Road to Recovery

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Jack can’t undo what he did. “I killed the woman I loved” he states.

But he plans on making amends for it for the rest of his life.

Society will give him that chance in 2014 – when his life sentence is reviewed.

He’s already been on home leave from Kirkham Open Prison and worked within the community - under supervision.

“I can’t say how it felt to be out,” he admits. “Even pushing a mower felt marvellous.”

Jack’s perceived risk to others has reduced over the years. He’s category D, assessed as suitable for an open prison. He’s one of the peer supporters on the prison’s innovative programme addressing addiction, behaviours and thinking patterns, said to be a national first for the UK’s penal system.

The Scouser sees red at claims HMP Kirkham is a cushy number. “It’s not Butlins. I know the red top tabloids say we call it that but it’s not. It’s an open prison but we’ve lost our freedom. We earn the right to go out first under supervision. The first time I went on home leave and saw my mum stood there on the stairs and my dad in front of me, well, we just fell into each others’ arms. It was really emotional.

“Now dad’s dead, and I worry sick about my mum. I can’t be there for her. Don’t get me wrong. I deserved this. I brought it on myself. But prison has to be more about punishment. It has to be about recovery.”

And that’s what this week is all about at Kirkham Open Prison. Recovery week at Britain’s very first “recovery orientated” prison. A whole series of workshops and presentations daily. Prisoners, families, support groups, agencies – and some of the top policy makers and shapers in the country are watching to see if Kirkham is getting it right.

New prison governor Bob McColm worked in eight prisons across the region before joining the team here in January. He says it’s already well ahead of the Government’s “reducing reoffending strategy” by giving people the chance to change.

“Make no mistake, they get no choice. But some seize the opportunity. They know it’s their last chance. We believe in second chances here. We’ve helped many change their lives for the better.”

Shaun Weatherill agrees. The senior officer now works in the substance misuse service managed by Donna Morgan. “I’m a screw,” he declares. “But in my 20 years I’ve never seen anything as inspirational as what we’re doing here. It works. Not for all. But it’s better than packing someone off with a bit of cash, a handshake and the hope you’ll never see them again. We all know how many reoffend.”

Lorainne Carroll, 22 years in the prison service, is now an officer with the same team. “It’s the best thing I’ve done. It can be frustrating but also immensely rewarding. The public only hear about the ones who got away, not the success stories, the lives turned round. We’re very proud of the fact we are recognised at the forefront of recovery from substance misuse.”

Mark Gilman, criminologist for 30 years, heads strategies on recovery for the National Treatment Agency and likens reoffenders to ‘frequent flyers’. “We’ve known the answer since 1935,” he says, referring to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. “You alone can do it but you cannot do it alone,” he stresses. “We know peer support works. Kirkham’s leading the way.” Burnley schoolgirl Sophie Dand, 16, a prefect, is over to perform a monologue based on Willy Russell’s Our Day Out. Sophie’s seen the impact of addiction within her own family. “What’s happening here is the way forward,” says Sophie. “You can’t just lock people up and throw away the key.”

There are parents’ voices too. Polly Parker tells the story of her daughter’s drinking. David Rogers of the son killed with a single punch after acting as peacemaker on a night out in Blackburn. Actions have consequences, he says. Amidst the booted suited delegates it’s the prisoners in blue “recovery week” T-shirts who stand out, hanging on every word, keen to share their own stories – if anyone’s willing to listen.

Drink or drugs underpin issues time and again. Stand up comedian Sam Harland talks of how he’d get paranoid if his girlfriend signed off a text message with two instead of three kisses. “If she sent me out for takeout I’d become convinced she was cheating on me so lay into her.” A psychologist told him to pick three buttons representing himself, his mother and father, then commented on the “distance” between them. It was a warder who pressed the right button. “He told me I was worth more than this.” Sam’s been clean 13 years now.

In the staff car park two ex-offenders park alongside the governor. Mark Shear and Matt Idle work where they were imprisoned. Kirkham was the only prison to give them that break, clearance to run their A2nd-Chance social enterprise, funded by Lancashire Drug and Alcohol Action Team, there to help rebuild lives.

Kirkham’s pioneering the groundbreaking concept. Mark explains: “It’s the first time ex-prisoners have been asked back to work inside a prison in this way. It shows real leadership and courage.”

Matt concludes: “We’ve moved from being prisoners in addiction to prison drug workers in recovery. Visible recovery. We did it and so can others.”