They are also mothers, partners and now, volunteer mentors trained to help other women on the cusp of offending or re-offending.
They speak with the ease of old friends who have seen difficult times but overcome adversity with humour and the support of one another. In reality they have known each other for a matter of months but circumstances have cemented their friendships.
They form a key part of a mentoring programme which will be rolled out across Scotland next week, aimed at curbing women's offending and addressing the complex needs highlighted in last year's Commission on Women Offenders by Dame Elish Angio-lini. It called for a radical overhaul of the justice system - including new regional prison units for women and measures to avoid jail terms for low-level crimes.
The women, as part of the Ayrshire pilot run by charities Barnardo's and SACRO, built a garden from a "mound of earth", and worked together to make and bake Christmas presents and decorations to raise money for local children. They were then trained in how to mentor others.
"Creating the community gardens gave us such a sense of achievement," says Bernadette Main, 44. "It was so much more constructive than emptying bins."
Last year she was sentenced to 200 hours community service for benefit fraud. "Women don't just go out and commit crime," she says. "There tends to be more of a build-up of events and circum-stances that lead to one moment of madness. I didn't have a great childhood and then after that I went from one bad relationship to another. It was a big vicious circle.
"I did it [fraud] because my ex had control of all my money. My wages from my jobs all went to him. It was Christmas coming and I had nothing for the kids. The shame of what I did was horren-dous. This project has been a life-saver for me. I didn't realise what I was capable of. None of us thought we were capable of even having friends. It has transformed our children, too.
"Now we are mentoring other women and they are making Christmas decorations with us. It's great because you can see they didn't think they could do it. They know we've come from somewhere similar and won't judge them."
Mary Hood, 45, says she would be "dead or in prison by now" if she had not been referred to the programme. She says: "I was drinking a lot and doing a lot of drugs. I was barely existing.
"I've had mental health issues since I was 14 and have seen no end of psychiatrists but all they ever say is here's a tablet or make an appointment for next week. With this, if you are having a bad day you know someone will speak to you that day. They believe in me and that's made me believe in myself. We've got this friendship now and all this support."
Angela Curran, senior manager at Barnardo's Shine project in Ayrshire, said: "The pilot saw women's offending slashed by 70%. The Angiolini commission locked on to the work because of the outcomes.
"It's not rocket science. It is about offering the women a relationship with a mentor. It is about nurture and challenge and letting them know they will be heard and supported and working through some of the bigger issues that led them on a pathway to offending."