“Going to jail was the best thing that could have happened to me because it’s given me my life today.”
Five years ago Amanda Myles had to say a tough goodbye to her three children – aged two, eight, and 14 – as she faced years away from them in a prison cell.
An incident at her Swansea home prompted her to “take justice into her own hands” and as a result she was charged with causing grievous bodily harm and dangerous driving – both of which she denied.
In the months that followed the now-39-year-old’s life “spiralled out of control” resulting in the loss of her home, her job, and her car.
A trial at Swansea Crown Court ended with the mum-of-three being convicted of both offences and sent 80 miles away from her family to spend three years in prison, with her six-year sentence beginning at HMP Eastwood Park, in Gloucestershire.
“I was grateful for going inside because it sorted my head out,” she said. “It was awful but I deserved to go to prison for what I did. The hardest part was leaving my kids behind for three years.
“Somebody burgled my house and took my son’s motorcycle so I took justice into my own hands when I should have done it the other way.
“I ended up with the prison sentence but that’s life and if I hadn’t have gone to prison I probably would have ended up in an institution or death. That’s the way my life was leading.
“My life spiralled out of control. I lost my job, I lost my car, I lost my home, I more or less lost my kids, I lost myself.
“I lost absolutely everything within the space of a year of the incident happening. It was crazy how fast your life can change.”
Four weeks into her sentence she was temporarily moved to HMP Bronzefield, in Middlesex, and was later transferred to HMP Drake Hall, in Staffordshire, before eventually returning to Eastwood Park.
Amanda described her daunting arrival at prison as being “an eye-opener” but once the dust had settled she became a cleaner and a drugs support worker and even worked in the café.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener. You’re going into a place you know nothing about but you’ve just got to get on with it.
“You can’t think about what’s going on outside. If you’re going to sit around and dwell then your time is going to drag. You’ve just got to take it with a pinch of salt.
“The last year of my sentence is when I started working in the café at Eastwood Park and I really enjoyed that.
“I was also a drugs support worker, helping the women there to get clean, and it was amazing just helping people progress through their sentence.
“You could have a group of however many women wanted to come and we would sit and talk about they came to be in jail and it was really hard for some girls to talk about what they had been through.”
Despite the distance her children made the journey to visit their mum every week without fail while she was completing her sentence.
In July 2018 Amanda was finally able to walk out of Eastwood Park and begin her new life.
“I can remember sitting in the reception area just waiting,” she said. “It must have been the longest hour of my sentence and I was itching to get out because I had my babies outside the gate. I was gripping them and cuddling them and it was the best feeling in the world.”
After returning home she signed up for a number of courses, including food hygiene, food safety and first aid, but little did she know that a chance encounter with a woman also on the first aid course would lead to an opportunity she couldn’t have imagined just eight weeks after leaving prison.
“We were chatting and I said I’d been to jail and I’d done three years and she was explaining that her brother was opening a café,” she said.
“I said to her: ‘Is there any chance he’d give me a job?’ So she went back and discussed it with him and I sent them my CV.
“They had me in for an interview and he gave me a job which was an amazing step eight weeks after being out of prison.
“You don’t expect that at all. I was on Jobseeker’s Allowance at the time and living on £240 a month.
“I ended up with this job and tripled my money. I couldn’t have asked for better.”
Within two months of securing the job at Rusty’s Cafe, in High Street, another opportunity came Amanda’s way and it was yet another one that she could never have predicted.
“My boss’ sister was the manager when I first started in October 2018 but she left.
“My boss said: ‘How do you feel about becoming manager?’ It was a major step but I snapped it up straight away and I’ve been the manager ever since.
“It was overwhelming because I thought: ‘Wow, he trusts me enough to give me that opportunity to take on this next role’ and I’ve been doing it for just under two years.
“My life is amazing now – I couldn’t ask for a better life. I’ve got a full-time job, I’ve passed my driving test again, and I’ve got a roof over my head.”
Amanda’s daughter was just 14 years old when she had to live without her mum for three years.
But for the last year and a half the pair have been “making up for lost time” by working alongside each other in the café.
“Me and my daughter get on so well with the customers and we have a bit of banter with them,” she said. “We lost out on so much over the years because she was 14 when I went inside.
“When I got out she was that little bit older and independent because she had to grow up and be a strong, independent woman as she is today.
“She’s been working here for about a year and a half with me so she’s not only my employee – she’s also my daughter as well.
“The bond is just wicked because we get to spend all day together and all night together so it’s just making up for lost time and that time you can’t take back.”
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Now Amanda wants to be an inspiration to others coming out of prison who may not know where to turn once they’ve walked out of the gates.
Amanda said: “My former support worker will phone me and ask if she can bring someone that’s just got out in to see me and I always say ‘definitely’.
“If they’re struggling and I can guide them in the right direction that makes me feel better. It makes me smile and it keeps me going day by day.
“The moment you walk through that gate with that £46.50 in your back pocket it’s so overwhelming because you’ve got to go to the Jobcentre and housing, probation, and doctor’s appointments.
“You’ve got to do so much when you go through that door that it’s just like a smack in the face.
“You can understand why people fall back into the life of crime because they’ve got nothing at all.
“My advice is to just take each day as it comes because it’s so overwhelming and just ask for all the help you can get.
“Anyone who needs any help is always welcome to come into the café and ask for me.”