Taking drugs left Lee Finkle in prison and without a family but a scheme involving reformed offenders has helped him turn his life around. BEN FISHWICK reports.
Heroin ripped apart Lee Finkle’s life and landed him in prison without a family.
After years of escalating drug use, the 42-year-old lost everything two years ago when he split with his partner of 17 years.
He had turned to crime to feed his habit and was shunned by his family and friends.
In and out of prison and rehab, he was unable to break the habit – both taking drugs and committing crime to fund his addiction.
Lee was locked in an unbreakable cycle.
I’d learnt loads of tools and skills from rehab, but I’d still commit crime again, that’s what heroin does. I put it first, even in front of my beloved son. I ended up in prison.Lee Finkle
Most painfully of all, coming out of rehab he realised he put his drug habit above his cherished son.
Lee says: ‘Things were good for a while, but soon I started to use again – that’s the power of heroin.
‘I’d learnt loads of tools and skills from rehab, but I’d still commit crime again, that’s what heroin does.
‘I put it first, even in front of my beloved son. I ended up in prison.’
But now Lee has spoken out after getting clean and hopes his future is back on track.
Lee, from Gosport, first started smoking cannabis when he was 16 at secondary school.
Years later he got a job as a civil servant, met the girl of his dreams but was relying on drugs to boost his confidence.
‘It was at secondary school aged 16 that I started to smoke,’ he says.
‘At first it was normal cigarettes, then I tried weed, cannabis, pot, call it what you want.
‘I think the reason I did this was peer pressure: all my friends were smoking it.
‘At the end of my education I found employment as a civil servant.
‘I met the girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
‘I was taking other drugs, Es, amphetamines, drugs that I thought were giving me confidence, or so I thought.
‘I was on a pretty good wage, enough for us to set up a home, but the wage was not enough for us to live well and for me to feed my drug habit.
‘I ended up losing my job and then turned to crime.
‘By this time my partner and I had started a family.’
At this point in his life, Lee was in and out of prison – depriving his partner of the support she needed to raise their son.
They started to fall out as heroin became Lee’s drug of choice.
But now he attends the About Turn project in Fareham.
The scheme sees reformed offenders provide role models for criminals.
Roy Phillips, the project co-ordinator, works with people who show motivation to change.
The project aims to tackle re-offending and help when people are serving multiple short prison sentences and leading chaotic lives.
Mr Phillips says: ‘I look to identify those service users who show even a small bit of motivation to change.
‘Then I encourage them with support, guidance and training to work towards becoming a group facilitator at the About Turn project.
‘Those that take it on become positive role models for the others.
‘It’s rewarding to see them clean from drugs and stepping into new role as a group facilitator.’
Lee, a group facilitator, says the project has helped tackle his re-offending with the help of others.
He adds: ‘This group has helped me immensely.
‘I’ve learnt to be around others who I’ve used with and have learnt to be strong.
‘We all help each other.’
Mr Phillips adds the project tries to catch people serving multiple short prison terms and address their needs.
That way, and with the help of multiple support agencies, the re-offending cycle can be broken.
He says: ‘The About Turn project brings together expertise from a range of agencies to work in an innovative way with people who have been in trouble with the law and often have challenging issues in their lives.
‘We provide a neutral place for people to meet, address issues and engage with services which can help them.
‘People are often found to be leading chaotic lives with complex needs, serving multiple short prison sentences and may face significant barriers to addressing their problems and engaging with services.
‘This is where we can help to break the cycle.’
Addict turned volunteer
FROM feeling spiritually-broken to helping other addicts improve their lives, Melanie Hunter has been transformed.
Melanie, from Gosport, was addicted to heroin and other drugs when she started at the About Turn project in March 2014.
But she says that co-ordinator Roy Phillips seeing potential in her helped motivated her.
She says: ‘I was working and all looked quite well on the outside, but on the inside I was spiritually broken.
‘Roy suggested that if I could stop using drugs, I could help to run the project.
‘He told me I would be an asset to the group.
‘I thought it was great that he could see potential in me, and when I’d had enough of drugs, I let him know and after a few weeks, he got me on board with some training and invited me to open days and seminars.’
She adds: ‘The About Turn project was my first experience of care, love and trust, whether I was using drugs or not.’
When her confidence grew Melanie took on the role of facilitator and staff supported her throughout.
She says: ‘When I see new faces, I try to welcome them and talk to them in the same way that I was welcomed.
‘I build up trust with people and try to help them by sharing my experience with them or by directing them to another member in the group who may be better qualified to help.
‘The nature of this group is that we have a wide variety of people who turn up, we have people with years of sobriety or clean time, people who are still using, or on scripts.
‘We have a good mix of men and women of all ages and this variety really works for us because of the range of experience.
‘We have some people who don’t eat a decent meal all week, so we are really pleased that the project offers a hot meal after the group.’
Breaking the cycle of re-offending
Work on re-offending is trying to ‘stem the churn’ of imprisonment.
The About Turn project is part-funded by £15,000 from the office of Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner, Simon Hayes.
Cash given to the project reflects Mr Hayes’ pledge to what he calls the cycle of behaviour of re-offending.
‘By putting people in contact with services which will support them in making lasting change in their lives, we can help to address some of the underlying issues which lead to committing offences in the first place,’ he says.
‘In order to stem the churn of criminals in prisons, partners need to work more closely together and society as a whole needs to take responsibility for preventing and reducing offending.’