Turning Point’s volunteer scheme to help people prepare for release from prison has been a pathway to paid employment – and a source of highly valued staff for the organisation, says Eoin Bolger.
When Billy got arrested with five kilos of cocaine on the M5 in 2019, he could never have imaged that four years later he would be using his experience to support others as a recovery worker at health and social care provider Turning Point.
The 46-year-old is still in the process of completing his sentence of almost ten years. However, after managing to become abstinent from substance use, he was able to complete an educational programme which has given him the skills and knowledge to support other prisoners, as well as members of the general public with alcohol and substance use issues. ‘This course has changed my life and it’s changed my future,’ says Billy. ‘I will continue doing this once I leave prison.’
CHASE (Collectively Heighten Awareness of Substance Misuse through Education), an 18-week programme designed by award winning tutor Neville Brooks, provides an educational and employment pathway that helps prisoners prepare for release. Prisoners can gain NVQ Level 3 qualifications and valuable work experience placements with the aim of long-term paid employment.
The programme is offered at HMP Prescoed, a category D open prison in Coed-y-paen, Monmouthshire. Turning Point was initially offering voluntary work to prisoners on the CHASE programme but soon realised that they could use it as a pathway to fill paid employment vacancies at their Herefordshire drug and alcohol service.
‘The plan was to offer a volunteer pathway for people so they will be gaining knowledge through the CHASE programme and then they would get practical experience by coming on board with us as a voluntary placement for a couple of days a week,’ says Chris Franks, operations manager at Turning Point, Herefordshire. ‘This would allow them to marry “what am I learning in the classroom” with “how do I apply learning in the real world with actual people”, with the view to be able to move into paid employment as it became available. I had three vacancies in the service. We identified three people on the programme and offered them these paid positions and that was the start of the partnership. They do meaningful work in line with our organisational values.’
Just 17 per cent of ex-offenders manage to get a job within six months of release, even though many employers recognise the significant benefits of employing prison leavers – with 86 per cent of employers rating them as good at their job, according to government statistics.
For Billy, the programme, and the opportunity of full-time work with Turning Point, was another stepping stone in going back to becoming the man he used to be. He’d been an insurance broker and then a car salesman for 20 years. His cocaine use, which he reveals was prevalent in the car industry, saw his relationship with his then partner and two children suffer.
‘While I was taking cocaine, I became very isolated, very antisocial,’ he says. ‘After I wasn’t getting it anymore, I became me again, I became normal again, what I feel was normal, and I liked the way that felt. Previously, I liked the way cocaine felt because I thought it made me a better person. But once I was clear from the drug, I realised that the person I was 20 years ago is the real better person.’
Very early into his prison sentence, Billy decided to be ‘proactive and make some changes’ with the first step being giving up cocaine. He then became the healthcare orderly at HMP Cardiff, which involved sorting out laundry, serving food, general cleaning, and helping the nurses with anything that wasn’t clinical. He also trained as a Samaritan and became the listening coordinator in the prison.
The positive changes Billy made saw him put on a release on temporary licence (ROTL), which is an important part of the process for the resettlement and rehabilitation of prisoners coming close to the end of their sentences. It gives them the chance to organise work, housing and re-establish relationships with families and their communities.
Billy’s first job on the ROTL was working for DHL, packing shopping – before he heard about the CHASE programme from two friends and realised it was an amazing opportunity. However, despite being accepted on the course, it looked like he might have to pull out due to an unfortunate incident.
‘About two weeks after I started at Turning Point, I actually fell in the prison and broke my leg, shattering it just below the knee. I had 12 individual fractures in my tibia and fibula. I was in hospital for six-and-a-half weeks,’ he says. ‘I’d just started the online induction and training. Chris Franks actually drove from Hereford to the hospital in Newport with a laptop for me so I wouldn’t miss out. I did all my induction and training from a hospital bed.’
After completing the course, Billy joined Turning Point in Herefordshire as a trainee recovery worker, and is now a full-time recovery worker.’ I expressed an interest working with clients on the criminal justice side as they’re going through what I’ve been through and I thought maybe I could help because I’ve got insight into it a little bit,’ he says.
‘In my role now, I primarily deal with alcohol treatment requirement (ATR) and drug rehabilitation requirement (DRR) assessments with clients. My clients are either prison leavers or people who have been given alcohol or drug treatment requirements and are on probation. I have three-way meetings with social services, probation and with the courts. Through one-to-one and group sessions, our focus is for clients to reduce and give up their drug or alcohol addiction.’
He also runs a 12-week recovery skills programme (RSP) every Tuesday evening, which is a treatment pathway for both alcohol and drugs and we also offer evidence-based treatment for people who are already abstinent or are controlling their use. ‘We look at coping mechanisms, we look at behaviours, relationships with people, with substances, we talk about different methods of controlling or reducing intake,’ he says.
Billy is now just a year away from being released. He is happily married to his wife, a schoolteacher, and the pair share a son and are expecting a daughter in a couple of months. He is adamant that there should be more programmes like CHASE, saying that, ‘Being able to come to work through the CHASE programme, it’s opened opportunities that I think are essential’.
Another member of the programme, John, says he’s finally found direction in his life thanks to the skills he has learnt through CHASE, which he now puts to use as a recovery worker at Turning Point Herefordshire. The 28-year-old is serving a ten-year sentence for manslaughter which was the culmination of a troubled young life.
‘I had my stomach pumped at 11-years-old due to alcohol intake,’ he says. ‘My mother was a heroin user and an alcoholic and passed away when I was 18 because of a heroin overdose. I carried on drinking and taking more drugs until this sentence when I decided enough was enough. I really wanted to change my life and get on the straight and narrow and live a normal life. I put myself into rehab and have not used any drugs or alcohol for several years now.’
John felt the CHASE programme would be perfect for him because it would give him the opportunity to help others, something he says he is passionate about. ‘Since I’ve stopped using drugs, I recognise the damage that it created in my life. I’m just so passionate toward helping others,’ he says. ‘I work with individuals who are struggling with some form of addiction with alcohol and drugs, some more severe than others. I also run group workshops every Tuesday evening and that’s spent delivering an evidence-based programme to clients online.’
He added: ‘I’m forever grateful that the knowledge that I’ve gained through the programme was a tremendous step forward for this line of work. I am thankful for the opportunity that was created for me to get this job. I feel like someone has finally given me a chance to move forward in my life without judging me because of what I have done and given me an education and knowledge to achieve in my life. To be able to get paid for doing this and the opportunities that this job has given me is amazing.’
John has his first parole board hearing in August and plans to move from Wales to Hereford to continue working for Turning Point on release.
Eoin Bolger is regional head of operations at Turning Point
Some names have been changed for anonymity