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Personal stories: Fred
Fred* was trying to find work at the same time recession hit the UK. He was on benefits and barely keeping his head above water. Depressingly, he had to declare bankruptcy. It was at this point that he started to sell drugs to 'make ends meet'. This was what Fred describes as a 'trap door' leading to his £2,000 a week cocaine addiction and his decision to try to smuggle a car-full of drugs through the Port of Dover - a choice that resulted in a five year custodial sentence.
Even though Fred has a degree, when he was back in the community on licence, he struggled to build a new life and the burden of a criminal record made his efforts seem futile.
Fred says: “When I was in prison all I could think about was my release. I had visualised how great it would be to be free. To begin with it was great. Friends and loved ones surrounded me, but then the reality of my situation hit me. I had no job, nowhere to live and no money. I had been sleeping on friends’ sofas but that wasn’t a long-term solution. I didn’t want to go to a hostel or a bed-sit. I knew that I needed to get a job so that I could eventually find my own place to live.”
“I spent ages searching for jobs but I just didn’t feel confident enough to apply. I was struggling with feelings of shame, isolation, despair and a lack of a sense of identity. I worried what future, if any, I could hope for with a criminal record.”
Service User Council 'a lifeline'Expand to read more
“Volunteering with the Service User Council gave me structure and a reason to get out of bed. It gave me something constructive to do and there was safety in knowing that others were working on the council with similar experiences to my own. I remember walking away from my first encounter with the Engagement Team Leader and feeling that, for the first time, there might just be a light at the end of this dark tunnel.”
Over the course of the next year, Fred threw himself into his work as a council member. He arranged surgeries at KSS CRC offices to get valuable feedback from service users on how to improve services. He would also meet regularly with other council members to discuss issues and every two months put together proposals to take to the Service User Council, which the Chief Executive of KSS CRC chairs.
“The council made me feel that my and other service users’ voices were valued. When I first became a council member I was a bit dubious about how seriously KSS CRC would take our proposals, but with the Chief Executive chairing meetings, many of our suggestions have come to fruition.”
Fred’s time with the council gave him the boost he desperately needed.
He says:“Throughout my involvement as a volunteer, KSS CRC and User Voice treated me with dignity and respect. It made me feel that I matter as an individual.
The council helped me to acquire professional skills and steadily my confidence increased.”
With new buoyancy, Fred began applying for jobs including paid roles with User Voice.
He says: “I froze in my first interview for a job, but the council work, having turned me into a stronger person, helped me deal with this initial setback. I decided not to view it as defeat. I contacted the person who interviewed me and offered to volunteer for them instead. A few months later, another job came up and this time, I was successful at the interview.”
Fred’s new job is as a co-ordinator for another CRC’s Service User Council – a paid position. He manages a pool of volunteers and organises all their surgeries.
“Being released from prison was much harder than I’d expected but User Voice and KSS CRC have supported my rehabilitation every step of the way. Their encouragement has had a big hand in helping me move forward with my life and has given me the confidence to secure a paid job.”
The Service User Council, organised by charity User Voice together with KSS CRC, provides a forum for service users and staff to meet and discuss how they can improve services.
If you would like to take part in the Service User Council and are currently on probation, talk to your probation supervisor about completing a referral form. For information about roles with User Voice to support the Service User Council’s work, click here.
*Fred's name has been changed to protect his identity
* Photo used is a stock image