From Drug use and Theft to Faith, Healing and Finding Meaning

Published 17/01/2024
Author(s) J (CLP)

A Series of Voices: Twenty Years on From “Making Good” – Entry 6

As part of our wider study into the Choose Life Project (CLP) (Jolley and Nixon, 2023) and aligning to the British Journal of Community Justice blog calls for service users to contribute their experiences, we asked service users/recovering and recovered people (who are part of the CLP) to answer the following questions:

  1.  In your own words what were the factors that led up to your prison or non-custodial sentence?
  2.  When reflecting on who you were when you were first sentenced, how is that person different to who you are now?
  3. Many people with convictions who have been to prison and/or through the criminal justice system struggle to readjust back to ‘normal’ civic life, what was the secret to your success?
  4.  Could you talk about what you did after your release/end of sentence e.g., new career etc?

Participants were encouraged to share their narratives in whatever way they felt comfortable – success narratives are important within criminal justice and understanding desistance is key to successful work with service users within criminal justice.

J’s Story

In my early life I was right into horses in Ireland and every day I was up and in the fields, and on the farm looking after the horses and riding them. For some reason the horses went from the farm and suddenly I had a huge hole in my life. Suddenly my circle of friends changed, and I met a lot of older people. With this came drugs and I was getting offered them.

I was first offered cannabis. Then I took MDMA, and it was brilliant except for the fact the come downs were awful. One day I noticed this man was different from the rest of us and wasn’t having the come down that I was, so I asked him what he was taking, I was twelve and he was eighteen. He offered me heroin and just gave me two lines; it was fantastic, and I loved it. I started taking it on a regular basis and by the age of fourteen I had taken it every day for five weeks and one day woke up severely withdrawing. I could not believe it and went to see an older boy to ask about what was happening, and he said I think your addicted to heroin. The way to check is to take more heroin and see what happens, I did and immediately I felt normal. I was devastated. I started to steal from my mother’s purse and doing other things to get money for drugs.

It came to a head when at Christmas my mother used to put £40.00 in a purse, this year for some reason she didn’t and I was panic struck because I knew I was going to start to rattle. In my desperation I saw my little sister had been given a top of the range camera for Christmas, as soon as she put it down, I hid it in the house. My sister was distraught and the whole family started searching the house and they eventually found it and knew it was me. Today thirty years later my relationship with my sister is still strained.

I was a young, troubled kid who was very anti authority and always disrespecting police officers and prison officers whether they were doing the right or wrong thing. My young life had totally wrong and too be honest I was struggling with everything. This led to many, many crimes that I am not in the least bit proud of. This also led to me being sentenced to prison on many occasions and I ended up serving over eighteen years in prison. Prison was not in the least bit difficult, I knew many people in there and found I could really relax there with none of the problems I was facing outside, I spent countless occasions on the streets on the outside. As a young teenager through the way things turned out I never learned how to live and communicate properly and how to harness my emotions.

I left Dublin and went to a Christian rehabilitation unit in Liverpool. Here I learned a lot of the skills I was missing and found my faith in Jesus. I also started to teach other men and become a mentor myself at the unit. And found I got a real buzz from heling other men and leading my life properly. I also started going into schools and teaching young people about the perils of drug use and how drug dealers exploit young people in the same way as I was. This also gave me a real buzz and I started to reflect on all my wasted years in prison. Today I don’t drink, smoke, use drugs, steal, or commit any crimes at all. Today I love life. For me it was Jesus. Once I got to Victory Outreach in Liverpool everything changed and to be honest, I was absolutely fed up with my previous lifestyle and in dire need of change. I found a new way to lead my life a 180 degree turn on my previous life that caused me to have so much misery for my family and myself. It all gave me a new sense of dignity, belonging and destiny. I also felt part of a family that understood my problems.

I had made many attempts to go straight after prison, some real attempts and some not really wanting to change. My peers in the prison were getting younger and were starting to feel quite alien to me, with different wants and values. It was a community that I suddenly was not so in tune with, and I didn’t want to be there anymore so this time I started to make plans to go to Victory Outreach before I got out.