Reflective Blog from a Crossroads Trust female volunteer

(ex prisoner, now studying at University)

It was only recently in 2013 that I experienced what I would call the darker side of substance use and only from an outsiders viewpoint. On 19th December 2013 I was served with a 1 year’s custodial sentence. In the 13 weeks that HMP Peterborough was my home, it opened my eyes to a world that up until this point I had little contact with. It was also my first experience of being a prisoner and a counsellor.

A memory that will always stay with me is whilst being transported to prison. A girl in a holding cell adjacent to me, was being violently sick and begging the guard for a fix of methadone. I admit to being guilty at that point of having a stereotypical image of a heroin addict in my head, haggard, sunken eyes, greasy hair, under weight. Very much the image that media likes to portray. How wrong was I? She looked fit and relatively healthy. I got to know her briefly during my stay. She had a middle class background,
had held down a job, and was married with a family. She had become addicted to heroin after she had been raped and had started to deal to help pay for her addiction, which was the reason she was serving a prison sentence.

Prison life opened my eyes. With a very open mind I listened to girls talk about their lives on the ‘outside’. I don’t think it’s possible to get more of a broad sample of people in such a confined environment. Prisoners are given access to help if they choose to take it. Outside agencies like; Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, MIND and CARATS workers would come into prison regularly and work hard to help make a difference in people’s lives. Prisoners with drug problems would immediately be put into a detox wing.

In some respects you could almost group prisoners into categories. I fell into — prison was a short sharp shock needed to help me turn my life around. For some, prison was just a means to an end. Their lives on the outside were so bad, that they would re-offend just to go back to prison. In some respects who can blame them. 3 meals a day, a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in and the knowledge that they are away from the source of their problems. You had girls who used prison as a way to help them get clean. With good detox programmes and regular healthcare, it was what some girls needed to set them on the path to staying clean. On the other hand, some girls would go through the detox but plan on their release, to meet their dealer at the gate.

Prison had a very profound effect on me. As I have mentioned before, in the grand scheme of things I have a lot to be thankful for. People deal with issues and life in different ways. I dealt with the problems in my life that led to my offence in 2012, by stealing money. As humans we all react in different ways. Some people seek refuge in substances, other seek a different outlet — a close friend deals with his stress by going to the gym. Another friend deals with stress by lighting up a joint. Who am I to judge? We all make choices in our life. In some respects life is built around a series of yes or no decisions that are influenced by varying factors played out around us. It’s what we learn from those choices that shape the person we are today.

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