Friday, 16 November 2012

Former prisoner tells how he turned life around

Lynden has just finished a shift working at a call centre in central London. He’s looking fit and happy with life. Few of those milling around Victoria station on Friday night would have thought that less than three years ago Lynden was a habitual criminal.
Now 30, Lynden spent his early years travelling around the UK courtesy of the criminal justice system. Over a decade he was constantly in and out of prison. “There were two 2.5 years sentences, one for three years and three one year stretches,” recalled Lynden, who spent time in Feltham, Dover and Rochester prisons serving these sentences, mostly for drug related offences.
He first got involved in drugs when experimenting with cannabis at the age of 12. He later moved onto class A drugs like crack and heroine. It was the need to feed his drug habit that led to the life of crime. Burglaries became a way of life - a means to get the money he needed to buy the drugs. “When I was in prison was the one time I could stay clean,” recalled Lynden.
It was while in prison that Lynden decided he had to get off the drugs and start building a life. Three years ago, he met his partner Lara, who he had known since childhood. She was a friend of his brothers. “I knew if I went back to prison I would not be able to keep her,” said Lynden.
His last sentence was served in Wandsworth Prison, where he undertook a 12 step programme that helped get him off the drugs. This continued in partnership with Westminster Council for two months when he came out of prison. “I was doing work and going to drug meetings for 12 months,” said Lynden, who at this time also came into contact with Pact’s (Prison Advice and Care Trust) Basic Caring Communities programme. The BCCs operate with Bristol, Brixton, Forest Bank and Wandsworth prisons.
The programme involves five people supporting a prisoner when he comes out. They work together to support the prisoner and each other. “I knew I needed to get away from the people I had been hanging around with before,” said Lynden, who recalled meeting with the group at least once a week, sometimes two. He also got phoned daily by members of the group over an 18 month period. “We talked over what I would like to do, what I’d been doing – it was day to day stuff,” said Lynden. One member of the group also helped him to get onto the Open University degree course that he is now doing in economics and politics. “I enjoyed the meetings and became friends with people in the group,” said Lynden. “I’m still in touch with Chris (one of the BCC group members) on the phone.”
Lynden is pleased that he has got clear of the criminal drug world but stresses change is only possible if the individual really wants it to happen. “You can’t change people who don’t want to change,” said Lynden. “But it is important to have people there supporting if someone is about to wobble.
Lynden has now settled with Lara in their own flat. She is a care worker. He continues to work at the call centre and study. In time, he hopes to become a teacher.
But Lynden also wanted to put something back, so he joined the BCC programme as one of the volunteers. He has helped out with three different people. He tells how there have been different problems with homelessness and lack of food in one case for someone who was just out of prison.
Lynden has become the face of Pact’s initiative for the Year of Faith. The year began on 11 October and runs to 24 November 2013.
The former inmate is a keen supporter of the BCC programme. “If there was more support for the BCC programme and more volunteers more could be done,” said Lynden, who would like to see more of an emphasis on rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. He cites probation as an example of where things could be done differently. “It’s not about support anymore but monitoring. There are bigger numbers of people to deal with but the approach is less effective,” says Lynden.
Since coming out of prison Lynden has resumed playing football and is a keen supporter of Arsenal. He thinks there need to be more programmes like the BCC, with the opportunities being offered to access education and sport.
He believes it is important for people who have been inside and experienced the prison system to come out and join initiatives like BCC. “People who have experienced life inside find it easier to build a rapore with those coming out,” said Lynden. “It is a very worthwhile cause with hidden benefits, showing someone some kindness can start a process.”
Lynden believes people have the capacity to change, if given the right support. “It is a belief in human beings that means you think they are worth a second chance,” said Lynden.
Looking forward he is now very happy, “living the dream.”
“I am just counting my blessings,” said Lynden, who hopes to one day have children and continue on with his education to become a teacher.
As our interview ended, the talk turned to football. I was trying to continue the rehabilitation process further by converting him from supporting Arsenal to West Ham, when a quite aggressive guy came up. Not happy with one donation, the man continued to stand his ground. Lynden dealt calmly with the situation, questioning the man as to whether he had been fighting and advising he should “lay off the booze.” The man moved on.
In that brief moment it was possible to see where Lynden had come from and also where he could go. A man of quiet authority, who has learned more in his three decades of life, than most do in a lifetime. Someone also who could become a very good teacher.

Tablet - 17/11/2012

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