Neil is now paid to deliver a course that helped him commit to lasting change when he participated in it as a service user.
Neil resorted to selling drugs in Liverpool to support his chronic cocaine addiction. He was caught following a police raid and sentenced to five years and eight months in jail.
Neil had spent almost two decades during which his consumption of alcohol, cocaine and cannabis was steadily increasing to what, by February 2015, was by his own definition “an alarming rate”.
From a good family, and having had a good education, Neil was arrested for conspiracy to supply class A drugs. The moment he was arrested he realised he had to radically change if he was going to avoid irrevocably damaging his health.
Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company’s probation case manager Ronnie Fearon supervises Neil’s custody licence.
He said: “Being arrested forced me to address reality. I immediately committed to being abstinent, because I knew I had a choice, which was to either plan for a new future or let the drugs kill me.
“I was almost 40. Was I going to carry on with a life of drugs, violence and crime? I didn’t want that, so while I was on bail I planned what my future was going to look like.
“I believed that my first-hand experience would put me in good stead to help others address addiction, and so I dedicated myself toward achieving that aim.”
Neil worked with drug services such as Addaction prior to starting his custodial sentence and enrolled on an Intuitive Recovery course.
He said: “The course had a massive impact on me. It simplified what I was doing and gave me the evidence about how drugs work and interact with your brain and with your body.
“It was exactly the right approach to get through to me. I began to educate myself.”
Neil developed a list of qualifications, courses and experience he wanted to gain during his sentence and wrote to the Prison Education Trust to secure the support he needed.
He said: “There’s no consistency with the educational provision in prison, but I tried my hardest to make it work for me.
“At HMP Haverigg I became a mentor and then a peer navigator and relished the opportunity to help others, but also to gain practical experience of working with people with addictions and mental health issues.”
Neil completed a Level Four Drug and Alcohol and Solvent Abuse training course, gained two NVQs and worked as a group facilitator during his time in custody. While on Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), he worked with drugs charity CGL as a peer mentor to further his experience.
He said: “I’ve been lucky, I’ve come out and within three months I got a paid job doing exactly what I wanted to do. For many others in the prison system, it doesn’t work out like that and I therefore feel humble that I have this opportunity.
“I feel extremely fortunate about the probation officer I got. I heard scare stories about how probation messes you around, but my experience has been the reverse.
“I was transparent right from the start, and I’ve enjoyed nothing but continued support and encouragement. Ronnie has gone out of her way to help me on my path, and I am extremely grateful for that support.
“She exhibited genuine interest in what I was doing. She was highly motivational, straight forward and clearly cared about my progress. That means a lot to me.
“Ronnie put me in touch with the organisation and did simple things which have made a massive difference to me. Probation also supported me as I worked on my cv.”
Intuitive Thinking Skills’ (ITS) regional manager Matt Wilson was called by Neil while he was on ROTL, and three months after Neil was released invited him for a job interview. Neil has now been employed by ITS for four weeks.
Matt said: “What so impressed me was Neil’s drive, determination and his persistence. He had completed one of our courses, was willing to shadow tutors as others were delivered, and had set himself the goal of getting paid employment in this area.
“We recruit our staff from our classrooms, it’s what we are all about. Neil illustrates the progress that can be made when people access the right support and work with probation and I am delighted for him.”
Neil works for ITS in Bootle and is looking forward to delivering courses to service users at M CRC in the near future.
He added: “I am committed to working with organisations like M CRC and Intuitive Recovery to help others make the changes they need to make in order to embrace a more positive future.”