras to provide a barrier between the prison gate and the job centre.  Creating proper training and working opportunities for women so they don’t need the job centre after prison.

We make beautiful lingerie to support women after prison into meaningful employment in the fashion, retail and creative industries.

It’s a team effort. We work with women’s prisons and women centres; welfare providers; resettlement and mentoring charities; with colleges and experts in fashion, retail and creative industries. We provide training for suitable serving and ex- women prisoners so they can work in related careers or start their own business.

Our new website launches in the next few weeks together with our first signature bra. We’ll be highlighting our cause to put a spotlight on the issues faced by our beneficiaries– women behind bars.  Excitingly, in the autumn we aim to launch a pilot programme for six women in two prisons as well as launch our wider range of BehindBras collection- that’s slips, knickers and bras of course!

So here I am, Barbara Burton – The Founder of BehindBras.


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