Life after 140 convictions‘I basically didn’t know any other way of living…I wasn’t shown another way.’

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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Can you come back after 140 convictions? Is there life after prison? Aisling Meyler, Service Manager of Care After Prison (CAP) and John, a former inmate who now works at CAP, joined Sean O’Rourke. The service aims to reduce rates of recidivism in prisoners, saying that 60% of those released from prison will re-offend in 3 years.

John told Sean about his first time in front of a court for a burglary offence. It was his 16th birthday. He remembers what the judge said to him.

“He wished me a Happy Birthday and sentenced me to 2 years”.

Since that first sentence, John has served “in and around 16 years” in prison. He turns 40 next month.

“I basically didn’t know any other way of living, Sean, I wasn’t shown another way. I came up through the care system and went in and went out.”

John was addicted to, in his words, “everything” and stole to feed these addictions. He estimates that he was homeless for 18 or 19 years.

“I was an addict since I was 13…I had nowhere to live…I couldn’t go home. I kind of had to look after myself so that’s what I had to do.”

Sean asked what prison was like. John said that he witnessed “a lot of violence” in prison and was “involved in violence” himself as well.

It’s loud, it’s smelly, it’s very intimidating. It’s aggressive. And you’re locked in. It’s not nice. It’s not a nice place. I know people think it is but it’s not.”

Things changed in 2012 when he was released from Wheatfield prison into the care of a particularly proactive Probation Officer who “took it on to make things happen” for John. He entered a treatment programme and has now been clean and sober for 5 years. Now, he doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke and he hasn’t been in prison for 6 years. He chalks it down to a number of people, from his Probation Officer to a particular judge, giving him a chance to succeed.

“Everyone took a risk and invested in me…I didn’t believe I could do it, you know. There was an investment put into me, money was spent on my treatment, money was spent on my secondary treatment, my education.

These treatments and supports are key, John says, to making life after prison less “daunting”.

“It’s very daunting, especially if you have nowhere to go and especially if you don’t know any other way of living, bar going out and stealing and then you know you’re going back in eventually, like.”

John spoke about problems he had in a third-level institution while completing a degree in Social Care. While fellow students rallied around him, he would sometimes be asked to leave certain lecture halls when his previous convictions were known.

“I was doing a Social Care degree. Like, which is to work with people like me. So, it was a bit of a contradiction. I’d be sitting in class, talking about empowering people and supporting people…and this is what was going on in the background.”

Listen back to the whole conversation on Today with Sean O’Rourke here.

© The Listener 2018

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