By an inmate Irish Red Cross volunteer

When I was growing up I was always getting into trouble in school, being brought home by the police and hanging around with the wrong crowd. Both my parents were drug addicts, my father died from AIDS when I was ten and my mother died from AIDS when I was 15. That was when I turned to drink and drugs as a way of helping me cope with what was happening in my life.

I was stealing cars, drinking heavily and I really didn’t care. I had a daughter and a partner and I was not around for them. My whole life revolved around drink, drugs and stealing. I got community service orders with probation but never fully engaged and never thought of changing my life.  Until I arrived one day in prison to start a ten-year sentence when the judge decided he had given me enough chances. I felt lost and confused and didn’t know what to do.

In the first few weeks of my sentence I met some inmate Irish Red Cross volunteers. They made me realise that I did have a choice. I could self-destruct in prison by continuing to take drugs or I could use the time to get the help I needed and make positive choices.

I joined the Irish Red Cross group. I was a little unsure at the start and didn’t really know what to expect but the volunteers took me under their wing and started to build me up. For the first time in my life I felt normal, wanted, part of something and that I belonged. It helped me get my life together. I started to see the world I live in differently and began to mature and grow in confidence. It helped rebuild my family relationships because they could see the change in me and started to respect me for giving my time to help others.

World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day 2017

Millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent staff around the world reach more than 160 million people every year providing a diverse and innovative range of services.

I learned so many new skills and things I thought I would never be able to do – first aid, mental health first aid, overdose prevention, communication skills – the list goes on. I decided to become a facilitator because I wanted to help other people come to realise what I did, that there is a way out of this life.

My time in prison passed and I was released onto the Community Return scheme. I stayed with the Irish Red Cross as a facilitator in the Probation Service, helping to run violence prevention and overdose prevention workshops with other offenders on community service orders and community return.

I heard from the participants how it was opening their eyes to what prison is really like and helping them to realise that they also face the same decision I did back then. This encourages me to keep going. And prevent some of them progressing to prison.

I am a free man with a new life ahead. I continue to volunteer within the Probation Service as an Irish Red Cross volunteer and I am getting married. I have a beautiful daughter and for the first time in my life, I am looking forward to what the future brings.