Changing your life after becoming hooked on drugs and spending time behind bars is not easy. Your faith is tested, temptation comes you way and the ones you love can often turn your back on you. As part of Prisons Week, reporter Natalie Walker speaks to Shaun Teheny about how he managed to turn a corner thanks to the ACE project at Caritas Care.
Shaun Teheny was just 10 years old when he began taking drugs.
It quickly spiralled out of control and he spent time in a young offenders institution.
This set him on his path, as he was in and out of jail and even becoming a father didn’t change him.
But after years of drug abuse, he finally made himself the promise to give it up after a visit from a support worker for ACE at Caritas Care.
ACE (Assisted Community Engagement) is a ‘through the gate’ programme which works with ex-offenders preparing them for release, and supporting them back into the community.
Located in offices in Sedgwick Street, Preston, ACE works with statutory, voluntary and private services to ensure that individuals have access to community links and have some stability on which to build a better future.
Trained mentors meet ex-offenders at the prison gate to guide them through the crucial first weeks of freedom, tackling issues such as accommodation, benefits and support with drug and alcohol problems to aid successful rehabilitation.
Shaun, 34, says: “I had used substances since I was 10 years old.
“All substances were good to me.
“I was cool and hanging around with the older kids and just getting off my face.
“The whole experience was so much fun and I felt so sophisticated, I could escape from the confinement of my family life (or lack of it) my class room and what ever the authorities were trying to mould me into.
“But no one tells you the down falls of recreational drug use, which soon changes into non-recreational drug use and then becomes drug abuse.
“I was sinking fast and my family and friends became distant (or was that me)?
“Life over the next five years became a business and that business was my life of scoring, stealing lying and robbing and I wasn’t even out of my teen years.
“I took from anyone I thought was weak - my family and my so called friends.
“Then came juvenile prison and I had time to think.
“It’s easy to think of change and mistakes when you are in custody but everything boiled down to one thing, which was that it was everyone else’s fault.
“I could twist the truth to fit into any circumstance.
“Ten more years had gone and I was approaching my late 20s. I had a girlfriend and she became pregnant.
“I thought ‘I must change, I will change,’ but even this wasn’t enough for me.
“My daughter was born and still more drugs, crime and jail.
“I was in my 30s and my family didn’t trust me, and my real friends were few and far between.
“I was left with acquaintances who were all waiting for the same things: a heist a score and a hit.
“The routine has become so normal I don’t think of anything else.
“During my most recent jail sentence, I was approached by the drug’s team Inspire.
“My thoughts turned to my pre-release sentence plan - what do I have to do now to get out of here? The idea of more group work and more education, seemed rubbish to me.
“My mind turned to my definitive life of drug use, drug abuse and addiction
“I didn’t want this any more, so I made the decision to sign up for the group.
“The group wasn’t as bad as I thought. It created a link to a community charity and a support Project ACE a worker came in to see me.
“She talked to me about what I wanted. At first I didn’t really listen, but after a few meetings with her in prison, the penny finally dropped.
“Maybe I should give one of these abstinent houses ago.
“I couldn’t believe the choices that was out there.
“For the first time in my life I thought ‘I can do this I can change.’
“People really do want to genuinely help and I wasn’t being told what to do.
“I was been given options.
“I decided to give ACORN community drug and alcohol team a try.
“I was finally released on Christmas Eve last year.
“I wanted to see my family and went to my mum’s for Christmas to see my daughter and family.
“No one could believe how well I looked. I felt great.
“I went to the abstinent house and three months down the line I completed the programme. It did break me but I re-built me.
“I have now trained to become a peer mentor and I am even care-taking at the new re-hab centre in Burnley.
“My journey hasn’t been easy and at first it was a struggle, but now I am in a great place and looking forward to a positive future.
“I say if I can do it anyone can it will just be a different journey.
“I used to think the term ‘recovery’ meant getting better after having a diseases. But now, ‘to recover’ means to improve. My recovery is mine and it’s my time, being spent my way - and the results will come from my choices which will effect not only me but the people I love around me.
“So how long do I want my recovery to last?
“Forever, of course.”
ACE also offers support after release and some ex-offenders have formed a support group - Men After Prison (MAP) - which assists in community projects, and supports Caritas Care’s work.
Jude O’Connor, specialist rehabilitation project worker, says: “The ACE project works solely with people that have been involved with the criminal justice system.
“Our aim is to offer them as many chances, choices and opportunities to help them rebuild there lives on release from custody.
“We work with medium to high risks individuals and those at risk from substance misuse and mental health issues. Quite often we work with people leaving custody in crisis.
“Our services are available across Lancashire and we have links with Cumbria and the greater Manchester area.
“We support those who fall outside and have been let down by the current national rehabilitation model.”
•Prisons Week (October 9 to 15) aims to raise awareness through prayer literature to enable the Christian community to pray for the needs of all those affected by prisons. This includes: prisoners and their families, victims of crime and their communities, those working in the criminal justice system and the many people who are involved in caring for those affected by crime on the inside and outside of our prisons.
For a previous story on MAP and ACE click here http://www.lep.co.uk/news/a-blooming-ace-group-as-members-transform-their-lives-for-the-better-1-8056373