John's* #BelieveInPeople story

Prison gave me the chance to look at my life and the things that had happened.

In today’s #BelieveInPeople story, we spoke to John*, who started taking drugs at 12 and went to prison at 35. He explains how believing in himself helped him to change his life, and how his experiences have inspired him to help others.  

“My hopes for the future are to make life better for people in prison”

“Life had been like a series of things that would just keep going wrong. Things that really hurt my feelings, and I think drug use and drinking became a source of escape in the beginning.

Cocaine was the main drug I was taking. It cost me friends, relationships, jobs, houses, my liberty, and I had two full breakdowns. None of that mattered.

Back then I didn't understand what addiction was. And I think when I did start to realise that there was a problem - there was a lot of shame and embarrassment. And that can stop you from reaching out and asking for help.

And all of those things feed into your addiction, because that's all your addiction needs to just keep the cycle going. I started dealing, and that’s when I eventually ended up being sentenced to 10 years in prison.

An opportunity for change

Prison was the most intimidating environment I've ever been in in my life. I was in 15 seconds before someone tried to rob me with a toilet brush that had been turned into a spear.

I was in the drug recovery wing, which was full of 200 people. At first, I thought I was better than everybody else because I didn't use heroin and I didn't smoke crack. And it was after about four weeks when the penny dropped, and I thought it’s right where I belonged.

I couldn't go on like this and now I was in the criminal justice system. And to be honest, this life wasn’t doing me any good. I was about 35, got no girlfriend, no kids, and no house. Enough was enough.

And I think the good thing about being in prison was I had to depend on myself, and I had to trust myself. And I could only trust myself if I was doing things the right way. I had to get comfortable with myself. I had to get comfortable with my emotions. It gave me the chance to look at my life and the things that had happened, the things that I'd hid from.

It wasn't easy because it was easier for me to get drugs in prison than it was outside. So, it took a lot of gumption to do that.

After a little while with doing things the right way and standing up for myself and supporting myself, people started to take notice and I decided to use my lived experience to help other people. I developed this 10-point plan and every week I'd get another unit of a qualification and eventually got my degree in addiction counselling.

And then the senior management team at the prison actually started looking to me to see how we can improve the problems in prison. I started running the prison council and getting better results from my peers.

There were evenings where I'd have queues of people outside my door who’d come and talk to me about their problems.

Life after prison

When I left prison, my accommodation hadn’t got sorted out, so I had nowhere to live. Later I found out about Change Grow Live and their supported housing project and was accepted by them, which was a huge relief.

My key worker was awesome. You feel surprised how much you forget, especially when you've neglected your responsibilities for so long anyway, so he helped me set up my bank account and helped me learn to budget again and use technology, as so much had changed.

The team there were always there to go and talk to. Conversations didn’t have to be about prison or drugs or crime and could just be normal, because you forget what normal looked like. And it was really good for me. I cherished that time.

And also, because you're in a housing block with other people that are going through the same situation as you, you start to connect and build genuine friendships there that you cherish.

There is a sense of pride that comes from graduating from that project to the one I'm in now, which is a stage three. That means I have to check in three times a week. I've actually got 11 voluntary roles in different criminal justice and recovery organisations.

I do get the odd knock back, but it’s not the massive crushing drama it used to be. I've got a new partner and we're very happy.

Hope for the future

My hopes for the future are to be happy and work in the health and criminal justice system and just make life better for people that are in prison, but also in a way that it helps them address their addiction issues.

I'm not proud of my mistakes. I'm not proud of the fact that I committed all that crime and sold all of those drugs. If there is a set of scales, I'd like to start tipping them the other way.

My advice for others is ‘be brave’. If you’re unsure if you've got a problem, the fact you're thinking about it means you're probably using more than you should be.

If you do reach out and ask for help, the world doesn't know that you've done that. It doesn't become anyone else's business. That information is confidential. And the amount of support that's out there, is phenomenal.

You always think you're the only one in that situation and there are thousands and thousands of people just like you. They just hid it better than you did.

So be brave. Stand up. Speak up. Turn your life around. Do something about it.”

*John is a fictionalised name to protect his privacy.


If you or someone you know is using cocaine and wants to make changes, we’re here to help. Find out more about the effects of cocaine, how to keep yourself safe, and how to cut down or quit here.