“To cut a long story short, I was a heroin addict for 30 years and a crack cocaine addict for the last 15. I was an habitual offender and spent many years in prison in many different establishments and countries – all to fund my drug addiction. I had never voluntarily engaged with any services or went into detox in all of those 30 years. In order to find £200-£300 to fund my daily drug habit, I found myself homeless, committing crime and going to prison on a regular basis.
I was 48 years old when I decided that enough was enough. Probation was on my case about my addiction and offending. When I found somewhere to live I would lose it with the next prison sentence. I never ate properly and every penny I had went on drugs.
I never had an ‘Action Plan’, I just knew what I ‘didn’t’ want and that was to live my life like I had been for the past 30 years. I secured a place at the CAIS detox unit, Hafan Wen. Amazingly, detox for me was relatively easy as I was sure in myself that once I stopped taking drugs my problems would disappear. After successfully completing detox I was discharged from Hafan Wen – homeless and the subject of a drug testing order.
I realised, with some shock, that I had always been a drug addict who committed crime to fund the habit and not the other way round. I presumed that I was a criminal who took drugs! Believe me – there is a massive distinction between the two! I recognised that I needed to fill my time positively so that I didn’t get bored and resort to past behaviour. I began to engage with services and started attending training courses.
With my new found confidence I enthusiastically applied for job after job. I would always give full verbal disclosure at a interview. Some agencies sadly stopped me there with the standard ‘with regret’ response while others waited until my CRB arrived before withdrawing their offer of employment. Other employers discovered that I lived in supported housing and presumed that I was incapable of passing on what I had learnt, so didn’t want me either. I was disheartened and angry, but I wasn’t about to give in to prejudice and discrimination. I believed in myself and I even liked myself now!
One day I had a phone call from my support worker who told me about a job that was being advertised for a ‘Caseworker Peer Mentor’ with the CAIS Peer Mentoring Scheme. They were looking for an ex-service user who could mentor service users through recovery towards economic independence. He told me that the project had come about through a research document called ‘Word on the Street’.
I found the research document and read about the ‘gaps’ in services that had been identified. I realised that I had negotiated my own way through these gaps in my own recovery and here was an organisation that recognised that. They understood that many of us had a chequered history, but recognised that we had credible skills and that we could be employed positively; we had a right to be allowed to contribute to our community and we should be valued. Now I knew this, but reading it in black and white was amazing!
I attended the interview with my CRB, so that we wouldn’t end up wasting each other’s time in applying for one. I was successful and commenced my full-time paid position on the 18th January 2010. I WAS SO EXCITED!!
Here we are now – 3 years later. My position has evolved as the project has grown. Every day has been a challenge and every day has been different. These last 3 years have been the happiest of my life. I have been privileged to be allowed to contribute to society, to my community and to enable my fellow peers to contribute as well.
I work with a dedicated, enthusiastic and knowledgeable team of people, many of whom have progressed from mentee to volunteer to paid member of staff themselves. Everybody has their own story and their own skill set but we all work towards the same goal. I know that we make a difference because I see it every day. It’s due to the hard work and dedication of the Peer Mentors along with the will to succeed of the clients that makes the project such a success.”