Alex Fishwick, of Preston, was sent a personal invitation to the launch of the Ex-Prisoners Recovering from Addiction Working Group in front of Parliament to share his experiences and inspire others.
He was nominated by Phoenix Futures supported housing, who aided him when he left prison in April 2017.
The 43-year-old joined Caritas Care’s ACE (ex-offenders) project and its association Men After Prison (MAP) group, where he delivers workshops to young people, police, social work students and police cadets about life in prison, his addiction and mental health.
He also enrolled at Preston’s College and will start his psychology and criminology degree at University of Central Lancashire next month.
The father-of-three, who has been drug and alcohol-free for three years, said: “I have had more than 20 years of addiction to drugs and alcohol and during that time I have had times in prison, as well as rehab and psychiatric units.
“I was in my early 20s when I started using drugs and like any addict, I enjoyed them. I was going out clubbing and drinking and it gave me freedom.
“I was going to work and functioning, but it still impacted on my life.
“It began to affect my relationship with the mother of my children and I lost several jobs. My children picked up on the fact things were not right. I used to go missing for a few days and everything went down hill, as my mental health was getting worse.
“My behaviour was erratic when I was on the drugs and I ended up splitting up with the mother of my children 13 years ago because of it all.
“I was in prison five times altogether - all drink or drug related.
“My last prison sentence, which was 20 months, was the last straw for me and I decided I had enough.
“I had tasted recovery before, but I had relapsed. I got offered the chance to be a mentor for the lads and run support groups. That helped me get excited about recovery and I started to believe in myself.
“I didn’t want to go back to my old life.
“I got out in April 2017 and Phoenix Futures fitted me up with accommodation and I got involved in the ACE project, which is one of Caritas Care’s schemes.
“ACE was a vital early point of contact upon leaving prison, providing support with benefits, food parcel and guidance.
“Through this, I was introduced to the MAP (Members After Prison) group, created by ex-prisoners who had benefited from the support the ACE project gave them to turn their lives around.
“ACE organised an opportunity for me to volunteer at Bendrigg for a week in the Lake District, supporting a group with learning difficulties to do outdoor activities such as canoeing and rock climbing.
“This opportunity was significant, they showed trust and belief in me at a time when I perceived myself as a criminal, this empowered me to achieve more.
“The ACE project also invited me to various training programs and events and has been consistent in its support for me. Its interest and enthusiasm has been fundamental to my recovery.
“I was given the chance to study again. The routine of Preston’s College was brilliant and I really enjoyed the learning. I was used to being shoved away from people but I felt welcomed and got a lot of support going back to study after so many years. I’ve loved working with young people and I know this is the area I want to build my career.
“I met my partner of one year whilst at Preston’s College too. We are very happy together and will be doing the same university course.”
Alex was also involved with some of the research into a commissioned report called EPRA (Ex-Prisoners Recovering from Addiction), which Phoenix Futures had been working on, which led them to nominate him to speak at the House of Lords.
Alex added: “It was quite daunting but also amazing.
“I spoke about my journey and what a difference going through supported housing has made. I talked about what going to prison is really like and how I had mental health issues and my self harming.
“I had never believed in myself but once I started speaking in schools and other places I realised I was able to make a difference. “Being a role model is something I never expected to happen.
“If you are an addict and trying to fathom how to get out of it, reach out. There are people out there who can help."
Dr Lis Smith, principal and chief executive at Preston’s College, said: “Alex’s story is incredibly inspiring and we are proud of his continued success.
“He is an excellent student and has overcome many challenges.
“To be invited to share his experiences in Parliament is a massive achievement and we look forward to welcoming him back here as a graduate in a few years to speak to our learners.”