DDN Magazine July 2023 DDN July_2023 | Page 14




Turning Point ’ s volunteer scheme to help people prepare for release from prison has been a pathway to paid employment – and a source of highly valued staff for the organisation , says Eoin Bolger

When Billy got arrested with five kilos of cocaine on the M5 in 2019 , he could never have imaged that four years later he would be using his experience to support others as a recovery worker at health and social care provider Turning Point .

The 46-year-old is still in the process of completing his sentence of almost ten years . However , after managing to become abstinent from substance use , he was able to complete an educational programme which has given him the skills and knowledge to support other prisoners , as well as members of the general public with alcohol and substance use issues . ‘ This course has changed my life and it ’ s changed my future ,’ says Billy . ‘ I will continue doing this once I leave prison .’
CHASE ( Collectively Heighten Awareness of Substance Misuse through Education ), an 18-week programme designed by award winning tutor Neville Brooks , provides an educational and employment pathway that helps prisoners prepare for release . Prisoners can gain NVQ Level 3 qualifications and valuable work experience placements with the aim of long-term paid employment .
The programme is offered at HMP Prescoed , a category D open prison in Coed-y-paen , Monmouthshire . Turning Point was initially offering voluntary work to prisoners on the CHASE programme but soon realised that they could use it as a pathway to fill paid employment vacancies at their Herefordshire drug and alcohol service .
‘ The plan was to offer a volunteer pathway for people so they will be gaining knowledge through the CHASE programme and then they would get practical experience by coming on board with us as a voluntary placement for a couple of days a week ,’ says Chris Franks , operations manager at Turning Point , Herefordshire . ‘ This would allow them to marry “ what am I learning in the classroom ” with “ how do I apply learning in the real world with actual people ”, with the view to be able to move into paid employment as it became available . I had three vacancies in the service . We identified three people on the programme and offered them these paid positions and that was the start of the partnership . They do meaningful work in line with our organisational values .’
Just 17 per cent of exoffenders manage to get a job within six months of release , even though many employers recognise the significant benefits of employing prison leavers – with 86 per cent of employers rating them as good at their job , according to government statistics .
For Billy , the programme , and the opportunity of full-time work with Turning Point , was another stepping stone in going back to becoming the man he used to be . He ’ d been an insurance broker and then a car salesman for 20 years . His cocaine use , which he reveals was prevalent in the car industry , saw his relationship with his then partner and two children suffer .
‘ While I was taking cocaine , I became very isolated , very antisocial ,’ he says . ‘ After I wasn ’ t getting it anymore , I became me again , I became normal again , what I feel was normal , and I liked the way that felt . Previously , I liked the way cocaine felt because I thought it made me a better person . But once I was clear from the drug , I realised