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17th April 2016

The Long and Winding Road from Street to Prison to Wellbeing

Picture this; an action drama featuring heavy doses of extreme violence, guns, drugs, sleeping rough, storming the home of a racist crime godfather, threats to kill and prison (...lots of prison).

It would certainly make a good film or novel. Talking to Cormac (not his real name) over coffee is truly like listening to the storyline for episodes from Breaking Bad. But of course, this was someone’s real life I was listening to, and not an episode of fictional drama. Ultimately it was also an inspirational story of redemption and transformational change...which in many ways happened against the odds. Under the terms of the Social Services and Wellbeing Act, however, hopefully this type of recovery will be less of a rarity.

Cormac’s early life was damaged by drugs physical and mental abuse and he found himself on the streets at the age of 14. Needless to say he gained no qualifications and was barely literate, but the street was at least a sanctuary from the jeopardy of his home-life.

The street brought challenges of sleeping rough, hypothermia, and injecting drugs. He experienced significant health problems with pneumonia, tooth decay and back-pain. The street also brought a motley crew of other damaged individuals who offered fellowship, friendship and support but also a pathway into drug dealing, violent crime and entry into the prison system. By the age of 20 Cormac was already dependent upon prison for identity, structure and support and found it difficult to cope with even the modest ‘freedoms’ available in a cat C prison.

Cormac was also able to see the way things were going, and tried to make changes. He started a family in his early 20’s and was trying to turn his life around. But the stage was already set for a life of crime and lengthy stretches in prison, and so it proved for the next decade or so. He became such a familiar face in one of the local Welsh prisons that they kept his job open for him each time he returned. Eventually Cormac came to the realisation that he was wasting his life.....

One day he was standing in his home town, on a brief interlude on licence between sentences, and dropped a bottle of Lucozade. A policeman threatened to charge him with littering – he was such a marked man by now he had served time for offences he hadn’t committed, so it was no idle threat and could have ended his period on licence. It proved to be a turning point. He moved away, broke all his ties and started over in a nearby but never visited city. He was unknown and it was a fresh start. He found God, work and a wife. It was the beginning of a new life...

Prisoners are often some of the most needy and vulnerable individuals in society and the Social services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 (Part 11, sec 185) recognises this by placing a legal obligation on local authorities to include prisoners within their planning and provision. This is an historic departure which recognises the importance of locating individual prisoners within their own life-journey, social-context and individual support-plan. The legislation places a responsibility upon authorities to assess and meet the social needs of prisoners, to promote well-being, and to cooperate with other authorities at the point of preparing for release.

Hopefully, these measures can help others along their long and winding road, and to new meaning in their lives.

Nic Bowler – QCS Expert Welsh Care Contributor

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