Breaking the Cycle

DS talks about taking ownership, and making positive changes

I did nearly 15 years of a life sentence in prison, I come out and I was offered to go into supported housing.

It’s very hard to find work, it’s very hard to find the right kind of housing. I never had no money, no property or anything like that. When I first went into supported housing, it was quite…I don’t want to say demoralising, because you’ve got to take any kind of charity you can get.

I became a personal trainer just before I come out, and it was very hard then for me to get another job like that because of my background … so when I come out the reality was it become very hard to even keep up a gym membership or anything like that so everything seemed like a negative thing.

But once P3 came along, and specifically I’ve got to say, Kirsty, she got me this place, she figured out how to pay my rent, she helped with so many things, you know. I think what Kirsty did differently was she offered me a bit of empowerment, she gave me the feeling that I could work [it out] myself.

I’m 42 years of age now and I’ve spent most of my life in jail – I didn’t know how to pay a bill, how to pay the rent, I didn’t know what I was doing.

You have to take ownership and move on

I didn’t know when I first came out that you have to pay your own rent when the social pay it to you. What happened was, Universal Credit, they were meant to be paying straight to the council and then six months later I find out it hasn’t been paid so I ended up with a bill almost two grand or something, I was thinking hold on, I’ve done everything the right way, why are you telling me I owe you this money? Everyone was judging me, saying I haven’t paid my rent. It was really infuriating.

Kirsty helped with that a lot, put in for is it DHP [Discretionary Housing Payment]? I think people that end up in the same kind of circumstances just let it go over their head. But I was trying to [build a] life, trying to do things.

You can’t sit there and blame everybody else for what you’re doing, you have to take ownership of your own stuff and then you move on. And whether it’s a food voucher, or sitting down and talking about bills and stuff like that, if you ain’t afraid to do it – what most people do is forget that it’s there and they push it away and say I’m not worried about that, and then it carries on growing.

I was in that jail since I was sixteen-years-old, I’ve been involved in violence and I’ve done some crazy stuff in my life. And criminality was one of the major things that I had to get over before I come out … I knew how to utilise every kind of skill that was a negative one, you understand? So if I didn’t have money, I would somehow find it in the wrong way.

All that stuff that I’ve got, it’s something that I’ve earned

Now the difference is, I gotta say the word empowering, because if I’ve got my TV and I’ve got a sofa, I’ve got a bed, all that stuff that I’ve got, it’s something that I’ve earned, it’s not something I’ve gone out and took.

You know, I can be around people that will nick a carrier bag in the supermarket, they won’t pay for it. Now me, I worry about things like that. I would literally pay an extra 5p, 10p whatever it is because it’s quite important to me.

When I first come out, I didn’t understand emails, didn’t understand rent or bills, how to top up a meter, all those little things but each time I learned them, that’s another goal achieved. At the end of it, it’s took me two years to get this flat…

Each little goal … having a good partner around me as well. Back when you’re living that kind of  lifestyle, you don’t realise that you have lots of negative people around you … and even when I was in the flats there, it took me a long while to realise it but lots of these people have major issues anyway. And do you know what? They’re not your issues, they’re not your problem, they’re not at your door.

What you do is you end up lonely, like it’s a circle … I’ve just been out just over two years, and I remember when it come to the year mark, I said to my partner, I didn’t realise but this is the longest I’ve ever been out of prison and now, next thing you know it’s two years.

Next step for me now, now that I’ve moved on from supported housing, now I can get a job, go out and make my own stuff.

If you accept the support, if you ask for the help, it’s there

What was different was more that Kirsty trusted me, not that I trusted her. Sometimes Kirsty would sit down and have a coffee. She’d trust me, do you understand? So for me, it was that sitting there and being sociable. Sometimes it’s just the small details that mean a lot.

And do you know what, by the end of it, I never felt afraid to talk about anything. I could talk about my children, I could talk about my partner.

With P3, do know what, with James, he was spot on as well. Do you know why? He would sit there and say, listen, I’ve done time inside. And I thought, well, that changes things for me, it makes me think ok, for you to tell me that … I think sometimes if I sit there and I’m working with someone who’s had no kinda relation to my life or what I’ve done, it’s strange. So for me if someone sits there and opens up like that, it makes me then think, hold on, I can trust this person. Because if they’re closed off, they’ve not given you any information about themselves, it then changes the way you’re gonna deal with them, you’ll find it a negative.

With places like P3, you gotta understand that they’re set up there to help you. For me, when I first come out I had to go through probation and police and all of that kind of stuff, it’s like you’re on a licence for the rest of your life and it’s infuriating. And then you’re thinking, hold on, now I’ve got another agency I’ve got to deal with, another appointment, but if you can take something like P3 and realise that that isn’t set up to make you fail, right? It’ll make you do the right thing.

You’ve gotta make your own decisions. If you make bad decisions, you’re gonna mess up. It’s about – the options are there. Even when I was in that block of flats, I know other lifers who came out, and they made bad decisions and they went back. If you accept the support, if you ask for the help, it’s there, okay?

Now I’m thinking, on my journey now I might actually head somewhere like P3, do some voluntary work, even CGL [Change, Grow, Live] or something like that, somewhere I can use my skills and my past to help.

“I’ve seen a lot more confidence in him”

Kirsty Lawes worked with DS for around a year as part of the Places to Stay service in Rugby, supporting him while he was in council housing and to move to a place of his own.

“DS had already been in the accommodation for a while when I started working with him. At the beginning, he wasn’t getting what he needed to do--he’d been in prison for years and a lot had changed—but I just broke it all down for him. I explained the rent payments, the arrears, the DHP (Discretionary Housing Payment) to him and once he understood, we were able to sort it out.

He’s said that other people in the past have sometimes been quite ‘textbook’ with him, whereas I just sat and had a coffee, and we chatted. I just listened. It really helped meeting with external agencies like probation and Rugby Borough Council so we were all singing from the same hymn sheet and working together, and I think it made their jobs easier as well.

Support work is different with different people, you have to get to know what works for them. I didn’t try to do things for DS. I sat and went through the discretionary housing benefit form, and supported him through it, but he filled it in. I didn’t ring the council for him, I gave him the number and my phone and he did it himself. For me, I want someone I’m supporting to move on and not have to come back [to supported housing], that’s the aim of my role – for them to gain full independence.

Once people have moved on, we support people for four weeks to get them settled into their new home. I just started dropping back and giving him two-weekly appointments instead of every week. He knew he could call me in between, but I needed to see if I could set him things to do, and that he would do them, without being reminded.

I’ve seen a lot more confidence in him. It’s a really positive move-on story, it’s lovely to see. I think there should be people like him in support services or doing volunteering because they just bring that lived experience.”

Photo created by yanalya -