This is the eighteenth in a series of guest posts written by ex-offenders who have turned their lives around and now work, in one way or another, in the criminal justice sector. Laurance Curran talks about the power of peer influence.
Getting into trouble
I committed my first offence in 2009. At the time I didn’t see the seriousness of what I was doing and how it would impact on my life and those around me. The next 4-5 years I was in and out of the criminal justice system, mainly doing community sentences until my last offence when I got my first – and last – prison sentence.
Most of the people I’ve met in prison and on probation didn’t set out to commit crime as a way of life. To me, they either appeared misguided or just didn’t know (or hadn’t been shown) how to deal with certain situations and emotions. I do agree that people should be punished for committing crime but believe the rehabilitation should always be the priority.
I’m also a big believer in the power of peer influence – my thinking and criminal behaviours didn’t really start to change until I listened to someone who gone through the criminal justice system and come out the other side. The fact that he changed his life around and wanted to come back to spread that message was the key thing that kickstarted my own desire to change.
Learning how to change
In those first few years I didn’t think about the consequences of my actions. I always acted on impulse, out of fear or peer pressure. While serving my community sentences I never really learnt my lesson. I was always ducking and diving and thought I was above the law and police. I didn’t really live in reality or if I did it was only for short periods of time until something went wrong.
Going into custody gave me a short sharp shock back into reality. Being in custody gave me time to think about what I had done over the last few years and also where my life was going if I didn’t fix up and grow up. Prison was an opportunity for me to re-evaluate my life and I took this opportunity with both hands.
Before I went into custody, I was always running from my problems, willing them to go away but they never did. My Dad always use to say to me you go can run away from your problems but the monster will always follow you and he was right.
It took me to go to prison to realise this. While in custody you have a lot of time to think. I had three options which where:
- Drown my thoughts and feelings out with drugs – but I was never really into drugs and this didn’t seem like a good option to me.
- I could commit suicide and have it all done with but I thought that would have been a selfish act and I couldn’t do that to my family.
- Or I could sit with my feelings and thoughts and start to deal with them and make amends to others and also start the process of becoming honest with myself and others around me.
The key things that I learnt while being in custody were how to commit, honesty, patience, how to deal with my emotions/ thoughts, who had my best interests, self-worth, the value of family, the value of life, how to be an individual and not have to feel like you have to fit in with any group and morals. All of these I had to learn for myself.
Near the end of my sentence an engagement team member from User Voice came in and spoke about his personal life journey. He said that you cannot live two lives (a law abiding life and a criminal life). This struck a chord with me as I was living life on two paths. I had my light bulb moment then and started to make a change in my life. I didn’t become honest overnight but I wanted to live a honest life and focused on doing so.
I was released from custody in March 2014 with no money but a good relationship with my mum and a new determination. As I had little money I was determined to get a job and not go back to committing crime to get money. I managed to find work as a Traffic Management Operative and kept this job for almost two years. The job was physically demanding and the other workers were unfriendly and aggressive and I felt I was on the verge of going back to a life of crime, but, in the back of my head, I could hear that message from the user voice member of staff and I kept true to it.
Whilst waiting to see my probation officer one day at Walsall Probation office I was approached by another member of user voice and ended up volunteering as a service user council rep for the CRC. After attending a few council meetings, I was asked if I wanted to go out to complete some questionnaires. I agreed and started to do surgeries. At first I was nervous and lacking in confidence but I gradually became more confident. After a while of doing surgeries by myself I was asked if I would train others and shadow them. I agreed to do this and trained up some of the other council members. This made me feel important, valued and trusted.
After about a year, I was told there was a job opening at User Voice was encouraged to apply, which I did. I wasn’t successful the first time, but another job came up two months later. I had my doubts about going for it but I applied and was successful. I felt like I had really achieved something and stuck with something for the first time even when things where tough and I got knocked back I stayed the course.
I have been project lead for the very Council I was on as a service user and also work across the Midlands for where I engage with people with Borderline Personality Disorder to find out about their experiences. Both projects are great to work on and keep my mind active and its work that I enjoy and I feel valued.
I feel at home working for User Voice as I’m working with likeminded people and they have gone through similar situations to me and we can relate and support each other.