How Shaun turned his back on an abusive childhood and the revolving door of prison
Turning his back on an abusive childhood and the revolving door of prison with the help of the ‘No Wrong Door Network’
Walking out with a new hope
Shaun Kelly is 48 years old. After an abusive childhood he spiraled out of control as a teenager, getting expelled from school at 15 and kicked out of his home at about 19 years old. He became homeless, his mental health deteriorated and a violent assault triggered Post traumatic Stress Disorder.With no direction or anchor in his life he was caught up in a repeating cycle of violence, crime and prison. For nearly 30 years he went in and out of prison.
But things have changed. Toward the end of his last sentence Shaun connected with Birmingham Changing Futures Together’s No Wrong Door Network, a group of 18 organisations working together to provide ‘joined-up’ services through one point of contact. Instead of walking out of prison to a frightening and isolated life, he was met by a peer mentor and lead worker from Shelter. That was January 2016. Since then, as well as receiving the housing support from Shelter, he has been referred to other Network members for support specific to his needs, which includes anger and stress management courses and counselling.
He’s been free of alcohol and drugs since then and is now looking forward to a positive future.
Shaun was raised in a violent home. His father, a prison officer, took out his anger on his wife and Shaun, regularly beating them both. In this abusive environment, instead of learning how to manage his own frustrations, Shaun was shown violence was the answer. When he was bullied at school he lashed out and increasingly became unmanageable in the school environment. After repeated warnings and frequently being canned he was expelled. Things at home deteriorated further and when he was about 19 he finally hit his father back. He was kicked out of the family home immediately.
Facing homelessness, he moved in with his mother’s elderly parents. His grandfather died in front of his eyes from emphysema, and without a support network able to help him make sense of his loss and dysfunctional and abusive childhood his life deteriorated. Adrift, he left his grandparents’ home.
He was homeless for three years, sofa surfing and sleeping in bus shelters and garden sheds. His history of violence meant no hostel would allow him in.
In 1990 the inevitable happened and he went to jail; his first sentence was 12 months. The environment gave him some security. He had somewhere safe and warm to sleep and he was fed, but when he came out he had nowhere to go, no money and no job. He resorted to petty crime and, mixing with ‘the wrong crowd’, he was exposed to violence. On one occasion, he suffered a serious head injury. Coming after such a destructive childhood, the violent assault – he needed 200 stitches and had a blood clot – this event led to Sean being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His behaviour became more extreme; he became more violent and relied on drugs and alcohol.
“I felt like a caged animal,” said Shaun. “I was attacking and hitting out because of the rage boiling inside me. I kept reliving the trauma of my childhood, re-experiencing the beatings as if they were happening now.”
“I’ve spent about 20 years of my life in prison,” said Shaun. I was getting longer and longer sentences, not complying with the licence when I was released and sent straight back.
“When you get released you’re sent to a probation hostel. It’s like going into the lion’s den. It’s the worst possible environment for anyone who wants to get things together and move on with their life.
Turning his back on an abusive childhood and the revolving door of prisonWith a help of the ‘No Wrong Door Network’“Caught in the revolving door, I have missed out on so much in life. I have no family life; I’m a qualified brick layer but I haven’t been able to hold down a good job for long. It’s not a life you would choose.”
Things were different the last time Shaun came out of prison. In his last few months inside he took a course on violence and compulsive drinking. It gave him an insight into his behaviour. Then, whilst still in prison, he engaged with Birmingham Changing Futures Together’s Lead Worker Peer Mentor service, delivered by Shelter. As a result, instead of going straight to the probation hostel on his release, he was met at the gate by two workers, his peer mentor and lead worker. A peer mentor is someone with lived experience.
He’d taken the first step towards a new future. “As I walked out the prison officers said ‘see you in a couple of weeks’,” explained Shaun, “but they didn’t. My peer mentor made a big difference. I was scared when I came out of prison; the probation hostel was a threatening environment, everything in the outside world had changed and I had nothing. I came out with £46 which had to last two weeks.
My benefits were delayed for three weeks and I had to pay £30 straight away for the hostel. I couldn’t share my problems with my probation officer but I could tell my peer mentor. He’d been in my situation so he knew what I was talking about. He understood me.”
With Shelter part of the No Wrong Door Network, Shaun’s peer mentor and lead worker were able to provide more than housing support and understanding. They facilitated access to support services necessary to address his other needs. This has included anger and stress management courses at Crisis Skylight and referral to Birmingham MIND for the floating support and to Citizen Coaching for his counselling needs.
He is now training to be a peer mentor himself
“I still get anxious but it doesn’t escalate to violence now,” continued Shaun. “I’m learning how to stop things from getting to me and while I’ve had a few scrapes since coming out of prison, I’ve managed to de-escalate things. I’ve still got lots of rage inside me but I’m working hard to control it. I take diazepam to control my mood swings and anti-psychotics to quieten the voices in my head.”
The Birmingham Changing Futures Together Programme
Birmingham Changing Futures Together programme improves the effectiveness of service provision to those with multiple and complex needs. It does this by bringing together organisations in the sector, identifying and sharing best practice and establishing new approaches.
Shaun’s story shows the value of seeing the person as a whole. The Changing Futures Together programme provides a ‘community of support’, facilitating interaction between other colleagues and leading to better, more satisfying outcomes.
The No Wrong Door Network is at the heart of the Changing Futures approach, the No Wrong Door Network is a group of organisations working together to ensure service users, with at least two of the four complex needs (homelessness, substance misuse, offending and mental health) can have access to a whole system of support through one referral.
Engagement in the Birmingham Changing Futures Together programme is not limited to those charities and organisations formally part of the No Wrong Door Network. All other organisations can benefit from the best practice approaches being developed and shared with sector members through learning events and the Birmingham Changing Together website: changingfuturesbham.co.uk