David Higham knows more than most about what it’s like to be in and out of prison and addicted to drugs and alcohol.
From the age of 16, he committed crime as a matter of course, and spent more time behind bars than he did out on the street.
But following intensive rehabilitation at the former HMP Lancaster Castle, David recovered, and is now pioneering an extremely successful recovery project in Lancaster, which has been endorsed by the Amy Winehouse Foundation and is transforming people’s lives.
I first spoke to David two years ago when he had only recently been released from prison, and he asked to remain anonymous.
One thing was clear though, and that was how much emphasis he placed on rehabilitation and support as the key to recovery, rather than the punishment of custody itself.
“I want to show hope to others,” David said this week.
“I can no longer shy away from that. I spent my adult life in prison, but I broke free from that and I want to be a light house to show that this is the way to come.”
David, 43, saw a big gap locally in the provision for people coming out of prison and taking a place in the community, while at the same time trying to avoid the temptation of drugs and alcohol.
“When I first came out of prison, there was nothing to do that was free from drink and drugs,” he said.
“I started working in a rehabilitation centre, before working for the criminal justice system and I thought we need to have something where people in recovery and their families can go and connect and help eachother out.”
Cue The Well Social Club, which is open every Saturday afternoon at Lancaster Boys and Girls Club (LBAGC) in Dallas Road.
David explained: “When people lapsed they had nowhere to go, they were falling through the net.
“They go back to crime, there’s a lot of chaos and damage before they get picked back up, and it costs the public purse a lot.
“Now we pick those people up with a natural intervention.
“In the first four months of us opening in November, more than a thousand people came to the sessions.
“We operate a ‘Warrior Down’ program, a Native American model which is the cry used to signify that a warrior has been wounded or incapacitated in some way and needs help.
“We’ve visited people at home, and tried to bring them round and support them until they’re back on the road to recovery. The results have been huge and we’ve had a lot of success stories.”
Thanks to funding from Lancaster’s Drug and Alcohol Action Team, The Well, on top of offering sports activities, snooker and table tennis, now includes free use of the internet for job searching.
David, who is the chairman of the organisation, and some of the volunteers were invited to the Recovery Festival in London earlier this year, where they met Mitch Winehouse, father of singer Amy Winehouse, who died from alcohol poisoning in 2011.
“We did a presentation on The Well and we were then invited to the Houses of Parliament,” said David
“Mitch Winehouse really liked it, and said they’d like to invest in us, and came and gave us £2,000 for music projects.
“We’ve run appeals and fundraisers and sponsored walks, and band nights including one inside Kirkham Prison for those on the outside as well as on the inside.
David said the point was to get people to realise there was a lot more to life than drugs and alcohol.
“We can leave them and not give them any help, and they’ll come out and rob you again, but we can’t lock people up for their whole life,” he said.
“We’ve got to show them that there’s another way, that there is hope for recovery.”
David said he was hoping for more funding from the local authorities in the future, and for the service to be more readily available.
The Well is hosting a dance theatre followed by a dance evening on August 31, from 6.30pm at LBAGC.
Donations on the door. For more information on The Well, check out The Well Social Club DVD promo 2013 on Youtube.