A former shoplifter who is using a ground-breaking scheme funded by Central England Co-op to turn his life around has revealed what it is like recovering from addiction during lockdown.
Paul Brookes is one of a handful of people who are part of the Offender to Rehab programme, a scheme aimed at having a long-term impact by helping the offenders rehabilitate and transform their lives while also reducing crime in the communities it is based.
The 43-year-old and the handful of others involved carried out nearly 200 known offences – including shoplifting – and served several prison sentences, all to sustain their heroin and crack cocaine addictions.
He was identified by PC Stuart Toogood, from Erdington Neighbourhood team, who was able to get him into Livingstone House, a male only residential drug and rehabilitation programme in Small Heath.
Paul’s efforts have been supported after we linked up with West Midlands Police to back this new approach to tackle persistent offenders in Birmingham.
He is now celebrating one year since joining the scheme.
Paul said: “Throughout lockdown I have been lucky enough to be staying at my dry house with 15 others who are all working so hard to turn our lives around.
“Especially with lockdown, this has been a lifeline and being together has helped so much with all of the problems going on with the world and with our personal battles.
“The support we have been able to provide each other has been key and allowed us to ensure we continue to make progress on our journeys.
“We have been able to talk to each other, listen to each other and be there when we have good days and when we have bad days – something that has been so important when you look at the restrictions in place due to lockdown.
“I have missed seeing my family, like we all have but my family here has made a huge difference.
“One area that has changed is that our regular meetings with others battling addictions now have to be online. So just like people having to work from home we have been working through our problems with the use of technology and while it would be nice to be in the room with these people, at least this way we have been able to continue our progress.
“I am really proud of myself at being able to carry on my journey, especially in these tough times. Our current circumstances have also allowed me to reflect and remind myself of how glad I am to have turned my back on crime and that I am working my way to turning my life around.
“It has also allowed me to start planning for the future. I am starting a college course on health and social care and also getting set to do some volunteer work in the treatment centre that has helped me.
“Lockdown has been tough for us all, I am just glad I have been able to do it with great support and also able to continue my journey away from crime and a more positive future.”
The success of the project has resulted in the Society talking with several other police forces covering across its trading region – including Staffordshire Police – about implementing and supporting other similar schemes.
Hannah Gallimore, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Central England Co-op, said: “This innovative project is one that has targeted not just the most prolific offenders but also the ones that are willing to make changes.
“I am delighted to see how well Paul has been doing as part of the programme, especially during lockdown, and look forward to being able to celebrate his success in person soon.”
PC Toogood said: “I am personally very proud of everything Paul has achieved so far - he has really turned his life around. He is a lot happier and his family couldn't be more proud of him.
“He has shown great strength and at times when he could have easily thrown the towel in - he didn't. He really is a great guy and an inspiration to many including me.
“We know that this approach has reduced crime and the risk of violence towards staff. The scheme has not only achieved this but has definitely saved lives as well.
“We are proud of our links with Central England Co-op and especially the support of Hannah and her team in providing the support.”