Creating a future

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Prison can be an opportunity to change deep-rooted behav­iour and begin to flourish, say the team at Addaction tell DDN.

‘I have learnt that the crime I was doing and the drugs I was taking didn’t just affect me, it also affected other people – it’s a ripple effect,’ said a prisoner at HMP Lincoln, describing the effect Addaction’s Trans4orm programme was having on him. ‘It has helped me to share my problems and understand different ways to cope.’

Another participant called it ‘a bright light in a dark place’, and this was the intention of Louise Scherdel, Addaction’s Lincolnshire Prisons service manager, when she wrote and developed the programme under the supervision of Andrew Beaver, operations manager at Grantham Community Service.

‘Our ultimate goal on the Trans4orm project is to equip prisoners with strong life skills to change deep-rooted negative behaviour patterns, so they can go on to live life free from alcohol or substance misuse,’ she says.

Up to 12 prisoners at a time volunteer to engage in the programme and are screened first to make sure of their commitment. Once accepted, the participants are moved from their existing prison accommodation to a small community on a self-contained ‘recovery landing’, where they live together for 12 weeks. In these new surroundings – which have been refurbished and painted with bright motifs and motivational statements by Trans4orm participants – the prisoners are given intense daily therapy sessions, both individually and as a group, by Addaction’s substance misuse experts assisted by peer mentors.

An important part of this programme is the Cognitive Approach to Recovery, written by Addaction to address the deep-rooted attitudes and thoughts that have resulted in negative behaviours and continuing substance misuse.

It’s a ’holistic, whole-person approach’, says Scherdel. ‘We are always recovery-focused and work hard with the prisoners at HMP Lincoln to encourage enhanced levels of confidence, motivation and drive to achieve their own recovery… for many of the people who participate in Trans4orm it is the Addaction self-esteem, self-belief and self-confidence therapies that appear to offer them the most motivation to change negative patterns of behaviour.’

HMP Lincoln’s governor, Peter Wright, says ‘the level of need among people in Lincoln Prison is almost overwhelming’, but believes the programme is making ‘a profoundly important difference to the lives of the men who take part’. The 90 per cent completion rate has set a new benchmark for success.

‘The best times I have here are when I meet people on the programme for their final session,’ he says. ‘It is a privilege to hear them tell their stories and how they have been able to face up to issues in a safe environment… Above all, I know from the moving testimony of service users that potentially life changing things are happening.’

The holistic approach to recovery includes a growing range of activities developed by the Addaction substance misuse team across both Lincolnshire prisons – HMP Lincoln and HMP North Sea Camp. Art therapy workshops have resulted in pieces by prisoners being exhibited in a London gallery; a theatre company and music therapy group are performing regularly within both prisons, and a very popular ‘recovery garden’ project is enabling service users to grow vegetables for homeless people and the local church.

It’s all about promoting recovery as a genuine possibility – and a genuine alternative to drugs, says Scherdel. ‘Keeping prisoners engaged and motivated, and helping them to reflect on their lives is very important. We want people to leave prison and live a life free of drug and alcohol dependency and reoffending, and that means finding a balance between security and supportive therapy.’