Four years ago Matthew Story*, 29, found himself in Crown Court pleading guilty to supplying class A designer drugs.
Matthew said he had not been selling the drug but was looking after it for a friend but had supplied to friends at a party. The batch of drugs in Matthew’s possession was linked to two deaths.
“I was sentenced to seven years in prison and I think it was probably the best thing that happened to me in many ways,” says Matthew. “A lot of people say time is prison is no good – it’s wasted time. But I went in determined to do my time and get the best I could out of the experience and change my life.”
Matthew spent time in two different prisons. Determined to knuckle down, take his punishment and help his fellow offenders his time inside was reduced to three and half years for good behaviour.
Matthew says: “Being in prison is the best thing that happened to me – it made me into the person I wanted to be years ago. It completely changed me and made me into a son I hope my mum can be proud of.”
During his time inside prison Matthew volunteered to become a Prison Listener. The Listener Scheme, run by the Samaritans, is a peer support service which aims to reduce suicide and self-harm in prisons. Samaritans volunteers select, train and support prisoners to become Listeners who provide confidential emotional support to their fellow inmates who are struggling to cope.
“That was a real eye-opener because it showed what I was capable of – just by listening and supporting people I could see I was making a real difference,” says Matthew. “I am convinced I prevented several suicides during that time.”
“That was a real eye-opener because it showed what I was capable of – just by listening and supporting people I could see I was making a real difference. I am convinced I prevented several suicides during that time”
Matthew also helped in the classrooms teaching English and Maths and helping offenders achieve Level 2 qualifications. “During that time I also sat a lot of exams myself and got a number of qualifications,” adds Matthew.
“When I was in prison as a listener I was keeping busy just helping people,” he says. “It was great to see how prisoners came out of the gates as changed men. I realised I could help fix people.”
As a peer mentor Matthew now works on a wide range of projects including Community Payback and unpaid work orders.
“Obviously, my background as a builder will help on some of the bigger work projects but the most important things is, as an ex-offender, engaging with other offenders is that they know I have been through what they are going through and can show them the strategies to turn their lives around.”
Longer term Matthew is now considering a career in probation.
*Matthew Story is a pseudonym. Picture courtesy of Pixels