Mark, Addaction volunteer
Volunteering gives me the chance to offer something back. I've always been on the other side of services, but now my life is on track again, people can learn from my experiences, and that gives me a lot of satisfaction.
I've been volunteering since early in 2010. I wanted to do something like this, so I got in touch with Addaction in Manchester. Addaction help people who've had drug problems and have recently come out of prison. I thought 'great, this is exactly what I'm looking for'.
Being clean is only one step on the path to getting over a drug problem. I stopped using drugs in 2003, but my past is still an issue for me, and I have to work extremely hard because of it and find ways around it. I'd ended up in prison for burglary, supply and fraud - all because of my heroin addiction - and I wasn't allowed to do a social work degree because of my criminal record. So I went to university and did a social policy degree instead, getting a 2:1. I'm extremely proud of that, even though I ran up thousands of pounds worth of debt while I studied.
Finding a job is incredibly difficult, especially at the moment, but I refuse to sit around doing nothing. If I come out of university and then have a twelve month gap of doing nothing, what does that say about me? I have a daughter and stepson now, too. I want them to be proud of me. So, volunteering is perfect.
The people I help are very much like I was. They've led very reckless lives. Coming out of prison is scary as hell for them, and there's very little stability in their lives and even less opportunity. So it's easy to understand how there's a strong urge to go 'back to what you know', and the life you once led. We need to offer much more in the way of stability – around housing, employment, everything. A lot of them probably don't know that they can sign up for voluntary work. It certainly helps me. It gives me a purpose. It shows I can use my experiences, my degree, and I get an awful lot from it.
I could easily sit at home complaining, down in the dumps. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to get off my backside, and work. I've always been a grafter, and I believe if you want anything enough you have to work for it. The drugs got in the way of that, but not any more.