At the time of my first conviction I was 17 years old, I felt really scared and nervous and wasnt optimistic about what lay ahead going in to a prison environment.

I was sentenced to fifteen months and served half of that, in a young offenders institution at (polmont)

It was actually at that point in my life when my behaviour was unmanageable, and coming from a hostile environment within the east end of Glasgow and experiencing untreated trauma from a chaotic lifestyle through alcohol and drugs

I was then introduced to prison, another hostile environment, and with already being emotionally detached from society this was a real shock, I had never experienced anything like this being treated like a herd of cattle from court to the prison and into the halls

I was sharing a cell with a complete stranger with no toilet and both sharing a pot with no washing facilities

I strongly believe this mentally and emotionally scarred me and from then I rebelled against the prison and all forms of authority, it was a case of them against us

Prison officers where never really helpful and courses that they ran where insufficient to tackling the real roots of the problems I and many other young men where facing in society

Needless to say I spent many more times in and out of the prison system, especially in later adulthood costing the taxpayer considerable amounts of money, and it became somewhat of a revolving door serving short sentences with never any real understanding or compassion from the prison or a willingness to tackle the real issues

I became a number and that number is all I felt I was, I would be released from prison with the same head that brought me in and didn’t know anything new, so basically I done the same things always expecting different results and that never happened, Albert Einstein once quoted (this is what is called insanity )and now I understand what this means

Serving short term prison sentences had a detrimental effect on my mental health and well being, I had suicide attempts and basically didn t want to live anymore, I was so damaged and could nt see a way out, and never was I asked by prison staff what was really going on within my life and why? as it was always how long are you serving and what for, that’s all that seemed to matter

But fast forwarding the clock to approx 2016 i was serving a slightly longer sentence, and I was introduced to a recovery cafe which was being set up in Barlinnie prison where I was, I became involved as part of the steering group within this cafe and it was two individuals who had lived experience which facilitated the running of it through an organisation, and it was then that the penny dropped as I was able to open up and start to look at my chaotic lifestyle without being judged

This is not run by officers and they aren’t present in the room so it was the first time I was able to get honest without any repercussions or effectively being downgraded

Along with the cafe I started to attend fellowship meetings and the combination of the two support networks and a willingness from myself I started to gain a bit of hope that I could turn my life around and abstain from alcohol and drugs

Fellowship gave me tools to live life on life’s terms and clear the wreckage of my past the cafe offered my structure and opportunities on release to get involved with various other organisations whom I would have never known about

And today I am now a volunteer within this cafe going back into the prisons and carrying a message of hope to many guys who are still caught up in addiction

I now use my past as my greatest asset and my lived experience is invaluable to these guys, so there is a positive ending for me as I continue to strive to be a positive contributing member of society once again and this has took a lot of hard work

I have had numerous opportunities by now using the support networks that where introduced to me by attending this recovery cafe

After all they wasted years not knowing what I suffered from and in and out of prison costing the government crazy amounts of money, I personally think a more person centred approach which this cafe and fellowship offered me should be spread out to help guys rather than lock them up and just expect them to change

I have recently just done some filming with the bbc one show about the lack of human empathy and locking guys up with short term sentences, rather than use a fraction of that money and tackle the roots of the problem from the outside, by giving more community based orders and attaching peer mentors to actually help people

Also the bbc news have took real interest and we have done some filming within the cafe in Barlinnie and I hope this can raise some awareness and highlight the importance of these cafes

Life is good today but not because prison rehabilitated me, if anything it made me worse, I had to find within myself a willingness along with using outside support to live a life free of substances and with that I need never return to prison again

Gary

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