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Prisoners tackle addiction

For Immediate Release 5 February 2008

Prisoners tackle addiction

Drug addiction is often a contributing factor to crime in New Zealand. Sixty percent of offenders are affected by alcohol or drugs at the time of their conviction.

It is no different for three prisoners from Hawkes Bay Prison’s Drug Treatment Unit. Aaron, Justin and Eddie* are recent graduates from the Drug Treatment Unit (DTU), where they must face up to their addictions and aim to conquer them with the help of CareNZ counsellors.

Each prisoner is very different but a common thread runs throughout their lives, their addiction. This addiction contributed to their offending, putting them in prison and affecting their victims and families alike.

Aaron is a young, quiet 20 year old who ‘fell in with the wrong crowd,’ Justin a man approaching middle age with dreams of engineering on the outside and Eddie a recidivist offender desperate to turn his life around for his son’s sake.

The Drug Treatment Unit involves an intensive 24 week programme with group and individual therapy to help prisoners overcome their addiction.

“Therapy was really interesting, it brought up a lot of issues that I didn’t even know were affecting me,” says Justin.

“The counsellors really get inside your head and figure you out. Drugs were my life before I got sentenced, it was basically all I thought about. To first admit I have a problem and then to learn how to cope with it is a huge deal for me.”

Eddie and Aaron were similarly positive about their experiences at the DTU and the education they received.

“I learnt so much about myself and about my addictions. Before this course I thought it was impossible to beat this,” says Eddie.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the prisoners though, there were definitely tough times for all three of them.

“Life story was definitely the hardest part for me. We have to get up and tell our life story to the group and tell how addiction has affected our lives,” says Aaron.

“I was really nervous about standing up and opening myself up like that, but it was ok I found out how much many of us had in common. Others were like me and had experimented with drugs, and like me it had gone too far and we ended up in prison.

“It showed me I wasn’t alone in ending up in prison because of drugs. My offending was drug fuelled, it was good to go through a course like this with guys who know what you’ve been through and can support you.”

For Eddie and Justin seeing how their addictions and offending had hurt others was a real wake up call.

“We did role play - where we put ourselves into our victim’s or family’s shoes to see how our actions have affected them. It was really tough, I was embarrassed and disappointed to see what I had done. I hadn’t thought about my life like that before,” says Justin.

“To waste my family’s love for all those years was a big wake up call. I knew I needed to get myself together for my son, I have missed too much of his life by being in prison,” says Eddie.

Just like their lives and stories, each man has a different goal upon leaving prison. Aaron wants to ensure that he stays clean and never comes back. “I know that getting high for a couple of hours is not worth the damage it does to my life and to others,” he says.

“We were shown what drugs can do to you in the long run and it isn’t pretty.”

Justin wants to get into engineering upon release, his aim is to obtain his welding tickets and get into something where he’s using his hands.

Eddie wants to ensure he’s there to see his son grow up. “I have missed 10 years of his life, that isn’t right. I also want to get a tattoo one day on my back that represents my old life, that way I know it’s always behind me and so when I look at it I know I’m not going back there.”

Hawkes Bay Prison’s DTU is one of five around New Zealand with a sixth due to open later this year at Spring Hill Corrections Facility.


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