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Personal stories: Alex
Alex* was doing well at school and his mum had high expectations for his future. But then he learnt of a different lifestyle, one that led him down the path to drug dealing and crime. Now 26-year old Alex has put his difficult past behind him and is working towards a brighter future for him and his two children. He has gone from committing crime to being a key player in the development of work to give other service users a chance to turn their lives around – just as he is doing.
Alex was thriving at school and was predicted B grades in his GCSEs. His mum wanted him to go on to university.
But at 14, his life took a turn for the worse. Alex didn’t feel like he truly fitted in with his friends and he started to smoke cannabis to mask his insecurities. He also sought to reconnect with a family member who had been absent for most of his life because they had either been in prison or taking drugs. The two were a toxic mix. Alex learnt he could sell drugs as well as smoke them.
By the time he was in year 10, Alex was already seeing a drug worker and had been suspended from school.
Alex said: “The only time I went to school was to sell weed at lunchtimes and to take speed and ecstasy with friends. I didn’t see the point in learning when I could sell drugs.”
Instead of B grades, Alex finished secondary school with two GCSEs - a D in English and an F in Maths. The bravado Alex needed to sell drugs also came at a price - his own drug and alcohol use began to escalate.
When he left school, he should have gone to college but instead he dropped out. Within a couple of years, he had two children, a broken relationship and a growing habit to feed. Alex was using drugs or alcohol every day – anything from valium to cocaine and eventually mephedrone and legal highs.
Under the influence of drugs, Alex’s crimes also began to escalate. By the age of 21 he had a long list of convictions including possession of weapons, ABH and common assault. He was classed as a Persistent Prolific Offender (PPO), due to the number of crimes he had committed.
When he ran out of cash to support his habit, Alex turned to more crime. He said: “I couldn’t sell weed fast enough to sustain my drug use. I started selling anything that I could. I’d sell bikes, trolleys of meat, makeup and other stolen goods, anything people would offer me for cheap enough and other people were willing to buy. I also came to the realisation that I could sell class A drugs to make even more money and have a constant supply of the drugs I was already taking.”
I was either going to end up dead or in prisonExpand to read more
Alex was soon running a small 'drug empire' to pay for his growing habit. But that existence nearly cost Alex his life and his freedom.
On probation and following another police raid on his home, Alex came to a decision to stop selling drugs, but he was still left with a nasty mephedrone addiction to feed, as well as using cocaine, alcohol and valium.
Within a few months, Alex had used up all his savings. Feeling hopeless, depressed and psychotic from the drugs, he took an overdose to end his life. He survived thanks to his Nan finding the empty medication packets and being resuscitated by the ambulance crew.
But when he left intensive care he continued to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs; he was drinking a bottle of whisky and 8 -10 cans of lager a day to take away his feelings of paranoia and anxiety - two of the side effects of smoking weed and taking other drugs for some years.
Alex said: “As a result of drinking and taking drugs I was having regular blackouts and hallucinations. I was no longer selling drugs but my life was still out of control. I was getting into fights because of my paranoia and alcohol consumption. I thought I was either going to end up dead or in prison.”
This nearly became a reality for Alex. Just over two years ago, Alex woke up in a police cell covered in blood with no idea of what he had done.
He said: “I thought this is it. I’m going to prison for a long time. I’m never going to see my two children again.”
Now the CEO of KSS CRC knows my name for all the right reasonsExpand to read more
Instead, Alex was offered a lifeline – a year’s community order during which he has made some life changing decisions and managed to get the help he says he always needed.
As a result, he hasn’t offended in over two years and has been ‘clean’ from drugs and alcohol for nearly five months – the longest period in the last 12 years.
Two key factors in his recovery were being referred to a GP and psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, and receiving treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
Alex said: “I was quite ashamed and embarrassed about what I was doing. My Probation Officer was supportive. I felt like I could be very open and honest with him. Because of this, I was able to receive the help and treatment I needed.”
At the end of his order, Alex wanted to make a clean break from his former life. He said: “I wanted to turn my negative into something positive for other people with similar issues to me. I didn’t want my offending and past to define me as a person.”
That’s when Lacey, a User Voice worker, approached Alex about joining the Service User Council.
The Service User Council, organised by charity User Voice together with KSS CRC, provides a forum for service users and probation staff to meet and discuss how they can improve services.
Since joining the council in January 2015, Alex has been a key player in the development of their recent work. This includes a new role, being offered to ex-service users, to connect with others on probation. The aim of this role is to re-engage individuals with probation so they can potentially turn away from crime.
Alex said: “I hadn’t worked for years because of selling and using drugs and alcohol. The Service User Council has helped me to build some confidence and improve my self-esteem. I am taking the first steps to getting back into employment. Alongside the council work, I am studying psychology and volunteering with other people in recovery from substance misuse.”
He said: “I’ve decided not to follow the same path as some other people in my life. I’m proud that the Chief Executive of KSS CRC [who chairs the Service User Council meetings] knows my name for all the right reasons rather than because of my past. I feel that I am building a new positive future for myself.”
*Alex's real name has been changed to protect his identity.
** the photo is posed by a model