Drugs help to numb the pain of trauma \u2013 and of incarceration \u2013 but art can be an integral part of recovery, SteelDoorStudios (a serving prisoner) explains. Read it in DDN Magazine Am I conflicted? Damn right I am. I\u2019ve led a life of strife and turmoil, always feeling like an oddball. Even in my earliest of memories as a toddler I recall feeling like the odd one out \u2013 for such a tiny word, \u2018odd\u2019 can evoke vast amounts of connotations. I\u2019ve no doubt that most of you at some time or other will have experienced your own concepts of odd \u2013 where did it take you, I wonder? 'At Odds' For me and many of those of my ilk, the odd continued down the surreal world of narcotic abuse, trying desperately to find something to fill that void in my soul whilst enduring the accompanying feeling of isolation and disconnection, which was just as painful as any of the physical beatings I\u2019d experienced. I never set out to be an addict \u2013 it was a natural progression for me. A child full of pain and angst looking for a salve. That salvation would eventually be found in heroin. It may well seem a bizarre statement to refer to heroin as my salvation, yet that is what it is. For without the unique properties that are very specific to heroin I believe I never would have got beyond my formative years. There is something about that particular drug that no other narcotic offers \u2013 it\u2019s like injecting apathy. Being completely able to function without having to feel anything is like a dream come true for those of us who have experienced deep childhood trauma. Yes, we all know it\u2019s a double-edged sword. Just like any drug it takes its pound of flesh and the piper has to be paid, but today I have reached my mid-fifties and being a heroin addict was just part of my journey. I did what I did to survive, I spent over four decades in institutions of one kind or another, and when I look around all I see is despair reflected in the eyes of those trapped in the cycle of substance use. Our prisons have become warehouses, revenue-generating machines processing the lost souls of addicts on a conveyor belt destined towards a revolving door. For those of you whose images of prison are shaped by the archetypal lovable rogue Norman Stanley Fletcher, you wouldn\u2019t recognise the 21st century prison service. Between April 2018 and March 2019, the prison population was just shy of 80,000, and of that number 53,193 were in treatment \u2013 and that\u2019s excluding those who claim not to be using. This is my backyard, I live here and I can testify it\u2019s an epidemic, and what are our leaders doing about it? What\u2019s their solution? Build more jails! 'Anonymity #2...Covid Times' Robert Buckland, the recently demoted justice secretary, announced that \u00a34bn would be ploughed into the criminal justice system with the go-ahead for 18,000 new prison spaces. I\u2019m sure that each and every one of you has your own opinion on such a contentious subject and I can only offer mine \u2013 however it\u2019s people who live here who truly get to see what goes on behind closed doors. So let me tell you a little of where I am at today. I\u2019m currently residing in one of only a handful of therapeutic prisons in our country. This particular environment differs in many ways from the rest of the British penal system, the most prominent of which is that there is an actual desire to help men address their issues. Not just the criminal values they might hold, or the offending behaviours they may present, but assisting them to delve into their whole history and supporting them throughout the whole sodding mess. I don\u2019t have the space to write anything in depth on the subject, but it\u2019s safe to say I feel like one of the lucky ones to have been afforded the opportunity of looking at my life and knowing I don\u2019t have to be just a faceless number, warehoused in some dilapidated, festering, Victorian cesspit of a jail and waiting for the day the authorities tell us they\u2019ve had their pound of flesh and we can now go free. Free from what, I ask? The steel doors that I\u2019ve spent the vast majority of my life behind? This place offers me the chance to achieve real freedom. To find the peace and serenity I\u2019ve longed for throughout my miserable existence. As I said earlier, this establishment differs greatly from mainstream jails. I\u2019ve always had an interest in art, although I came to painting very late on in life and I often found myself with pencil or pen in hand during my incarcerated years. Sadly, however, the focus on the therapeutic value of art in prison has diminished significantly over the past couple of decades, and these days you\u2019d be lucky to find a canvas and a brush available. Not so here \u2013 we\u2019re funded by an outside trust that not only encourages us to express what is prominent in our lives but also offers assistance via an artist in residence. We also have a forward-thinking governor who championed my desire to create an anonymous website accompanied by a monthly blog in order to share my thoughts and images. Art has become an integral part of my journey of recovery. It offers solace in times of turmoil and affords me the opportunity to reflect upon who I am, where I\u2019ve been, and where I\u2019m heading. I\u2019m often asked, \u2018why don\u2019t you paint something happy?\u2019 Yet despite the morose nature of most of my work it actually does make me happy. I ask questions of myself in those paintings that I wouldn\u2019t have previously dared to, let alone understood. 'You're Looking At The Problem' With each new piece I can spend days, weeks and months contemplating my life and gain insight from even the tiniest nuance. I\u2019m getting to know me and learning to find comfort in my vulnerabilities as well as my strengths. My whole life has seen me raging at the world and pointing the finger of blame. The painting You\u2019re Looking at the Problem is a true account of one individual\u2019s intervention in my life \u2013 he had placed a scrap of paper under my mirror one day with those words scrawled upon it. Today I see those words clearly and I am the problem. I\u2019m also the solution. The second of the paintings I\u2019ve chosen to share with you is Anonymity. As COVID struck, our establishment along with everywhere else went into full lockdown. We returned to 23 hours of isolation which was exactly how it used to be for me in the early years of my sentence. We had become the forgotten once again, and even when restrictions began to lift ours were only alleviated by an extra hour. For 16 months we\u2019ve endured 22 hours of bang up. It was one of the most testing times of my life, as I had to fight my old behavioural demons on a daily basis. I had some failures and some success, but I had my artwork to keep me company throughout. The final piece, At Odds, is my favourite painting of the last couple of years. A decade of intense bitterness at my plight had seen me become a twisted soul where nothing ever made sense and I only felt pain. I now find myself in an environment of intense scrutiny where even the minutia of my behaviour found its way under the microscope of analysis and often left me at odds. As the years go by, I find myself feeling more at ease with my paintings and sharing my truth. The truth really does set you free and to that end I will wish you all good fortune on your own journey. For my wonderful partner, I would like to thank you for all your help and endless support. To see more of the artwork or read the monthly blog visit steeldoorstudios.com, Twitter @SteelDoorStudi1 or Instagram @steeldoorstudios.